Homer and Hesiod

Life and Works

When the dark ages of the ancient world began, circa 1200 B.C., Greek-speaking people moved into what would become a center of western culture. Their skills, laws and customs survived in the form of an oral tradition: folktales, fables, legends, myths. Basic needs that arise from migration and the necessity for cultural cohesion fueled the linguistic and artistic creativity of the Greeks, and as a result Greek culture spread out among different locales. Small city-states (poleis) later sprouted and each community produced a particular interpretation of the central Greek culture. The creativity needed in order to survive fueled discussions and innovations in thought and culture. Explanations for how the universe arose and what it essentially is grew in myth and story-telling, representatives of which are the ancient Greek bards Homer and Hesiod who wrote about the origin of the universe, actions of gods and men and the relationship humans have to the physical happenstance they encounter, among other things. Scholars know very little about the floruit of the Greek bard Homer, who wrote his epics – Iliad and Odyssey – in the late eighth century B.C. Many places claimed to be his home, and we know little else than that his name means “hostage” and his poetry is beautiful, but perhaps he came from Ionia. Likely, he was the greatest of a long line of distinguished poets who progressively synthesized earlier works into twenty-four book epics; he was in the least an extraordinary weaver of already-written tales. Hesiod was a competitor of Homer who settled in Boeotia and wrote perhaps in the early seventh century, attempting to explain the universe in terms of origins. His topic specifically was the birth of gods. His two major works are Works and Days and Theogony.

First Principles

Homer conceived of the order of the universe through common sense and imagination. He wrote poems that reinforced for the Greeks not only habits and customs but also conceptions of the universe as a whole. There exist physical forces more powerful than humans, which Homer and poets like him thought of as divinities.[i] What one sees is what exists and what one does not see is speculated over or imagined and in most cases given anthropomorphic form[ii]. No thoroughly systematized logical analysis and critique is present in the Homeric epics, Iliad and Odyssey.[iii] These gods were in reality forces, blind and potent, acting upon the human family without feeling or concern and if Greeks like Homer supposed they were human-formed, then they must be acting through human flaws. Yet, the gods do not need morality. They are forces of nature well beyond any human need, unless they please to have human sentiment. They represent a kind of order in that they have domains, but should they choose to cease their present course they may do so with impunity. The gods in one sense are the attempt by Greeks to impose order on a universe lacking apparent order and an attempt to understand what is there; Homer describes what he sees. The sky is bowl-like in shape and it sits atop the flat earth.[iv] Sky thus covers earth and the section between earth and sky is composed of air near the ground and aither near the dome of sky itself. The earth, Homer says, stretches below the surface and has roots in the lowest part of the underworld, Tartarus – the chasm below the earth:

Having taken him I will throw him into cloudy Tartarus, where exists the deepest pit under Earth, iron gates and bronze threshold are there, just so far below Hades as Sky is from land.( Homer Iliad. 8, 13).[v]

Some conceptions of the underworld claimed that there exists a symmetry between the earth and sky and the underworld below, but the symmetry was not perfect. Xonophanes's conception of the underworld made the chasm infinite:

This here the upper boundary of earth is seen beside our feet in contact with air, contrarily the bottom boundary goes on without limit. (Xenophanes fr. 28 (=183)).

Oceanus, a vast river, flows along the edge of the flat disk of Earth. As a source of water it became the origin of all water bodies:

...lord Acheloios does not vie with him equally, nor the great strength of deep-flowing Oceanus, out of which all rivers and each sea and all founts and deep wells run. (Homer Iliad. 21, 194).

Thus earth appears to be a circular disk and travel to the outer edges of the dome leads to water. Homer is geographer as well as story-teller:

I go in order to see the ends of much-nourishing earth, both Oceanus source of gods and mother Tethus.... (Homer Iliad. 14, 200).

The idea that water surrounded the flat disk of Earth was common and Oceanus becomes for Homer the source of all things:

Another of the always-living gods I (Hypnos) would send to sleep easily, even the flow of river Oceanus, who as source for all makes [all].... (Homer Iliad. 14, 244).

Even later thinkers who criticized Homer believed that there is some value to discussing Oceanus' central place. Plato and Aristotle:

...Homer, who having said 'Oceanus source of gods and mother Tethys' said all things are born of streams and motion. (Plato Theatetus 152e).

