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Classics: Works and Days
In epic style, Hesiod begins Works and Days with an appeal to the Muses of Pieria, to sing of
their father Zeus, who determines one’s fame or dishonor, provides the good and the bad,
destroys the mighty, and rewards the humble. The poet adds that there are two kinds of Strife on
earth, one good and one bad. The good Strife, the elder daughter of Dark Night and of Zeus the
Son of Chronos, makes people industrious so that they strive to imitate and surpass their
neighbors.
Then, addressing himself to his brother Perses, Hesiod begs him not to follow the other Strife, in
marketplace or courthouse. First lay up food for a year, he advises, and then, if necessary, enter
disputes of law. This section contains references to Perses’ unbrotherly lawsuit to get more than
his rightful share of their father’s possessions.
Prometheus by craft recovered the fire that Zeus had taken from men, and in revenge Zeus
created a woman of water and earth. Pandora (“The All-Endowed”) received all the lures
provided by the gods to deceive men. She was eagerly accepted by Epimetheus, who had
forgotten his brother’s warning against gifts from the gods. Before her advent, men lived on
earth free from wearying toil and death-bringing diseases. Pandora removed the great lid from
the jar, and all the evils flew out and scattered over the earth.
Hesiod then tells another tale about the way gods and humanity came from the same seed. In the
time of Chronos there existed a golden race of mortals, living like gods and ignorant of sorrow or
old age. Everything good belonged to them: abundant flocks, fruits, the blessings of the gods.
After the earth covered them, the gods created an inferior race of silver. After a hundred years of
idiotic childhood, they came of age, only to kill off one another in warfare. A third race followed
whose delight was war; they died and went to chill Hades. Then came the demigods, the heroes
of Thebes and Troy, preceding the present race of iron, whose daily lot is weariness and woe. To
them, might is right. They have no reverence for justice and oaths.
At this point in the poem Hesiod tells the first animal fable in Greek literature, the tale of a hawk
who flew high into the sky with a nightingale, lecturing her against the folly of trying to compete
with stronger people. To Perses, he adds a warning that violence is a bad quality in a poor man.
For him, justice is better.
A city that provides honest judgments, says Hesiod, is blessed by Zeus, who protects it from war
and famine. Its citizens never have to make sea voyages (which Hesiod hated); their earth
provides their living. An insolent city, even one with a single insolent citizen, is plagued by the
gods because Justice, the daughter of Zeus, is quick with rewards or punishment. Then follows a
series of homilies as encouragement to the lazy and improvident Perses: “Work is no disgrace; it
is idleness that is disgraceful.” “The idle envy the wealth of the hard worker and try to seize it
violently. God-given wealth is better.”
His theories on husbandry extend into domestic life. The ideal time for a man to marry, he says,
is at the age of thirty; for a woman, the fifth year after puberty. Marry a neighbor, but be sure the
others will not laugh at your choice. Finally, the poet records holy days and the lucky days for
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different tasks. He concludes that the wise man is the one who works blamelessly before the
deathless gods, for he knows the propitious omens and avoids sin.
Hesiod (HEE-see-uhd), an honest and hardworking Greek farmer. His father, a seafaring trader
(and presumably a farmer as well), had emigrated from his homeland on the coast of Asia Minor
(modern Turkey) in a state of poverty and had sailed across the Aegean Sea to mainland Greece
in search of a better livelihood. There, he settled in the district of Boeotia, in the meager village
of Ascra on the lower slopes of Mount Helicon, which was sacred to the Muses of poetry. He
acquired land, achieved middle-class status and a measure of prosperity, and was able to
bequeath an estate of some value to his sons, Hesiod and Perses. A bitter dispute about the
inheritance, however, led to litigation and to charges by Hesiod that Perses had attempted to get
the better of him by bribing the corrupt barons who functioned as judges. Hesiod, in fact, treats
this litigation as the immediate occasion of this thoroughly didactic poem, which is addressed to
Perses. Hesiod speaks in the first person and exhorts his brother to forsake his lazy, scheming,
and contentious habits and to devote himself to honest living and hard work; these general
exhortations are accompanied by explicit instructions about proper conduct, managing a farm,
and seafaring. The poem concludes with a straightforward list of propitious and unpropitious
days. Hesiod’s advice to Perses is grounded in a firm belief that this is a hard but moral universe
in which Zeus, the ruler of the gods, rewards industry and integrity and punishes those who cheat
and rob. Inspired by the ever present Muses of Mount Helicon, Hesiod, as he informs Perses (and
his readers), already was a prize-winning poet before he composed this poem.
