Poetic and Performative Memory in Ancient Greece: Heroic Reference and Ritual Gestures in Time and Space

  Calame, Claude. 2009. Poetic and Performative Memory in Ancient Greece: Heroic Reference and Ritual Gestures in Time and Space. Hellenic Studies Series 18. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_CalameC.Poetic_and_Performative_Memory_in_Ancient_Greece.2009.

II. The Succession of Ages and Poetic Pragmatics of Justice: Hesiod’s Narrative of the Five Human Species

What has not been said or written about the “myth of the races?” Inserting Hesiod’s didactic Works poem into a specific time and space, this narrative in Homeric diction is the best example of a text which periodically inspires and focuses interpretive controversy among philologists sorely in need of a new topic. Throughout the different readings the text has inspired, with few exceptions, these hundred lines have been viewed as an autonomous narrative ensemble, cut off from its discursive context, and also cut off from its enunciative situation. The narrative has been reduced from discourse to text. The double structural interpretation from which it benefited in the 1960s contributed to this double isolation, reinforced by the tenacious modern belief in the existence of the myth in itself. Comparison to parallel Eastern versions could have led to an opening up, but due to this universalizing ideological context, it led instead to aporia.

1. Object and method: From structural analysis to discursive study

Through a simple sin of omission, an entire series of obvious points about the discursive reality of the “Hesiodic myth of the races” has generally been forgotten.

If you wish, I shall recapitulate another story (logos), correctly and skillfully, and you lay it up in your spirit: how the gods and mortal human beings came about from the same origin.

Hesiod Works and Days 106-107 (trans. Most)

The use of a native category mentioned at the very beginning of these introductory lines (lines 106-107) demonstrates an essential point: these lines do not represent a “myth,” but a lógos: and so it is a tale, a simple narrative (récit). Next, because of the numbered order of succession in which this lógos presents them, the géne do not correspond to “races,” but this term recalls generations of ancestors, that is to say groups of humans. These groups, five in number, are marked in each case by a special birth, by a spatial-temporal extension, and are marked collectively by an order of linear succession; this is why instead of referring to the myth of the races, we shall substitute the designation of the narrative of five families or narrative of the five ages or even the narrative of the five clans or of the five human species. From the enunciative point of view, the narrative of the five families is introduced without any invocation to the Muse by use of a form of the perfomative future ekkoruphóso (line 106); “I am preparing to achieve”; directly assumed by the “I” speaker, who thus relates it strongly to the narration of the preceding account which tells of the creation of Pandora. Similarly, the lógos of the five ages leads into a narration of the fable of the nightingale and the hawk, by means of a similar performative form (eréo, line 202: “I am going to say”).

The narrative of the five clans, far from being isolated, is in the middle of a sequence of three lógoi , which is itself inscribed in the larger intra-discursive context set out in the lines at the very beginning of the Works: address to the Muses of Pieria to sing praises to Zeus and to put into place the semantic line of justice and the administration of law which will run throughout the entire first part of the poem; evocation of Perses and then an address to the prodigal brother, to introduce by the apologue of the two Disputes the isotopy of productive work (lines 10 and 27) which underlies the semantic development of the second part of the composition; allusion to the conflict which opposes the speaker-I and the interlocutor-you (Benveniste calls this discursive figure the allocuté) and which can be resolved by a judgment reestablishing the equilibrium of fair sharing under Zeus; and, by the utterance (énoncé) of that judgment, introduction of a third isotopy, that of the poetic word in its efficacy. [1] Finally, and still on the enunciative level, the sequence of the three narratives leads to a number of exhortations to Perses, interlocutor or addressee, urging him to keep to the ways of justice in the city; then, in a progressive enunciative slide through more general invitations addressed particularly to kings, the poem of the Works focuses finally on the prosperity which the advice given to a general you is supposed to produce.

While ensuring the coherence of the ensemble of the composition, the polymorphic construction of these different enunciative addresses and interventions, through procedures to which we shall return, poses a question about which genre this poem in epic diction belongs to; and the rules of genre which organize this heroic composition themselves lead, in a transition from the intra- to the extra-discursive, to questions about the enunciative circumstances and the poem’s function! Since it may avoid the interpretive omissions already mentioned, attention to the marks of enunciation that analysis of discourse offers should allow us to trace out the regime of temporality (and of spatiality) at the basis of the narrative of the five ages as it is set out in the Works, while at the same time illustrating the discursive and poetic effects of a didactic spatial and temporal configuration. In a brief comparative return to what has become the Semitic paradigm, we will ask questions about the intra- and extra-discursive functions of a poetic representation of time past, spatially oriented toward the future, before drawing from it one possible lesson in the context of postmodernity.

The interpretive controversy brought about by readings of the narrative of the five ages was deeply marked by the principles of structural analysis in the second half of the twentieth century.

It is to Classics philosopher Victor Goldschmidt that we owe the break with the traditional reading of the narrative as intended to account for the progressive decadence of humanity, gradually given over to injustice. It is also to him that we owe the earliest structural paradigm. Mostly taken up in France, the idea is a brilliant one: through narration, tracing a genetic line establishes a static structure. This narrative procedure makes it possible to demonstrate that the succession of “races” in its decline leads finally to a hierarchic order which assigns distinct places to gods, demons, heroes, and finally to the dead. In reconsidering the reading of the Hesiodic narrative, Jean-Pierre Vernant systematized structurally the fundamental function of a “myth” which he considers “genealogical”: grasped in synchrony, the final differentiated order results from the successive birth of entities which the structure organizes, in the diachronic narrative: golden “race,” silver demons, men of bronze, race of heroes, men of iron, leading to the order of the world assured and controlled by Zeus. His conclusion about the Hesiodic narrative of the ages: “The succession of ages in time reproduces a permanent hierarchic order in the universe.” [2] But to this structural perspective, structural principle itself must be added; it hypothesizes that values composing systems are organized in a sequence or a hierarchy of binary opposites. From that follows the interpretive reorganization of the “myth of the races” into a succession of three couples of géne, symetrically opposed to one another, within a structural opposition presented as a distinctive semantic trait: díke/húbris, “justice/violence.” In this hermeneutic perspective, the men of gold represent the reverse of the men of silver in the exercise of sovereignty; the brutal violence of the men of bronze contrasts with the courageous justice of the heroes in the area of military activity; and the iron age is divided structurally into two contrasting periods of justice and decline from the point of view of productivity of agricultural labor. By reorganizing diachrony into synchrony, the structure ends up fitting into the tri-functional model attributed to the Indo-Europeans.

Among these three attempts to reconcile the principle of genesis leading to structure with the anomalies of a text which, for example, introduces heroes in a sequence of metallic ages, this latter model has a decided advantage; it takes into account the singular status assigned to the iron age by its particular enunciative presentation. Without really drawing all necessary consequences from such an observation, it has been noticed of late that the introduction of the last age was marked by a strong enunciative intervention of the speaker or narrator, an “I” whom we have good reasons to identify with Hesiod (as “author-function.”) [4] In this passage from “history” (or “narrative”) to “discourse,” it is actually both narrated time and the time of narration of the narrative of the five families which come to coincide with the time of the uttered enunciation (énonciation énoncée), and consequently with the enunciation of the poem. The moment is located in the utterance itself by the forceful insertion both of the “I” of the speaker-narrator (line 174) and by the nûn (line 176) which relates the génos of iron to the present moment, temporally.

If only then I did not have to live among the fifth men, but could have either died first or been born after-wards! For now the race is indeed one of iron.

Works and Days 174-176 (trans. Most)

In abandoning the structural paradigm which imposes artificial divisions in order to reconstruct binary oppositions, it is essential to follow carefully the spatial-temporal development of the narrative. Beyond simple recounted time, attention must be turned both to the temporality of the narration which transmits its own rhythm to the succession of ages, and to the time and space of the uttered enunciation, marked by the intervention of the speaker-narrator; in this way, attention will be drawn to the temporal lines which organize the narrative and which give it coherence. Such a perspective is even more important since on the one hand the “myth of the races” shows only a very small part of the principle of explaining structure by genesis, and on the other hand it does not constitute a real genealogical narrative where the final taxonomic order is determined by the progressive engendering of the different entities which compose it. The men of bronze, for example, disappear forever into Hades and assume no function under the sun of the enunciative nûn; they no longer exist at the moment and in the space in which the speaker situates his poetic word.

2. Narrative development: Enunciation and argumentation

Before concentrating on the structure of the narrative itself, before taking up the question of its narrative context, then of its possible extra-discursive reference, we must first look at its enunciative presentation and at its argumentative insertion in the immediate context. As we have just said, the narrative of the five human families is situated between the story of the creation of Pandora (lines 42-105) and the fable of the nightingale and the hawk (lines 202-212); it is thus inserted in a narrative triad which is strongly articulated (gár, line 42) with a first development of the two rivalries and the necessity of resolving the judicial conflict (ténde díken, line 39) between the poet and Perses. This argumentative dimension springs less from the double narrative and narrated time of the story, than from the uttered enunciation of the poem in which the lógos of the five ages is inserted. This poetic line of argument calls for five observations.

