Study Guide

The War of the Titans Context

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Most of what we know about the war of the Titans comes from a guy names Hesiod, who wrote it all down in the Theogony, a work of epic poetry from the 8th century BC (ish). Get this: Hesiod and Homer (super-important epic poet) are considered by modern scholars to be contemporaries, meaning that they lived and worked together around the same time and that they were familiar with one another's writing. There was actually a brief period during which scholars weren't sure whose writing had come first. Today, it's pretty much accepted that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written before the Theogony, but that still makes Hesiod the second-oldest European author whose work has survived for us to read. Not bad.

Let's zoom in a little more. The Iliad and Odyssey are truly epic, in that they're all about heroes, battles, romances, and journeys. The Theogony, on the other hand, is little more than a genealogy: a big list of people that describes who gave birth to whom. The passages in the Theogony describing the war between the Titans and the Olympians are small and constantly interrupted by more family history. So why are we suggesting that something as boring and mundane as a family tree should be considered in the same light as epic tales of battle and victory? We're so glad we asked!

Get your thinking caps on for this one because we're about to get down to some pretty heavy stuff. Ready? Okay. Eighteenth-century scholar and translator Hugh G. Evelyn-White has suggested that we look at epic poetry not as a single, united whole, but instead as split into two schools:

  • The Ionic school
  • The Boeotian school

(FYI: Both are named after the regions where they started.) Now let's break it down. According to Evelyn-White, the Ionic school is Homer's turf, and favors Romantic themes such as love and heroism. The Ionic tradition gives us later epics like Virgil's Aeneid and Milton's Paradise Lost. Still with us? Good. Hesiod, in contrast, was thought to belong to the Boeotian school, which favored everyday subjects intended to help teach people.

On the surface, it might seem clear which of these schools is more awesome, but don't think for a moment that the Boeotian tradition doesn't have a legacy that's just as impressive. Hesiod is the likely the guy who inspired works like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and – surprise – parts of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. The Theogony is basically the ancient Greek version of Genesis.

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