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Hesiod’s Views on Art and Poetry Essay

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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2021

The overwhelming majority of scholars believe that with time passing, poets perception of their role has evolved. In this essay, we are going to analyze Hesiods views on art and on poetry in particular. It stands to reason that to a certain degree, the works of this famous historian and poet take their origins in Homers Iliad and Odyssey, but the two authors do not share the same opinion about the main functions that art must perform. In his poem “Works and Days,” Hesiod says,

“We know how to tell many believable lies.
But also, we want to, how speak the plain truth” (Hesiod, 61)

The author believes that ability “to speak the plain truth” is a very rare gift, which is almost unique. He places special emphasis on the divinity and rarity of this ability by saying

“… And they breathed into me.”
A voice divine so I might celebrate past and future” (Hesiod, 61)

The question arises, whether we can limit the role of the poet only to the transmission of truth. Certainly, any form of art is aimed at describing reality; poetry is inconceivable if it has no reference to the real world. The primary task of any author is to show the truth in the most objective manner. However, his or her role should not be understood only as mere description or even recording. Although Hesiod does not explicitly express his opinion about this issue, it is still quite possible for us to deduce his views. For example, the author argues, “Hillbillies and bellies, poor excuses for shepherds” (Hesiod, 61). The word “shepherd” becomes crucial in this case; it should be interpreted not only literally as the person who tends sheep but as the guide or even the teacher as well. Probably, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the shepherd means someone who leads and even educates other people.

In this regard, one must not overlook such a very important aspect of divinity because by saying that muse “breathed into me a voice divine,” he stresses the role of a teacher. Ancient Greeks perceived gods not only as masters of the universe but also as guides who influence the lives and opinions of mortal people. It should be taken into consideration that Hesiod never calls himself a poet, nor he describes the role and functions of poetry. Certainly, art has never given direct answers to people. The only thing we should do is to draw inferences from what the poet may imply or implicitly state.

In this case, we should speak about such artistic phenomenon as didactic poetry, which was at that time almost unprecedented. As regards Homer, it should be pointed out that this poet always tries to be as impartial as possible, and the reader is compelled to form his or her own conclusions about the development of the plot or main characters. In fact, Homer is often considered to be a historian but no poet.

It is of crucial importance for us to explore Homers perception of poetry and its role. In this respect, we should analyze the meaning of such ancient Greek nouns as “muthos,” which can be translated into English as word, speech, or even narration. It stems from the verb “muo,” denoting to close one’s eyes or lips. We may observe a very curious paradox the meanings of the verb and the noun do not coincide; they even contradict each other. Probably, it is a reference to Themis, the goddess of justice, who is blindfolded and subsequently impartial. This is how Homer perceives the role of a poet, who must always remain objective while narrating the story.

Hesiod does reject such an approach, but he takes a slightly different view on this issue; the author believes that the functions that a poet can perform are much more complex.

Judging from Hesiods words, we may also say, according to the author, a poet does not only play the role of a teacher, shepherd, or guide; he may be a prophet as well. The poet says. “So I might celebrate past and future” (Hesiod). Additionally, Hesiod refers to Muses as well, who tell, “what is, what will be, and what has been.”(Hesiod, 62). If the “art of singing verses” is a gift of Muses, we may say that a poet is entitled to prophesize. He or she may guide or educate other people by unveiling the past to them.

Naturally, we cannot say that Hesiod absolutely rejects the role of historian, because to a certain extent, any poet is a historian or a chronicler who accurately and impartially records the events. Art is one of the main sources from which we may learn the truth about our past. Nevertheless, we should not forget that art and poetry may also transform life, make it more beautiful, and even distort the facts. Hesiod mentions “a branch of good, sappy laurel” (Hesiod, 61). This tree is not only a symbol of fame or glory; it also represents poetic eloquence. Furthermore, laurel is a reference to Apollo, the embodiment of beauty and grace. Naturally, poets tend to make reality more attractive to us, but occasionally they may distort it.

While discussing Hesiods perception of poetry, we should pay extra attention to the way he describes it as “the art of singing verses.” At first glance, it may seem that there is nothing unusual in such a definition. Yet, it should be borne in mind that before Hesiod poetry, itself was viewed only as of the form of historical representation or narration as it would be better to say. In point of fact, Homers Iliad and Odyssey can be defined as epic or even narrative poems, which means that the author only tells the story, but he does not want to teach the reader or to moralize.

Therefore, it is quite possible for us to arrive at the conclusion that Hesiods perception of poetry and particularly the role of the poet drastically differs from that one of Homer. First, we should mention that the author gives rise to the so-called didactic poetry, art, which is morally instructive. In addition to that, it should be pointed out that Hesiod also attaches primary importance to the prophetic function of art and poetry; his reference to Muses clearly indicates his attitude. If we attempt to draw the parallels between Hesiod and Homer, we may say that the author of the Iliad and Odyssey mostly give preference to observing, rendering. However, he is very reluctant about his views on the events or characters, though some didactic elements are still noticeable. Overall, Hesiod reviews the role of a poet and makes it more complex and difficult.

Bibliography

Hesiod, Stanley Lombardo, Robert Lamberton ” Works and Days ; and Theogony: And Theogony” Hackett Publishing, 1993.

Homer, Robert Fagles, Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox.” The Iliad: Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition”. Penguin Classics, 1998.

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