Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods

L3 Hesiod’s Theogony (1-152): the Muses & Creation

Hesiod, Theogony, lines 1-152

translated by R. Nickel

Proem = Introduction

Let us begin our song with the Helikonian Muses
who inhabit the great and holy mountain of Helikon.
They dance on soft feet around
a violet spring and an altar to Kronos’ powerful son.
Once they’ve washed their soft skin in the spring called Permessus5
or the spring of the winged horse Pegasus or in the holy river Olmeius,
on the topmost peaks of Mount Helikon, they devise beautiful dances
that excite desire, their feet moving like water.
Setting out from this place, veiling themselves in a dense mist,
they move through the night, sending out a glorious song10
that celebrates Zeus, the aegis-bearer, and queenly Hera
of Argos who goes about on golden sandals,
and the daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, owl-eyed Athena,
Phoebus Apollo and arrow-pouring Artemis,
Poseidon, earth-holder and earth shaker,15
exalted Themis and quick-glancing Aphrodite,
golden-crowned Hebe and beautiful Dionê,
Eos, the Dawn; great Helios, the Sun; and radiant Selenê, the Moon;
Gaia, the Earth; mighty Ocean; and black Night;20
and the holy family of all the other gods who are forever.

The Epiphany of the Muses

The Muses once taught Hesiod the noble art of song,
as I was tending my sheep on the slopes of holy Mount Helikon.
These are the very first words they spoke to me,
the Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus:25
“Country shepherds, disgusting dolts, nothing more than bellies!
We know how to tell many lies that seem real
and, whenever we want to, we know how to sing the truth.”
So spoke the swift-speaking daughters of great Zeus,
and they gave me a sceptre, breaking off a branch of lush, green laurel,30
exquisite to behold, and they breathed their divine voice into me
so that I might sing of what is to come and what happened before,
and they ordered me to celebrate the family of the carefree ones who are forever,
and always to begin and end my song with them.

[But come now, why am I talking about myself so much?35
I might as well be talking about an oak-tree or a stone!]
But come now, am I really able to sing like a prophet?35
Am I like the holy stone at Delphi or the talking oaks of Dodona?35b

Hesiod’s Hymn to the Muses

But you, Hesiod, let us sing about the Muses, whose singing
delights the great mind of father Zeus on Olympus.
They tell of things that are, that will be, and that happened before,
with voices in harmony. Their never-tiring song flows
sweetly from their mouths. The palace of loud-thundering, father Zeus40
fills with laughter as the delicate voices of the goddesses
spreads far and wide. The peaks of snowy Olympus echo,
as do the homes the immortals. Sending forth a sound like ambrosia,
first they celebrate with song the revered family of the gods,
from the very beginning, those whom Gaia and wide Ouranos bore,45
and the gods, givers of good things, born from them.
Next the goddesses sing of Zeus, father of gods and men,
beginning and ending their song with him,
how he is most powerful of the gods in strength, and greatest.
Then, singing about the race of Humans and of the mighty Giants,50
the Olympian Muses, daughters of aegis-bearing Zeus
delight the mind of Zeus on Olympus.

The Birth of the Muses

In Pieria, Mnemosyne, who protects the hills of Boeotian Eleutherae,
joining in love with their father, bore them to Kronos’ son
to be a forgetting of evils and a respite from cares.55
For nine nights wise and clever Zeus united with her,
far away from the immortals, coming into their holy marriage bed.
When a year had gone by and the seasons turned around,
as the months came to an end, and many days were completed,
she bore nine like-minded daughters, whose hearts60
care only for song and never grow weary,
in Pieria, just below the topmost peak of snowy Olympus.
There they have their gleaming dancing floors and beautiful homes.
Beside them, the Graces and Desire reside
in festivity. As they sing, a lovely sound issues from their lips,65
as they celebrate the customs and cherished practices
of the immortals, with enchanting song.

