23. Hesiod’s Theogony, from Mythology to Metaphysics

This is a mosaic of Hesiod who believed that the gods were the original principle of the universe.
Mosaic of Greek Poet Hesiod, 3rd Century A.D., Germany

“Chaos was first of all, but next appeared Broad-Bosomed Earth.”

-Hesiod from Theogony

Hesiod’s Theogony was monumental in advancing Greek thinking because its subject matter was no less than the origin of the universe.1 It is the most complete surviving Greek account of the creation of the universe. Hesiod described not only how the universe came into being, but he also gave an account of the birth of the gods. His gods were not transcendent – they were a part of the universe. They were anthropomorphic, having all of the characteristics of humans, except for one important factor – they were immortal. Like Homer, Hesiod represents the transition from myth to metaphysics.2

Hesiod wrote about the same time as Homer in the eighth century B.C.3 He too was trying to make sense of the chaos and the breakdown of civilization that had occurred in the previous centuries known as the Greek Dark Ages. Like Homer, Hesiod utilized stories that had been passed down orally for centuries and put them into print. Hesiod and Homer were not merely scribes; rather, they put their own imprints on the stories as they crafted their poems.

Hesiod used stories of the birth of the gods to explain how everything came to be. A god was not just a person with emotions and desires, etc., but he was a force of nature like the wind, rain, etc.

In the Beginning was Chaos and Erotic Love

In the beginning was Chaos. This word originally meant not “disorder” but “gap.”4 Next appeared Gaia (Earth), Tartaros (the Underworld), and finally Eros (Love). Eros was highly essential because the rest of the universe such as the sky, sea, and mountains came into being through the mating of the gods with one another.

It is noteworthy that the idea of love was essential for Hesiod and thus interwoven within the fabric of the universe. As erotic and passionate as it may be, love was seen as a powerful force for the creation of the universe. 

In the fifth century B.C., the philosopher Empedocles took this concept of love and added strife to it.5 He taught that the tension between love and strife accounted for the cosmic cycle of eternal change in the universe. The ancient cultures recognized the strong link between erotic love and procreation. Today, in the West, we have separated the two and view sex as more of a recreational activity than a procreative one.

The gods started mating with one another and produced not just offspring but bitter rivalries as well.6 The gods were all too human. After several generations of gods producing gods, finally it was Zeus in the fourth generation that put a stop to all the madness – the “chaos” – and brought order to the universe. He became the head of those later known as the 12 Greek Olympian gods. Zeus was the force that brought order to the unrest. 

The Theogony’s Importance in Philosophy

Hesiod was the first thinker to speculate about the origins of the universe.7 His ideas grew and developed with the Ionian philosophers and eventually reached their climax with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Even though he is not considered the first philosopher, I like to think of Hesiod as the first rudimentary metaphysician. Hesiod laid the metaphysical foundation of speculation that the later Ionian philosophers built upon. 

Aristotle claimed that Hesiod was the first person to look for the efficient cause of things, that his Theogony laid the groundwork for further philosophical development.8 When Hesiod talked about the earliest deities, he was in effect positing a first or efficient cause of the universe.

The Arche as the First Principle of the Universe

The Greek word for “beginning” is arche. Arche can mean first principle, origin, beginning, source of action, or efficient cause.9 Hesiod was interested in finding an ultimate reality that was the cause of everything else. His answer for that originating cause, which transcended material reality, was the primeval deity Chaos. Again, the original sense of the word did not mean disorder, but “gap” or “space.” It can also mean “formless matter.” His first cause rested in the divine. This is why Aristotle considered him one of the earliest theologizing thinkers rather a philosophizing thinker.10 

Hesiod’s ambitious metaphysical project inspired the first philosopher, Thales, and the other Presocratic philosophers in Ionia to continue the quest for an arche or a first cause of the universe.11 Aristotle noted that they sought for an arche, but because their quest was limited to the material universe, they were unable to come up with a credible explanation for movement or purpose.

Hesiod’s arche had problems of its own as well since the universe, springing out of Chaos, implied something coming out of nothing. Parmenides, a later philosopher, stated that something cannot come out of nothing.12 After the Ionian philosophers, Plato and Aristotle would continue this search for the arche, with Aristotle developing this concept more comprehensively. Hesiod’s Theogony is considered the starting point and Aristotle’s Metaphysics the ending point of philosophical development in Greece. 

