Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns, and Homerica
Part 6 out of 6
reward received the attribution of the poem which they call the
"Taking of Oechalia". Some, however, assert the opposite; that
Creophylus wrote the poem, and that Homer lent his name in return
for his entertainment. And so Callimachus writes: `I am the work
of that Samian who once received divine Homer in his house. I
sing of Eurytus and all his woes and of golden-haired Ioleia, and
am reputed one of Homer's works. Dear Heaven! how great an
honour this for Creophylus!'
Fragment #2 --
Cramer, Anec. Oxon. i. 327:
`Ragged garments, even those which now you see.' This verse
("Odyssey" xiv. 343) we shall also find in the "Taking of
Fragment #3 --
Scholaist on Sophocles Trach., 266:
There is a disagreement as to the number of the sons of Eurytus.
For Hesiod says Eurytus and Antioche had as many as four sons;
but Creophylus says two.
Fragment #4 --
Scholiast on Euripides Medea, 273:
Didymus contrasts the following account given by Creophylus,
which is as follows: while Medea was living in Corinth, she
poisoned Creon, who was ruler of the city at that time, and
because she feared his friends and kinsfolk, fled to Athens.
However, since her sons were too young to go along with her, she
left them at the altar of Hera Acraea, thinking that their father
would see to their safety. But the relatives of Creon killed
them and spread the story that Medea had killed her own children
as well as Creon.
THE PHOCAIS (fragments)
Fragment #1 --
Pseudo-Herodotus, Life of Homer:
While living with Thestorides, Homer composed the "Lesser Iliad"
and the "Phocais"; though the Phocaeans say that he composed the
latter among them.
THE MARGITES (fragments)
Fragment #1 --
Pigres. A Carian of Halicarnassus and brother of Artemisia, wife
of Mausolus, who distinguished herself in war... (1) He also
wrote the "Margites" attributed to Homer and the "Battle of the
Frogs and Mice".
Fragment #2 --
Atilius Fortunatianus, p. 286, Keil:
`There came to Colophon an old man and divine singer, a servant
of the Muses and of far-shooting Apollo. In his dear hands he
held a sweet-toned lyre.'
Fragment #3 --
Plato, Alcib. ii. p. 147 A:
`He knew many things but knew all badly...'
Aristotle, Nic. Eth. vi. 7, 1141:
`The gods had taught him neither to dig nor to plough, nor any
other skill; he failed in every craft.'
Fragment #4 --
Scholiast on Aeschines in Ctes., sec. 160:
He refers to Margites, a man who, though well grown up, did not
know whether it was his father or his mother who gave him birth,
and would not lie with his wife, saying that he was afraid she
might give a bad account of him to her mother.
Fragment #5 --
Zenobius, v. 68:
`The fox knows many a wile; but the hedge-hog's one trick (2) can
beat them all.' (3)
(1) This Artemisia, who distinguished herself at the battle of
Salamis (Herodotus, vii. 99) is here confused with the later
Artemisia, the wife of Mausolus, who died 350 B.C.
(2) i.e. the fox knows many ways to baffle its foes, while the
hedge-hog knows one only which is far more effectual.
(3) Attributed to Homer by Zenobius, and by Bergk to the
THE CERCOPES (fragments)
Fragment #1 --
Cercopes. These were two brothers living upon the earth who
practised every kind of knavery. They were called Cercopes (1)
because of their cunning doings: one of them was named Passalus
and the other Acmon. Their mother, a daughter of Memnon, seeing
their tricks, told them to keep clear of Black-bottom, that is,
of Heracles. These Cercopes were sons of Theia and Ocean, and
are said to have been turned to stone for trying to deceive Zeus.
`Liars and cheats, skilled in deeds irremediable, accomplished
knaves. Far over the world they roamed deceiving men as they
(1) i.e. `monkey-men'.
THE BATTLE OF FROGS AND MICE (303 lines)
(ll. 1-8) Here I begin: and first I pray the choir of the Muses
to come down from Helicon into my heart to aid the lay which I
have newly written in tablets upon my knee. Fain would I sound
in all men's ears that awful strife, that clamorous deed of war,
and tell how the Mice proved their valour on the Frogs and
rivalled the exploits of the Giants, those earth-born men, as the
tale was told among mortals. Thus did the war begin.
(ll. 9-12) One day a thirsty Mouse who had escaped the ferret,
dangerous foe, set his soft muzzle to the lake's brink and
revelled in the sweet water. There a loud-voiced pond-larker
spied him: and uttered such words as these.
(ll. 13-23) `Stranger, who are you? Whence come you to this
shore, and who is he who begot you? Tell me all this truly and
let me not find you lying. For if I find you worthy to be my
friend, I will take you to my house and give you many noble gifts
such as men give to their guests. I am the king Puff-jaw, and am
honoured in all the pond, being ruler of the Frogs continually.