2.1. A narrative and poetic prelude

The first observation relates to a point already mentioned. As will also be the case later concerning how best to designate narratives inserted into Attic tragedy, development on the five families is qualified as lógos (line 106) where one would expect to see mûthos. Although the context gives no precise indication, it is not impossible that lógos is a semantic slide; this polysemic term could designate not just an ordered and pragmatic speech, the semantic value which mûthos generally assumes as used in poetry of what is called the “archaic” period, but also the seductive narrative which it sometimes designates in the same period. [6] Let us repeat:

If you wish, I shall recapitulate another story (logos), correctly and skillfully, and you lay it up in your spirit: how the gods and mortal human beings came about from the same origin.

Hesiod Works and Days 106-107 (trans. Most)

Whatever term one chooses to designate it, the narrative of the five ages is introduced by a brief prelude. Brief though it may be, it calls for a second set of remarks. It divides its enunciative procedures between the address of one character to another character, just as we see in the dialogues of epic poetry, and the address of a poet to his intended audience, just as we find in the different forms of didactic poetry. The appeal to the wishes of the hearer “if you will” (ei ethéleis, line 106), for example, evokes Glaucos’ address to Diomedes in the Iliad, while the performative future implied by the form “I am going to relate,” “I am about to tell the essentials” (ekkoruphóso, line 106) evokes the affirmation of the poet’s voice, in its enunciative authority. At the end of the proem of the Works itself, after calling on the presence and the authority of the Muses who will sing of Zeus, the speaker-narrator strongly affirms the realities of which he plans to speak (ke mythesaímen, line 10) to his interlocutor: “And I, Perses, would tell of true things.” [

Third (technical) observation: the sentence in the prelude to the narrator represents a transformation of the utterance (énoncé) which one finds in a number of Homeric dialogues: no longer “I am going to tell you another (argument)” (állo dé toi ereó) as in the Iliad, but in a more precise translation, “I am preparing to give you the essence of another story” (héterón toi egò lógon ekkoruphóso, line 106). [9] By comparison with this metamorphosis, and insofar as it also corresponds to a Homeric formulation, the second part of the prelude’s utterance (énoncé) (sù d’enì phresì bálleo têisin, “you, put this in your heart,” line 107) no doubt also undergoes an expansion. And so the famous line 108, which gives content to the lógos yet to come by assigning to gods and to men a common ascendancy, would be “authentic.” As a complement to the recommendation made to Perses to carefully record the lógos which the poet is reciting, the role of this line would also serve to indicate, as in any prelude, the theme of the narrative to come: the anger of Achilles for the Iliad, the tribulations of Odysseus for the Odyssey, the birth of immortal gods for the Theogony. [10] The narrative of the ages as it is set forth in the Works would thus be centered on the question of the common origin of gods and mortals; this accords with line 59 which presents Zeus as the father of both men and gods, and is in harmony with line 112 which attributes to all men of the gold génos a way of life similar to that of divine beings. We shall return to this question.

Finally, the narrative of the five human families is not just strongly linked to the narrative of Pandora’s creation which precedes it and to the fable of the nightingale and the hawk which follows it, as indicated by its presentation as second narrative (héteron lógon, line 106); but the sequence of three narratives is itself attached by an argumentative gár (line 42, “indeed”) to the first development of the poem, dedicated to the present conflict that opposes the speaker-narrator to his principal addressee, Perses. In its discursive logic, this means that the narrative triad makes up the first part of the argumentation intended to re-establish the balance of the díke, which is to say intended to resolve the dispute with the prodigal brother. The enunciative form assumed by the group of lines which precedes the triple narrative is unambiguous: by a form of the imperative subjunctive which includes in the first person plural both the “I” and the “thou” (diakrinómetha, line 35), it is to put an end to the rivalry which opposes us, by one of those righteous judgments which come from Zeus: by that very act we will set aside those “bribe-swallowing” kings who intend to resolve (dikásai, line 39) “this” case (ténde díken), which is to say both the lawsuit of which we’ve just spoken and the present case – in the double procedure of anaphoric and monstrative deixis, both intra- and extra-discursive, described by Buhler and discussed in the first chapter. [12] This means that from a semantic point of view the three narratives responding to the poetic intention of a performative order are intended to once again take up the three isotopies developed in the prelude and in this first part of the poem, which are – I repeat—the semantic line of balance of díke, dynamically matched to the poetic necessity of re-establishing its balance; next the thematic line of the bíos, which is to say the production of life resources which form the conditions for the realization of justice in the city; and finally the line of the proferred (poetic) word and its effectiveness especially in the area of the díke

2.2. The concern of the beginning: Between Homeric Hymns and historiography

From the “now” of the repeated address to Perses, with no other transition, the lógos of the five ages moves on to the narrative itself. From the time and space of “discourse” with the recommendation to the listener to accept in good spirit the proferred (poetic) word, we thus pass to the time and space of the “story.” By coinciding here with the beginning of narrated time, the initial development of the time of narration forcefully indicates which is the axial moment , the moment of origin of narrative temporality. Indeed the adverbial expression prótista (“at the very first,” line 109) immediately gives an origin to the past where the form of the aorist situates creation (poíesan, line 110) of the first génos of “terrestrial” men (méropes, vers 109). Through this time of narration, the narrated temporal line receives a reference of a chronological sort, or of a “calendar” sort, as Benveniste would say.

The moment of origin has a name: the reign of Kronos; and it has a place: Olympus. This process of engaging the narrative using parameters of time and space recalls the one marking the narrative conduct of certain Homeric Hymns. After the prelude which presents the arrival of the young Apollo in the dwelling of Zeus, the bard of the Hymn to Apollo wonders how he will sing the praises of a divinity as widely praised as the god Phoibos; the narrative will begin at the beginning, at the birth of the god at Delos; a beginning both temporal and spatial.

The syntactic relation between the question pôs in line 19 and the (hymnic) relative adverbe hôs in line 25 relates the performative future form humnéo (“I am going to sing”) not only to the first verbal form of the narrative (téke, “she will engender”), but also with the temporal referent of origin (prôton, “first of all”) and with its spatial referent (Delos). Thus, mediated by the usual procedure of the hymnic relative and in the form of a rhetorical question, the time of the uttered enunciation (the immediate and intentional future of reciting the poem) and the time of narration come to coincide with the axial moment of time recounted: the spatial-temporal beginning of the biography of the god being sung. The narrative of the Pythian part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo begins in exactly the same way: the performative question concerning the modalities of praise is answered, in relative form, by the beginning both of the narrative and of the time and space narrated; mediated by a hymnic hôs, pôs s’humnéso (line 207, “how am I going to sing you?”) corresponds to the points of origin both spatial (Olympus in Pieria, line 216) and temporal (prôton, lines 214 and 216) of the founding of the oracle of Delphi by the god Apollo: no longer the moment of the god’s birth, but that of his first contact with men. Several hymnic compositions express in their first lines this same concern of beginning at the beginning, in order to integrate it into the evocatio of the divinity being sung. “I begin to sing of Demeter . . . and her daughter taken by Hades…” chants the bard who begins the recitation of the long Homeric Hymn dedicated to the goddess of Eleusis and to her daughter. And again, the very brief Homeric Hymn 13, also dedicated to Demeter, shows a significant echo between the initial declaration of the bard and the request which concludes the poem: the performative intention of beginning to sing (árkhom’ aeídein, line 1) is answered by the prayer addressed to the goddess to “begin” the song (árkhe aoídes, line 3), while also directing it, a play on the double meaning of árkhein.

The concern of Herodotus the logographer is not very different from that of the Homeric bard, as far as the beginning is concerned. In the very forceful enunciative intervention that concludes the prologue of his Histories, the historian speaker declares that he knows who first (prôton 1.5.3) gave impetus (hupárxanta, from árkhein) to acts of injustice toward the Greeks; this contrasts with the lógos attributed to the Persians who date back to the Trojan wars the beginning (arkhé, 1.5.1) of their animosity toward the Greeks. In this enunciative declaration by Herodotus, a simple article matched with a participial form (tòn hupárxanta, “the initiator”) has replaced the hymnic relative to introduce the subject of the action which is about to be narrated. But just as in the Homeric Hymns, and even if the corresponding spatial referent is suspended for the moment, the three temporal lines which we have already mentioned run through the narrative discourse: the time of the uttered enunciation actualized in the form of the future perfomative probésomai, “I am going to progress”; the time of the narration implied by the mention of the “narrative,” and its progression (es tò próso toû lógou); and finally the time recounted whose origin is given by the start of the reign of Croesus (1.6.1), the steadfast actor of the first narrative of the Histories! From then on, Croesus can appear—“from what we ourselves know” (hemeîs ídmen; 1.6.2) – not only as the ruler of a kingdom bordering the regions of Asia inhabited by the Ionians, the Aeolians, and the Dorians, but also as the first (prôtos) of the barbarians to have subdued (in the bard’s form corresponding to narrative time) some of the Greeks. The reign of the king of Lydia thus constitutes the spatial-temporal arkhé of Hellenic misfortunes. The three temporal and now spatial lines which organize the discursive logic of Herodotus’ Histories are anchored in this unique point of origin. [

And it is not vastly different for Thucydides himself. After the “archeology” which makes the history of the formation of Greece into a prelude to his treatise, and in one of the very rare enunciative interventions found in his work, the Athenian historian directs his attention to the question of the temporal beginning (érxanto, 1.23.4) of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians and to the implicit location between Athens and Lacedomonia. On this he declares: “Concerning why they broke the treaty, I have recorded the reasons previously in writing (tàs aitías proúgrapsa), in the first place (proton)” (1.23.5). Despite the movement of prolepsis that the earlier narration of causes represents, as it relates both to recounted time and to this enunciative intervention, the problem is indeed the problem of the beginning of this narrated time in concomitance with the beginning of the narration and the moment of the uttered enunciation. But the search for the spatial-temporal origin coincides here with the investigation of “the truest cause” (tèn alethestáten próphasin). In a chronological movement analogous to that which Hesiod followed and which dates Croesus’ ascendancy back to the heroic time of Herakles, concern about the spatial-temporal arkhé in Thucydides becomes an etiological search; it leads to a quasi-judicial investigation into causes, responsibilities, even guilt, for the historical action, in accord with the hierarchically organized meanings assumed by the term aítios. [16]

2.3. Spatial-temporal structures and logics

Hesiod’s narrative of the succession of the five human families, placed as an axial point, will begin by the appearance of the first génos, associated with gold.