Something from Nothing

With modern science, we have come full circle. We have returned again to attributing the arche of the universe to “nothing.” The myths of the Big Bang Theory and Darwinism posit that something came out of nothing. This was the inadequacy in Hesiod’s arche of chaos and what Parmenides (a subject for a future post) said was impossible.13 Parmenides famously said that “what is cannot arise from what is not.” These are important metaphysical considerations when talking about the origin of the universe.

Recently, I came across a very interesting article on SPACE.com entitled “Alternatives to the Big Bang Theory Explained.”14 A quote from that article states, “Nearly 14 billion years ago, there was nothing and nowhere. Then, due to a random fluctuation in a completely empty void, the universe exploded into existence (italics mine). The ideas of nothing and nowhere make sense when talking pre-universe. The part of the quote that is intriguing, and I would say contradictory, is the phrase “in a completely empty void.” Suddenly we go from “nothing and nowhere” to a “completely empty void.”

The problem with this is that the terms “empty” and “void” implies a something. Space is something. It is devoid of matter, but nevertheless it is “something.” It is space. Emptiness cannot exist unless there is something there to be empty – a void. A void is something. It is an empty space. If something came out of the void, then something came from something. So rather than solving the problem of something from nothing, which is impossible, it just creates another “something” for a something to come out of. We innately know that this is impossible, that is why we create a something for the something to come out of. So where did the void come from? If we want to be consistent, we would have to say another void. And this leads to the problem of what Aristotle famously called the infinite regress.15 Each something needs a cause and that cause needs a cause, etc. Because of the problem of the infinite regress, Aristotle believed that that universe was eternal.

I find it fascinating both Hesiod and modern scientists talk about the universe originating out of a “void.” Hmm… are we returning to a mythological explanation of the origin of the universe, something akin to Hesiod’s empty “chaos?” Is the Big Bang theory the new Theogony?

Hesiod’s void was not really nothing, but it was something. And if interrogated by modern scientists, he probably would admit that to be true. He also had to have something there and that something was his famous gap or void. Later Greek philosophers like Aristotle would solve this problem by posting the eternality of the universe and matter. The above cited SPACE.com article is interesting because it mentions the theory of the eternality of matter as an alternative, albeit and erroneous one, to the Big Bang in attempt to solve this problem.

The other problem and paradox is that, just as our minds cannot fathom eternality, it is also equally impossible for our minds to fathom nothingness. For no matter how hard we try, we will always have something there, even if it is emptiness which is a something. There has to be something there to be empty. The same is true for eternality. No matter how big in our minds is our concept of “going on forever,” we inevitably speak of a border or some other limit on our eternal world.

An Excursion Into Nothingness…

Writing this article made me think more about the concept of nothingness. I realized that absolute nothingness is only possible if an eternal God does not exist. Since that is impossible, then absolute nothingness is impossible. Since God exists, than only relative nothingness is possible. (Relative nothingness is nothingness outside of God that includes both material and non-material entities. Absolute nothingness means that nothing exists, not even God.) And the converse is true. If an eternal God exists, then relative nothingness must exist as well.

The paradox is that relative nothingness is only possible if eternality exists. In addition, relative nothingness had to exist at one time if an eternal God exists. (And this puts us in a conundrum for if nothing “existed”, then it would in reality be something as implied by the predicate “exist.” A better way of putting it may be to say that before any non-eternal entity existed, there was non-existence. But for the sake of simplicity, I will use the predicate “existing.”) If there were something alongside an eternal God, then that something would have to be eternal which would make that something God. If that were the case, then that something would be eternal, and relative nothingness would again exist, for eternality and relative nothingness must exist together.

Or you can look at it another way. If a non-divine something could have existed in eternity alongside God, then that would mean that that non-divine entity would be essential for God and, if that were the case, God would not be God because he would lose his self-sufficiency or aseity. Then God would cease to be God and only absolute nothingness would exist. This is absurd of course, but an interesting thought experiment.

Just because our words fail us, does not mean that the concept of nothingness cannot be true. Our words equally fail us when trying to understand eternity, but that does not mean that eternity does not exist. In fact, if we could completely understand and describe eternity and nothingness, than we would be God. So we have to recognize our limits in our approach to these ideas.

So then, the problem of something originating out of nothing can only be true if there were a something there at the beginning to originate the something. Aristotle called this the First Cause or the “uncaused cause.” By that original something being eternal, i.e. God, then that solves the problem of the infinite regress. This also solves the problem of something coming from nothing, but only if the original nothing was relative nothingness and not absolute nothingness. This is the only logical way that we can have something coming out of nothing.

