Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
4. Hesiod 6. General Characteristcs of Greek Cosmology

From Burnet's Introduction

V. Cosmogony
Nor is it only in this way that Hesiod shows himself a child of his time. His Theogony is at the same time a Cosmogony, though it would seem that here he was following the older tradition rather than working out a thought of his own. At any rate, he only mentions the two great cosmogonical figures, Chaos and Eros, and does not really bring them into connexion with his system. They seem to belong, in fact, to an older stratum of speculation. The conception of Chaos represents a distinct effort to picture the beginning of things. It is not a formless mixture, but rather, as its etymology indicates, the yawning gulf or gap where nothing is as yet.12 We may be sure that this is not primitive. Primitive man does not feel called on to form an idea of the very beginning of all things; he takes for granted that there was something to begin with. The other figure, that of Eros, was doubtless intended to explain the impulse to production which gave rise to the whole process. These are clearly speculative ideas, but in Hesiod they are blurred and confused.

We have records of great activity in the production of cosmogonies during the whole of the sixth century B.C., and we know something of the systems of Epimenides, Pherekydes,13 and Akousilaos. If there were speculations of this kind even before Hesiod, we need have no hesitation in believing that the earliest Orphic cosmogony goes back to that century too.14 The feature common to all these systems is the attempt to get behind the Gap, and to put Kronos or Zeus in the first place. That is what Aristotle has in view when he distinguishes the "theologians" from those who were half theologians and half philosophers, and who put what was best in the beginning.15 It is obvious, however, that this process is the very reverse of scientific, and might be carried on indefinitely; so we have nothing to do with the cosmogonists in our present inquiry, except so far as they can be shown to have influenced the course of more sober investigations.

Burnet's Notes


12. The word χάος certainly means the "gape" or "yawn," the χάσμα πελώριον of the Rhapsodic Theogony (fr. 52). Grimm compared it with the Scandinavian Ginnunga-Gap.

13. For the remains of Pherekydes, see Diels, Vorsokratiker, 71 B, and the interesting account in Gomperz, Greek Thinkers, vol. i. pp. 85 sqq.

14. This was the view of Lobeck with regard to the so-called "Rhapsodic Theogony" described by Damaskios.

15. Arist. Met. N, 4. 1091b 8.

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