2.3.1. Men of gold: Guardians of mortals

In relating how it came to be, the beginning description of the clan of golden age men in the Works leaves not the least enunciative ambiguity.

Golden was the race of speech-endowed human beings which the immortals, who have their mansions on Olympus, made first of all. They lived at the time of Cronus, when he was king in the sky; just like gods they spent their lives, with a spirit free from care, entirely apart from toil and distress.

Works and Days 109-112 (trans. Most)

Use of the aorist (poíesan, line 110) situates the creation of this first “species” in a general narrative past; it is coupled with a temporal mark which fixes this act at the extreme moment of origin (prótista, line 109). This moment not only coincides with the beginning of the narration, marked by the introductory mén, with its emphatic value so frequent in Homeric poetry; it is also dated, in a way: it is the reign of Kronos. Right from the start, and well before any distinction through sacrificial practices, the difference is set out: the immortal gods who have their home on Olympus are distinct from men who, in their legal determination, can claim Merops, an ancestral figure born of the earth. To this extent, mortal men are the result of a process of successive creations distinct from the process of theogonic generation which caused divinities to appear, even if the affinities of these first humans with gold brings them closer to the gods. [
17] For mortal men, the creative logic of epoíesan substitutes for the theogonic and genealogical egéneto! Mortal men were not engendered, they were created.

2.3.2. The men of silver: Blessed chthonians

The temporal position of the silver génos is described three different ways in the line that introduces it: the initial deúteron (line 121) introduces this génos as the “second” species in a numerical succession reinforced at the end of the line by the adverb metópisthen (“following”) which is evoked at the end of this development, in a ring structure, when it is taken up again in line 142; the succession is more like a substitution, since this second family of men is once again created (poíesan, line 128; in the narrative’s time) and once again by the divinities of Olympus in general; finally the comparative kheiróteron, “worse,” sets this second clan in an order of moral degradation where it appears inferior to the family which preceded it.

Afterwards those who have their mansions on Olympus made a second race, much worse, of silver, like the golden one neither in body nor in mind.

Works and Days 127-129 (trans. Most)

Time of narration and recounted time thus coincide once again in the presentation of this species whose own internal temporality merits mention; a particularly long childhood, since it extends to the end of adolescence over a period of a hundred years, followed by an adulthood shortened by the excess, violence, and impiousness which lead these men to disappear quickly. [

Then Zeus, Cronus’ son, concealed these in anger, because they did not give honors to the blessed gods who dwell on Olympus. But since the earth covered up this race too, they are called blessed mortals under the earth—in second place, but all the same honor attends upon these as well.

Works and Days 138-142 (trans. Most)

This disappearance of the silver species is due to the will of Zeus, the “son of Kronos” (line 138). This geneaological description seems to confirm the fact that between the birth of the men of gold and their reappearance on earth a change has taken place in the temporal theogonical line that organizes the birth of the different gods. From the reign of Kronos, we are now in that of Zeus, and the mention of altars in line 136 perhaps presupposes the institution of sacrifice. However that may be, the men of silver, created by the Olympians and hidden by Earth just like the men of gold, have a second life not on the earth but under it (hupokhthónioi, line 141), as opposed to their predecessors who have become epikhthónioi (line 122), as “guardians” of mortal men. In this localizing, which once again refers to the entire extent of the inhabited earth, the “subterranean” beings share with the gods the quality of “blessed” (mákares in line 241: compare to lines 136 and 139). Without being assimilated to the gods, these men of silver end up having a form of immortality, perhaps corresponding with the common origin indicated by the controversial line 108! As such, they nonetheless enjoy some of the honors which they themselves refused the gods of Olympus. To this extent, they enjoy a status which recalls that which the Odyssey gives, for example, to the Dioscuri: both of them were covered by the nourishing earth, before receiving from Zeus the honor of a subterranean life alternating between life and death. [

2.3.3. The men of bronze: Self-destruction and anonymity

Zeus alone is responsible from now on for the succeeding families of mortal men. And so it is to him that it falls to create the clan of men of bronze, the third, says the poem, in a formulation very close to that describing the birth of the first family.

Zeus the father made another race of speech-endowed human beings, a third one, of bronze, not similar to the silver one at all, out of ash trees—terrible and strong they were…

Works and Days 143-145 (trans. Most)

The génos of bronze are thus created from ash trees, probably alluding to a (for us) much later legend which has the human race born of these trees, just as other versions of the birth of men have them springing from oak trees. Going beyond what the text of the Works proposes, we can once again try to bring the creation chronology sketched by the narrative of the ages closer to the narrative line which organizes recounted time in the genealogical narrative of the Theogony. We then notice that in the previous summary of the theogenic process which the poet placed in the mouths of the Muses, humanity appears after the birth of Zeus, at the same time as the “generation of powerful Giants.” Also, in the theogonic narrative itself, the ash Nymphs are born at the same moment when the Giants spring fully armed from the earth, fertilized by the blood which sprang from the genitals of Ouranos, castrated by his son Kronos. [
23] Through the Nymphs, the Works’ men of bronze would also be born from the earth, but in a time situated after the end of the reign of Kronos and after the arrival of Zeus, who was thus by implication born (as we have shown) at the end of the time of men of gold!

Even if it is said to be “in no way equal to the silver age” (line 144), the génos of bronze shares with preceding men enough traits to place it in their succession, both temporally and semantically. Like the men of silver, the men dressed all in bronze demonstrate madness and excess which make them turn their violence against themselves. The brute force of these men, exercised especially in war, is such that there is no need for Zeus to intervene in order to bring about their final disappearance. [24] In addition, impiousness is replaced with a diet based on agriculture, in Hesiod’s description of the bronze family. And so, in a completely negative way, the profile of the men of bronze is inscribed in two of the three great isotopies which run through the poem to ensure its semantic coherence: administration of justice and production of bíos. We could also recall here that violent excess as opposed to balanced justice, piety toward the gods, and consumption of bread are some of the criteria of the yardstick used to measure the more or less savage beings whom Odysseus and his companions meet during their return voyage to Ithaca. [25]

Their weapons were of bronze, bronze were their houses, with bronze they worked; there was not any black iron. And these, overpowered by one another’s hands, went down nameless into the dank house of chilly Hades: black death seized them, frightful though they were, and they left behind the bright light of the sun.

Works and Days 150-155 (trans. Most)

Because of the warlike violence they used against one another in internal conflicts, the men of bronze disappeared through their own efforts. That is probably the reason why not the least trace of them remains to be attached to a name and to a reputation: they are nónunoi, “without name” (line 154); but, in what is probably an etymological pun, they are also deprived of songs of praise (húmnos) which would perpetuate their memory. [
26] They thus enjoy no form of immortalization and have only an ephemeral existence under the sun. To this extent, one cannot attribute to them any function whatsoever in the Indo-European ideology within the hypothetical synchronic structure which apparently underlies the temporality of the succession of the five ages!

Concomitant with this absence of any heroic identity indicated by an ónoma, and according (negatively) with the isotopy of the proferred and effective word which runs throughout the poem as a third line of semantic coherence, the time and space of the men of bronze cannot be related to the hic et nunc of the enuncation in the way that the preceding generations were related to it. On the other hand, the brief allusion to the absence of iron places the bronze family in the perspective of the fifth génos and consequently in the fifth period, the one to which the I-speaker of the poem indicates that he himself belongs. Seen from this angle, the chronological cohesion of the narrative is nonetheless preserved, once again by the coincidence of the temporality of narration with time recounted, and corresponding to the time of uttered enunciation. As for the way in which space is organized, Hades is now added to Olympus where the gods live and to the surface of the earth lit by the sun and where men live, a more precise localization than the earth under which the men of silver are interred, but still active as “blessed”.

2.3.4. The Age of Heroes: Marked space and time

The introduction to the génos of heroes appears generally heterogeneous: it breaks the succession of metals apparently organized in a decreasing scale of values culturally attributed to them. Nonetheless, from the point of view of narrative and discursive temporality as well as spatially, this new family fits perfectly into the sequence begun by the three preceding families. All of the spatial and temporal marks used to organize the syntax of these introductory lines work together to establish this continuity.

When the earth covered up this race too, Zeus, Cronus’ son, made another one in turn upon the bounteous earth, a fourth one, more just and superior, the godly race of men-heroes, who are called demigods, the generation before our own upon the boundless earth.