And Back to the Material World

The bottom line is that even though secular-oriented scientists will state that they do not believe in metaphysics, they holds metaphysical assumptions anyway. Everyone does. Either they are not aware of their assumptions or will not admit them. And as a result, they will not allow metaphysics to enter into the discussion. I have a sneaking suspicion that they avoid metaphysics because sound metaphysical arguments are devastating for the modern theories of evolution and the origin of the universe. Although, suprisingly, this is changing. Scientists are realizing that they do indeed hold metaphysical assumptions and are starting to wrestle with that. This is a fascinating subject of which I will devote a post to in the future. Stay tuned.

John Dupré, a British philosopher of science states:

“Though they may sincerely deny it, scientists are almost inevitably committed to metaphysical opinions. Metaphysics can be ignored but not completely escaped.”16

E. Michael Jones, in Logos Rising, states:

“…Darwinism would cripple philosophical development in the West for over a century by substituting biology for metaphysics, which was regarded as an obsolete relic of the Middle Ages and ipso facto unscientific.”

The following quotes is from Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Alpha 4:

“And one might suppose that Hesiod was the first to seek for such a thing (a first cause), or anyone else who placed love and desire among the entities as their first principle.”

The final quote is from Billy Preston:

Nothing from nothing leaves nothing You gotta have something if you wanna be with me

Finally, consider the following question:

Why do you think that modern people attribute the existence of the material universe to everything but God? Please leave your comment below. Thank you!

Footnotes:

  1. Vandiver, PhD, Elizabeth,  Classical Mythology Course Guidebook, “Lecture 4: ‘First Was Chaos,'” pp. 19-23, The Great Courses, Chantilly, VA, 2000
  2. The phrase “from myth to metaphysics” as well as the concept are found in E. Michael Jones’s Logos Rising, pp. 146-148
  3. Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, p. 146, South Bend, Indiana, Fidelity Press, 2020
  4. “What is the Original Meaning of Chaos,” from Micromythos, Classical Mythology Insights, January 17, 2015, https://micromythos.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/what-is-the-original-meaning-of-chaos
  5. Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, pp. 155-6, 166-7, 179-80
  6. Vandiver, PhD, Elizabeth,  Classical Mythology Course Guidebook, “Lecture 4: ‘First Was Chaos,'” pp. 19-23
  7. Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, pp. 146-8
  8. Ibid.
  9. Graham, Daniel W., “Arche,” Encylcopedia.com, 2005
  10. Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. II, Greece and the Polis, p. 196, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1956-1987 as cited in Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, p. 148
  11. Stewart, Douglas J. “Hesiod and the Birth of Reason,” The Antioch Review, vol. 26, no. 2, 1966, pp. 213–231. JSTOR.
  12. Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, 146-148
  13. Ibid.
  14. Tate, Karl, Alternatives to the Big Bang Theory Explained, SPACE.com, February 21, 2014
  15. Brown, Patterson. “Infinite Causal Regression.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 75, no. 4, 1966, pp. 510–525. JSTOR
  16. Tate, Karl, Alternatives to the Big Bang Theory Explained

Bibliography and Sources:

Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Translated by Hugh Lawson (London, Penguin Books, 1998)

Burtt, E.A., The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, Angelico Press, Kettering, Ohio, 2016

Dawson, Christopher, The Dynamics of World History, public domain

Dawson, Christopher, Progress & Religion, An Historical inquiry, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1929, 2001

Duchesne, Ricardo, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, Brill Publishers, Leiden, 2011

Dupré, John, The Metaphysics of Evolution, The Royal Publishing Society, 2017

Gonzalez, Guillermo and Richards, Jay W., The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery, reprint edition, Gateway Publishers, Southlake, Texas, 2020

Hollis, Christopher, The Noble Castle, Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Toronto, 1941

Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, reissue ed., translated by M.L. West, Oxford Classic, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2009

Jones, E. Michael, Logos Rising, a History of Ultimate Reality, South Bend, Indiana, Fidelity Press, 2020

Meyer, Stephen C., Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design,  revised ed., San Francisco, HarperOne, 2014

Tate, Karl, Alternatives to the Big Bang Theory Explained, SPACE.com, February 21, 2014

Vandiver, PhD, Elizabeth,  Classical Mythology Course Guidebook, The Great Courses, Chantilly, VA, 2000

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 2: The World of the Polis, classic reprint, hardcover, Forgotten Books, London, 2018

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