...there are some who...made Oceanus and Tethys the parents of coming-to-be, and water the oath of the gods, which by the poets themselves is called Styx; for the oldest thing is most valued, and the most valued thing is an oath. (Aristotle Metaphysics. 1.983b27-33).[vi]

Night in Homer is a force of the universe even more powerful than the king of gods:

And he would have thrown me from the aither into the sea, unless Night, tamer of gods and men, had not saved me. To her I came fleeing and an exceedingly angry [Zeus] ceased. He dreaded that he would do things displeasing to swift Night. (Homer Iliad. 14, 258).

The gods are usually anthropomorphic in their form and motivation and so they look and act like most powerful aristocrats, spoiled and capricious as well as arbitrary. More importantly they are natural forces. These are the forces of activity and reaction personified in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and they may be taken as natural forces and abilities found in the universe, encapsulated in anthropomorphic metaphor. Again, Homer's Iliad:

The father of the gods and men fiercely thundered from above, while from beneath Poseidon shook boundless earth, and lofty heads of hills. The feet and heads of many-springed Ida quaked, as well the city of the Trojans and the ships of Achaeans. Beneath them Hades, king of those below, grew afraid; he sprang fear-stricken from his throne and cried aloud in terror lest earth-shaker Poseidon should tear open the ground above, and his aweful, dank house become visible to mortals and immortals–things all gods abhor. Such a blare arose at the coming together of the gods in discord. Phoibus Apollo stood opposed to lord Poseidon, holding winged arrows, Athena opposed the furious warlike god; golden-arrowed Artemis, noise-sounding arrow-pourer, sister of far-shooter Apollo, stood to face Juno; stout Hermes bringer of good luck stood against Leto, while the deep-eddying river, whom gods call Xanthus but men Scamander, opposed Hephaistus. (Homer Iliad. 20.54-74).

Again, the gods personify not only natural forces, but the skills and actions of human beings. Athena is the good ideas of thinkers and politicians; Zeus is the unspoken agreement between aristocrats to give good hospitality, or Xenia. Apollo is the art of healing, the skill of bow-making and all of the skills needed to shoot arrows as well as augury and in later antiquity light. Hephaistus is the skill of carpentry, engineering and all the skills needed to be a blacksmith. The gods are everywhere and are responsible for everything that transpires. The gods' whims must be met with obeisance lest they strike down humans with anger or disfavor. Thus, ancient Greeks found themselves in a subordinate position that made them vulnerable, and the attempt to understand natural forces in terms of human experience demonstrates an intent to organize the universe in a comprehensible and manageable way. One sacrificed to a god when one met with success, in order to thank the god or gods. One also sacrificed before a battle or when one married, or on some other important occasion, in order to gain the gods' favor and make the event successful. The domain of a god determined to what deity one must sacrifice. A thief, for example, might have sacrificed to Hermes the God of thieves before attempting to steal.

Gods and men in Homer interact with one another in various ways. Daniel Turkeltaub [vii] describes five ways that humans encounter the gods in epiphanies: 1) mortal perception of a god after the god's departure, 2) a disguised god reveals their identity, 3) a mortal recognizes the voice of a god, 4) a mortal sees a god, 5) recognition of a god is taken for granted and not elucidated. These moments of recognition seem to be universal in Homer's Iliad and represent the moment that an activity or happenstance is perceived as coming from a divinity. In all cases they are parts of happenstance, or nature, and so humans recognize the divine in everything that is a natural occurrence, but in different ways. The gods are then explanations for natural events, but they are not complete, nor consistent, explanations. The gods's actions are not pure; they are seemingly contradictory.[viii]

Causation and Cosmology

Additionally, telling aspects of the interrelations of gods and men in Homer are cause and effect. Gods are internal as well as external agents: Athena is a good thought and Zeus is thunder and lightning. Humans act and have responsibility for what they do, yet the gods regularly interfere. The gods' actions and human action are intermixed until it is not certain if material happenstance or historical events are the result of physical processes, human volition or divine will. Yet, there is an explanation for what transpires. In the Iliad Homer makes Zeus send a dream to Agamemnon in order to make him win, but not in the way Agamemnon believes. The Greeks will win only after suffering and struggle:

This plan seemed best to Zeus's heart to send a baneful dream to Atreidian Agamemnon. 'Go, baneful Dream, upon the quick ships of the Achaians. Having arrived in the hut of Atreidian Agamemnon announce everything very precisely as I prescribe. Command the long-haired Achaians to arm with cuirass and all speed. For now he might take the wide-walled city of Trojans. (Homer Iliad. 2.5-13).

