Laptops are really nice at keeping a person warm in winter and today I need it. This morning it was -18 degrees fahrenheit outside. By the time it was time to go out and warm up the car for work it was -16, which is to say, no noticeable difference. We do not use our sorry excuse for a garage except as a spacious storage shed and bicycle parking. Nor do we have those fancy engine block warmer thingies. We’ve never had trouble getting our cars to start until today. My car refused and then my husband’s car refused. We called a garage four blocks from our house to ask for a jump and the guy said his truck hadn’t started this morning either. So we didn’t feel so bad. We finally got someone out. I was late to work of course. My husband didn’t have to work today so he drove his car around for awhile to charge up the battery. It warmed up to -1 today. Tonight it’s supposed to be -10 to -15. All we need is one car to start in the morning so I can get to work because my husband takes the bus. So please, as you are dreaming tonight, dream some warm weather my way.
None of that, of course, has anything to do with Hesiod whose poem fragment Shield of Herakles I read yesterday. 481 lines of nothing interesting except the lengthy description of Herakles’ shield. I had hoped to find an artist’s rendering of the shield but had no luck. Which is too bad because the shield must have been huge or the detail quite fine for it to have fitted everything in this description upon it. But perhaps, as Hesiod says several times, that is the skill of Hephaistos who Zeus commissioned to make the shield for Herakles.
What was on this shield? The question would be bettered asked as what wasn’t on this shield. The shield is round and unbreakable. In the center is the face of Panic “with eyes full of fire glinting.” Above Panic is Hate “marshaling/ the slaughter of fighting men.” Also the figures of Onrush and Backrush, Battlenoise, another of Panic, Manslaughter, Confusion, and Death. An interesting note, Death is a woman. If you’re like me when you think of the figure of Death it is the Grim Reaper who, while skeletal, is generally thought male. But this female Death of the Greeks is vicious and on Herakles’ shield her clothing is read with men’s blood, she has a horrible glare and is gnashing her teeth.
Also on the shield is depicted a battle between an army of lions and an army of wild pigs. Ares is also on the shield worked in gold and gripping a spear in his hand. There is Perseus too, wearing his winged sandals and carrying a sack on his back with Medusa’s head in it. Below him, trying to catch him as he flies away are the other two gorgons.
Perhaps most astounding of all is a walled golden city with seven gates. The people of the city are dancing and celebrating the arrival of the bride and groom in their mule-carriage. There are blazing torches and serving maids, musicians, and a chorus. Outside the city walls are men on galloping horses as well as men at work plowing the fields, while others are cutting wheat with sickles. There is also a vineyard with people picking grapes while others are busy crushing them for wine. These and other scenes are circled round by the ocean. Upon the ocean are swans, swimming and soaring.
Can you understand why I want a picture? Wikipedia has an interesting article on this poem and says that Herakles shield is very much like the description of Achilles’ shield in The Iliad. While the Acheans and Trojans are fighting hard in the portion of The Iliad I am at, Achilles is still sitting at his ship and pouting, or seething in justified anger, depending on how you want to look at it. I’m a long way before Patrocles straps on Achilles’ armor and goes and gets himself killed by Hector. But I will pay extra close attention when I get there to see just how similar the shields are.
And the similarity might not even be Hesiod’s fault since Shield of Herakles was not claimed by Hesiod himself but was attributed to him some time later. I would not be surprised if Hesiod didn’t write it because the style is very different than the poems we know he wrote. In this poem there is narrative and even a bit of dialogue. His other poems are very straightforward and it is always clear that Hesiod is telling what happened. Shield of Herakles is odd in comparison and seems like the author was trying to write like Homer, something I can’t imagine Hesiod doing since there is a story in which he brags about beating Homer at a poetry contest.
I’m done with Hesiod now. I’m glad I read him, it was easier and more interesting than I expected. I wouldn’t recommend everybody rushing out to the bookstore or library to find his poems, but if you ever want a taste of ancient Greek poetry that isn’t Homer, Hesiod is your man.