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In Works and Days Hesiod outlines the successive Ages of Man. His description of the current times, the Iron Age, includes a doom and gloom prediction of the destruction of mankind at the hands of Zeus1:

And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth.

Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Works and Days

I'm trying to gauge the significance of this doomsday prophecy, within the wider framework of Greek mythology. Is Hesiod's version of the endtimes mentioned elsewhere? Were later authors influenced by it, and did they build upon it? Was Zeus thought of as the eventual destructor of humanity?

1 The poet explicitly mentions that Zeus also had a hand in ending the second generation of men, for they had grown arrogant and ignored their sacred obligations to the gods. The first, third and fourth generations apparently died out without divine intervention.

4

This is an interesting idea. At least Ovid appears to take up the prophecy. After narrating the Gold-Bronze Ages, he quickly glides over the Gigantomachy and then discusses the great flood of Deucalion which Jupiter sent down because of Lycaon's acts (1.177-380).

Plato also embeds the idea in his treatment of it in the Republic. There, Socrates, after dividing up the population based on the Myth of Metals, foretells of a time when the Guardians will make errors in their decisions, eventually leading to collapse. This allows him to transition into the treatise on types of government.

Depending on your German, the standard source is Gatz 1967 Weltalter, goldene Zeit und sinnverwandte Vorstellungen, or, if you don't know German, you can check out Helen van Noorden's 2014 treatment Playing Hesiod.

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2

It is not actually the end times, as there is no universal apocalypse in the Greek canon (so far as I know,) but only a cleansing of the world of the evil race of men.

Ovid is probably the best explicator. Zeus, throughly freaked out with his run in with the original "Hannibal Lecter" (Lycaon), in fear of his own continued dominion over the earth in the face of such adversaries, proclaims his intent to wipe humans from the face of the earth, which some gods approved

but all deplored and questioned the estate of earth deprived of mortals. Who could offer frankincense upon the altars? Would he suffer earth to be despoiled by hungry beasts of prey?
Source: Perseus

Zeus initially forbids them to discuss it but

granted soon to people earth with race miraculous, unlike the first.
ibid.

In terms of influence, Hesiod's story is basically universally accepted by all subsequent authors. It is of utmost significance in the canon.

Apollodorus is another major source of the story of Deucalion and this Deluge, but does not mention the prophecy.

C.M. Wiemer has also noted the mention of a similar use of prophecy in Plato related to the Hesiod.

However, you may be interested in the prophecy Ovid does reference in reference to Hesiod's story (one of the may "metas" in Metamorphoses;) :

And now his thunder bolts
would Jove wide scatter, but he feared the flames,
unnumbered, sacred ether might ignite
and burn the axle of the universe:
and he remembered in the scroll of fate,
there is a time appointed when the sea
and earth and Heavens shall melt, and fire destroy
the universe of mighty labour wrought.
Source: Perseus

"Role of fate" being the translator's fancification of the Latin word "fatis" (oracle). This prophecy is definitely of the destruction of the universe as in end times and "apocalypse" and seems to be a novel addition to the canon by Ovid, about a thousand years after Hesiod.

[You can read a short discussion of Ovid's prophecy here.]


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  • Because of the change of language, one must look at the original meaning of words. 1) Universe- combined into one/whole 2) Cosmos(kosmos)- land of humans(not the Earth) 3) Apocalypse- uncover/reveal – Andrew Johnson Jan 17 '18 at 15:04

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