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Hesiodic Works and Days

Early in the seventh century AD, Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer and Solon, comments on the urgent demands of the ordinary peasants not to be victims of the arbitrary jurisdiction of the aristocrats.  Oppression and injustice were the growing causes of complaint.  Blood vengeance with its curse of constant feuds among the clans can only be avoided by responsible and fair minded rule of law. (Ehrenberg: From Solon to Socrates)

Hesiod had a profound impact on Solon's reforms of government.  Solon, is generally credited with the introduction of Justice and Democracy to Athens.  His esteemed authority has stood the test of time.  Both Plato and Aristotle bow to his acknowledged authority in law.  Juvenal simply refers to him as “eloquent Solon, the Just”.

The watershed of Greek democracy and justice began with the poets Hesiod and Solon.  While Homer wrote about heroes and the Gods, Hesiod also depicts the life of the ordinary people of his time.

His Theogony, describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek Gods, is one of only a few original sources.  

In Works and Days, a didactic poem written probably around 700 BCE or earlier, Hesiod attacks unjust judges for granting an inheritance to his less-than-responsible brother.  He contends that once you rule unfairly and inequitably in any family dispute, you are actually rotting the foundations of society.

Hesiod’s main concerns were complaints regarding oppression and the injustice of arbitrary jurisdiction by the aristocracy resulting in blood vengeance and constant feuds between clans.  Communities needed trustworthy supreme authorities to ensure social peace and economic prosperity.  A recurring phrase “injust justice”  or “unjust judgments” runs through his poetry.

Hesiod attributes our fates to the capriciousness of the gods.  Advising Perseus on the safest time to make a sea voyage, he cautions: "the sailors will not be destroyed by the sea, unless Poseidon, the earth shaker is intent on doing so, or unless Zeus, the king of the immortals, wishes to destroy them.  We are at the mercy of the gods.

Excerpts on perversion of Justice  

Translated by Gregory Nagy

1  Muses of Pieria, you who make glory [kleos] with your songs,

2  come and tell of Zeus, making a song about your father,

3  on account of whom there are mortals both unworthy of talk and worthy,

4  both worth speaking of and not—all on account of great Zeus.

5  Easily he gives power, and just as easily he ruins the powerful.

6  Easily he diminishes the distinguished, and magnifies the undistinguished.

7  Easily he makes straight the crooked and withers the overweening

8  —Zeus, the one who thunders on high, who lives in the highest abode.

9  Heed me, seeing and hearing as you do, and with justice [dikē] make straight [it hunein] the divine laws [themis plural].

10  While you do that, I am ready to tell genuine [etētuma] things to Perses.

11 So then, the genos of the Erides was not a single one, but on Earth

there are two of them.

12 One is to be praised when a person takes note in his noos, but the other is to be blamed.

13 They have the opposite kinds of thūmos.

14 One of them promotes evil war and strife,   the wretched one!

15 No mortal loves this one, but, by necessity, in accord with the will of the immortals,

15 humans give tīmē to this burdensome Eris.

16  As for the other one, she was the first of the two to be born of dark Night.

17 And Zeus, seated on high, abiding in the aether, made her to be far better for men, rooted in Earth as she is.

20 She rouses even the resourceless person to work.  For when one man who needs work looks at another man who is rich, who strives to plow, to plant, to keep his household in order, then it is that neighbor envies neighbor, as the rich man is striving for his wealth. This Eris is good for mortals.

25. Potter envies potter, carpenter envies carpenter. Beggar envies beggar, singer envies singer. You, Perses, must place these things in your thūmos.

Do not let the Eris who rejoices at others’ misfortunes keep your thūmos away from work,  as you skulk about looking and listening for occasions of quarreling [neikea] in the agorā.

30.  The hōrā for quarreling [neikea] and agorai is a short one indeed for anyone who does not have lasting supplies of life-sustenance  as provided by the hōrai. The Earth bears the sustenance, which is the grain of Demeter.   Feeding on this sustenance to the point of koros [god of insolence], you are ready to promote quarreling [neikea] and strife over the property of others. Well, you will not be getting a second chance

35 to do what you are now doing. But come, let us now sort out [dia- krinesthai - middle way] for ourselves the quarrel [neikos],

36 with straight judgments [dikai], which are the best when they come from Zeus. 

Earlier, we divided up our inheritance, and then you seized and took away much more than was yours, thus increasing the glory of kings  who devour gifts, who voluntarily render this dikē.

40 They are inept [nēpioi], not knowing how much the half is more than the total or how much of a good thing there is to be found in mallow or asphodel. The gods had hidden away the true means of livelihood for humankind, and they still keep it that way.  If it were otherwise, it would be easy for you to do in just one day all the work you need to do, and have enough to last you a year, idle though you would be.

…..But Zeus hid it [the true means of livelihood for humankind], angry in his thoughts,  because Prometheus, with crooked plans, deceived him. For that reason he [Zeus] devised plans that were to be baneful for humankind.