Works and Days 156-160 (trans. Most)

Besides the bard’s regular usage which prolongs the reference to past time in the narrative, the succession order of the family of heroes as related to the génos of bronze is underlined by a temporal subordinate. This utterance recalls the disappearance underground of the men of bronze, while a kaí which means “equally” (Iine 159) underlines the relationship with the two preceding families, in a reprise of line 140. If the place of the clan of heroes within the succession of géne is indicated by its ordinal number (tétarton, “fourth”), its creation by Zeus fits into the reiterative movement, marked by the use of aûtis, (“once again”) and by the use of éti (“still”).

The designation of “semi-divine” is referenced to the time of the enunciation by the present kaléontai (“they are called,” line 159; see also line 141). This reference changes to a real focal point, from the present moment on, by use of the adjective protére (line 160). The génos of heroes represents the fourth species, as concerns the axial point of time recounted with its objective chronological measurement, but only the “preceding” one as seen from the temporality of the (uttered) enunciation, referenced in the hic et nunc of the poems’ recitation, thus showing the tension between the point of origin of measured time and the reference point of linguistic time, as we discussed in the introduction! And this human species is no longer only a génos among others, but a geneé, which is to say that it (finally!) constitutes a true “generation.” It is thus the generation of heroes which immediately precedes the generation to which the speaker-narrator belongs, a generation whose localization also covers the entire world. [30]

Evil war and dread battle destroyed these, some under seven-gated Thebes in the land of Cadmus while they fought for the sake of Oedipus’ sheep, others brought in boats over the great gulf of the sea to Troy for the sake of fair-haired Helen. There the end of death shrouded some of them but upon others Zeus the father, Cronus’ son, bestowed life and habitations far from human beings and settled them at the limits of the earth…

Works and Days 161-169 (trans. Most)

Just as was the case for the men of bronze, it is not Zeus who consummates the disappearance of the generation of heroes, but the activity which they themselves engage in: no longer stásis, but pólemos, no longer the mutual violence of internal conflicts constantly condemned in classical Greece, but outside war carried on in two specific places: seven-gated Thebes in the land of Cadmus, and Troy reached by ship over the great sea gulf. To these two suddenly specifed locales are added two proper names, in contrast to the anonymous destiny of the men of bronze. Presented as the causes of two warlike expeditions, Oedipus and Helen appear rather like synecdoches of these two epic wars narrated in the two great cycles of Homeric poetry. [
31] From now on, time and space are described, and have a more and more precise face.

Even in the papyrological tradition, the overall syntactic structure of this passage was the object of a number of manipulations and interpolations. But if we remember that in the Odyssey itself, because of their excesses those who participated in the Trojan war had destinies differentiated by death, difficulties of reading can be ironed out. A brief grammar exercise will allow us to observe that the whole set of men of the race of heroes devote themselves to war (toùs mén, in line 160, just as in lines 122, 137, and 141), but are divided into two categories depending on whether they fought at Thebes (toùs mén, line 162) or before the walls of Troy (toùs dé, line 164). This temporal and spatial movement is taken up again in the adverb éntha (“in that place,” and “at that time”), introducing line 166, which some readers thought they could do away with, even in Antiquity. Marked by a forceful enunciative modalization ( ê toi, “in truth”), this line brings chiastic closure to the allusion to the heroes’ general disappearance due to their warlike acts, but it also introduces a new distinction: some (toùs mén, line 166) were enveloped not by the earth, but by death in its fulfillment (just like the men of bronze); others (toîs dé, line 167) were placed by Zeus at the ends of the earth where they henceforth lived a privileged life. That is to say that disappeared into Hades, including Achilles, Agamemnon, and Ajax whom Odysseus met during his descent into hell as told in the Odyssey, while others were sent to the Isles of the Blessed, following the example of Menelaus in the same Homeric poem. We can end this grammatical reading right here: just as in line 161 toùs mén combined with the connector kaí takes up again the category of semi-divine heroes that has just been introduced, so in line 170 the combining of toì mén with kaí takes up again the sub-category of privileged heroes which has just been defined to describe the particularly productive space reserved to them up to the present of the enunciation. [32]

Just as for the preceding human groups, description of the (twofold) destiny reserved to the family of demi-god heroes thus leads if not to the hic, at least to the nunc of the uttered enunciation. After their settlement by Zeus at the edge of the inhabited earth, the privileged heroes stay (naíousin, line 170) near the Ocean river which borders the most distant lands; there are found the Isles of the Blessed, easily identified with the Elysean Fields heralded by Menelaus in the Odyssey. In chapter V, discussing gold lamellae, we shall come back to this concept of an afterlife split between humid darkness in Hades and heroic light bathing the green prairies of an eternal springtime. [33] This return from the time of narration and from recounted time to the time of enunciation is underlined by the description of these men as “blessed heroes” (ólbioi héroes, line 172): the form of the apposition calls to mind the particular form of general address called makarismós; the formula “blessed are those who,” is intended precisely to praise the happiness of mortals who in death achieved a form of immortality which brings them closer to the gods. [34]

…and these dwell with a spirit free of care on the Islands of the Blessed beside deep-eddying Ocean – happy heroes, for whom the grain-giving field bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing three times a year.

Works and Days 170-173 (trans. Most)

Is this then a return to the golden age, in a cyclical concept of time relating the destiny of the blessed heroes to the way of life enjoyed by the men of gold? Not entirely, since even if the evocation of the Isles of the Blessed does indeed permit a return to the isotopy of well-being that results from agricultural abundance, there is nonetheless a twofold slide between the golden age and the age of heroes. [
35] A temporal slide first of all, since the abundance of an especially fertile earth refers to the past in the lives of the golden men, whereas it marks the present post-mortem destiny of heroes living on the Isles of the Blessed; a semantic slide also, in that, beyond the ring structure which seems to relate lines 172-173 to lines 117-118 (especially by reiterating the formulaic expression zeídoros ároura), flourishing three times a year has replaced the spontaneous production of the age of gold. If the golden age is traditionally attributed to the utopian reign of Kronos, the other is typical of particularly fertile lands cultivated by mortals, such as Cyrene in Libya. This difference in the absence of cyclic return did not escape Plato himself; in the etymologizing commentary on the Hesiodic narrative which Plato gives in the Cratylus, Socrates relates the family of heroes to the men of gold; but while the latter are sensible beings to the extent that daimones must be compared to daémones, “learned,” the former are héroes because, through eírein, “do say,” they are skillful rhetoricians…. [36]

2.3.5. The men of iron: A prophetic future

It must be obvious by now that if one narrative ought to be shielded from the structural principle of textual immanence, that narrative must be the “myth of the races.” The structural position assumed by the fifth species, the men of iron, is indeed incomprehensible if one does not know that it is situated from the very beginning in the perspective of the speaker or narrator, consequently in the perspective of the one singing the poem of the Works. This displacement of the narrative point of view to an enunciative point of view, the passing from the level of “narrative” to that of “discourse,” is so pronounced that the intervention of “I” is substituted for the expected description of the creation of this iron species.

If only then I did not have to live among the fifth men, but could have either died first or been born after-wards! For now the race is indeed one of iron. And they will not cease from toil and distress by day, nor from being worn out by suffering at night, and the gods will give them grievous cares.

Works and Days 174-177 (trans. Most)

By expressing a wish to be excluded from a “now” that coincides simply with the existence of men (ándres, line 175) who belong to the age of iron, the poet imposes his own enunciative temporality on the time of narration and of time recounted. From the grammatical point of view, the axial point of this present time, contrasting with the prótista of line 109, is signified by the connector nûn gàr dé, “because now exactly,” placed in a strong position in line 176. [
37] That is to say that it coincides from now on with the axial point of the time of enunciation (uttered in the poem), a point which itself coincides with the unnamed point in space from which the speaker speaks. This correspondence creates a strong tension, which can already be felt in the introduction of the generation of heroes, between the hic et nunc of enunciation and the prótista at the beginning of the narrative, which marked the axial point of time recounted; this narrative and chronological beginning coincides semantically with the creation of the men of gold, in a space not yet well defined.

From now on death (thaneîn, line 175) and birth (genésthai), in inverse order will no longer be those of the human species, but of the I. This new temporality of the poetic enunciation is thus made up of a “before” and an “after”: a “before” (prósthe, line 175) in which the poet’s wish to have disappeared in the time of the heroes could be situated (corresponding perhaps with the protére of line 160), and an “after” (épeita) which implicitly follows the present period of the men of iron.

If the act of creating the species of iron is not mentioned, its destiny is described at length. In a first moment, the destiny of this family made up of men attached to the earth (through the use of the formula génos merópon anthrópon in line 180 just as for the species of gold and bronze in lines 109 and 143) is presented as an uninterrupted sequence of sorrows and worries, sent by the gods by day and by night. The good being inadequate to make up for the bad, this species too will end in ruin initiated by Zeus (Zeùs d’olései kaì toûto génos , line 180; in a verb form which will henceforth be in the future). From this first incursion into the future of the iron species to foretell its ruin, the temporal movement impressed on the narration is far from indifferent. The future moment of the destruction of this generation of men through the will of the son of Kronos is announced by a phase of complete breakdown in social relations: the failure of reciprocal trust within the family, in the political community, and toward the gods. This can be seen as the poet’s way of linking negatively to the isotopy of administration of justice, or even with that of agricultural abundance in refusing to feed one’s parents, but also with that of the just word which is placed in the prelude to the poem. Not only will the men of iron end up entrusting the equilibrium of justice to physical violence (díke d’en khersí, line 192), behaving like men of bronze, but they will give themselves over to malicious reproach (mémpsontai, line 186), and by their twisted speeches (múthoisin skolioîs, line 194) they will ensure the triumph of the bad over the best (areíona, line 193; echoing the description of the species of heroes in line 158).