The father that brought me up was Mud-man who mated with
Waterlady by the banks of Eridanus. I see, indeed, that you are
well-looking and stouter than the ordinary, a sceptred king and a
warrior in fight; but, come, make haste and tell me your
(ll. 24-55) Then Crumb-snatcher answered him and said: `Why do
you ask my race, which is well-known amongst all, both men and
gods and the birds of heaven? Crumb-snatcher am I called, and I
am the son of Bread-nibbler -- he was my stout-hearted father --
and my mother was Quern-licker, the daughter of Ham-gnawer the
king: she bare me in the mouse-hole and nourished me with food,
figs and nuts and dainties of all kinds. But how are you to make
me your friend, who am altogether different in nature? For you
get your living in the water, but I am used to each such foods as
men have: I never miss the thrice-kneaded loaf in its neat, round
basket, or the thin-wrapped cake full of sesame and cheese, or
the slice of ham, or liver vested in white fat, or cheese just
curdled from sweet milk, or delicious honey-cake which even the
blessed gods long for, or any of all those cates which cooks make
for the feasts of mortal men, larding their pots and pans with
spices of all kinds. In battle I have never flinched from the
cruel onset, but plunged straight into the fray and fought among
the foremost. I fear not man though he has a big body, but run
along his bed and bite the tip of his toe and nibble at his heel;
and the man feels no hurt and his sweet sleep is not broken by my
biting. But there are two things I fear above all else the whole
world over, the hawk and the ferret -- for these bring great
grief on me -- and the piteous trap wherein is treacherous death.
Most of all I fear the ferret of the keener sort which follows
you still even when you dive down your hole. (1) In gnaw no
radishes and cabbages and pumpkins, nor feed on green leeks and
parsley; for these are food for you who live in the lake.'
(ll. 56-64) Then Puff-jaw answered him with a smile: `Stranger
you boast too much of belly-matters: we too have many marvels to
be seen both in the lake and on the shore. For the Son of
Chronos has given us Frogs the power to lead a double life,
dwelling at will in two separate elements; and so we both leap on
land and plunge beneath the water. If you would learn of all
these things, 'tis easy done: just mount upon my back and hold me
tight lest you be lost, and so you shall come rejoicing to my
(ll. 65-81) So said he, and offered his back. And the Mouse
mounted at once, putting his paws upon the other's sleek neck and
vaulting nimbly. Now at first, while he still saw the land near
by, he was pleased, and was delighted with Puff-jaw's swimming;
but when dark waves began to wash over him, he wept loudly and
blamed his unlucky change of mind: he tore his fur and tucked his
paws in against his belly, while within him his heart quaked by
reason of the strangeness: and he longed to get to land, groaning
terribly through the stress of chilling fear. He put out his
tail upon the water and worked it like a steering oar, and prayed
to heaven that he might get to land. But when the dark waves
washed over him he cried aloud and said: `Not in such wise did
the bull bear on his back the beloved load, when be brought
Europa across the sea to Crete, as this Frog carries me over the
water to his house, raising his yellow back in the pale water.'
(ll. 82-92) Then suddenly a water-snake appeared, a horrid sight
for both alike, and held his neck upright above the water. And
when he saw it, Puff-jaw dived at once, and never thought how
helpless a friend he would leave perishing; but down to the
bottom of the lake he went, and escaped black death. But the
Mouse, so deserted, at once fell on his back, in the water. He
wrung his paws and squeaked in agony of death: many times he sank
beneath the water and many times he rose up again kicking. But
he could not escape his doom, for his wet fur weighed him down
heavily. Then at the last, as he was dying, he uttered these
(ll. 93-98) `Ah, Puff-jaw, you shall not go unpunished for this
treachery! You threw me, a castaway, off your body as from a
rock. Vile coward! On land you would not have been the better
man, boxing, or wrestling, or running; but now you have tricked
me and cast me in the water. Heaven has an avenging eye, and
surely the host of Mice will punish you and not let you escape.'
(ll. 99-109) With these words he breathed out his soul upon the
water. But Lick-platter as he sat upon the soft bank saw him die
and, raising a dreadful cry, ran and told the Mice. And when
they heard of his fate, all the Mice were seized with fierce
anger, and bade their heralds summon the people to assemble
towards dawn at the house of Bread-nibbler, the father of hapless
Crumb-snatcher who lay outstretched on the water face up, a
lifeless corpse, and no longer near the bank, poor wretch, but
floating in the midst of the deep. And when the Mice came in
haste at dawn, Bread-nibbler stood up first, enraged at his son's
death, and thus he spoke.
