Hesiod’s enchanting proem provides a great insight into the tradition of divine inspiration in Greek poetry and also presents us with some interesting hermeneutical issues, such as the exact meaning of lines 26-28 (Is Hesiod admitting to a concept of fiction, that the muses pick and choose whom they impart truth to, or is Hesiod claiming to be the first to be genuinely visited by the muses?). Having studied these puzzling lines in great detail for my dissertation I have come no closer to solving Hesiod’s enigmatic statement but have grown to love the passage nonetheless.
αἵ νύ ποθ᾽ Ἡσίοδον καλὴν ἐδίδαξαν ἀοιδήν,
ἄρνας ποιμαίνονθ᾽ Ἑλικῶνος ὕπο ζαθέοιο.
τόνδε δέ με πρώτιστα θεαὶ πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπον,
Μοῦσαι Ὀλυμπιάδες, κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο:
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.
Then, one day, they taught Hesiod fair song,
while he was tending his flock on holy Helicon.
These words the goddesses first spoke to me,
they the Muses of Olympus, the maidens of aegis-bearing Zeus:
‘Savage shepherds, miserable wretches, mere bellies,
we know how to speak many lies that seem like real things,
and we know, when we wish, how to speak the truth.’
Thus the ready-voiced maidens of mighty Zeus spoke;
And, extracting a marvellous sceptre, a branch of luxurious laurel,
they gave it to me, and breathed into me divine song,
so that I might recall things that shall be and things that were,
and were urging me to praise the blessed, perpetual gods,
to sing always of them first and last of all.
Chosen and translated by Sarah Cassidy, Classics postgraduate at Edinburgh University.
The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.