Agamemnon's actions, then, will prove effective, but only by losing many men in the immediate and regaining the aid of Achilles who had argued with him just prior to Agamemnon receiving the dream from Zeus. It is necessary that Agamemnon fight and lose in order to produce an ultimate goal – final victory – that lies hidden, and the agency of the final result is far from direct. History, divinity and physics are bound together. In Homer's Odyssey Ino saves Odysseus from drowning, giving him advice and encouragement when Poseidon, angered at Odysseus, discovers that he is on a raft and about to find land:

He [Poseidon] will not destroy you, though exceedingly desiring it. Do this immediately. You seem to me not to lack understanding. Shed these clothes and leave your raft to be born on the winds. Swimming with your hands, strive for a return to land, that of the Phaiacians where it is fate for you to escape. Stretch this divine headband on your breast. No fear to suffer or to perish. (Homer Odyssey. 5.341-7).

One may interpret Ino's advice as the thoughts of a drowning man as he panics, or perhaps a stress-induced vision. The thoughts appear to be his, but they still come from the gods. The agency of mental activity and its conclusions are mixed. Athena gives Telemachus advice about when travel is safe and how to act:

I am such a kind as a friend to your father who will ready for you a quick ship and I myself will follow. But going home consort with the suitors, fit provisions and store all in vessels, wine in amphoras and barley and good-marrowed nourishment of men in thick skins. And going through the town, I will gather comrades willing. There are many ships in sea-girt Ithaka. (Homer Odyssey. 2.286-293).

Here she appears as a man who directs Telemachus, so she is an external agent. She acts not only as a father-figure by prodding him when needed, but she gathers men for him. Athena also prevents Odysseus' boyhood nurse, Eurykleia, from revealing his presence when he returns home disguised to a house filled with enemies. His wife Penelope would be in danger, if she knew her husband had returned. Eurykleia's cry is an utterance that is at its sounding not yet appropriate to hear. She washes his feet and recognizes him by a scar on his knee:

All at once joy and pain gripped her mind. Both eyes filled with tears and her sturdy voice was held back. Having taken hold of Odysseus' chin she said “Truly you are Odysseus, dear child. At first I did not know you before examining all my master.” She looked with her eyes at Penelope, wishing to make known her husband had come home. But Penelope was unable to see her directly or understand, for Athena had turned her mind away. (Homer Odyssey. 19.471-9).

Athena turns away the attention of Penelope and as elsewhere the causes of things that transpire in the universe are not merely the physical interactions of objects or even the interactions of objects, other objects and humans, but rather they are a combination of those things and gods who suffer from human pettiness and caprice. Direct cause and effect are not a part of how actions and their consequences manifest when Gods involve their judgment, and the Gods' judgment is necessary for anything to happen. Homer and ancient Greeks like him explained the vicissitudes of fortune by inserting divinities as explanations for random events and for the unexpected in general, as in Athena turning Penelope's mind from Eurykleia's cry. Homer and other poets do not set out to explain cause and effect explicitly, but they offer what may be called a semi-rational literary explanation of cause and effect. Reasoning in Homer and Hesiod is analogous. That is, the actions and reactions of gods in the epics can be taken as metaphors in epic allegory. Men are not only similar to leaves, but advice that comes from a family friend and mentor is seemingly god-inspired or is a god come down to speak. That is, the gods breathe life into the activities of humans as well as natural forces.

The Homeric epics are rich with explanation of cause and effect when one takes them to be metaphorical explanations. Each hearing or reading may take the interpreter to a different and perhaps better comprehension of what transpires. In this manner the Gods as metaphors give multiple explanations for happenstance by reason of analogy. All literature accomplishes a hermeneutic in this manner, yet the literature of the ancient Greeks was the center of their culture as well as the center of their explanation of the universe. Civilization had collapsed and the ancient Greek stories carried their culture with them as they migrated and remained once they settled. In brief, the Homeric and Hesiodic epics provide metaphorical explanations that in turn provide an arena of causal interpretation. The universe is explained, but the Greeks had to wait for thinkers like Aristotle to provide them with a more pure analytic system, one composed of less literature and metaphor and more logic and mathematics. Understanding and participation in these forces in the form of sacrifice to capricious gods and direct interaction with divine natural forces gave Greeks some measure of control over their destiny – another aspect of science – yet there remains one more important aspect of literature that bears the basic human ability to create scientific systems. It is a fundamental function of a literature that bears and supports the laws, habits and customs of a people.


A very important aspect of ancient literature and especially epic is mimesis. A member of the ancient community is expected to read or hear about the characters of an epic in order to know the laws, habits and customs of the culture. Plato points out the habit formation of imitation. Mimeseis “if continued in the future from youth, establish themselves as habits and nature with respect to body, voice and thought.” (Plato Republic, 3.395d1-4).

