Where new stuff comes from and if this matters: OGB #3 Theogony by Hesiod

eros
Source

Throughout history, things come from other things. Offspring emerges from parents. Physically, matter changes forms. Metaphysically, things change into other things. How does this happen? Consider two explanations.

  • (A) all stuff is already created
    • Thus, new things emerge by splitting up the existing stuff amongst them
  • (B) new stuff emerges from old stuff
    • Thus, new things emerge as distinct from the old stuff

The Greeks thought of the changing process as a force with a personality: a god: Eros. Eros was the god of love and sex. Through Eros, parents beget children and things become other things. In Theogony, Hesiod pulls together all the popular stories of his day into one meta-narrative. In doing so, he explains where things come from and how they change.

AH-HA

Let’s consider (A) and (B) in some examples from Theogony.

1. Earth produces Sky, Mountains, and Sea.

This seems to be (A). Our planet Earth includes features like sky, mountains, and sea. Thus, Eros can split up Earth into those parts sky, mountains, and sea.

2. Night + Darkness = Day and Brightness.

This seems to be (B). Night has a quality of darkness, which is the absence of light. Day has a quality of brightness, the opposite of darkness. Seemingly, Night does not have the qualities that Day has. So, Night produces something entirely new when Day emerges.

Alternatively, maybe the Greek idea of Night included brightness, and Eros split it up into two: Day and Night. Certainly, in modern language, a “day” can refer to either the daytime and brightness for 12 hours, or the full scope of brightness and darkness for 24 hours.

3. Earth + Sky = Titans, Cyclopes, and Hundred-Handers.

This is not clear whether it’s (A) or (B). The offspring of Earth and Sky seem to have personalities and “souls” like humans do. Whereas Earth and Sky should be like non-living material. How would conscious life emerge from pure physical matter except as new emerging from old, like (B)?

However, the Greek beings Earth and Sky are actually beings that are closer to living than non-living material. This makes (A) more possible to have Titan beings emerging from other living beings.

4. Theia (Titan, “goddess”) + Hyperion (Titan, “he who goes above”) = Sun, Moon, and Dawn.

This is closer to (B) but not clear. This doesn’t make sense in a modern perspective. How could two Titans, beings closer to humans than materials, produce the non-living material Sun, Moon, and Dawn? This appears like the opposite of #3: non-living things emerge from living beings.

Summary

Hesiod does not detail how beings are born or how things become other things, whether through (A) or (B). But Theogony still ties together an important narrative to explain the high-level transfer of ideas and concepts among beings. It shows generally where things come from.

In our modern day, we delve into science to explain the world. As we discover the micro-steps that details how matter changes at a small scale, let’s keep the big picture in mind, like Hesiod did. Maybe it’s ok to build and believe a story that leaves out the details but gives us an explanation of the world at a higher level.

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