Two Guys Named Hesiod. Two Places Called Nemea: Another Tale of a Poet’s Death

Certamen of Homer and Hesiod

Earlier we posted the story of the death of Hesiod according to Plutarch. This version shares some of the details, but not others.  Hesiod defeats Homer in a poetic competition. Things only go downhill from there…

“After the contest [with Homer] was over, Hesiod went to Delphi to get an oracle and to make a thanks-offering for the victory to the god. When he arrived at the shrine, people claim that the prophetess was inspired and said:

“This lucky man who travels to my home
Is Hesiod, honored by the divine Muses.
His fame will spread as far as the sun shines.
But guard against the gorgeous grove of Nemeian Zeus.
It is there where your fated death will come.”

Hesiod, after he heard this oracle, went retreating from the Peloponnese because he believed  that the god meant the oracle there. He went to Oinoê in Lokris and rested with Amphiphanes and Ganuktôr, the children of Phêgeus,  and he really did not understand the oracle. For this place was called the shrine of Zeus Nemeios. After he spent a period of time with the Oineans, the youths, because they suspected that Hesiod fornicated with their sister, killed him and through hem into the sea between Euboia and Lokris.

When the abandoned corpse was carried by dolphins to land, there was some local festival happening and everyone ran to the shore. Once they recognized who this was, they grieved and buried him—and then they began to seek his murderers. The brothers, because they feared the rage of the citizens, made off with a fishing skiff and sailed toward Krêtê. Zeus struck that vessel in the middle with lightening and submerged them in the sea, as Alkidamas says in the Mouseion.

Eratosthenes says in his epode that Ktimenos and Antiphon, the sons of Ganuktôr, were arrested for the aforementioned reason and sacrificed to the gods of hospitality by Eurukles the prophet. According to the same author, The virgin sister of these men hanged herself after she was raped—and Eratosthenes says she was raped by some stranger on the road who was named Hesiod, the son of Dêmades. He was also killed by the same men. Later, the Orkhomenians, in accordance with an oracle, transferred Hesiod and buried them in their land….”

Cert. Hom. et Hes. v. 214 West. (unde eadem Tzetzes

 τοῦ δὲ ἀγῶνος διαλυθέντος διέπλευσεν ὁ ῾Ησίοδος εἰς Δελφοὺς χρησόμενος καὶ τῆς νίκης ἀπαρχὰς τῷ θεῷ ἀναθήσων. προσερχομένου δὲ αὐτοῦ τῷ ναῷ ἔνθεον γενομένην τὴν προφῆτίν φασιν εἰπεῖν

ὄλβιος οὗτος ἀνήρ, ὃς ἐμὸν δόμον ἀμφιπολεύει,

῾Ησίοδος Μούσῃσι τετιμένος ἀθανάτῃσι·

τοῦ δή τοι κλέος ἔσται ὅσην τ’ ἐπικίδναται ἠώς.

ἀλλὰ Διὸς πεφύλαξο Νεμείου κάλλιμον ἄλσος·

κεῖθι δέ τοι θανάτοιο τέλος πεπρωμένον ἐστίν.

ὁ δὲ ῾Ησίοδος ἀκούσας τοῦ χρησμοῦ τῆς Πελοποννήσου μὲν ἀνεχώρει νομίσας τὴν ἐκεῖ Νεμέαν τὸν θεὸν λέγειν, εἰς δὲ  Οἰνόην τῆς Λοκρίδος ἐλθὼν καταλύει παρὰ ᾿Αμφιφάνει καὶ Γανύκτορι, τοῖς Φηγέως παισίν, ἀγνοήσας τὸ μαντεῖον· ὁ γὰρ τόπος οὗτος ἐκαλεῖτο Διὸς Νεμείου ἱερόν. διατριβῆς δ’ αὐτῷ πλείονος γενομένης ἐν τοῖς Οἰνεῶσιν, ὑπονοήσαντες οἱ νεανίσκοι τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῶν μοιχεύειν τὸν ῾Ησίοδον, ἀποκτείναντες εἰς τὸ μεταξὺ τῆς Εὐβοίας καὶ τῆς Λοκρίδος πέλαγος κατεπόντισαν.

τοῦ δὲ νεκροῦ τριταίου πρὸς τὴν γῆν ὑπὸ δελφίνων προσενεχθέντος, ἑορτῆς τινὸς ἐπιχωρίου παρ’ αὐτοῖς οὔσης ἀριαδνείας πάντες ἐπὶ τὸν αἰγιαλὸν ἔδραμον καὶ τὸ σῶμα γνωρίσαντες ἐκεῖνο μὲν πενθήσαντες ἔθαψαν, τοὺς δὲ φονεῖς ἀνεζήτουν. οἱ δὲ φοβηθέντες τὴν τῶν πολιτῶν ὀργήν, κατασπάσαντες ἁλιευτικὸν σκάφος διέπλευσαν εἰς Κρήτην. οὓς κατὰ μέσον τὸν πλοῦν ὁ Ζεὺς κεραυνωθεὶς κατεπόντωσεν, ὥς φησιν ᾿Αλκιδάμας ἐν μουσείῳ φησιν ᾿Αλκιδάμας ἐν Μουσείῳ.

