Classical Justice

Hesiodic Works and Days #

Excerpts on perversion of Justice #

Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer and a mentor to Solon, wrote two major poems, Works and Days, an almanac of how to live a productive, worthy life and The Theogony, his version of the origin of the universe.

This version of Works and Days is 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 \things to Perses.

11 So then, the genos of the Erides (discord) 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 (spirit).

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, 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 (spirit) away from work, as you skulk about looking and listening for occasions of quarreling [neikea] in the agorā.

30. The hōrā (goddess of order) 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, (spirit (daimon) of insolence, disdain, satiety and surfet) 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] 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.

45 Right away, you could store your steering-oar over the fireplace, and what you had plowed with your oxen or hard-working mules could go to waste. 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

The Judaic – Christians blame Eve for tempting Adam and our exile from the Garden of Eden.

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.

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

Greek myths blame Pandora for all the evils of the world.

  1. 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,

  2. 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.

  3. And the messenger of the gods 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.

  1. But as for the other things, countless baneful things, they are randomly scattered all over humankind.

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.

  1. 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.

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! (his scheming brother) I call on you to put these things in your mind.

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

For this way [of biē\ - imposition] 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 off shoot 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,

Justice in Hesiod’s poetry #

by stoa

In very ancient Greece, such as the one narrated by Homer in his poems justice was based on themistes i.e. sort of sacred decrees that somehow the Gods inspired to the βασιλευς through dreams or oracles. These both supernaturally originated and religiously enforced laws then actually ruled those communities and being harvested and transmitted from generation to generation became a rather complex and sacrosanct system of duties, rights and even jurisprudence. Consequently, in that age the word Θέμις (Themis) was considered the translation for Justice, being, besides, Θέμις the God of Justice. Nonetheless, Greeks also had used another term to convey the sense of justice i.e. Δίκη. (Dike) These two terms (Themis and Dike) that seem to have been sort of synonyms during what is called by modern scholars the Greek Dark Age (until circa 700 B.C.) became as the political structure of πολις began to develop and then evolved, diverse and to a certain extent identified justice in two different stages of ancient Greek socio-political framework.

In the first stage of this said evolution Θέμις was a Justice administered within a community by a narrow aristocratic circle where rules were conceived, interpreted and respected because they are considered being the direct will of the Gods.

A rather brutal and mainly predatory aristocratic society – as the ones described by Homer – is the principal actor within this social framework where agriculture is still undeveloped and sheep farming and neighbourhood ransacking constitute its main economy. Later on these communities started to convert their war-structures into more pacific and agricultural societies, and later on even mercantile and naval ones. Concomitantly the Greek world developed also the concept of law, which was still in the first stage difficult to distinguish from justice itself. Thus human laws replaced supernatural and divine laws.

This process obviously was not immediate, but surely the need to legalise the economic and non-economic relations among people within the community and the necessity to give exact and reliable rules to increasingly complex transactions, most certainly accelerated the birth and growth of Δίκη.

Finally after a period of interregnum during which the two sets of laws somehow coexisted, Dike – together with nomos (written law) as its operational longa manus – took definitively the place of Θέμις in meaning justice, and at the same time certainty of rights and duties.

The main achievement of Greek society – democracy – therefore has also fundaments in Dike combined with nomos whose resultant was equal rights.

Nevertheless, at the dawn of Greek re-birth and yet long before democracy was reached, Hesiod (circa 700 B.C.) was already living, feeling and describing this transition. In his poem, The Works and the Days, Hesiod basically deals with the pains originating from working as a farmer and yet he recommends a simple – though hard – life based on manual labour and reproaches inactivity and laziness. Hesiod’s verses are quite dry and samey, nonetheless he suddenly somehow bursts against unjust judges.

Actually Hesiod is incited by a personal case he had lost against his own brother Perses:

But you, Perses, listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion

He describes the judges as δωροφάγοι – referring to bribing and corruptibility which were likely to happen also in those days:

But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this. For Oath keeps pace with wrong judgements. There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgements, take her.

Thus Hesiodos hopes are placed in Dike as a superior justice:

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 And she,wrapped in mist, follows to the city and haunts of the people, weeping, and bringing mischief to men, even to such as have driven her forth in that they did not deal straightly with her

And this Justice should be applied to everyone: aristocratic and not, even including the βασιλευς:

You princes, mark well this punishment you also; for the deathless gods are near among men and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements, and reck not the anger of the gods.

According to Hesiod such a Dike is a necessity, because without it a community cannot prosper:

they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit.

However it must be underlined that Hesiodos portrays Gods and other supernatural agents that keep spying on humanity in order to verify the application of justice and punish injustice:

But for those who practise violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Cronos lays great trouble upon the people, famine and plague together, so that the men perish away, and their women do not bear children, and their houses become few, through the contriving of Olympian Zeus. And again, at another time, the son of Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

(…omissis…)For upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits, watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. And there is virgin Justice, the daughter of Zeus, who is honoured and reverenced among the gods who dwell on Olympus, and whenever anyone hurts her with lying slander, she sits beside her father, Zeus the son of Cronos, and tells him of men’s wicked heart, until the people pay for the mad folly of their princes who, evilly minded, pervert judgement and give sentence crookedly. Keep watch against this, you princes, and make straight your judgements, you who devour bribes; put crooked judgements altogether from your thoughts.

Therefore Hesiod’s Dike, albeit containing many forthcoming features of democratic justice and nomos, is still intensely linked to a remarkable mythological interpretation which was typical of Hesiod’s age.

Nevertheless Hesiod is more distant from the Homeric Θέμις (divinely ordained) approach and much closer to the isonomic (equity) sense of justice, a logic which will be paramount for the actual birth of democracy – and even modern and applicable to our own days:

He does mischief to himself who does mischief to others.

the equality before the law of the citizens of a state in civil or political rights.

In this the Greeks were likely influenced by Egyptian and Sumerian law makers.