Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hesiod -- Works and Days

It’s time we introduced Hesiod, the other notable Archaic Greek writer besides Homer.

Hesiod is less of a mythical figure than Homer because we actually know some things about  him. For example, we know that he was born and lived in Boetia and that his father hailed from Cyme in Asia Minor. Hesiod was raised in Ascra near Mount Helicon.
See below:

Herodotus says something about him – “Homer and Hesiod were the two poets who composed Theogonies and described the gods of the Greeks giving them all their appropriate titles, offices, and powers, and they lived, I believe not more than 400 years ago.” It is believed that Hesiod lived some time during the eighth century B.C.

Hesiod, like Homer, is known primarily for two long poems, his titles being Theogony and Works and Days. Theogony is one of the primary sources of Greek mythology, successful because it pulls many of the mythical stories together in a single narrative. One of the hallmarks of the work is that it asserts the authority of Zeus over all the Greek people rather than trying to establish a connection to a specific living dynastic line.

In this post we will concentrate on Works and Days, an 800 line poem which is not idyllic like Homer, but instead describes the moral life of a farmer. The setting for the poem is the dispute between Hesiod and his brother Perses over the brother’s trickery in obtaining the majority of the inheritance meant for both of them. Hesiod urges his brother to give up selfishness which will destroy his virtue and maybe his life. In the first 369 lines he moralizes by telling two stories: the evil of Pandora (1- 109) and the ages of man put on earth by Zeus and how violent men were punished (110-369).

But you, Perses, listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. [215] Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards Justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this.

But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment.

But you, Perses, lay up these things within your heart and [275] listen now to right, ceasing altogether to think of violence. For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right which proves [280] far the best.

With verse 370, Hesiod transitions from his brother’s scolder to an agricultural consultant reminiscent of Cato’s De Agri Cultura. As he moves along the advice takes on the appearance of the Farmer’s Almanac.

[370] Let the wage promised to a friend be fixed; even with your brother smile—and get a witness; for trust and mistrust alike ruin men.

More hands mean more work and more increase. If your heart within you desires wealth, do these things and work with work upon work.

[405] First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plow—a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the oxen as well—and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another, and he refuse you, and so, because you are in lack, the season pass by and your work come to nothing.

Then remember to hew your timber: it is the season for that work. Cut a mortar three feet wide and a pestle three cubits long, and an axle of seven feet, for it will do very well so; [425] but if you make it eight feet long, you can cut a beetle from it as well. Cut a felloe (wagon wheel) three spans across for a wagon of ten palms' width.

So soon as the time for plowing is proclaimed to men, then make haste, you and your slaves alike, [460] in wet and in dry, to plow in the season for plowing, and bestir yourself early in the morning so that your fields may be full. Plow in the spring; but fallow broken up in the summer will not belie your hopes.

But if you plow the good ground at the solstice, [480] you will reap sitting, grasping a thin crop in your hand, binding the sheaves awry, dust-covered, not glad at all; so you will bring all home in a basket and not many will admire you.

While it is yet midsummer command your slaves: “It will not always be summer, build barns.” Avoid the month Lenaeon, (end of January) wretched days, all of them fit to skin an ox, [505] and the frosts which are cruel when Boreas blows over the earth.

Then put on, as I bid you, a soft coat and a tunic to the feet to shield your body,—and you should weave thick woof on thin warp. In this clothe yourself so that your hair may keep still [540] and not bristle and stand upon end all over your body. Lace on your feet close-fitting boots of the hide of a slaughtered ox, thickly lined with felt inside. And when the season of frost comes on, stitch together skins of firstling kids with ox-sinew, to put over your back [545] and to keep off the rain.

Observe all this until the year is ended and you have nights and days of equal length, and Earth, the mother of all, bears again her various fruit. When Zeus has finished [565] sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk

But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, [585] then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat.

But when Orion and Sirius are come into mid-heaven, [610] and rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus, then cut off all the grape-clusters, Perses, and bring them home. Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights: then cover them over for five, and on the sixth day draw off into vessels the gifts of joyful Dionysus.

Marry a maiden, so that you can teach her careful ways, [700] and especially marry one who lives near you, but look well about you and see that your marriage will not be a joke to your neighbors. For a man wins nothing better than a good wife, and, again, nothing worse than a bad one, a greedy soul who [705] roasts her man without fire, strong though he may be, and brings him to a raw old age.

Never put the ladle upon the mixing-bowl [745] at a wine party, for malignant ill-luck is attached to that. When you are building a house, do not leave it rough hewn, or a cawing crow may settle on it and croak. Take nothing to eat or to wash with from un-charmed pots, for in them there is mischief. [750] Do not let a boy of twelve years sit on things which may not be moved, for that is bad, and makes a man unmanly; nor yet a child of twelve months, for that has the same effect.

[780] Avoid the thirteenth of the waxing month for beginning to sow: yet it is the best day for setting plants. The sixth of the mid-month is very unfavorable for plants, but is good for the birth of males, though unfavorable for a girl either to be born at all or to be married.

The tenth is favorable for a male to be born; but, for a girl, the fourth day [795] of the mid-month. On that day tame sheep and shambling, horned oxen, and the sharp-fanged dog and hardy mules to the touch of the hand.

That man is happy and lucky in them who knows all these things and does his work without offending the deathless gods, who discerns the omens of birds and avoids transgression.

This is certainly a plebian story when compared to the epic battle at Troy or the lives of the gods. But we gain a view into what the everyman farmer is trying to do from day to day – survive in the battle with nature – and he feels like one of us.

1 comment:

Lake District said...

Great article and I personally have enjoyed a recent new found interest in history with the idea of getting out doors and getting fit. To do this I started Lake District walks and with walks to such ancient historic sites as Castlerigg Stone Circle set within the Lake District National Park and close to keswick. I was awake to capture pictures at sunrise and at such times it is hard not to feel the history of such ancient historical sites.