The dating of Hesiod's life is a contested issue in scholarly circles (see § Dating below). Epic narrative allowed poets like Homer no opportunity for personal revelations. However, Hesiod's extant work comprises several didactic poems in which he went out of his way to let his audience in on a few details of his life. There are three explicit references in Works and Days, as well as some passages in his Theogony that support inferences made by scholars. The former poem says that his father came from Cyme in Aeolis (on the coast of Asia Minor, a little south of the island Lesbos) and crossed the sea to settle at a hamlet, near Thespiae in Boeotia, named Ascra, "a cursed place, cruel in winter, hard in summer, never pleasant" (Works 640). Hesiod's patrimony there, a small piece of ground at the foot of Mount Helicon, occasioned lawsuits with his brother Perses, who seems, at first, to have cheated him of his rightful share thanks to corrupt authorities or "kings" but later became impoverished and ended up scrounging from the thrifty poet (Works 35, 396.).
Unlike his father, Hesiod was averse to sea travel, but he once crossed the narrow strait between the Greek mainland and Euboea to participate in funeral celebrations for one Athamas of Chalcis, and there won a tripod in a singing competition. He also describes a meeting between himself and the Muses on Mount Helicon, where he had been pasturing sheep when the goddesses presented him with a laurel staff, a symbol of poetic authority (Theogony 22–35). Fanciful though the story might seem, the account has led ancient and modern scholars to infer that he was not a professionally trained rhapsode, or he would have been presented with a lyre instead.[nb 1]
Some scholars have seen Perses as a literary creation, a foil for the moralizing that Hesiod develops in Works and Days, but there are also arguments against that theory. For example, it is quite common for works of moral instruction to have an imaginative setting, as a means of getting the audience's attention,[nb 2] but it could be difficult to see how Hesiod could have travelled around the countryside entertaining people with a narrative about himself if the account was known to be fictitious. Gregory Nagy, on the other hand, sees both Pérsēs ("the destroyer" from πέρθω, pérthō) and Hēsíodos ("he who emits the voice" from ἵημι, híēmi and αὐδή, audḗ) as fictitious names for poetical personae.
It might seem unusual that Hesiod's father migrated from Asia Minor westwards to mainland Greece, the opposite direction to most colonial movements at the time, and Hesiod himself gives no explanation for it. However around 750 BC or a little later, there was a migration of seagoing merchants from his original home in Cyme in Asia Minor to Cumae in Campania (a colony they shared with the Euboeans), and possibly his move west had something to do with that, since Euboea is not far from Boeotia, where he eventually established himself and his family. The family association with Aeolian Cyme might explain his familiarity with eastern myths, evident in his poems, though the Greek world might have already developed its own versions of them.
In spite of Hesiod's complaints about poverty, life on his father's farm could not have been too uncomfortable if Works and Days is anything to judge by, since he describes the routines of prosperous yeomanry rather than peasants. His farmer employs a friend (Works and Days 370) as well as servants (502, 573, 597, 608, 766), an energetic and responsible ploughman of mature years (469 ff.), a slave boy to cover the seed (441–6), a female servant to keep house (405, 602) and working teams of oxen and mules (405, 607f.). One modern scholar surmises that Hesiod may have learned about world geography, especially the catalogue of rivers in Theogony (337–45), listening to his father's accounts of his own sea voyages as a merchant. The father probably spoke in the Aeolian dialect of Cyme but Hesiod probably grew up speaking the local Boeotian, belonging to the same dialect group. However, while his poetry features some Aeolisms there are no words that are certainly Boeotian. His basic language was the main literary dialect of the time, Homer's Ionian.
It is probable that Hesiod wrote his poems down, or dictated them, rather than passed them on orally, as rhapsodes did—otherwise the pronounced personality that now emerges from the poems would surely have been diluted through oral transmission from one rhapsode to another. Pausanias asserted that Boeotians showed him an old tablet made of lead on which the Works were engraved. If he did write or dictate, it was perhaps as an aid to memory or because he lacked confidence in his ability to produce poems extempore, as trained rhapsodes could do. It certainly wasn't in a quest for immortal fame since poets in his era had probably no such notions for themselves. However, some scholars suspect the presence of large-scale changes in the text and attribute this to oral transmission. Possibly he composed his verses during idle times on the farm, in the spring before the May harvest or the dead of winter.