(ll. 110-121) `Friends, even if I alone had suffered great wrong
from the Frogs, assuredly this is a first essay at mischief for
you all. And now I am pitiable, for I have lost three sons.
First the abhorred ferret seized and killed one of them, catching
him outside the hole; then ruthless men dragged another to his
doom when by unheard-of arts they had contrived a wooden snare, a
destroyer of Mice, which they call a trap. There was a third
whom I and his dear mother loved well, and him Puff-jaw has
carried out into the deep and drowned. Come, then, and let us
arm ourselves and go out against them when we have arrayed
ourselves in rich-wrought arms.'
(ll. 122-131) With such words he persuaded them all to gird
themselves. And Ares who has charge of war equipped them. First
they fastened on greaves and covered their shins with green bean-
pods broken into two parts which they had gnawed out, standing
over them all night. Their breast plates were of skin stretched
on reeds, skilfully made from a ferret they had flayed. For
shields each had the centre-piece of a lamp, and their spears
were long needles all of bronze, the work of Ares, and the
helmets upon their temples were pea-nut shells.
(ll. 132-138) So the Mice armed themselves. But when the Frogs
were aware of it, they rose up out of the water and coming
together to one place gathered a council of grievous war. And
while they were asking whence the quarrel arose, and what the
cause of this anger, a herald drew near bearing a wand in his
paws, Pot-visitor the son of great-hearted Cheese-carver. He
brought the grim message of war, speaking thus:
(ll. 139-143) `Frogs, the Mice have sent me with their threats
against you, and bid you arm yourselves for war and battle; for
they have seen Crumb-snatcher in the water whom your king Puff-
jaw slew. Fight, then, as many of you as are warriors among the
(ll. 144-146) With these words he explained the matter. So when
this blameless speech came to their ears, the proud Frogs were
disturbed in their hearts and began to blame Puff-jaw. But he
rose up and said:
(ll. 147-159) `Friends, I killed no Mouse, nor did I see one
perishing. Surely he was drowned while playing by the lake and
imitating the swimming of the Frogs, and now these wretches blame
me who am guiltless. Come then; let us take counsel how we may
utterly destroy the wily Mice. Moreover, I will tell you what I
think to be the best. Let us all gird on our armour and take our
stand on the very brink of the lake, where the ground breaks down
sheer: then when they come out and charge upon us, let each seize
by the crest the Mouse who attacks him, and cast them with their
helmets into the lake; for so we shall drown these dry-hobs (2)
in the water, and merrily set up here a trophy of victory over
the slaughtered Mice.'
(ll. 160-167) By this speech he persuaded them to arm themselves.
They covered their shins with leaves of mallows, and had
breastplates made of fine green beet-leaves, and cabbage-leaves,
skilfully fashioned, for shields. Each one was equipped with a
long, pointed rush for a spear, and smooth snail-shells to cover
their heads. Then they stood in close-locked ranks upon the high
bank, waving their spears, and were filled, each of them, with
(ll. 168-173) Now Zeus called the gods to starry heaven and
showed them the martial throng and the stout warriors so many and
so great, all bearing long spears; for they were as the host of
the Centaurs and the Giants. Then he asked with a sly smile;
`Who of the deathless gods will help the Frogs and who the Mice?'
And he said to Athena;
(ll. 174-176) `My daughter, will you go aid the Mice? For they
all frolic about your temple continually, delighting in the fat
of sacrifice and in all kinds of food.'
(ll. 177-196) So then said the son of Cronos. But Athena
answered him: `I would never go to help the Mice when they are
hard pressed, for they have done me much mischief, spoiling my
garlands and my lamps too, to get the oil. And this thing that
they have done vexes my heart exceedingly: they have eaten holes
in my sacred robe, which I wove painfully spinning a fine woof on
a fine warp, and made it full of holes. And now the money-lender
is at me and charges me interest which is a bitter thing for
immortals. For I borrowed to do my weaving, and have nothing
with which to repay. Yet even so I will not help the Frogs; for
they also are not considerable: once, when I was returning early
from war, I was very tired, and though I wanted to sleep, they
would not let me even doze a little for their outcry; and so I
lay sleepless with a headache until cock-crow. No, gods, let us
refrain from helping these hosts, or one of us may get wounded
with a sharp spear; for they fight hand to hand, even if a god
comes against them. Let us rather all amuse ourselves watching
the fight from heaven.'
(ll. 197-198) So said Athena. And the other gods agreed with
her, and all went in a body to one place.
(ll. 199-201) Then gnats with great trumpets sounded the fell
note of war, and Zeus the son of Cronos thundered from heaven, a
sign of grievous battle.