Humans do not merely mimic behavior; mimesis is the development of character. They imitate themselves, gods and other animals as well. Imitation requires the cognizance of a recognizable pattern in action. One imitates what one has seen repeated in the actions of another human, like a parent. Sometimes, humans imitate other creatures, but the pattern of imitation is part of human psychology in that we learn to act as others, human or non-human, do. We perceive an activity that is useful or one that will provide something we desire. Then, we copy that pattern of behavior. It is, for Plato and Aristotle at least, basic learning behavior, and so it must have been for many other ancient Greeks. In his Poetics Aristotle claims that humans are the most imitative creatures, learning initially by imitation.[ix] Mimesis for Aristotle continues throughout life and is responsible for pleasure in witnessing artistic representations of things that otherwise are painful. The goal of art, like epic, for Aristotle is the discovery of a universal [x] and humans naturally make art in the way that nature makes natural things, using forms to make categories of things.[xi] Perhaps Aristotle is incorrect about learning first by imitation, as research has thrown doubt onto that long-held assumption,[xii] but imitation seems to be a function of the human mind related to language acquisition and resulting from different mechanisms[xiii], a possible innate ability vital to the development of theory of mind and empathy in humans.[xiv]

Mere mimicry was not the only aspect of imitation the ancients meant when they used the term mimesis; repetition of acts of nature [xv] is important for our purposes. One related psychological theory is that of Carl Jung's archetypes. Anthony Stevens [xvi] explains that archetypes are virtual images. These are psychological categories that have an aggregate character, which are images of anything in general: child, mother, wife etc. They are not the particulars encountered in nature, but those categories that make the apprehension of nature possible. They come into solidity when humans experience them. These are the psychological categories that a literary culture immerses itself into and employs in order to understand, or to think. When one reads or hears of Zeus, one thinks of regal power, likewise wise counsel for Athena. These literary characters serve to awaken general patterns in human beings. In other words, humans have for Jung already-set patterns of thought that are actualized when they process stories. They have a pattern-seeking ability as part of their psyche. [xvii] Jung's archetypes are another way of articulating imitation, and there is no doubt that humans imitate one another as well as other creatures; such actions are an integral part of learning. Again, one perceives a pattern of behavior somewhere and whether oriented toward the goal of the action or merely the repetition of the action one imitates the pattern. Such internal patterning is directed outward when humans perceive events that are repeated in nature and when they create art. Aristotle speaks of mimesis as art imitating nature:

The poet (as maker) being an imitator just like the painter or other image-maker, it is necessary to imitate some one number of three existing things, either what kind of things as they were or are, or what sort are said to be, or seem to be, or to have been, or as what kind it is necessary to be. (Aristotle, Poetics 1460b8-12)

Nature has patterns whose organization and structure art imitates, even if art imitates human behavior. We recognize repeated occurrences in nature, like gravity and photosynthesis. So, humans must be able to discern patterns in their own behavior, yet they also recognize patterns in animal behavior and even in objects as well as in change. They look for patterns in nature in order to understand what she does. When they see an action repeated, human beings look for similarities between occurrences and when they find enough similarities, they think to have found a “law” of nature, and this “law” is the repeated occurrence or pattern we have located. Humans are able not only to predict what will happen when X and Y occur, but they will be able to understand things as they become; they may even reproduce specific happenstance. It is the human quality of imitation that compels them to seek patterns in nature, and those similarities not only become natural “laws”, but they are the beginning of logical inquiry. Logic, in fact, is the making of connections through the recognition of similarities, or patterns. [xviii] What was imagined and woven into a narrative as an activity was what ancient Greeks thought proper to do, though Homer and Hesiod may not have intended that humans imitate the gods they depicted. The humility of Odysseus before an angry god; the obedience of Telemachus to Athena; the proper sacrifice to a god in thanks for victory all are imitable activities. When one wants to be like Odysseus and when one acts as he does, the same pattern-finding human apparatus is in effect. Since science is in part the discovery of patterns in nature and the ascertainment of natural law through the recognition of patterns in repetition, part of scientific method is latent in the literature of the ancient Greeks as it is in all literature. And the ancient Greek culture was nothing if it was not literary. While all literature is imitative of nature, a culture like the ancient Greek culture had an inherent tendency toward seeking after patterns because literature was a primary element of education, and Greek culture was in one sense decentralized because there was no overarching authority governing all the city-states (poleis). Each city interpreted their own version of the gods and vied for influence. There existed thus a competition about what was true and what not about god. The central aspect of the culture–that the gods are the same–remained the same while Greeks sought different ways to understand the divine. Their cultural dynamic, while the same as other literary cultures, was that of the particular and the universal in tension. This tension allowed for many interpretations of physical happenstance and the divine. Thus, different theories of nature. And Aristotle verifies for us the direction that mimesis in literature took within the ancient Greek culture: imitating how things were, are and how they will be. The seeking after of patterns then must have become second nature to ancient Greeks via their literature and music. If seeking after patterns in nature is a part of science as well as an integral aspect of nature, then inherent in Homeric epic was a significant part of the scientific endeavor. Other cultures employed literary mimesis in different ways, but the Greeks became thinkers, then philosophers and scientists. The decentraled-centralization of the culture accented the creative aspect of the poets, and some, as we will see, sought radically new ways of understanding gods, mostly through nature.