( The Plans were Pandora’s box which released evil into the world.)

Zeus spoke, and the gods obeyed the Lord Son of Kronos.

…………………

All societies attempt to subjugate women

Aristotle: "the relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled."

Greek myths include female goddesses yet blame Pandora for all the evils of the world, while the Judaic – Christians blame Eve.

Men have been undone both by being trusting and by not being so.  Let not a woman who dresses to show off her behind deceive your noos, cajoling you with her crafty words, ready to infest your granary. 

Whoever puts his trust in a woman puts his trust in tricksters.

70.  Right away the famed Lame One shaped out of the clay of the Earth something that looked like a comely virgin—all on account of the will of Zeus, son of Kronos.  Athena dressed her and tied her girdle, adorning her.  And the goddesses who are named Kharites [Graces], as well as the Lady Peithō [Persuasion],  placed golden necklaces on its skin, and the Hōrai,

 75.  with their beautiful hair, plaited springtime garlands around her head.  Pallas Athena placed on her skin every manner of ornament [kosmos].  And within her breast the messenger and Argos-killer fashioned  falsehoods [pseudea], crafty words, and a stealthy disposition, according to the plans of Zeus the loud-thunderer. And the messenger of the gods  

80.  put inside her a voice, and he called this woman Pandōrā, because all the gods who abide in Olympus gave her as a gift [dōron], a pain for grain-eating men.  But when the gods completed this deception of sheer doom, against which there is no remedy,  Father Zeus sent the famed Argos-killer to Epimetheus, 

85  the swift messenger of the gods, bringing the gift [dōron]. Nor did Epimetheus take notice [verb phrazesthai] how Prometheus had told him never to accept a gift [dōron] from Zeus the Olympian, but to send it right back, lest an evil thing happen to mortals.

But he [Epimetheus] accepted it, and only then did he take note in his noos that he had an evil thing on his hands.  

90  Before this, the various kinds of humanity lived on earth without evils and without harsh labor,  

92  without wretched diseases that give disasters to men.

94  But the woman took the great lid off the jar and scattered what was inside. She devised baneful anxieties for humankind.  The only thing that stayed within the unbreakable contours of the jar was Elpis [Hope].   It did not fly out.  Before it could, she put back the lid on top of the jar,  according to the plans of aegis-bearing Zeus, the cloud-gatherer.

Full is the earth of evils, full is the sea.

Diseases for humans are a day-to-day thing. Every night,  they wander about at random, bringing evils upon mortals  silently—for Zeus had taken away their voice. 

105.  So it is that there is no way to elude the intent [noos] of Zeus. Now, if you are so disposed, I shall sum up for you another thing I have to say.  I shall do it well, and with expertise, and you should put it in your thoughts.  Here it is: the gods and mortal humans have the same origins.

Hesiod on Justice  190 -

We live only for a very short time, suffering pains [algea]   for acts of heedlessness [aphradiai], since we could not keep overweening hubris.

Once men grow old, their sons will give them no tīmē. They will reproach their parents, shouting at them with harsh words.

Wretches! Men who do not know about the retribution of the gods! Such men would not even give to their aging parents the honor that is their due.  These deciders of dikē by violence! They will destroy each other’s cities. There will be no appreciation [kharis] for the man who swears correctly, for the man of dikē, for the agathos man. Instead, it will be the doer of evil deeds and the man of hubris that they will give tīmē to. In the grip of violence will be dikē and aidōs.

The inferior man will harm the superior one, speaking with crooked words, under oath. A constant companion of all of wretched humankind will be Envy, the badmouthing one, the one that delights over the misfortunes of others, the one with the hateful face.  And then, flying off to Olympus, away from the broad earth, covering their beautiful complexion with white veils, heading for the race of immortals and leaving humans behind,  Aidōs and Nemesis will depart. What will be left behind are baneful pains for mortal humans. And there will be nothing to ward off evil.

Now I will tell an ainos to kings, discerning as they presumably are. 

This is what the hawk said to the nightingale, the one with the patterned voice, grasping her in his talons, carrying her far off into the clouds.  She in the meantime, pierced by the curved talons, was lamenting. But he spoke to her from his position of superior power: “What daimōn makes you cry out this way? One who is far more powerful holds you fast.

You will go wherever I take you, singer [poet] that you are. I can do what I wish with you: either make a meal out of you or let you go. Foolish is the one who is ready to stand up to those who are more powerful.

Such a person is deprived of victory, suffering pains in addition to the disgrace of defeat.” So spoke the swift-flying hawk, the long-winged bird.

You, Perses, must listen to dikē, and you must not make hubris thrive.  For hubris is bad for the wretched mortal. A noble [esthlos] man cannot easily bear the burden, and he is weighed down under it [hubris],  incurring Atai. It is better to go the other way, towards the things of dikē. The dikē comes out prevailing over hubris in the end. The inept [nēpios] person learns only by going through the experience.  Horkos [‘Oath’ personified] runs in pursuit, catching up with crooked  dikai, and there is a clamor as Dikē is dragged off by men who take her wherever they want, devourers of gifts, as they sort out, with crooked dikai, what is or is not themis. 

