Monday, May 09, 2011

Word of the Day: Theogony

The Greek root -gonia means 'a point of origin'; in geometry, it is the point at which two different lines meet at an angle. In literature, Hesiod's Theogony is an account of the origins of the Gods.

But Hesiod's masterwork is not just a clever synthesis of all the mythology he could lay his hands on; rather, it is a long poem in which he establishes the right of the poet to rewrite the foundations of his world. In the end, the true story is not about the mythical basis of existence, but about how change and reform are the rights of humanity.

Along the way, of course, Hesiod does mention bloody revolution and how rebels always end up making themselves the new establishment. He mentions it three times. The final rebellion is when Prometheus, the learned titan whose name means 'Foresight', steals fire from Zeus and earns no reward except his loss of freedom and an eagle to eat his liver every day.

It is always fascinating to read mythology. It is not quite fantasy. It is a symbolic approach to understanding the way humans engineer their perceptions of the world so that the stories are easier to tell. And also, in case there are indeed gods on Olympus, this form of narrative disguises the poet and protects him from their wrath.

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