In Hesiod's Theogony, gods are conceived similarly to how Homer depicts them. They are abilities and forces of nature. Hesiod begins his genealogy of gods with more abstract deities that lead gradually to fully anthropomorphic metaphors of natural forces:

…the very first did Chaos come to be, and then broad-breasted Gaia [earth], always an unfailing setting-place of all immortal things...and cloudy Tartaros in the inmost corner of wide-wandered earth, and Eros, most beautiful among immortal gods, looser of limbs, who subdues mind and thoughtful counsel of all gods and all men in their breasts. Out of Chaos, Erebos and black Night came into being; and out of Night, again, came Aither and Day, whom she begat and bore, having mingled in love with Erebos. And Earth first brought forth star-like Ouranus [sky], equal to herself, so that he would cover her in every way, so that she would be an unfailing setting-place for blessed gods always. Then she brought forth high Mountains, charming beds of divine Nymphs.... She also bore unharvested sea, seething with its swell, Pontos, without delightful love; and having lain with Ouranus she bore deep-eddying Oceanus, and Koios and Krios and Hyperion and Iapetos.... (Hesiod Theogony 116-134).

Hesiod is perhaps more scientific than Homer in that there is a greater abstraction in his work, perhaps more of an attempt at systematic explanation. Kirk and raven [xix] talk in some detail about Chaos as the first force of nature arising in Hesiod. They take as credible Francis Cornford's interpretation of Chaos as a separation of the first deities to appear in the universe. There the account of the universe is semi-rational and what Kirk and Raven seem to mean is that there is some logical consistency in the order of the birth of the natural forces: Chaos first, then Gaia, Tartaros, Eros etc. Chaos is the initial separation of the divine forces, which seems to be the act of existence being separated from other acts in the order of things. There are for our purposes two ways that one may interpret this separation. The first is the actual separation itself. Chaos is the gap between the earth and Tarataros and the earth is a fertile agent, producing the gods. She is the mother of the gods. Chaos, if interpreted as the continuing separation or force of separation of the universe, then, is part of the generation of living organisms and deities. Chaos is difference itself, without which no individual thing may come to be other than any other individual thing. Chaos not only plays a role in the initial separation that created the mother of all things, but it continues to break the universe itself into different beings, a part of birth and certainly a portion of death. It continues to operate as a driving force. The second and more anthropomorphic interpretation is that Chaos is the breaking of things into different beings and the ability of ancient Greeks to reason and separate one thing from another as well as the ability to examine and differentiate the parts of things. Chaos and differentiation then become the very process of marking out boundaries of objects and living creatures in such a way as to understand and perhaps participate in their being. So, ancient Greeks separated and then combined things in order to comprehend anything that they encounter. Inherent in the metaphor of primordial separation is the scientific mindset itself. Reason is, among other things, that which discovers pieces of objects, breaks them and then sews them together again in logos, reason or word, in order to comprehend their parts and workings, and in order to participate in becoming. One may object that Hesiod mentions Chaos seldomly in Theogony, that Chaos does not continue to act in nature, but first, this force of nature is a psychological category anthropomorphized into the makeup of the universe. It is human ability to separate and distinguish in order to comprehend and manipulate. One may think of it as a psychological state imposed upon the physical universe. Chaos is also a stated act of separation, and separation in the form of violence and strife exists throughout Theogony, though Chaos is the initial stated act of violence and separation and not the continued acts of violence. Suffering and strife are long a part of the implications Hesiod incorporates into the relationships between Gods and men, the initial being the generational conflict between Ouranus and his children:

However so much that came from Gaia and Ouranus, the most terrible of children, from the beginning were detested by their own parent; and when first any of them came into being he hid them all and did not allow them into the light, in the hollow of Gaia; and Ouranus delighted in the ugly deed. And she, colossal Gaia, groaned within, being crowded; and she pondered a cunning, ugly deceit...having concealed him [Chronos] she placed him into an ambush, placed in his hands a saw-toothed sickle, and advised him of the whole trick. Bringing on Night great Ouranus came, and over Gaia, desiring love, he extended himself, and spread all over her; and the boy [Chronos] from his ambush stretched out with his left hand, and with his right he grasped the gigantic sickle, long saw-toothed, and furiously cut off the genitals of his dear father, and flung them back to be carried away.... (Hesiod Theogony, 154).

Ouranus abhors his children; Gaia abhors Ouranus; Chronos and the titans make war upon their father; Chronos atempts to control his children, begetting in them hatred for him. Zeus and his allies then make war on Chronos and the titans. When the last war between the Olympian Gods and their parents the Titans – the titanomachia – ends, strife continues in the form of rivalry and strife mixed with desire. In destruction as well as generation the activity of separation is implied. Reason has broken into differing elements the analyzable aspects of the universe and Hesiod's inherent ability to break objects and concepts into pieces–itself a species of violence–enables him to organize these forces into his narrative. There is a psychological need to understand that necessitates the violence of analysis. Inherent in the sadistic events of Theogony is the forcefulness of the scientific impulse to learn and to control the environment.

Homer and Hesiod did set out to explain the universe, but they do not make use of arguments like ones hypothesized and then verified. There is no attempt at mathematical analysis of the forces of the universe, nor is there an explicit deductive or an inductive argument. There are, however, explanations for material reality: gods for Homer, and gods, separation and unification for Hesiod. These are mythological explanations that allowed ancient Greeks at least to believe they were able to alter or even direct in some manner the very forces of the universe that control fate and physical happenstance. Most important is that Homer and Hesiod make use of mimesis, which is the term used by ancients to discuss the same pattern-seeking that modern psychologists pursue. It begins with mere repetition of some pattern seen in nature and then evolves into a term used to discuss metaphysical issues in Plato and scientific ones in Aristotle. Whatever is part of the human psyche is also a part of some comprehension of regular activities that serve as not only symbols but patterns of behavior. When they remove the self from that pattern-seeking, humans look after patterns in the universe alone. When they seek patterns in the universe, they look to particular manifestations that lead to an expectation that the same particular manifestation will happen again, and thus look for the universal in the particular. Drawing universal from particular is one part of the dynamic of the ancient notion of logic: induction is particular to universal and deduction is universal to particular. The patterns come from everywhere in human culture as well as the universe, but strongly in literature. The Greeks had a decentralized religious system that allowed them to create the spiritual pattern in different ways; they sought the nature of god because they felt compelled to seek after something of god; they had no centralized notion dictated to each locality. Thus, local aristocrats with the leisure and education needed to create systems of thought about nature–which they perceived as god–created different systems that possessed the same subject. Then, Greeks began to argue with one another, using this inherent logic that comprehended the universe by means of the relationship between the universal and the particular. Here is the birth of science, yes, but it is a birth from an already-present manner of comprehension. Ancient Greeks made use of this way of comprehension without necessarily recognizing its rules, and what they called mimesis , whatever that really is, is part of that function of the mind. Humans employ their tendency to imitate one another in the discovery of repeated patterns in nature itself. These patterns are compared and what their relationship tells the scientist is a new piece of knowledge about them, an inference. These inferences lead to more comparisons and speculation. More comparison and speculation lead to an ability to manipulate or control or even predict nature's outcomes. Such a dynamic is science, and science is fundamentally comprised of the natural state of human inquiry that compels one human to copy another. This ability is focused outward onto the physical makeup and material happenstance of the universe. There is a logic that humans possess already, one which is only later articulated but not created by Aristotle. A use of syllogistic logic, which systematizes the relationship between the universal and the particular, is justified in analyzing the different thinkers that follow. Lastly, the nature of analysis in the western tradition is forceful. Logos is our reason, an intellective function that breaks its subject into parts in order to understand it. Dissecting of animals is an empirical example and examining the different parts of an element – like the proton, the neutron or the nucleus of an atom – is another. These absolutely necessary aspects of human endeavor are discernible in Homer and Hesiod, though in implied, embryonic form. Science could not exist except for those things which are a natural part of every culture but which were intimately a part of ancient Greek expression, politics, culture and thinking. It is no wonder the ancient Greeks began the analysis of material reality.

