Again, Hesiod's story of his relations with his brother Perses have been treated with scepticism (see Murray, "Anc. Gk. Literature", pp. 53-54): Perses, it is urged, is clearly a mere dummy, set up to be the target for the poet's exhortations. On such a matter precise evidence is naturally not forthcoming; but all probability is against the sceptical view. For 1) if the quarrel between the brothers were a fiction, we should expect it to be detailed at length and not noticed allusively and rather obscurely -- as we find it; 2) as MM. Croiset remark, if the poet needed a lay-figure the ordinary practice was to introduce some mythological person -- as, in fact, is done in the "Precepts of Chiron". In a word, there is no more solid ground for treating Perses and his quarrel with Hesiod as fictitious than there would be for treating Cyrnus, the friend of Theognis, as mythical.
Thirdly, there is the passage in the "Theogony" relating to Hesiod and the Muses. It is surely an error to suppose that lines 22-35 all refer to Hesiod: rather, the author of the "Theogony" tells the story of his own inspiration by the same Muses who once taught Hesiod glorious song. The lines 22-3 are therefore a very early piece of tradition about Hesiod, and though the appearance of Muses must be treated as a graceful fiction, we find that a writer, later than the "Works and Days" by perhaps no more than three-quarters of a century, believed in the actuality of Hesiod and in his life as a farmer or shepherd.
Lastly, there is the famous story of the contest in song at Chalcis. In later times the modest version in the "Works and Days" was elaborated, first by making Homer the opponent whom Hesiod conquered, while a later period exercised its ingenuity in working up the story of the contest into the elaborate form in which it still survives. Finally the contest, in which the two poets contended with hymns to Apollo (4), was transferred to Delos. These developments certainly need no consideration: are we to say the same of the passage in the "Works and Days"? Critics from Plutarch downwards have almost unanimously rejected the lines 654-662, on the ground that Hesiod's Amphidamas is the hero of the Lelantine Wars between Chalcis and Eretria, whose death may be placed circa 705 B.C. -- a date which is obviously too low for the genuine Hesiod. Nevertheless, there is much to be said in defence of the passage. Hesiod's claim in the "Works and Days" is modest, since he neither pretends to have met Homer,
nor to have sung in any but an impromptu, local festival, so that
the supposed interpolation lacks a sufficient motive. And there is nothing in the context to show that Hesiod's Amphidamas is to be identified with that Amphidamas whom Plutarch alone connects with the Lelantine War: the name may have been borne by an earlier Chalcidian, an ancestor, perhaps, of the person to whom Plutarch refers.
The story of the end of Hesiod may be told in outline. After the contest at Chalcis, Hesiod went to Delphi and there was warned that the `issue of death should overtake him in the fair grove of Nemean Zeus.' Avoiding therefore Nemea on the Isthmus of Corinth, to which he supposed the oracle to refer, Hesiod retired to Oenoe in Locris where he was entertained by Amphiphanes and Ganyetor, sons of a certain Phegeus. This place, however, was also sacred to Nemean Zeus, and the poet, suspected by his hosts of having seduced their sister (5), was murdered there. His body, cast into the sea, was brought to shore by dolphins and buried at Oenoe (or, according to Plutarch, at Ascra): at a later time his bones were removed to Orchomenus. The whole story is full of miraculous elements, and the various authorities disagree on numerous points of detail. The tradition seems, however, to be constant in declaring that Hesiod was murdered and buried at Oenoe, and in this respect it is at least as old as the time of Thucydides. In conclusion it may be worth while to add the graceful epigram of Alcaeus of Messene ("Palatine Anthology", vii 55).
"When in the shady Locrian grove Hesiod lay dead, the Nymphs washed his body with water from their own springs, and heaped high his grave; and thereon the goat-herds sprinkled offerings of milk mingled with yellow-honey: such was the utterance of the nine Muses that he breathed forth, that old man who had tasted of their pure springs."
The Hesiodic poems fall into two groups according as they are didactic (technical or gnomic) or genealogical: the first group centres round the "Works and Days", the second round the "Theogony".