The narration of the lógos thus places all five géne in a single temporal and logical sequence; it leads the hearer or reader from the first axial point introducing the time and marking the space recounted (prótista, line 109), to the possible future (éssetai, line 201), foretold from the axial time and space of enunciation (lines 174-176). This enunciative moment also corresponds to the time of the performative speech act which signals the beginning of the narration (ekkoruphóso, line 106: “I am going to state”), and which has already been mentioned. The narrative’s temporal and logical suspension thus restores to the speaker, and so to the poet, the power to conclude the narrative as he wishes. The same applies to the two narratives which surround the lógos of the five human families. The spatial-temporal logic of this lógos, along with its incompleteness, can be understood only in this larger narrative context.

2.4. Narrative and poetic context

Just like the lógos of the five families of men, neither the Pandora narrative which precedes it, nor the fable of the nightingale and the hawk which follows it, closes with a real phrase of narrative sanction.

2.4.1. Narrative of Pandora and the jar of Hope

I have attempted elsewhere to show that the logical conclusion of the Pandora narrative in the Works isn’t really a logical conclusion. In this version which differs in narrative logic from the one given in the Theogony, Zeus’ rage is doubled, indirectly represented by taking the spontaneous bíos away from men, and in reaction to Prometheus’ ruse to steal fire for men. The double sanction given in this first narration of the Works could correspond to Zeus’ doubled rage: the creation of Pandora and the gift of this deceptive misfortune (pêma, line 82) to men “who eat bread”; and through the presence of woman, diffusion of evils among men on land and sea, diseases, and sorrows (kédea lugrá, line 95). Spatially, the divide is now complete between the gods on the one hand, “all” (pántes, line 81) of whom live on Olympus, and who are thus involved in the etymology of Pandora’s name (“gift of all”), and men on the other hand who live on the earth (epì khthoní, line 90) that they cultivate. But the presence of Elpis at the bottom of the jar from which these sad afflictions came indicates that the narrative state (reached after the creation of Pandora and after the jar is opened) is far from stable; even less so since Zeus himself wanted the píthos to be closed before Hope could escape.

Related to the potential for later narrative action development embodied in the dynamic figure of Hope, the time sequence of the Pandora narrative in some ways anticipates that of the lógos of the five ages. The narrative has its departure point (time of narration) in a present state: the gods do not hold (ékhousi) the resources of life at man’s disposal. From this present state, the time of narration leads us etiologically toward the origin of recounted time. If the gods have hidden the bíos from men, it is because of the wrath of Zeus, triggered twice by Prometheus’ ruse. The resentment of the king of gods is provoked first by an act which isn’t even mentioned, although it offers both the situation “Lack” (Manqué) (la situation “Manque”) likely to set off narrative action and the axial point of the entire process of temporal-spatial separation between immortals and mortals. The version of the narrative given in the Theogony allows us to identify this initial moment with the creation of animal sacrifice. Then the wrath of Zeus is revived by the theft of fire which the god had hidden from men while contemplating inflicting sorrows (kédea lugrá line 49) on them for the first time. The consequence is the creation of this “great evil” which proves to be Pandora, for “future men.”

But that is not all, since in order to reiterate the sorrows promised to men and to spread those sorrows among them, Pandora, now a woman, had to open the jar which contained them. All evils escaped, except Hope. A return to the present is assured by consequences of the sequence of three narrative acts, intended by Zeus (concealing of fire, creation of Pandora, opening then closing the jar of evils) and all told in the mode of the aorist: from now on, the sinister evils (lugrá, line 100) wander (aláletai, in the perfect as a resultative!) among men, and the earth and the sea are full of them. From a verbal and semantic point of view, this return to the present is underscored particularly by the return of an expression “(Zeus) imagined sorrows for men” as a ring structure (anthrópoisin emésato kédea lugrá, line 95), then by inserting the term lugrá in the present of the enunciation.

In its use of formulaic diction, and by exploiting the variations it permits, this absence of ills and fatigues (nósphin áter te kakôn kaí . . . pónoio, line 91) anticipates the description of the golden age that begins the succession of the five géne; men did indeed live like gods in the time of Kronos, quite apart from pain and misery (nósphin áter te pónou kaì oizúos, line 133). By contrast, the near future of the iron species as the poet imagines it is marked by constant fatigue and misery (kamátou kaì oizúos, line 177). The first state of easy work imagined at the beginning of the Pandora creation narrative evokes the condition that men of gold in the following lógos will enjoy, and evokes it even more strongly in that the spontaneous production (ároura automáte, line 118) that characterizes the golden age contrasts with the spontaneity of diseases (autómatoi, line 103) resulting from the instability which is the end result of the Pandora story! Through these correspondences and verbal repetitions, the precarious situation caused by opening the jar and leaving Elpis alone in the Pandora narrative recalls the highly uncertain future prophesied for the men of iron.

Taken as a theme in the sequence of gifts and deceptive counter-gifts given to man by Zeus, a true lesson in reciprocity and in reestablishing legal balance, the isotopy of justice thus combines with that of productive work, giving the Pandora narrative both its semantic depth and its etiological purpose concerning the condition of mortal man. The temporal movement of this version, stretched between a point of origin characterized by friendliness with the gods and the present of the enunciation with its situation of imbalance, leads to a precarious state, just as its narrative conduct does; like the narrative of the five ages, it calls for a complement, if not for a “Sanction” in narrative logic.

2.4.2. The fable of the hawk and the nightingale as argument

The need for this narrative complement weighs heavily at the end of the other narrative enclosing the lógos of the five species of men. This is the well-known fable (aînos, line 201) of the hawk and the nightingale, specifically addressed to the third of three alternate successive interlocutors of the poem of the Works: first Perses, then a generic you, and now “kings.” The apologue is told in the mode of the aorist, and this time sends us to a past so indeterminate that it might in this particular case have only gnomic value. But the narration of the animal aînos is referenced to the time of enunciation. By the form eréo (line 202), it branches off the same nûn, the same present moment put forth by the speaker when he tries to remove himself from the iron period (line 176); it is grasped as a speech act by the same form of the future performative which begins the full narrative of the ages (line 106). It is simply a question of “telling” the fable, just as the speaker introduces the second major part of the poem dedicated to the Works, by showing his will to tell it (eréo, line 286) to Perses, and just as in the final section of the composition, where the poet announces his intention to tell (eréo, line 661) Zeus’s designs by telling the seasons for navigation and which days are favorable.

2.4.3. Poetic efficacy, between justice and life resources

The reestablishment of narrative balance of the three linked lógoi is finally done by the poem itself, the poem taken up by the voice of the speaker-bard. A new imperative invitation assumed by the speaker and addressed to Perses is substituted for the expected reply from the nightingale-bard. Once again the verbal echoes are striking: by its formulation (“O Perses, as for you, listen to right and do not harbor violence”; ô Pérse, sù d’ákoue díkes, méd’húbrin óphelle, line 213), this address returns to the double (positive and negative) invitation that marks the start of the poem (“O Perses, as for you, lay up these things within your heart”; ô Pérse, sù dè taûta teôi enikátheo thumôi, line 27). While framing the set of three narratives, the new address on the one hand associates Perses with the kings as an underlying figure for the “enigmatic” mask of the hawk in the fable, and on the other hand it is formed as a recommendation about respecting díke and refusing húbris. In so doing, it brings the narrative sanction and expected moral back from the three narratives to the poem itself. The recommendations made to Perses in line 213, and to the kings in line 218, thus complete the discursive and ethical logic of the three linked narratives.

This reestablishment, this discursive and enunciative rebalancing, takes place on the semantic level as well as in the temporal dimension, if not in the spatial dimension. From a semantic point of view, the recommendations to Perses in the assertive mood of the judgment reestablish contact with the isotopies of right and of productive fertility placed in the prelude and in the opening part of the poem. Briefly, and to avoid repeating what I have already said elsewhere on the function of the Works as an ethical judgment, but more especially as a judicial judgment, I will only point out that in contrast to the hubristic law of the strongest (pròs kreíssonas, line 210) uttered by the hawk at the end of the aînos dedicated to him, the speaker and narrator shows the “stronger” way (kreísson, line 217) which leads to just acts and which allows right to triumph over excess, over hubris, in the end (télos, line 218, in contrast for example with the beginning of time told in the narrative of the five human species). Just as Epimetheus in the Pandora narrative only realized his error (enóese, line 89) once the evil was accepted, the naïve person (népios, line 218; see line 40) recognizes his error in judgment (égno, line 218) only by experiencing the triumph of justice. And in contrast with the barely-glimpsed end of the age of iron, marked by the retreat to Olympus of Decency and Indignation, the present victory of right signifies the presence of Oath and Justice; it also signifies the blooming of the city kept away from war on an earth which produces abundant harvests (polùn bíon, line 232), under the watchful eye of Zeus, who rights wrongs. This state of flourishing and peaceful plenty for the pólis once again evokes the golden age; [47] and it is even more strongly and explicitly opposed to the state which announces the eventual disappearance of the men of iron in that it is characterized by the resemblance between children and parents (line 235), which became blurred at the prophesied end of the age of iron (line 182)! The three narratives do indeed take on a semantic and argumentative function in the poem seen as judgment. From a narrative logic point of view, they get their Sanction in the utterance of advice given by the narrator and assumed by his poetic voice.