Weeping, she [Dikē] pursues the city and the haunts of its inhabitants.

Invisible, she brings evil upon men who exile her and apportion her so as to make her crooked. As for those who render straight dikai for xenoi and for local people alike, and who do not veer away from what is dikaion, for them, their city flourishes, and the inhabitants blossom.  Peace, the nurturer of young men, ranges about the land, and never do they have wretched war manifested for them by Zeus who sees far and wide.

Men who have straight dikē are never visited by Hunger or by atē. Instead, at feasts, they reap the rewards of the works that they industriously cared about. For them the earth bears much life-sustenance. On the mountains, the oak tree bears acorns at the top and bees in the middle.

Their wooly sheep are laden with fleeces.  Their wives bear children resembling their fathers.  They flourish with all good things, without fail. And they do not have to find their way home on ships, but the grain-giving land bears fruit. But those who have evil hubris and wanton deeds on their minds for them the son of Kronos, wide-seeing Zeus, marks out dikē. Many times it happens that an entire polis suffers the consequences on account of just one evil man who transgresses and plans reckless deeds.

For these men the son of Kronos brings down from the skies a great disaster, famine along with pestilence. And the people waste away. Their women do not give birth, and their households are depleted— all on account of the plans of Zeus the Olympian. There will be a time when  Zeus will destroy their vast host of fighting men. Or he can exact retribution against them by destroying their city-walls or their ships sailing over the pontos.

You kings! Mark well, all of you, this dikē. For nearby and present among humankind are the immortals, and they take note of those who, with crooked dikai, oppress each other, not caring about the retribution of the gods.  They are countless—no, more, they are three times countless—ranging all over the earth, nurturer of many.

They are the immortal ones, coming from Zeus, guardians [phulakes] of mortal men, who watch over the dikai and guard against reckless deeds. They are invisible, ranging everywhere over the land.

Then there is the virgin Dikē, born of Zeus. She has great esteem and aidōs among the gods who abide in Olympus. Whenever someone does her harm, using crooked words, right away she takes her place at the side of Zeus son of Kronos, and she proclaims the noos of men that is without dikē, with the result that the people have to pay retribution for the deeds of recklessness committed by their kings. These kings, having baneful thoughts in their noos,  pronounce dikai in a crooked way, making them veer and go astray.

You kings! Guard against these things and make straight your words, you devourers of gifts! And put crooked dikai out of your mind completely.

The man who plans misfortune for another man is planning misfortune for himself.

A bad plan is the worst plan for the one who planned it. The Eye of Zeus sees all and takes note of all in his noos.

If he so wishes, he will watch over the present situation. It does not escape his notice

What kind of dikē this present dikē is that the polis holds within itself.

The way things are now, I would not want myself or a son of mine to be a man of dikē in my dealings with men—

If it were true that a man of no dikē [justice] would have a dikē  [judgment] going more his way—that is, if it were true that it is a misfortune to be a man of dikē.  But my hope is that such a state of affairs has not yet been brought to pass by Zeus the Planner.

Perses! I call on you to put these things in your mind.

Heed dikē, and put biē completely out of your mind.

For this way [of biē] is the norm that Zeus has imposed on the fish and beasts and winged birds, that is, to eat each other. For they have no dikē.

But to humans he gave dikē, which is by far the best. For if anyone stands ready to speak publicly the things of dikē, with full awareness, to him Zeus grants bliss [olbos].

But whoever knowingly swears a false oath as he bears witness, lying, such a man harms dikē, bringing about a damage that cannot be compensated. The future lineage of such a man will be left darkened over.

But the future lineage of a man who swears properly will be superior. Inept [nēpios] Perses! As I speak to you, I have good thoughts in my noos towards you.

To be evil is an easy choice, and there are many ways to do it.

The way of evil is smooth and accessible.

But the immortal gods have put between them and us the sweat that goes with aretē (moral virtue.

The path towards it [aretē] is long and steep.

It is rough at first, but, as it reaches the top,

it finally becomes easy, hard as it was before.

The best man is the one who, unlike the others, takes note of everything in his noos,

marking well what is for the best in the future and in the fulfillment of time.

Noble [esthlos] (ethos) is he who puts his trust in one who speaks what is genuine.

But whoever does not think with his noos nor listens to one who does, taking it to his thūmos, such a man is worthless.  Keep in mind what I urge you to do, Perses, and get to work, you offshoot of Zeus, so that Hunger may hate you, and that you be loved by Demeter with the beautiful garlands, the honorable one, and that she may fill your granary with life-sustenance.

Hunger is the natural companion of the utterly idle man.  Both gods and men begrudge helping such a man who is idle in his life. He is similar in temperament to the stingless drones who, idle as they are, waste away the hard work of the bees, eating it all up. Let it be philon for you to make arrangements in moderation, 


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