  • [i] A.W.H. Adkins, 17. F.R. Earp is likely correct that the poets were responsible for transmitting the ideas of the gods to the Greeks. The poets thus transmit the idea of powers or forces of the universe. It is from that conceptual point that the philosophers and protoscientists begin to speculate. According to A.A. Long, “divine intervention <cannot> be simply removed from the poems to leave a kernel of sociological truths.” Grube thinks of the gods as those who “have the capacity to see everything and to know everything when they care to use it. There are no other powers beyond or behind but only below them. Where Homer uses more abstract terms such as Fate, Moira, Aisa and the like they are but another way of referring to the power of the gods, or else they represent subordinate functions.” 63. O. Primavesi talks about the “decoding” of the Homeric gods. He asserts correctly that “Homeric gods represent the basic entities of the physical universe, like elementary qualities or the elements themselves. Thus, the traditional anthropomorphic design of these gods is redefined as a mere surface under which a deeper, physical level of meaning has been hiding all the time.”, 257.
  • [ii] For a basic understanding of epic creation of gods in human images, see A.W.H. Adkins. For Adkins the gods are the powers that overcome one another and control things; these are the hierarchy of power in human relationships that are applied to the universe; even beggars are involved in power relationships. See also Grube.
  • [iii] G.E.R. Lloyd properly states of epic that “while these pre-philosophical myths contain a variety of stories of origins, none of them constitutes a cosmology in the strict sense.... None of them...presents a comprehensive account of the world as we know it as an ordered system.”, 147.
  • [iv] Il. 17, 425, Il. 5, 504, Od 3, 2, Od 15, 329 and 17, 565. These are all passing references to the sky as iron or bronze.
  • [v] Unless otherwise stated, all translations are mine.
  • [vi] Plato may be less than serious and one must always remember that Aristotle does not always render his rivals fairly. Nevertheless, the idea that Oceanus is the origin of all things seems to have been popular.
  • [vii] Turkeltaub, Daniel. 2007. “Perceiving Iliadic Gods.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 103:56.
  • [viii] For Jasper Griffin “a god who watches is normally a god who intervenes, a patron and an avenger.” So, Homeric gods are actors in the scheme of things. Griffin goes on to say that “we must accept everywhere in Homer that aspects of the divine which seem to us disparate or irreconcilable are in fact inseparable.” Griffin, Jasper. 1978. “The Divine Audience and the Religion of the Iliad.” 2, 18.
  • [ix] Aristotle, Poetics 9.1448b4-17.
  • [x] For a good explication of Aristotle's view of mimesis, see Golden “Mimesis and Katharsis.” For Goldstein Aristotle claims that “mimesis means that the method or process of art imitates the method or process of nature” (570), and art comes from knowledge of its topic. Knowledge of nature is needed for art as well as science because each discipline is lodged in human ability to discern patterns. For more on Aristotle's view of poetry (mimesis) as universal, see C.O. Brink, Viviene Gray, Malcolm Heath, Katherine Gilbert, John Armstrong, Leon Golden, G. Hagberg and especially Silvia Carli. Armstrong rightly points out that mimesis is the representation of a single action, meaning one action type. This means that poetry–epic–represents something that is repeated: a pattern. Gilbert asserts that “art, then, is human making in the image of divine making, for art emulates the energetic processes of nature, and God is the Prime Mover of nature.” 560. Longinus (On Sublimity 22.1) states that “imitation of the activities of nature” is achieved best by the writers who imitate what men really do, adapting their language to their characters. James Redfield writes that plot is “conceived...in terms of relations between...causes and consequences” and conveys “some universal pattern of human probability or necessity”, 56. Plato had a radically less material perspective on mimesis. McKeon says of Plato's perspective on mimesis that “the word 'imitation' indicates the lesser term of the proportion of being to appearance: if God is, the universe is an imitation; if all things are, shadows and reflections are imitations....” In Plato's Statesman (293e) there is one state governed by wisdom and justice and all others imitate that state; later (300c) laws are said to be imitations of truth and still later (300e) it is said that if humans imitate without knowledge, they imitate badly, but if they have knowledge they transcend imitation. In his Timaeus (49a) the universe itself is an imitation of an eternal universe. Significantly, in Timeaus (28a-b) it is said that when one uses the unchanging universe as a model, the result is beautiful whereas using any other model produces non-beautiful copies. J.A. Philip concisely reviews Plato's perspective: “Mimesis for Plato suggests the creative activity by which the higher realities are sensibly embodied; it also implies a real transcendental relation which does not..exclude the immanence implied by the presence of a like element in exemplar and example. Indeed homoiousthai (the verb for “make similar"), often regarded as a typical immanence word, is regularly used as a synonym for mimeisthai (the verb for “imitation”), usually regarded as a typical immanence word.”, 465. Parentheses mine. Cornford and Havelock interpret mimesis as at times “impersonation” and at times “representation.” Plato is here mentioned in order to demonstrate that some form of imitation had an important role in acquiring knowledge. McKeon states that “the copy-model conception of the universe...has the important consequence of awarding a significant status to mimesis as a means for clarifying and apprehending reality itself.” 