Book Review: Theogony, Works and Days, and Elegies by Hesiod and Theognis

These short poems by two of the greatest of ancient Greek authors open up a world that is in fact the ancestor of our own modern world but, simultaneously, quite different and at times altogether foreign from it. The poems, which are a mixture of mythology and practical advice, frequently move back and forth between what to the modern reader is familiar and what is quite unfamiliar and perhaps even repulsive. The “Elegies” of Theognis, for instance, contain practical advice on friendship and virtue as well as poems on wooing boy-lovers and on the desire to destroy one’s enemies.

The style is similarly of a mixed sort. Certain of the poems convey an eloquence and beauty. Others seem dry and unable to find the right tone in which to convey their messages. There are moments which inspire intense fascination and demand prolonged reflections. There are other moments which are tedious and seem unnecessary.

While the quality of these poems and the interest they will inspire in the modern reader varies from page to page, each line provides some insight into the minds of the founders of Western Civilization. This is an insight that can help us not only to under a people who lived many years ago, but can help us to understand ourselves today through an exploration of the origins of our civilization and its ideas.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in poetry and in mythology, especially in the Western traditions thereof.

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