᾿Ερατοσθένης δέ φησιν ἐν † ἐνηπόδω † Κτίμενον καὶ ῎Αντιφον τοὺς Γανύκτορος ἐπὶ τῇ προειρημένῃ αἰτίᾳ ἀνελόντας σφαγιασθῆναι θεοῖς τοῖς  ξενίοις ὑπ’ Εὐρυκλέους τοῦ μάντεως. τὴν μέντοι παρθένον τὴν ἀδελφὴν τῶν προειρημένων μετὰ τὴν φθορὰν ἑαυτὴν ἀναρτῆσαι, φθαρῆναι δὲ ὑπό τινος ξένου συνόδου τοῦ ῾Ησιόδου Δημώδους ὄνομα· ὃν καὶ αὐτὸν ἀναιρεθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν αὐτῶν φησιν. ὕστερον δὲ ᾿Ορχομένιοι κατὰ χρησμὸν μετενέγκαντες αὐτὸν παρ’ αὑτοῖς ἔθαψαν καὶ ἐπέγραψαν ἐπὶ τῷ τάφῳ·

Image result for Ancient Greek Hesiod

Homer’s Golden Words: Best and Fairest for Mortal Man

From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod (lines 71-94), most likely a text from the Roman Imperial age drawing upon earlier material. The story has it that Hesiod eventually wins, but Homer takes the first round.

“Although both poets competed wonderfully, they report that Hesiod gained the trophy in the following way. After he entered the middle of the contest ground, he inquired from Homer certain questions, and Homer answered. Hesiod said:

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”

Homer answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

Hesiod asked a second question:

“Tell me this too, Homer so like the gods,
What do you think is the fairest thing for mortals?

And Homer answered:

“ When merriment overtakes the whole people
as they feast in the halls and listen to a singer,
sitting in order next to tables filled with
food and meat as a cup-bearer draws wine from a bowl
and carries it to pour in all their cups.
This seems to my thinking to be the fairest thing.”

And when these words were uttered, they say that everyone was so amazed at them that the Greeks called them “the golden words” and even to this day everyone pronounces them before feasts or libations.”

ἀμφοτέρων δὲ τῶν ποιητῶν θαυμαστῶς ἀγωνισαμένων νικῆσαί φασι τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον• προελθόντα γὰρ εἰς τὸ μέσον πυνθάνεσθαι τοῦ ῾Ομήρου καθ’ ἓν ἕκαστον, τὸν δὲ ῞Ομηρον ἀποκρίνασθαι. φησὶν οὖν ῾Ησίοδος•

υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;

῞Ομηρος•
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.

῾Ησίοδος τὸ δεύτερον•
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι καὶ τοῦτο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ’ ῞Ομηρε,
τί θνητοῖς κάλλιστον ὀίεαι ἐν φρεσὶν εἶναι;

ὁ δέ•
ὁππότ’ ἂν εὐφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κατὰ δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσιν.
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.

ῥηθέντων δὲ τούτων τῶν ἐπῶν, οὕτω σφοδρῶς φασι θαυμασθῆναι τοὺς στίχους ὑπὸ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ὥστε χρυσοῦς αὐτοὺς προσαγορευθῆναι, καὶ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς θυσίαις πρὸ τῶν δείπνων καὶ σπονδῶν προκατεύχεσθαι πάντας.

Poets Have to Make a Living Somehow: Homer Sang and Wrote for His Meals (Certamen, 15-16)

Most people who think of the “Contest of Homer and Hesiod” remember the fact that Homer and Hesiod competed and that there was a mixed verdict (with Hesiod taking the prize).  The account, however, also details legendary travels of Homer. Wherever he goes, he composes poems, almost pathologically.

Here is an excerpt:

 

 
“When the sons of king Midas, Xanthos and Gorgos, heard Homer’s poetry they commissioned him to compose an epigram for their father’s tomb which was marked by a bronze maiden mourning Midas’ death. Homer made this:

“I am a bronze girl, and I sit on the grave of Midas.
As long as water flows and trees grow long,
While the rivers fill and the sea resounds,
As long as the sun rises to shine and the bright moon too,
I will remain here on this much-wept mound
A sign to those who pass by that Midas here is buried.”

He received from them a silver cup, which he inscribed and dedicated at Delphi to Apollo:

“Lord Phoibos, I Homer give you this fine gift
in exchange for your wisdom. May you always grant me fame.”

Then he composed the Odyssey (which is 12,000 lines) when he had already finished the Iliad (15,500 lines). They say that he left there and was entertained in Athens at the house of the king of the Athenians, Medon. In the council chamber, when it was cold and there was a fire burning, the story is that he improvised these lines:

“A man’s crown is his children; the city has its towers;
Horses decorate a plain and ships are the jewels of the sea.
The people who sit in the agora are an adornment to be seen;
But when a fire burns it makes a house a prouder sight
On a winter’s day when Kronos’ son sends snow.”