Why does Zeus make Pandora? How is she made? What can we infer from the Pandora myth about the
ancient Greek attitude toward women? (You should also look back at the description of Pandora in
Theogony, lines 507-616.)
In his attitude toward women Hesiod, like most Greek men, was a misogynist. Both Theogony
and Works and Days relate the myth of Pandora, the first woman and the bearer of evil to
humankind. Yet marriage is preferable to lonely old age and, after death, an estate divided
among kinsmen. Care should be taken in choosing a wife: She should be a virgin and live nearby
so that her reputation, or lack of one, will be well known. A good wife is the best thing a man
can have, but a bad wife the worst.
Zeus
Zeus (zews), “the father of gods and men,” who demands of human beings hard labor and honest
dealings. He governs Hesiod’s universe according to a standard of strict and absolute justice. In a
mythological account of the origin of work, sorrow, and disease, Hesiod tells the story of Zeus’s
conflict with Prometheus (proh-MEE-thee-uhs) and his creation of Pandora (“Allgifts”). To
punish Prometheus, the patron and protector of humankind, for stealing fire from the Olympian
gods and giving it to humans, Zeus had the gods create the seductress Pandora and confer on her
all charms, graces, and deceits; he then sent her into the world with a jar in which were stored all
human miseries and arranged for her to open it and release them, only Hope remaining trapped
inside.
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Works and Days is a valuable source for the social history of Archaic Greece. In addition, unlike
most literature from ancient Greece, which reflects the views of the elite, Works and Days
illustrates the feelings and opinions of an articulate man somewhat lower on the social scale. The
realities of village life are mirrored in Hesiod comments on the value of good neighbors and the
importance of treating them fairly. Advice on the age of marriage of men and women, the
necessity of choosing one wife wisely, the ideal number of sons to raise, all illuminate the social
and economic world of Archaic Greek village life.
Hesiod personal outlook on life comes through in both poems, but particularly in Works and
Days. He appears to have been a dour man, aware of the godscontrol over human fate,
disappointed by his father lack of accomplishment, and disgusted by Persesbehavior. Nor was he
proud of his polis, as an Athenian or Spartan would be proud of his. He refers to Ascra as a
wretched, pitiable village, miserable in winter, hard in summer, and never good during any
season. Life itself held few rewards, and it took constant, hard work to make it bearable.
In his attitude toward women Hesiod, like most Greek men, was a misogynist. Both Theogony
and Works and Days relate the myth of Pandora, the first woman and the bearer of evil to
humankind. Yet marriage is preferable to lonely old age and, after death, an estate divided
among kinsmen. Care should be taken in choosing a wife: She should be a virgin and live nearby
so that her reputation, or lack of one, will be well known. A good wife is the best thing a man
can have, but a bad wife the worst.
What is the significance of Pandora's jar? (note that it is not a box!) What do you think it symbolizes?
In both Works and Days and Theogony, Hesiod links the story of Prometheus tricking Zeus and the story
of Pandora's creation. What are the similarities between these two myths? In Works and Days he also
links these myths to the “Myth of Metals” (golden age, silver age, etc.): what is the connection?
Semonides 7 is a virulent misogynist diatribe. Can you detect any common denominators among all his
various criticisms of women? Are there any female qualities of which he approves?
From the start, the gods made women different.
One type is from a pig--a hairy sow
whose house is like a rolling heap of filth;
and she herself, unbathed, in unwashed clothes,
5
reposes on the shit-pile, growing fat.
Another type the gods made from a fox:
pure evil, and aware of everything.
This woman misses nothing: good or bad,
she notices, considers, and declares
10
that good is bad and bad is good. Her mood
changes from one moment to the next.
One type is from a dog--a no-good bitch,
a mother through and through; she wants to hear
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Document Summary

The poet adds that there are two kinds of strife on earth, one good and one bad. The good strife, the elder daughter of dark night and of zeus the. Son of chronos, makes people industrious so that they strive to imitate and surpass their neighbors. Then, addressing himself to his brother perses, hesiod begs him not to follow the other strife, in marketplace or courthouse. First lay up food for a year, he advises, and then, if necessary, enter disputes of law. This section contains references to perses" unbrotherly lawsuit to get more than his rightful share of their father"s possessions. Prometheus by craft recovered the fire that zeus had taken from men, and in revenge zeus created a woman of water and earth. Pandora ( the all-endowed ) received all the lures provided by the gods to deceive men. She was eagerly accepted by epimetheus, who had forgotten his brother"s warning against gifts from the gods.

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