(ll. 202-223) First Loud-croaker wounded Lickman in the belly,
right through the midriff. Down fell he on his face and soiled
his soft fur in the dust: he fell with a thud and his armour
clashed about him. Next Troglodyte shot at the son of Mudman,
and drove the strong spear deep into his breast; so he fell, and
black death seized him and his spirit flitted forth from his
mouth. Then Beety struck Pot-visitor to the heart and killed
him, and Bread-nibbler hit Loud-crier in the belly, so that he
fell on his face and his spirit flitted forth from his limbs.
Now when Pond-larker saw Loud-crier perishing, he struck in
quickly and wounded Troglodyte in his soft neck with a rock like
a mill-stone, so that darkness veiled his eyes. Thereat Ocimides
was seized with grief, and struck out with his sharp reed and did
not draw his spear back to him again, but felled his enemy there
and then. And Lickman shot at him with a bright spear and hit
him unerringly in the midriff. And as he marked Cabbage-eater
running away, he fell on the steep bank, yet even so did not
cease fighting but smote that other so that he fell and did not
rise again; and the lake was dyed with red blood as he lay
outstretched along the shore, pierced through the guts and
shining flanks. Also he slew Cheese-eater on the very brink....
(ll. 224-251) But Reedy took to flight when he saw Ham-nibbler,
and fled, plunging into the lake and throwing away his shield.
Then blameless Pot-visitor killed Brewer and Water-larked killed
the lord Ham-nibbler, striking him on the head with a pebble, so
that his brains flowed out at his nostrils and the earth was
bespattered with blood. Faultless Muck-coucher sprang upon Lick-
platter and killed him with his spear and brought darkness upon
his eyes: and Leeky saw it, and dragged Lick-platter by the foot,
though he was dead, and choked him in the lake. But Crumb-
snatcher was fighting to avenge his dead comrades, and hit Leeky
before he reached the land; and he fell forward at the blow and
his soul went down to Hades. And seeing this, the Cabbage-
climber took a clod of mud and hurled it at the Mouse, plastering
all his forehead and nearly blinding him. Thereat Crumb-snatcher
was enraged and caught up in his strong hand a huge stone that
lay upon the ground, a heavy burden for the soil: with that he
hit Cabbage-climber below the knee and splintered his whole right
shin, hurling him on his back in the dust. But Croakperson kept
him off, and rushing at the Mouse in turn, hit him in the middle
of the belly and drove the whole reed-spear into him, and as he
drew the spear back to him with his strong hand, all his foe's
bowels gushed out upon the ground. And when Troglodyte saw the
deed, as he was limping away from the fight on the river bank, he
shrank back sorely moved, and leaped into a trench to escape
sheer death. Then Bread-nibbler hit Puff-jaw on the toes -- he
came up at the last from the lake and was greatly distressed....
(ll. 252-259) And when Leeky saw him fallen forward, but still
half alive, he pressed through those who fought in front and
hurled a sharp reed at him; but the point of the spear was stayed
and did not break his shield. Then noble Rueful, like Ares
himself, struck his flawless head-piece made of four pots -- he
only among the Frogs showed prowess in the throng. But when he
saw the other rush at him, he did not stay to meet the stout-
hearted hero but dived down to the depths of the lake.
(ll. 260-271) Now there was one among the Mice, Slice-snatcher,
who excelled the rest, dear son of Gnawer the son of blameless
Bread-stealer. He went to his house and bade his son take part
in the war. This warrior threatened to destroy the race of Frogs
utterly (3), and splitting a chestnut-husk into two parts along
the joint, put the two hollow pieces as armour on his paws: then
straightway the Frogs were dismayed and all rushed down to the
lake, and he would have made good his boast -- for he had great
strength -- had not the Son of Cronos, the Father of men and
gods, been quick to mark the thing and pitied the Frogs as they
were perishing. He shook his head, and uttered this word:
(ll. 272-276) `Dear, dear, how fearful a deed do my eyes behold!
Slice-snatcher makes no small panic rushing to and fro among the
Frogs by the lake. Let us then make all haste and send warlike
Pallas or even Ares, for they will stop his fighting, strong
though he is.'
(ll. 277-284) So said the Son of Cronos; but Hera answered him:
`Son of Cronos, neither the might of Athena nor of Ares can avail
to deliver the Frogs from utter destruction. Rather, come and
let us all go to help them, or else let loose your weapon, the
great and formidable Titan-killer with which you killed Capaneus,
that doughty man, and great Enceladus and the wild tribes of
Giants; ay, let it loose, for so the most valiant will be slain.'
(ll. 285-293) So said Hera: and the Son of Cronos cast a lurid
thunderbolt: first he thundered and made great Olympus shake, and
the cast the thunderbolt, the awful weapon of Zeus, tossing it
lightly forth. Thus he frightened them all, Frogs and Mice
alike, hurling his bolt upon them. Yet even so the army of the
Mice did not relax, but hoped still more to destroy the brood of
warrior Frogs. Only, the Son of Cronos, on Olympus, pitied the
Frogs and then straightway sent them helpers.