ἀκούσαντες δὲ τῶν ἐπῶν οἱ Μίδου τοῦ βασιλέως παῖδες Ξάνθος καὶ Γόργος παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἐπίγραμμα ποιῆσαι ἐπὶ τοῦ τάφου τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν, ἐφ’ οὗ ἦν παρθένος χαλκῆ τὸν Μίδου θάνατον οἰκτιζομένη. καὶ ποιεῖ οὕτως•

χαλκῆ παρθένος εἰμί, Μίδου δ’ ἐπὶ σήματος ἧμαι.
ἔς τ’ ἂν ὕδωρ τε νάῃ καὶ δένδρεα μακρὰ τεθήλῃ
καὶ ποταμοὶ πλήθωσι, περικλύζῃ δὲ θάλασσα,
ἠέλιος δ’ ἀνιὼν φαίνῃ λαμπρά τε σελήνη,
αὐτοῦ τῇδε μένουσα πολυκλαύτῳ ἐπὶ τύμβῳ
σημανέω παριοῦσι Μίδης ὅτι τῇδε τέθαπται.

λαβὼν δὲ παρ’ αὐτῶν φιάλην ἀργυρᾶν ἀνατίθησιν ἐν Δελφοῖς τῷ ᾿Απόλλωνι, ἐπιγράψας

Φοῖβε ἄναξ δῶρόν τοι ῞Ομηρος καλὸν ἔδωκα
σῇσιν ἐπιφροσύναις• σὺ δέ μοι κλέος αἰὲν ὀπάζοις.

μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ποιεῖ τὴν ᾿Οδύσσειαν ἔπη μβ′, πεποιηκὼς ἤδη τὴν ᾿Ιλιάδα ἐπῶν μεφ′. παραγενόμενον δὲ ἐκεῖθεν εἰς ᾿Αθήνας αὐτὸν ξενισθῆναί φασι παρὰ Μέδοντι τῷ βασιλεῖ τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων. ἐν δὲ τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ ψύχους ὄντος καὶ πυρὸς καιομένου σχεδιάσαι λέγεται τούσδε τοὺς στίχους•

ἀνδρὸς μὲν στέφανοι παῖδες, πύργοι δὲ πόληος,
ἵπποι δ’ αὖ πεδίου κόσμος, νῆες δὲ θαλάσσης,
λαὸς δ’ εἰν ἀγορῇσι καθήμενος εἰσοράασθαι.
αἰθομένου δὲ πυρὸς γεραρώτερος οἶκος ἰδέσθαι
ἤματι χειμερίῳ ὁπότ’ ἂν νείφῃσι Κρονίων.

Homer’s Golden Words: When Hesiod and Homer Throw Down, Meles’ Son Wins the First Round

From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod (lines 71-94), most likely a text from the Roman Imperial age drawing upon earlier material. The story has it that Hesiod eventually wins, but Homer takes the first round.

 

“Although both poets competed wonderfully, they report that Hesiod gained the trophy in the following way. After he entered the middle of the contest ground, he inquired from Homer certain questions, and Homer answered. Hesiod said:

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”

Homer Answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

Hesiod asked a second question:

“Tell me this too, Homer so like the gods,
What do you think is the fairest thing for mortals?

And Homer answered:

“ When merriment overtakes the whole people
as they feast in the halls and listen to a singer,
sitting in order next to tables filled with
food and meat as a cup-bearer draws wine from a bowl
and carries it to pour in all their cups.
This seems to my thinking to be the fairest thing.”

And when these words were uttered, they say that everyone was so amazed at them that the Greeks called them “the golden words” and even to this day everyone pronounces them before feasts or libations.”

ἀμφοτέρων δὲ τῶν ποιητῶν θαυμαστῶς ἀγωνισαμένων νικῆσαί φασι τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον• προελθόντα γὰρ εἰς τὸ μέσον πυνθάνεσθαι τοῦ ῾Ομήρου καθ’ ἓν ἕκαστον, τὸν δὲ ῞Ομηρον ἀποκρίνασθαι. φησὶν οὖν ῾Ησίοδος•
υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
῞Ομηρος•
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.
῾Ησίοδος τὸ δεύτερον•
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι καὶ τοῦτο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ’ ῞Ομηρε,
τί θνητοῖς κάλλιστον ὀίεαι ἐν φρεσὶν εἶναι;
ὁ δέ•
ὁππότ’ ἂν εὐφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κατὰ δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσιν.
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.

ῥηθέντων δὲ τούτων τῶν ἐπῶν, οὕτω σφοδρῶς φασι θαυμασθῆναι τοὺς στίχους ὑπὸ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ὥστε χρυσοῦς αὐτοὺς προσαγορευθῆναι, καὶ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς θυσίαις πρὸ τῶν δείπνων καὶ σπονδῶν προκατεύχεσθαι πάντας.