Contest of Homer and Hesiod

The Contest of Homer and Hesiod (Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi, or simply Certamen[1]) is a Greek narrative that expands a remark made in Hesiod's Works and Days[2] to recount an imagined poetical agon between Homer and Hesiod, in which Hesiod bears away the prize, a bronze tripod, which he dedicates to the Muses of Mount Helicon. A tripod, believed to be Hesiod's dedication-offering, was still being shown to tourists visiting Mount Helicon and its sacred grove of the Muses in Pausanias' day, but has since vanished.[3]


The narrative as we have it is clearly of the 2nd century AD, for it mentions Hadrian (line 33). Friedrich Nietzsche deduced[4] that it must have an earlier precedent in some form, and argued that it must derive from the sophist Alcidamas' Mouseion, written in the 4th century BC. Three fragmentary papyri discovered since have confirmed his view.[5] One dates from the 3rd century BC,[6] one from the 2nd century BC [7] (both of these contain versions of the text largely agreeing with the Hadrianic version) and one, identified in a colophon text as the ending of Alcidamas, On Homer (University of Michigan Pap. 2754)[8] from the 2nd or 3rd century AD.

That it derives in part from the Classical period has been shown most clearly[9] by two lines from its riddle passage that appear in Aristophanes' Peace[10] "It does seem easier to suppose that Aristophanes was quoting a pre-existing text of the Certamen than that Alcidamas appropriated the lines from Aristophanes for a Certamen-like story in his Mouseion," R.M. Rosen observes.[11] The more profound influences of some version of the Contest on Aristophanes' The Frogs has been traced by Rosen, who notes the clearly traditional organising principle of the contest of wits (sophias), often involving riddling tests.


The site of the contest is set in Chalcis in Euboea. Hesiod tells (Works and Days 650–59) that the only time he took passage in a ship was when he went from Aulis to Chalcis, to take part in the funeral games for Amphidamas, a noble of Chalcis. Hesiod was victorious; he dedicated the prize bronze tripod to the Muses at Helicon.[12] There is no mention of Homer.

In Certamen Homeri et Hesiodi the winning passage that Hesiod selects is the passage from Works and Days that begins "When the Pleiades arise..." The judge, who is the brother of the late Amphidamas, awards the prize to Hesiod. The relative value of Homer and Hesiod is established in the poem by the relative value of their subject matter to the polis, the community: Hesiod's work on agriculture and peace is pronounced of more value than Homer's tales of war and slaughter.

The work also preserves 17 epigrams attributed to Homer. Three of these epigrams (epigrams III, XIII and XVII) are also preserved in the Contest of Homer and Hesiod and epigram I is found in a few manuscripts of the Homeric Hymns.[13]

Modern edition

The modern edition of the Greek text is in volume 5 of T.W. Allen's Oxford Classical Text of Homer (1912). The brief text[14] is embedded in the briefest of sketches of the poets' lives, their parentage and birth, and the contest itself. It consists of challenges and riddles that Hesiod poses, to which Homer improvises masterfully, to the applause of the on-lookers, followed by their recitation of what they considered their best passage and the awarding of the tripod to Hesiod; this takes up about half the text and is followed by accounts of the circumstances of their deaths.


  1. Conventionally Greek works did not bear titles; the application of a Latin title to Greek works is an ancient tradition: this Latin title was applied in the Renaissance and is a shortened version of the title in the Greek: Concerning Homer and Hesiod and their descent and their contest.
  2. Works and Days
  3. Pausanias, Description of Greece ix.31.3.
  4. Nietzsche, "Die Florentinischer Tractat über Homer und Hesiod", in Rhetorica (Rheinisches museum für philologie) 25 (1870:528-40) and 28 (1873:211-49).
  5. Koniaris 1971, Renehan 1971, Mandilaras 1992.
  6. Flinders Petrie, Papyri, ed. Mahaffy, 1891, pl. xxv.
  7. First published by B. Mandilaras,Platon 42 (1990) 45-51.
  8. Winter, J. G., "A New Fragment on the Life of Homer' Transactions of the American Philological Association 56 (1925) 120-129 ).
  9. The evidence for a 5th-century version of Certamen is summarised by N.J. Richardson, "The contest of Homer and Hesiod and Alcidamas' Mouseion", The Classical Quarterly New Series 31 (1981:1-10).
  10. lines 1282-83.
  11. Ralph Mark Rosen. "Aristophanes' Frogs and the Contest of Homer and Hesiod", Transactions of the American Philological Association 134.2, Autumn 2004:295-322. (on-line text)
  12. The Contest is adduced by Richard Hunter, (The Shadow of Callimachus: Studies in the Reception of Hellenistic Poetry at Rome (Cambridge University Press) 2006:18) as an expression of the cultural conditions behind the conspicuous absence of Homer at Helicon.
  13. Hesiod; Homer; Evelyn-White, Hugh G. (Hugh Gerard), d. 1924 Hesiod, the Homeric hymns, and Homerica London : W. Heinemann ; New York : Putnam p.467
  14. The Certamen in this edition has 338 lines.


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