(ll. 294-303) So there came suddenly warriors with mailed backs
and curving claws, crooked beasts that walked sideways, nut-
cracker-jawed, shell-hided: bony they were, flat-backed, with
glistening shoulders and bandy legs and stretching arms and eyes
that looked behind them. They had also eight legs and two
feelers -- persistent creatures who are called crabs. These
nipped off the tails and paws and feet of the Mice with their
jaws, while spears only beat on them. Of these the Mice were all
afraid and no longer stood up to them, but turned and fled.
Already the sun was set, and so came the end of the one-day war.
(1) Lines 42-52 are intrusive; the list of vegetables which the
Mouse cannot eat must follow immediately after the various
dishes of which he does eat.
(2) lit. `those unable to swim'.
(3) This may be a parody of Orion's threat in Hesiod,
"Astronomy", frag. 4.
OF THE ORIGIN OF HOMER AND HESIOD, AND OF THEIR CONTEST
(aka "The Contest of Homer and Hesiod")
Everyone boasts that the most divine of poets, Homer and Hesiod,
are said to be his particular countrymen. Hesiod, indeed, has
put a name to his native place and so prevented any rivalry, for
he said that his father `settled near Helicon in a wretched
hamlet, Ascra, which is miserable in winter, sultry in summer,
and good at no season.' But, as for Homer, you might almost say
that every city with its inhabitants claims him as her son.
Foremost are the men of Smyrna who say that he was the Son of
Meles, the river of their town, by a nymph Cretheis, and that he
was at first called Melesigenes. He was named Homer later, when
he became blind, this being their usual epithet for such people.
The Chians, on the other hand, bring forward evidence to show
that he was their countrymen, saying that there actually remain
some of his descendants among them who are called Homeridae. The
Colophonians even show the place where they declare that he began
to compose when a schoolmaster, and say that his first work was
As to his parents also, there is on all hands great disagreement.
Hellanicus and Cleanthes say his father was Maeon, but Eugaeon
says Meles; Callicles is for Mnesagoras, Democritus of Troezen
for Daemon, a merchant-trader. Some, again, say he was the son
of Thamyras, but the Egyptians say of Menemachus, a priest-
scribe, and there are even those who father him on Telemachus,
the son of Odysseus. As for his mother, she is variously called
Metis, Cretheis, Themista, and Eugnetho. Others say she was an
Ithacan woman sold as a slave by the Phoenicians; other, Calliope
the Muse; others again Polycasta, the daughter of Nestor.
Homer himself was called Meles or, according to different
accounts, Melesigenes or Altes. Some authorities say he was
called Homer, because his father was given as a hostage to the
Persians by the men of Cyprus; others, because of his blindness;
for amongst the Aeolians the blind are so called. We will set
down, however, what we have heard to have been said by the Pythia
concerning Homer in the time of the most sacred Emperor Hadrian.
When the monarch inquired from what city Homer came, and whose
son he was, the priestess delivered a response in hexameters
after this fashion:
`Do you ask me of the obscure race and country of the heavenly
siren? Ithaca is his country, Telemachus his father, and
Epicasta, Nestor's daughter, the mother that bare him, a man by
far the wisest of mortal kind.' This we must most implicitly
believe, the inquirer and the answerer being who they are --
especially since the poet has so greatly glorified his
grandfather in his works.
Now some say that he was earlier than Hesiod, others that he was
younger and akin to him. They give his descent thus: Apollo and
Aethusa, daughter of Poseidon, had a son Linus, to whom was born
Pierus. From Pierus and the nymph Methone sprang Oeager; and
from Oeager and Calliope Orpheus; from Orpheus, Dres; and from
him, Eucles. The descent is continued through Iadmonides,
Philoterpes, Euphemus, Epiphrades and Melanopus who had sons Dius
and Apelles. Dius by Pycimede, the daughter of Apollo had two
sons Hesiod and Perses; while Apelles begot Maeon who was the
father of Homer by a daughter of the River Meles.
According to one account they flourished at the same time and
even had a contest of skill at Chalcis in Euboea. For, they say,
after Homer had composed the "Margites", he went about from city
to city as a minstrel, and coming to Delphi, inquired who he was
and of what country? The Pythia answered:
`The Isle of Ios is your mother's country and it shall receive
you dead; but beware of the riddle of the young children.' (1)
Hearing this, it is said, he hesitated to go to Ios, and remained
in the region where he was. Now about the same time Ganyctor was
celebrating the funeral rites of his father Amphidamas, king of
Euboea, and invited to the gathering not only all those who were
famous for bodily strength and fleetness of foot, but also those
who excelled in wit, promising them great rewards. And so, as
the story goes, the two went to Chalcis and met by chance. The
leading Chalcidians were judges together with Paneides, the
brother of the dead king; and it is said that after a wonderful
contest between the two poets, Hesiod won in the following
manner: he came forward into the midst and put Homer one question
after another, which Homer answered. Hesiod, then, began:
`Homer, son of Meles, inspired with wisdom from heaven, come,
tell me first what is best for mortal man?'