2.5. Enunciative polyphony and the voice of the poet

2.5.1. The poet’s word of authority and hope

In this provisional sense, the poet ends by expressing hope (éolpa, line 273) for the realization of justice, a striking correspondence to the figure of Hope which alone remained at the bottom of Pandora’s jar. Accepted henceforth by the speaker with his poetic voice of authority, hope thus remains that despite everything the justice of Zeus may be realized (teleîn in line 273, echoing the es télos of line 218). After once again affirming the interdependence of the word of justice with happiness (ólbos, line 281) through the will of Zeus, the first major part of the poem ends like the narrative of the five ages, on a prophetic, even oracular, future: the progeny (geneé, line 284) of the perjurer will wither away, while that of the man faithful to his oath (once again geneé in line 285!) will prosper. [51] This is hope, now uttered by the voice of the poet himself:

But whoever willfully swears a false oath, telling a lie in his testimony, he himself is incurably hurt at the same time as he harms Justice, and in after times his family is left more obscure; whereas the family of the man who keeps his oath is better in after times.

Works and Days 280-285 (trans. Most)

From that comes the effectiveness of the poetic word, as capable as prophecy of reestablishing order controlled by Zeus, a mediator between díke and bíos, between the balance of justice on the one hand, material and moral prosperity on the other. Ending as it does on a dynamic future, the conclusion of this first major part of the Works, in its putting-into-discourse, once again takes up the temporal movement of the narrative of the five successive species of men. The lógos of the five ages does not close time upon itself; its narrative movement does not close recounted time as a circle. But just as in the other two accounts in the narrative triad, this dynamic temporality arranges the preceding species into a sequence with an argumentative value, a pragmatic line which makes its lesson active in the present of the enunciation and in the space of the city.

2.5.2. Communication, poetic genre, and the city

While contributing internally to giving a civic and universal meaning to the advice concerning justice offered by the Works in its two constituent parts, the various enunciative indices which punctuate these hexameter verses in epic diction also point to the external and historical communicative situation. Along with the question of the argumentative insertion of the narrative of the five generations of men into the intra-discursive context of the poem, the poetics of its enunciation also poses the question of its extra-discursive context. The enunciative indices mentioned send us back to the conflict between the speaker and narrator (which the sphragís of the Theogony allows us to identify as Hesiod) and his brother Perses. These two figures thus appear not simply as discursive creations, as “poetic persons” in particular enunciative positions; they also correspond on the one hand to poetic functions such as that of the bard who can later take up Hesiod’s verses, and on the other hand to historical subjects. These individuals have the civil and civic identity which a proper name confers, and they are involved in a specific family situation which other indices allow us to glimpse. [53] But through its fictional powers the poem has transformed a historical dispute about an inheritance in a particular city into a general situation, valid for any pólis where the power of arbitration is in the hands of “kings,” whether the heads of aristocratic families or the elders meeting in council, who represent the authority of Zeus on earth and in the city. [54]

3. The hazards of comparison: “comparing the incomparable”?

Probably due to the serious gaps in our historical knowledge of the civic communities to which Hesiod was speaking, interpreters of the narrative of the five human families turned to comparison to find possible confirmations of their readings in parallel narratives from other cultures. For anyone who hopes to enrich the interpretation of Greek texts whose universe of reference has largely disappeared due to cultural and temporal distance, the comparatist’s route offers two privileged ways of proceeding, first proposed through historical and social anthropology: Indo-European reference and Semitic reference.

3.1. Comparatist incursions between Indo-European and Semitic references

3.2. Daniel and the vetero-testamentary dream of Nebuchadnezzar

In the kind of historical interpretation of the dream given by Daniel himself, the head of gold is identified in the narrative with Nebuchadnezzar, who through the will of God in Heaven rules over all humanity, with power, strength, and glory. Moving from the synchronic to the diachronic, the parts of the body become kingdoms which follow one another, in progressive decadence, until finally the agglomeration of iron and clay marks the arrival of a reign subject to division. This ultimate reign will be destroyed and finally replaced by the mountain, recalling the eternal kingdom of the very God who, while destroying forever all preceding reigns, also ensures the veracity of the dream and the pertinence of its interpretation!

Without going into the details of a rather complex discursive and enunciative construction, we notice that apart from a few analogies limited to the succession of metals, the Old Testament narrative presents a recounted time, and consequently a narration, centered on a precise chronological moment (second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and a defined geographic point (Babylon, the capital and the residence of the king). In this, the narrative is completely unlike the Hesiodic narrative of the five families which, rather than having a historical spatial-temporal reference, is oriented on the hic et nunc of the enunciation, a hic et nunc which is referenced neither temporally nor spatially. The temporality that runs through the biblical narrative is thus the exact inverse of the discursive time constructed in the Hesiodic narrative. From the enunciative point of view, the narration describing the statue and its destiny, along with the interpretive narrative that it gives rise to, are not directly taken on by a speaker-narrator inspired by the Muse; rather, both are put in the mouth of one of the protagonists of a third-person narrative marked by chronological and historical points of reference, set off from any explicit enunciative intervention. Inserted into an anonymous narration, the twofold narrative about the statue made of four metals (plus clay) is thus spoken by the wise foreigner who intervenes in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. But in his inserted narrative, and thus mimetically, the young Daniel is inspired by the knowledge of God; that knowledge is revealed in a vision prior to his confrontation with the king of Babylon. The indirect instance of enunciation that underlies the narrative of the statue and its interpretation is thus dual: on the one hand it relates to the “God in Heaven” recognized by the Hebrews in the kingdom of Juda, and on the other hand it relates to one of the young men chosen by the king of Babylon for a scholarly education; he enjoys superior intelligence and knowledge, especially in the interpretation of dreams, thanks to the god of Israel.

In the narrative that frames Daniel’s intervention, the king’s requirement that he guess the dream before correctly interpreting it also places the structure temporally before it actually happens: first the five reigns (not géne, or human species) in synchronic and hierarchic order assigned to them by the relative value of the corresponding metal and by their respective place in the body of the statue, then the narrative intervention of the rock which, after simultaneously reducing all parts of the statue to dust, transforms itself into a mountain. This narrative overthrow gives its temporal dynamic to the interpretive narrative which follows, transforming the classification order given by the description of parts of the statue into a succession of more and more fragile kingdoms. This sequence leads to the creation of the eternal reign of “God in Heaven,” the god who gave to Daniel the knowledge and inspiration which are the very basis of the hermeneutic narrative itself.

Contrary to what happens in the Hesiodic text, the (narrative) present of the uttered enunciation of the subordinate biblical narrative is well-marked by a prior address to the king of Babylon, while being placed from the outset under the authority of the God of Israel:

Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, “The secret which the king hath demanded cannot the wisemen, the astrologers, the magicians, the soothsayers, shew unto the king; But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these;…”

Daniel 2.27-28, King James version

This enunciative spatial-temporal referencing coincides not only with the end, but also with the beginning, with the central moment of recounted time: the head of the statue is not only the head of the king beset by visions, but it is also the kingdom of gold and consequently the reign of Nebuchadnezzar himself. The successive reigns are henceforth presented in an interpretive and prophetic future which leads them, in a conformity between time of narration and narrated time, to final destruction; a destruction which, with the advent of the kingdom of God on earth, marks the creation of a second axial point. Because of its permanent and terrestrial nature, and also because he who dominates and he who reveals through the mouth of Daniel are one and the same, the narrative time of the reign of “Great God” includes the time of enunciation while at the same time providing its meaning. Thanks to this reversal, the future and divine kingdom of the one God of the Judeans takes the place of the golden age of the present human reign as spatial and temporal point of reference; the different discursive levels and the different spatial-temporal lines of the biblical narrative all converge there.

A teleological perspective, centered on the atemporal and universal reign of divine authority, has taken the place of a focus on the time-space of the enunciation and on the effects of the poetic word. Nothing could be more foreign to the poetics of memory in “archaic” Greece; nothing could be more exotic for the Greeks, constantly preoccupied by the realization of their mortality within the civic community, in an earthly time without absolute divine finality and subject to sudden and unforeseen reversals of fortune; nothing could be farther—as we shall see in the last chapter—from the accompanying concern for a form of afterlife in an ideal world, isolated from the home of the gods on Olympus, at the ends of the inhabited earth.