After their birth, they went to Olympus, exulting in their beautiful sound,
their song like ambrosia. All around, the black earth resounded
with their singing. A lovely rhythmic pulse arose beneath their feet70
as they moved toward their father. He rules in the sky;
possessing thunder and blazing lightning,
he defeated his father Kronos by strength. Justly he issues
complex commands for the immortals and oversees their honours.
About all this, they sing, the Muses who have their homes on Olympus,75
nine daughters born from great Zeus:

Cleio who glorifies, Euterpê who delights,
Festive Thalia and ever-singing Melpomenê,77b
Terpsichorê who dances with lovely Erato,
Polyhymnia, filled with song, heavenly Ourania,78b
and Calliopê, with her beautiful voice, best of them all,
for she is the companion of revered kings.80

The Muses’ timai

Whomever of divinely favoured kings
Zeus’s daughters honour and look to when he’s born,
upon his tongue they pour sweet dew,
and from his lips flows honey. His people
all look to him as he establishes decrees85
with straight judgments. With sure and steady speech,
quickly and skillfully he resolves even a great conflict.
Kings are sensible for this reason: when the people are wronged,
in the public square they determine a just compensation
easily, persuading all with gentle words.90
When he comes into the assembly, they exalt him like a god
with gracious reverence, and among those assembled he is preeminent.
Such is the Muses’ holy gift to men and women.

For from the Muses and far-shooting Apollo
men all over the earth are singers and lyre-players.95
But kings are from Zeus. He whom the Muses
love prospers. A sweet voice flows from his lips.
For if a person feels sorrow in his fresh-grieving heart
and his soul dries up in grief, and a poet —
a companion of the Muses – sings of the glorious deeds100
of men and women of long ago and the carefree gods who dwell on Olympus,
straightaway he forgets his cares and remembers
none of his sorrows. Swiftly the goddesses’ gift turns them aside.

Invocation of the Muses

Greetings, children of Zeus, grant me a lovely song,
and celebrate the holy family of the immortals who are forever,105
those who were born from Gaia and starry Ouranos, the Sky,
and from dark Night, and those whom the salty Sea reared.
Say how first Gods and Earth were born,
and Rivers and the immense Sea, surging with enormous waves,
and shining Stars and the vast Sky above them.110
The Gods, givers of good things, who were born from all these –
how did they distribute wealth and divide up honours,
how first did they take possession of Olympus, with its many valleys?
Tell me all these things, Muses who make your home on Olympus,
from the beginning. Tell me which of them was born first.115

The Primal Beings

Before all others, Chaos, vast and empty, was born. Then came
Gaia, wide-breasted Earth, unmoving foundation for all
the immortals who dwell on the peaks of snowy Olympus.
Next, misty Tartarus, the Underworld, in a hollow of wide-wayed Earth,
and Eros. Among all the immortal gods, he is most beautiful;120
limb-loosener. For all gods and all men and women,
he crushes balanced thought and sensible plans in their breasts.

From Chaos, Darkness and black Night were born.
From Night, Brightness and Day arose.
Night conceived and bore them, uniting in love with Darkness.125

Gaia first gave birth to a being equal to herself,
starry Ouranos, to enclose her all around,
so that she might always be an unmoving foundation for the carefree gods.
She then gave birth to high Mountains, lovely habitats for goddesses,
Nymphs who dwell on wooded mountains.130
She bore Pontos, the desolate Sea, surging with high waves,
without the delightful act of love.

The Children of Gaia & Ouranos: Titans, Cyclopes, & Hundred Handers

Next, uniting with Ouranos,
she bore the Titans: Ocean, with his strong currents,
Koios, Kreios, Hyperion, and Iapetus,
Theia, Rhea, Themis, and Mnemosyne who remembers,135
Gold-crowned Phoebê and lovely Tethys.
After these, she bore her youngest, crooked-counseling Kronos,
most terrifying of her children, and he despised his potent father.
Then she gave birth to the Cyclopes, who possess a violent heart:
thundering Brontes, blazing Steropes, and strong-hearted Argês.140
They gave thunder to Zeus and crafted lightning for him.
In all other ways they resembled the gods,
except that a single eye was fixed in their foreheads.
They were called Cyclopes because one cylindrical eye
was fixed in the middle of their foreheads.145
Strength and violence and ingenious craft was in their works.
Three other children were born from the union of Gaia and Ouranos –
massive, violent children who should not be named:
Kottos, Briareus, and Gyges – magnificent, arrogant children.
From their shoulders, one hundred arms shot out,150
indescribable. From each one’s shoulders
fifty heads grew on powerful bodies.
Added to their massive form, they possessed unapproachable, powerful strength.

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Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods by Edited by Roberto Nickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.