150. There are myriad other references to mimesis in Plato, too many to list here. For a review of several ways Plato uses the term mimeisthai, see P. Vicaire. The concept was vital to his philosophy. Even Charles Darwin claims that "the principle of imitation is strong in man....", 76-7. It is important to note that the conception of mimesis is a later conception of the relationship between the knower and the known. Early Greek conception of knowledge linked perception and knowing much more intimately. Francis Cornford (1957) and James Lesher point out how Greeks conceived perception. For Lesher Homer's Odyssey demonstrates that sense perception and thought were not differentiated, and their union was taken paradigmatically as representative of all cognition. The ancient Greeks may have thought there was no distinction between perception and thought, but their actual assimilation and processing of perception into knowledge entailed a more sophisticated cognition: mimesis. The paradigmatic shifts of Xenophanes and Heraclitus were awakenings to what thought and perceptions are; their mimesis was a subconscious part of their literature and later a conscious part of their thought.
  • [xi] For more on the organization of art and science, see Harvey Goldstein and Richard McKeon. Northrop Frye seems to have believed in mimesis as art's dependence on reality. This is a much more traditional view. For more, see Frye.
  • [xii] Goals may have much more to do with imitative behavior than mere mimicking. For more, see Meltzoff and Decety. Also, empirical studies suggest that imitation may not be innate. For more see Nicholas Shea. R.W. Byrne suggests that imitation may not be as innate as has been thought. G.R.F. Ferrari claims that “imitative behaviour appears to emerge out of the infant's acquisition of different kinds of knowledge and motor, cognitive skills.” 2325. Susan S. Jones agrees that imitation is an “emergent system.” No researcher asserts that imitation does not exist, but rather only the time of inception or nature are points of contention.
  • [xiii] Marco Iacoboni and others claim that two areas of the brain are used: the inferior frontal area and the parietal lobe area. This means that “imitation may be based on a mechanism directly matching the observed action onto an internal motor representation of that action ('direct matching hypothesis').”, 2526. The point here is that science is in the process of proving that imitation is a function of human learning.
  • [xiv] For more of what imitation produces, see Meltzoff and Decety.
  • [xv] Stefan Willer claims that “it is not the act of signification which is at the heart of language, but the desire of the speaker to actually be like the world around him. This desire is the original impulse of imitation.”, 204.
  • [xvi] See Stevens, Jung, 1994. See also Niko Tinbergen, H.F. Harlow, M.K. Harlow and Konrad Lorenz. J.A. Philip says that “here the craftsman makes his craft product like a model, as the actor makes himself like his model; but the craftsman's model is an archetype, a form of the product to which the particular instance imperfectly conforms. It is a like element in form and craft object that shapes the object. The craftsman knows his form and makes his product like that form. This process of making in the likeness of the form is called mimesis.”, 463.
  • [xvii] Anthony Stevens justifies his apology of Jungian archetypes by claiming that “very similar ideas to Jung's have become current in the last forty years in the relatively new science of ethology (that branch of behavioural biology which studies animals in the natural habitats). Every animal species possesses a repertoire of behaviours. This behavioural repertoire is dependent on structures which evolution has built into the central nervous system of the species. Ethologists call these structures innate releasing mechanisms, of IRMs. Each IRM is primed to become active when an appropriate stimulus–called a sign stimulus–is encountered in the environment. When such a stimulus appears, the innate mechanism is released, and the animal responds with a characteristic pattern of behaviour which is adapted, through evolution, to the situation.”, 36.
  • [xviii] Leon Golden asserts rightly that “we remember that learning for Aristotle involves a movement from the particular to the universal and that it reaches its climax in an insight or inference.” Golden, Leon. 1969. “Mimesis and Kaharsis" 146.
  • [xix] 28-32.


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