4. The hic et nunc of a didactic poem

Despite the numerous ways of transmitting it that have been imagined recently, in trying to refer the symbolic manifestations of eighth- and seventh-century Greeks to different “oriental” influences, neither the date of the biblical text nor the ideology which runs through it will permit us to establish the slightest contact, much less any filiation, with the Hesiodic text. [61] Rather than allowing us to claim that “the myth appears entirely alien to the general Greek view of the past as reflected in the whole corpus of epic and genealogical poetry,” study of the spatial-temporal structure of the narrative of the five human species reveals within the succession of their respective qualities what has rightly been seen as a progressive “historicization”; [62] to this is added a more and more specific spatial focus. Indeed, if the description of violence committed by the men of bronze on the earth in general recalls the same vocabulary which often describes the heroes of the Iliad, related to their partial integration into the poetic “age of bronze,” the mention of epic heroes who died under the walls of Troy or of Thebes evokes the religious honors accorded some of them in Hesiod’s time. The gradual narrowing of the temporal gap, moving toward the historic reality of the enunciation’s “now,” goes hand in hand with a geographic movement toward its “here:” following the spatial reference of the first three families on the earth of men, the heroes are situated in Greek space, in Thebes and in Troy, in order to lead (along with the age of iron) to the hic of the poem’s enunciation. It will be for the future, oriented by the poem, to offer from this hic et nunc a spatial-temporal frame valid for any (Greek) pólis, subject to Zeus and enjoying the prosperity ensured by the balance of justice.

While the very condition of the mortal precludes a cyclical return to the golden age, the narrative of man’s past from its point of origin (situated in another time), as well as the evocation of the post mortem destiny granted to the generation of heroes (generation, not species: geneé, not génos) in a confined space, reinforces the spatial-temporal power of the poet’s word. A temporal course and a spatial incursion are placed at the service of a poetic voice, supported by the Muses and inspired by Zeus, which maintains hope of lawful action (action juridique). In its poetic extension, this act of justice will place the civic community, through the development of vital resources, in a state near the quasi-divine beatitude experienced both by the men of gold at the beginning of human history and by the heroes at the ends of the earth. Quite apart from any cyclical concept of time, it is here a question of reorienting the future, through the didactic force of the epic word, and by reference to a paradise lost and a paradise to be found: the golden age and the isles of the blessed in a poetic memory oriented towards the future. [65] Only justice and work can make the “here” of the city coincide at least temporarily with these two other places that resemble the domain of the gods. The social propositions formulated in comedies from the first part of Aristophanes’ career, using reversal and comic derision, are really not very different: from the Acharnians to the Peace, the civic utopia staged before assembled citizens in the theater of Dionysus refers to a golden age which can be realized only through the orderly workings of distinctly human institutions on which the age of iron is founded, on marriage, sacrifice, and banquet! [66]


[ back ] 1. The three isotopies articulating the content of the Works into three interlaced lines of semantic development were defined by my essay in 1996c, where there are also a number of references to various studies illustrating this idea.

[ back ] 2. Goldschmidt 1950:33-38 (unification of two different traditions, the “myth of the ages” and the narrative of the “separation of divine beings,” where the former becomes an etiological myth of the latter), in an analysis taken up by Vernant 1960:24-30 (25 for the quote); for details of the controversy over attempts to apply the principles of structural analysis and what each of the two authors brought specifically, see particularly Couloubaritsis 1996:479-485 (see also references given in n7).

[ back ] 3. In order, cited are interpretations by Carrière 1996:419, Couloubaritsis 1996:517-518, and Crubellier 1996:453.

[ back ] 4. Credit for pointing it out belongs to Neschke 1996:473-477; see also Crubellier 1996:440-442, Most 1997:111-114, and Sourvinou-Inwood 1997:4-5. The relevant reading of Neschke results in organizing the ages into two triads: gold/silver/bronze, heroes (“before us”)/iron (“now”)/iron 2nd phase (“after us”). The identity of the speaker or reader with Hesiod is whispered to the listener/reader by lines 22-25 of the Theogony; Stoddard 2004:1-33, has just completed a good study on the controversial question of the autobiographical value of the “I” of the Hesiodic poems, and prefers the notion of “implied author” (34-59).

[ back ] 5. Concerning the semantic distinction between génos et geneé, cf. n30 below.

[ back ] 6. On the meaning of lógos as opposed to mûthos in Hesiod’s poems, see Lincoln 1997, and additional references given in n7.

[ back ] 7. Iliad 6.150; see also Iliad 20.213. I studied the enunciative profile of the prelude to the Works (1996c:170-175); analyses of these ten indroductory lines are also indicated: in Antiquity, their authenticity was questioned. Wakker 1990:88-90, suggests for ekkorupháo the meaning of kurz erzählen, skizzieren.

[ back ] 8. On the triple interlocutor to whom the Works is addressed (Perses, the generic you, and kings) see my remarks in 1996c:174-181 (and n29), as well as Schmidt 1986:29-79. On the structure of the entirety of the poem, see Hamilton 1989:47-84.

[ back ] 9. The required parallels are proposed by West 1978;177-178, and by Carrière 1991:65; see especially Xenophanes fr. 21 B 7 (Diels-Kranz): nûn aût’állon épeimi lógon (note the aûte which indicates the recurrent addition).

[ back ] 10. All details of the controversy concerning line 108, which is commented in the scholia, can be found in Carrière 1991:63-72. On the structure of the Homeric proems, see especially Pucci 1998:11-29.

[ back ] 11. Odyssey 11:368; Theognis 769-772; Solon fr. 1:51-55 (Gentili-Prato).

[ back ] 12. On the enunciative phrasing of this groups of verses, see the analysis presented in 1996c:178-181; on deixis, see chapter I, section 3.2 with n33; on this passage, cf. Calame 2005b: 122-125.

[ back ] 13. Homeric Hymn to Apollo 3.19-21 and 25-27; see also 207-216. On the meaning of the term méropes, see section 2.3.1 below with n17.

[ back ] 14. Homeric Hymn to Demeter 13.1-3; for the figure of Arche, particularly in the field of poetry, see Deienne 1998: 114-120.

[ back ] 15. Herodotus 1.5.1-1.6.2; on the question of arkhé in Greek historiography, see especially Darbo-Peschanski 1995:19-26.

[ back ] 16. Thucydides 1.23.4-1.23.5; the relationship that Herodotus establishes between the beginning and the cause in both an moral and legal sense because of the polysemy of the term aítios has been elucidated by several studies which I cited in 2000a:151-153 with n14 and n16; see also Vegetti 1999:276-279, and chapter I, section 4.3 above.

[ back ] 17. The relationship between méropes (ánthropoi) and the eponymous hero of Cos Mérops is detailed by Chantraine 1968:687. Brown 1998:392-394, showed that objects made of gold are more often the prerogative of the gods of Olympus than attributes of the royalty.

[ back ] 18. On the genealogical temporality of the Theogony, see West 1966:31-39.h

[ back ] 19. The status of the daímones, heroes living on or under the earth, is well defined by Nagy 1979:152-155, as related to respect for díke by mortal men. This status is probably specified in a comic fragment attributed to Aristophanes fr. 322 (Kassel-Austin); cf. Parker 1983:243-245. See also the specific status given to the daimons by Empedocles, fr. 31B 115, 1-8 (Diels – Kranz): cf. below chap. IV n3.

[ back ] 20. On the rhythm of this biography-type, see the parallels cited by West 1978:184-185.

[ back ] 21. See Odyssey 11.301-304, with commentares by West 1978:186-187. The paradox of the timé granted by Zeus to the men of silver when they themselves offered none to the gods of Olympus is marked by the chiasmus at lines 138-142, as well as by the expression kaì toîsin in line 142. See Schmidt 1986:31-40 and 49-52.

[ back ] 22. See Schmidt 1986:31-40 and 49-52.

[ back ] 23. Theogony 41-51 and 183-187; cf. scholia on Theogony 187 (Di Gregorio 1975:40). On tree nymphs, see references given by West 1978:187; according to Nagy 1979:158-159, the wood of the ash would refer to the shaft of the lance of Homeric heroes, with its bronze spear head.

[ back ] 24. Note that lines 148-149, reappearing at Theogony 151-152 and in the Shield 75-76, are unnecessary to the semantic economy of the passage; this is perhaps an interpolation; see West 1978:188, and, more generally, Carrière 1986:200-203.

[ back ] 25. As is the case of the Cyclops in the Odyssey, for example: see Odyssey 9:105-115 and 172-176; on this see especially Vidal-Naquet 1983:48-60.

[ back ] 26. On nónumnos meaning “without glory,” see Iliad 2:70, 13:227, or 14:70, in contrast to the hope of heroines and heroes to become aoídimoi, subjects of bardic song, such as Helen and Paris at Iliad 6:358; see Carrière 1986:203.

[ back ] 27. The impact of inserting the clan of heroes into the succession of families designated by metal is taken up and commented especially by Carrière 1996:411-413, and by Couloubaritsis 1996:492-500 (even if the order of succession of the families has nothing to do with genealogy!).

[ back ] 28. See Pindar Pythian 4.12 and 4.211; Bacchylides 11.62; Alcman fr. 1.7 (Davies 1991); additional useful references in West 1978:191.

[ back ] 29. Hesiod fr. 204.95-119 (Merkelbach-West). On the Homeric meaning of héros as “young warrior” belonging to the epic past, but with no allusion to a heroic cult, see West 1978:370-373.

[ back ] 30. The genealogical meaning of geneé is discussed especially by Crubellier 1996:439n27, and by Most 1997:111-114; on combining reference points of (recounted) time and time of discourse, see chapter I, section 2.4.

[ back ] 31. On the two great epic cycles, see West 1978:191-192, and Nagy 1979:161-166.