HOMER: `For men on earth 'tis best never to be born at all; or
being born, to pass through the gates of Hades with all speed.'
Hesiod then asked again:
`Come, tell me now this also, godlike Homer: what think you in
your heart is most delightsome to men?'
`When mirth reigns throughout the town, and feasters about the
house, sitting in order, listen to a minstrel; when the tables
beside them are laden with bread and meat, and a wine-bearer
draws sweet drink from the mixing-bowl and fills the cups: this I
think in my heart to be most delightsome.'
It is said that when Homer had recited these verses, they were so
admired by the Greeks as to be called golden by them, and that
even now at public sacrifices all the guests solemnly recite them
before feasts and libations. Hesiod, however, was annoyed by
Homer's felicity and hurried on to pose him with hard questions.
He therefore began with the following lines:
`Come, Muse; sing not to me of things that are, or that shall be,
or that were of old; but think of another song.'
Then Homer, wishing to escape from the impasse by an apt answer,
`Never shall horses with clattering hoofs break chariots,
striving for victory about the tomb of Zeus.'
Here again Homer had fairly met Hesiod, and so the latter turned
to sentences of doubtful meaning (2): he recited many lines and
required Homer to complete the sense of each appropriately. The
first of the following verses is Hesiod's and the next Homer's:
but sometimes Hesiod puts his question in two lines.
HESIOD: `Then they dined on the flesh of oxen and their horses'
HOMER: `They unyoked dripping with sweat, when they had had
enough of war.'
HESIOD: `And the Phrygians, who of all men are handiest at ships
HOMER: `To filch their dinner from pirates on the beach.'
HESIOD: `To shoot forth arrows against the tribes of cursed
giants with his hands --'
HOMER: `Heracles unslung his curved bow from his shoulders.'
HESIOD: `This man is the son of a brave father and a weakling --'
HOMER: `Mother; for war is too stern for any woman.'
HESIOD: `But for you, your father and lady mother lay in love --'
HOMER: `When they begot you by the aid of golden Aphrodite.'
HESIOD: `But when she had been made subject in love, Artemis, who
delights in arrows --'
HOMER: `Slew Callisto with a shot of her silver bow.'
HESIOD: `So they feasted all day long, taking nothing --'
HOMER: `From their own houses; for Agamemnon, king of men,
HESIOD: `When they had feasted, they gathered among the glowing
ashes the bones of the dead Zeus --'
HOMER: `Born Sarpedon, that bold and godlike man.'
HESIOD: `Now we have lingered thus about the plain of Simois,
forth from the ships let us go our way, upon our shoulders --'
HOMER: `Having our hilted swords and long-helved spears.'
HESIOD: `Then the young heroes with their hands from the sea --'
HOMER: `Gladly and swiftly hauled out their fleet ship.'
HESIOD: `Then they came to Colchis and king Aeetes --'
HOMER: `They avoided; for they knew he was inhospitable and
HESIOD: `Now when they had poured libations and deeply drunk, the
surging sea --'
HOMER: `They were minded to traverse on well-built ships.'
HESIOD: `The Son of Atreus prayed greatly for them that they all
might perish --'
HOMER: `At no time in the sea: and he opened his mouth said:'
HESIOD: `Eat, my guests, and drink, and may no one of you return
home to his dear country --'
HOMER: `Distressed; but may you all reach home again unscathed.'
When Homer had met him fairly on every point Hesiod said:
`Only tell me this thing that I ask: How many Achaeans went to
Ilium with the sons of Atreus?'
Homer answered in a mathematical problem, thus:
`There were fifty hearths, and at each hearth were fifty spits,
and on each spit were fifty carcases, and there were thrice three
hundred Achaeans to each joint.'
This is found to be an incredible number; for as there were fifty
hearths, the number of spits is two thousand five hundred; and of
carcasses, one hundred and twenty thousand...
Homer, then, having the advantage on every point, Hesiod was
jealous and began again:
`Homer, son of Meles, if indeed the Muses, daughters of great
Zeus the most high, honour you as it is said, tell me a standard
that is both best and worst for mortal-men; for I long to know
it.' Homer replied: `Hesiod, son of Dius, I am willing to tell
you what you command, and very readily will I answer you. For
each man to be a standard will I answer you. For each man to be
a standard to himself is most excellent for the good, but for the
bad it is the worst of all things. And now ask me whatever else
your heart desires.'
