Hesiod the Prophet? A Liar or a Cheat

Lucian, A Conversation with Hesiod, 1-2


“Hesiod, the fact that you are the best poet and that you obtained this title with the laurel from the Muses, you make clear yourself in your poetry, where everything is divinely inspired and reverent and we believe that it is true. But there is one thing that seems awry: since you claim in fact on your on part that you also received in that exchange the divine song from the gods in order that you may sing and praise events of past while also prophesying the future. Of these tasks, you fully complete narrating the births of the gods right up until the first beings, Chaos and Earth, Ouranos and Sex. Then you praised the virtues of women and advise farmers about the Pleiades, the right time for plowing and reaping, about sailing, and every other kind of thing. But the second half which would be far more useful to life and more appropriate for divine gifts—and in this I mean the prediction of the future, you did not begin. You have left this subject completely forgotten in your poetry, never playing the part of a Calchas, a Telemon, a Polyeidos or Phineus, all men who never obtained this gift from the muses but still prophesied anyway and were never reluctant to provide oracles to those who requested it.


Hence, it is necessary that you bear one of these three charges. Either you lie, which is a bit harsh to say, when you claim that the Muses promised you the power to tell the future. Or, the Muses gave what they promised, but you conceal it out of envy and guard such a gift in your pocket without sharing it with those who request it. Or, a great deal of prophecy has been written by you but you have not shared it with the world, perhaps preserving its use for a special time I know nothing about.”

᾿Αλλὰ ποιητὴν μὲν ἄριστον εἶναί σε, ὦ ῾Ησίοδε, καὶ τοῦτο παρὰ Μουσῶν λαβεῖν μετὰ τῆς δάφνης αὐτός τε δεικνύεις ἐν οἷς ποιεῖς—ἔνθεα γὰρ καὶ σεμνὰ πάντα—καὶ ἡμεῖς πιστεύομεν οὕτως ἔχειν. ἐκεῖνο δὲ ἀπορῆσαι ἄξιον, τί δήποτε προειπὼν ὑπὲρ σαυτοῦ ὡς διὰ τοῦτο λάβοις τὴν θεσπέσιον ἐκείνην ᾠδὴν παρὰ τῶν θεῶν ὅπως κλείοις καὶ ὑμνοίης τὰ παρεληλυθότα καὶ θεσπίζοις τὰ ἐσόμενα, θάτερον μὲν καὶ πάνυ ἐντελῶς ἐξενήνοχας θεῶν τε γενέσεις διηγούμενος ἄχρι καὶ τῶν πρώτων ἐκείνων, χάους καὶ γῆς καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἔρωτος—ἔτι δὲ γυναικῶν ἀρετὰς καὶ παραινέσεις γεωργικάς, καὶ ὅσα περὶ Πλειάδων καὶ ὅσα περὶ καιρῶν ἀρότου καὶ ἀμήτου καὶ πλοῦ καὶ ὅλως τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων· θάτερον δὲ καὶ ὃ χρησιμώτερον ἦν τῷ βίῳ παρὰ πολὺ καὶ θεῶν δωρεαῖς μᾶλλον ἐοικός—λέγω δὲ τὴν τῶν μελλόντων προαγόρευσιν—, οὐδὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐξαπέφηνας, ἀλλὰ τὸ μέρος τοῦτο πᾶν λήθῃ παραδέδωκας οὐδαμοῦ τῆς ποιήσεως ἢ τὸν Κάλχαντα ἢ τὸν Τήλεμον ἢ τὸν Πολύειδον ἢ καὶ Φινέα μιμησάμενος οἳ μηδὲ παρὰ Μουσῶν τούτου τυχόντες ὅμως προεθέσπιζον καὶ οὐκ ὤκνουν χρᾶν τοῖς δεομένοις.

῞Ωστε ἀνάγκη σοι τῶν τριῶν τούτων αἰτιῶν μιᾷ γε πάντως ἐνέχεσθαι· ἢ γὰρ ἐψεύσω, εἰ καὶ πικρὸν εἰπεῖν, ὡς ὑποσχομένων σοι τῶν Μουσῶν καὶ τὰ μέλλοντα προλέγειν δύνασθαι· ἢ αἱ μὲν ἔδοσαν ὥσπερ ὑπέσχοντο, σὺ δὲ ὑπὸ φθόνου ἀποκρύπτεις καὶ ὑπὸ κόλπου φυλάττεις τὴν δωρεὰν οὐ μεταδιδοὺς αὐτῆς τοῖς δεομένοις· ἢ γέγραπται μέν σοι καὶ τοιαῦτα πολλά, οὐδέπω δὲ αὐτὰ τῷ βίῳ παραδέδωκας οὐκ οἶδα εἰς ὃν καιρόν τινα ἄλλον ταμιευόμενος τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτῶν.

Lucian here is referring to Theogony lines 26-34

“Rustic shepherds, shameless reproaches, nothing more than bellies,
We know how to speak many lies that ring of the truth,
But we can utter true things when we want to.”
So the eloquent daughters of great Zeus spoke
And they gave me a scepter, an offshoot of blooming laurel
To carry, so that I might sing the things that will be and were before
And they ordered me to praise the race of the blessed gods who always are
And to sing of them both at the first and the last.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”
ὣς ἔφασαν κοῦραι μεγάλου Διὸς ἀρτιέπειαι,
καί μοι σκῆπτρον ἔδον δάφνης ἐριθηλέος ὄζον
δρέψασαι, θηητόν· ἐνέπνευσαν δέ μοι αὐδὴν
θέσπιν, ἵνα κλείοιμι τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα,
καί μ’ ἐκέλονθ’ ὑμνεῖν μακάρων γένος αἰὲν ἐόντων,
σφᾶς δ’ αὐτὰς πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον αἰὲν ἀείδειν.

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