[ back ] 32. The construction of this difficult passage, in combining the mén and the , is detailed by Carrière 1991:97-99. On the individual destiny of Achilles, shared between Hades and the Elysian Fields depending on the version of the heroic legend, see Nagy 1979:165-173 (cf. chapter V, section 2.3.2. below).

[ back ] 33. Odyssey 4.561-569, with commentary given in chapter V, section 2.3.1 (with the reference as given at notes 51 and 53.

[ back ] 34. The most beautiful example of makarismós is given in the conclusion of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter 2.480-489, which twice promises to those mortals who take part in the initiatory órgia proposed by Demeter to Eleusis a better life after death; see also Pindar fr. 137 (Maehler), accompanied by the contested fr. 133 (Maehler), which makes of mortals favored by Persephone beings who “for the rest of time are called (kaléontai) pure heroes héroes hagnoí) by men”; cf. chapter V, sections 2.1.5 and 2.3.2 below.

[ back ] 35. A return to the golden age which would order the four first “generations” into a cyclical representation corresponds to the hypothesis set forth by Nagy 1979:169-171; see also, in an image integrating genealogical order, Couloubaritsis 1996:492-500 and 517. Consideration of line 169, which attributes reign over the Isles of the Blessed to Kronos, seems to confirm that time is a closed circle; but line 169 reappears as the first line of a new explicative sequence (lines 173a-e), probably an interpolation and given only in two papyri; cf. West 1978:194-196, and Carrière 1991:86-97.

[ back ] 36. Plato Cratylus 397e-398d. Concerning the fertility of Cyrene’s soil, see Calame 1996a:145-147.

[ back ] 37. Vernant 1960:26, interprets Hesiod’s regret at not dying “before” or “after” (the race of iron) as an indication that the sequence of the ages represents a “renewable cycle.”

[ back ] 38. Cratylus 398a. On the structure of lines 9-10 of the prelude to the Works, see Calame 1996c:170-175. On the status of lines 173d-e, see n35 above.

[ back ] 39. For the meaning of aidós in this context, see Schmidt 1986:60-66.

[ back ] 40. See for example West 1978:176 et 198, and Carrière 1996:424-427.

[ back ] 41. Calame 1996c:181-189. The operative concepts of Lack and of (semio-narrative) Sanction used in this brief visit to narrative and argumentative analysis are defined in chapter III, section 2.1. below.

[ back ] 42. On the question of the interlocutor and thus the receiver of the Works, see n8 above.

[ back ] 43. The narrative and pragmatic status of the aînos was well defined by Nagy 1990b:147-150 and 309-313.

[ back ] 44. None of the interpretations of the fable proposed in those studies I cited in 1996c:188n50, is satisfactory in this; see also the bibliographic information given by West 1978:204-205.

[ back ] 45. Cf. Alcman fr. 1.85-87 (Page-Davies), with the complementary parallels mentioned by West 1978:207.

[ back ] 46. Sufferings which recall the kédea lugrá which result from opening the jar in the Pandora narrative cf. lines 49 and 95, as well as section 2.3.1. above.

[ back ] 47. In lines 252-253, the “thrice numerous immortal guardians” who help Zeus watch over the acts and judgments pronounced by mortals recall the guardian epikhthónioi (line 122) which the men of gold became, through the will of Zeus; West 1978:181-3, 219-220, and 223-224, gives a series of Indo-European parallels to these divine figures watching over mortals, while positing a probable interpolation between the two passages.

[ back ] 48. On the affinities of this privileged flourishing with the golden age, see commentary by West 1978:214-216; see also Crubellier 1996:462-463.

[ back ] 49. According to the indications given in chap. I n33 and here n21, following the German linguist Karl Bühler who shows cases of possible combination of demonstratio ad oculos and Deixis am Phantasma; cf. chapter I, section 3.2., as well as n12 in this chapter.

[ back ] 50. The complex structure of this part devoted to the lesson about justice drawn from the three narratives is analyzed by Hamilton 1989:53-66; see also West 1978:49-51 (on the text of line 263, cf. West 1978:222), and Calame 1996c:185-189.

[ back ] 51. West 1978:228-229, noted the ocular value of using the adverb metópisthe, “in the future,” in lines 284 and 285. Notice also the use of the term geneé, “the generation,” and no longer génos, “species,” just as in passing from the age of bronze to the age of heroes (line 160): see n30 above. On the role played by hope for the ephemeral humans facing Zeus’ power, see also Semonides fr, 1, 1-10 (West2).

[ back ] 52. On this, see information given by Neschke 1996:477-478 (with n22).

[ back ] 53. The controversy concerning the identity of Hesiod as persona loquens or as biographic figure has been the object of a recent study by Stoddard 2004:1-33; concerning both the poetic and historical identity of Perses, see n8 above, and additional information on the figure of “Hesiod” given in Calame 2000a:96-100 (and in n20 and n23); in general, see Calame 2005a: 14-21.

[ back ] 54. An attempt to reconstruct the historical and social context relative to the policy of establishing justice through the abundance of production extolled in the Works can be found in Carrière 1986:229-236. On the controversy concerning the identity of the basileîs, sometimes compared to the big men of Papuan communities, cf. Carlier 2003:13-23, in which he returns to his thesis of 1983, unfortunately without addressing Hesiod directly.

[ back ] 55. The didactic goal of the Works, reestablishing justice under the control of Zeus, was very well explained by Nagy 1990a:63-74.

[ back ] 56. The birth and development of the Indo-European concept, as well as that of “Aryan,” have been retraced by Olender 1989:26-38; see also Bernal 1996:277-286 and 385-442. On the status of Indo-European “ideology,” see Dumézil 1968:46-53 and 493-496 (for Greece); concerning the Hesiodic narrative of the five species specifically, cf. Vernant 1966:43n103.

[ back ] 57. Carrière 1986:218-226, with n66.

[ back ] 58. On the question of comparatism, see chapter I, section 6 above.

[ back ] 59. Daniel 2:1-3, 7, pointed out by Reitzenstein 1924/5:525-527, taken up again by West 1997:312-319, who justifies the relationship of Hesiod’s “Myth of Ages” with different eastern texts by saying that “its very formulation is un-Greek” (312)!

[ back ] 60. The conditions under which the vetero-testamentary narrative was written, as well as its date, are the objects of a balanced study by Lacocque 1983:66-79. Thanks to Thomas Römer for this useful bibliographic entry.

[ back ] 61. This despite soothing remarks by West 1997:2-4 et 586-624, who in his great comparative work asserts his interest in parallels in forms of expression in ancient texts of “Western Asia,” then deliberately rejects the differences.

[ back ] 62. See especially Carrière 1996:411-418, and, less rigorously, Most 1997:121-127, and Ballabriga 1998:329-339, whose “historico-genetic” hypothesis is debatable, to say the least. See also Vian 1963:167-169.

[ back ] 63. This alternation has been felt successively by Carrière 1986:226-229, who proposes organizing the succession of human species along a sinusoidal temporal axis, by Couloubaritsis 1996:500-507 and 517, who imagines a narrative temporality organized according to a helicoidal rhythm, or by Most 1997:108-114, who tries to see in Hesiod’s narrative the combination of three schemes: 1+1+3, 1+1+2+1, 1+1+1+2…; see also Crubellier 1996:453-455, who despite everything remains attached to the image of cyclical temporality. If one must choose an organizational model, one could limit oneself to locating it in the semio-narrative development of the narrative: according to the logic proposed by the “canonic schema,” the status of the men of gold and of silver would correspond to the phase of narrative manipulation, then the action of the men of bronze and especially that of the heroes would evoke the phase of competence, which would find its realization and performance in the age of iron with the sanction that prophetic utterance by the poet’s voice represents.

[ back ] 64. Herodotus 1.5.3-1.5.4; Iliad 6.145-149 on the base of a gnomic sentence taken over by Mimnermos fr. 8, 1-7 (Gentili – Prato) and by Simonides fr. 19 (West2); additional references can be found in Calame 2000a:85-86; cf. also chapter V, section ? below.

[ back ] 65. Cf. Carrière 1991:100-105; “The golden age is a mythic guarantee of prosperity for the just men of today” (101); see also Brown 1998:401-409, for relevant parallels.

[ back ] 66. On this, see the conclusions drawn by Auger 1979:72-89.

[ back ] 67. Different aspects of the challenges presented in translating anthropological concepts which try to be dialogic are discussed by Borutti 1999:171-202, and by Fabietti 1999:57-71 and 227-251; concerning the question of transcultural translation, see remarks I presented in 2002:67-77.

[ back ] 68. On Herodotus and Pausanias, see references given by Calame 2000a:164n17 and 241n77; for Apollonius Rhodius see for example Argonautica 1.1058-1062 or 2.714-719, which contrasts with the Homeric narrative where the heroic protagonists of the epic action refer to the present of the poem’s enunciation as if to a future time! Cf. Saïd 1998:16-19.

[ back ] 69. As stated by Brown 1998:389 (“Put together, the past bad races account for the origin of the vices which Hesiod considers to be most prevalent among his contemporaries”).

[ back ] 70. Rancière 1992:207. Concerning the restricted forms of micro-history, see the critical references given by Ricœur 2002:267-280; for a good understanding of it, see remarks by Vidal-Naquet 1995:217-230.