HESIOD: `How would men best dwell in cities, and with what
HOMER: `By scorning to get unclean gain and if the good were
honoured, but justice fell upon the unjust.'
HESIOD: `What is the best thing of all for a man to ask of the
gods in prayer?'
HOMER: `That he may be always at peace with himself continually.'
HESIOD: `Can you tell me in briefest space what is best of all?'
HOMER: `A sound mind in a manly body, as I believe.'
HESIOD: `Of what effect are righteousness and courage?'
HOMER: `To advance the common good by private pains.'
HESIOD: `What is the mark of wisdom among men?'
HOMER: `To read aright the present, and to march with the
HESIOD: `In what kind of matter is it right to trust in men?'
HOMER: `Where danger itself follows the action close.'
HESIOD: `What do men mean by happiness?'
HOMER: `Death after a life of least pain and greatest pleasure.'
After these verses had been spoken, all the Hellenes called for
Homer to be crowned. But King Paneides bade each of them recite
the finest passage from his own poems. Hesiod, therefore, began
`When the Pleiads, the daughters of Atlas, begin to rise begin
the harvest, and begin ploughing ere they set. For forty nights
and days they are hidden, but appear again as the year wears
round, when first the sickle is sharpened. This is the law of
the plains and for those who dwell near the sea or live in the
rich-soiled valleys, far from the wave-tossed deep: strip to sow,
and strip to plough, and strip to reap when all things are in
`The ranks stood firm about the two Aiantes, such that not even
Ares would have scorned them had he met them, nor yet Athena who
saves armies. For there the chosen best awaited the charge of
the Trojans and noble Hector, making a fence of spears and
serried shields. Shield closed with shield, and helm with helm,
and each man with his fellow, and the peaks of their head-pieces
with crests of horse-hair touched as they bent their heads: so
close they stood together. The murderous battle bristled with
the long, flesh-rending spears they held, and the flash of bronze
from polished helms and new-burnished breast-plates and gleaming
shields blinded the eyes. Very hard of heart would he have been,
who could then have seen that strife with joy and felt no pang.'
Here, again, the Hellenes applauded Homer admiringly, so far did
the verses exceed the ordinary level; and demanded that he should
be adjudged the winner. But the king gave the crown to Hesiod,
declaring that it was right that he who called upon men to follow
peace and husbandry should have the prize rather than one who
dwelt on war and slaughter. In this way, then, we are told,
Hesiod gained the victory and received a brazen tripod which he
dedicated to the Muses with this inscription:
`Hesiod dedicated this tripod to the Muses of Helicon after he
had conquered divine Homer at Chalcis in a contest of song.'
After the gathering was dispersed, Hesiod crossed to the mainland
and went to Delphi to consult the oracle and to dedicate the
first fruits of his victory to the god. They say that as he was
approaching the temple, the prophetess became inspired and said:
`Blessed is this man who serves my house, -- Hesiod, who is
honoured by the deathless Muses: surely his renown shall be as
wide as the light of dawn is spread. But beware of the pleasant
grove of Nemean Zeus; for there death's end is destined to befall
When Hesiod heard this oracle, he kept away from the
Peloponnesus, supposing that the god meant the Nemea there; and
coming to Oenoe in Locris, he stayed with Amphiphanes and
Ganyetor the sons of Phegeus, thus unconsciously fulfilling the
oracle; for all that region was called the sacred place of Nemean
Zeus. He continued to stay a somewhat long time at Oenoe, until
the young men, suspecting Hesiod of seducing their sister, killed
him and cast his body into the sea which separates Achaea and
Locris. On the third day, however, his body was brought to land
by dolphins while some local feast of Ariadne was being held.
Thereupon, all the people hurried to the shore, and recognized
the body, lamented over it and buried it, and then began to look
for the assassins. But these, fearing the anger of their
countrymen, launched a fishing boat, and put out to sea for
Crete: they had finished half their voyage when Zeus sank them
with a thunderbolt, as Alcidamas states in his "Museum".
Eratosthenes, however, says in his "Hesiod" that Ctimenus and
Antiphus, sons of Ganyetor, killed him for the reason already
stated, and were sacrificed by Eurycles the seer to the gods of
hospitality. He adds that the girl, sister of the above-named,
hanged herself after she had been seduced, and that she was
seduced by some stranger, Demodes by name, who was travelling
with Hesiod, and who was also killed by the brothers. At a later
time the men of Orchomenus removed his body as they were directed
by an oracle, and buried him in their own country where they
placed this inscription on his tomb:
`Ascra with its many cornfields was his native land; but in death
the land of the horse-driving Minyans holds the bones of Hesiod,
whose renown is greatest among men of all who are judged by the
test of wit.'
