Abstract: Michael Main 2019

Κουροτρόφος καì Καρδιοδαῖτα: Economics and the Political in Representations of Hecate

The goddess Hecate has undergone a number of transformations over the course of Western literature. In her earliest appearance in the so-called “Hymn to Hecate” in Hesiod’s Theogony, she appears as a helpful and benevolent figure, whose sphere of influence ranges across earth, sea, and sky (καὶ γέρας ἐν γαίῃ τε καὶ οὐρανῷ ἠδὲ θαλάσσῃ). The Hesiodic Hecate deals much more with politics and economics than the supernatural, and her powers are broad and far-reaching. By the Hellenistic period, however, her purview narrows considerably, and she is a much more sinister figure whose share of the universe is relegated almost entirely to magic. In works such as Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, she is a much darker, strictly chthonic goddess and seemingly bears little resemblance to the Hecate of Archaic literature. However, this can only be the case if one ignores clear evidence of political and commercial affairs in Hecate’s appearances in works leading up to and including the Argonautica.


In this paper I assert that Hecate’s seemingly strange transformation in Greek literature stems directly from the political goddess in Hesiod’s Theogony. I analyze the development of Hecate’s characterization across Greek literature, focusing mainly on the Theogony and Argonautica. Using as comparanda the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, various texts from the Classical period, and Hellenistic καταδέσμοι, I demonstrate that the seemingly more specialized and chthonic Hecate of later Greek literature retains the political and commercial character described in the “Hymn to Hecate,” which scholars have long considered highly unusual among depictions of the goddess; in contrast, I maintain that it provides the seeds for the Hecate of later literature.