So much for Hesiod. But Homer, after losing the victory, went
from place to place reciting his poems, and first of all the
"Thebais" in seven thousand verses which begins: `Goddess, sing
of parched Argos whence kings...', and then the "Epigoni" in
seven thousand verses beginning: `And now, Muses, let us begin to
sing of men of later days'; for some say that these poems also
are by Homer. Now Xanthus and Gorgus, son of Midas the king,
heard his epics and invited him to compose a epitaph for the tomb
of their father on which was a bronze figure of a maiden
bewailing the death of Midas. He wrote the following lines: --
`I am a maiden of bronze and sit upon the tomb of Midas. While
water flows, and tall trees put forth leaves, and rivers swell,
and the sea breaks on the shore; while the sun rises and shines
and the bright moon also, ever remaining on this mournful tomb I
tell the passer-by that Midas here lies buried.'
For these verses they gave him a silver bowl which he dedicated
to Apollo at Delphi with this inscription: `Lord Phoebus, I,
Homer, have given you a noble gift for the wisdom I have of you:
do you ever grant me renown.'
After this he composed the "Odyssey" in twelve thousand verses,
having previously written the "Iliad" in fifteen thousand five
hundred verses (5). From Delphi, as we are told, he went to
Athens and was entertained by Medon, king of the Athenians. And
being one day in the council hall when it was cold and a fire was
burning there, he drew off the following lines:
`Children are a man's crown, and towers of a city, horses are the
ornament of a plain, and ships of the sea; and good it is to see
a people seated in assembly. But with a blazing fire a house
looks worthier upon a wintry day when the Son of Cronos sends
From Athens he went on to Corinth, where he sang snatches of his
poems and was received with distinction. Next he went to Argos
and there recited these verses from the "Iliad":
`The sons of the Achaeans who held Argos and walled Tiryns, and
Hermione and Asine which lie along a deep bay, and Troezen, and
Eiones, and vine-clad Epidaurus, and the island of Aegina, and
Mases, -- these followed strong-voiced Diomedes, son of Tydeus,
who had the spirit of his father the son of Oeneus, and
Sthenelus, dear son of famous Capaneus. And with these two there
went a third leader, Eurypylus, a godlike man, son of the lord
Mecisteus, sprung of Talaus; but strong-voiced Diomedes was their
chief leader. These men had eighty dark ships wherein were
ranged men skilled in war, Argives with linen jerkins, very goads
of war.' (6)
This praise of their race by the most famous of all poets so
exceedingly delighted the leading Argives, that they rewarded him
with costly gifts and set up a brazen statue to him, decreeing
that sacrifice should be offered to Homer daily, monthly, and
yearly; and that another sacrifice should be sent to Chios every
five years. This is the inscription they cut upon his statue:
`This is divine Homer who by his sweet-voiced art honoured all
proud Hellas, but especially the Argives who threw down the god-
built walls of Troy to avenge rich-haired Helen. For this cause
the people of a great city set his statue here and serve him with
the honours of the deathless gods.'
After he had stayed for some time in Argos, he crossed over to
Delos, to the great assembly, and there, standing on the altar of
horns, he recited the "Hymn to Apollo" (7) which begins: `I will
remember and not forget Apollo the far-shooter.' When the hymn
was ended, the Ionians made him a citizen of each one of their
states, and the Delians wrote the poem on a whitened tablet and
dedicated it in the temple of Artemis. The poet sailed to Ios,
after the assembly was broken up, to join Creophylus, and stayed
there some time, being now an old man. And, it is said, as he
was sitting by the sea he asked some boys who were returning from
`Sirs, hunters of deep-sea prey, have we caught anything?'
To this replied:
`All that we caught, we left behind, and carry away all that we
did not catch.'
Homer did not understand this reply and asked what they meant.
They then explained that they had caught nothing in fishing, but
had been catching their lice, and those of the lice which they
caught, they left behind; but carried away in their clothes those
which they did not catch. Hereupon Homer remembered the oracle
and, perceiving that the end of his life had come composed his
own epitaph. And while he was retiring from that place, he
slipped in a clayey place and fell upon his side, and died, it is
said, the third day after. He was buried in Ios, and this is his
`Here the earth covers the sacred head of divine Homer, the
glorifier of hero-men.'
(1) sc. the riddle of the fisher-boys which comes at the end of
(2) The verses of Hesiod are called doubtful in meaning because
they are, if taken alone, either incomplete or absurd.
(3) "Works and Days", ll. 383-392.
(4) "Iliad" xiii, ll. 126-133, 339-344.
(5) The accepted text of the "Iliad" contains 15,693 verses;
that of the "Odyssey", 12,110.
(6) "Iliad" ii, ll. 559-568 (with two additional verses).
(7) "Homeric Hymns", iii.
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