Hesiod's Works and Days Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

ancient poem "Works and Days" by Hesiod. Specifically, it will contain an argumentative historical essay on the question, "What kind of social values do you find in Hesiod's advice to his brother in 'Works and Days.' What does this say about Dark Age culture in Greece? Hesiod's advice to his brother Perses is simple and complicated at the same time. Hesiod's social values include the values of work rather than idleness, which he passes on quite clearly to his brother. However, there are many other customs and beliefs in the poem that indicate this was a simple culture based on agriculture and localized government. These values were common in the Dark Age culture in Greece, and represent one of the reasons Greek culture later became so advanced, and a model to other cultures of the age.

Little is known about the Dark Ages in Greece. In fact, some scholars believe they never existed, and there are simply 200-300 "more" years in history than actually occurred, and they believe this is why there is so little known about the Dark Ages in Greek history. However, Hesiod's work seems to stem from this time, and to give hints about how Greeks lived life during this period, and what some of their most important social values were. In addition, many experts believe the Greek population declined during the Dark Ages, perhaps due to attacks from northerners who spoke a different dialect of the language. Thus, Hesiod's epic poem is a plea to Greeks to choose the right social values so they can again become strong and repopulate their country, rather than bringing the wrath of the Gods further upon them.

First and foremost, Hesiod's advice to his brother centers on the Gods and Goddesses who were so important to Greece at the time. Hesiod relates tales of the Gods, their meanings, and their purpose in Greek life. Athens, the largest and most famous city in Greece was named after the Goddess Athena, and throughout this epic poem, there are references to the Gods and Goddesses and how to revere them appropriately. Hesiod believes the current race of men, created by Zeus the father of all men, is a race of "iron" men who know little and struggle in strife and hard work. He writes, "For now it is a race of iron; and they will never cease from toil and misery by day or night, in constant distress, and the gods will give them harsh troubles"

West and Hesiod 42). Throughout his discourse to his brother, he brings up important social values, but they are often couched in the language of the Gods, and refer to the Gods. Early in the poem, he tells his brother, "But you, Perses, must hearken to Right and not promote violence. For violence is bad for a lowly man; not even a man of worth can carry it easily, but he sinks under it when he runs into Blights" (West and Hesiod 43). Right is the daughter of Zeus, a Goddess in her own right, as are the Blights. Thus, Hesiod uses the Gods as an example of how to live life effectively and happily, and as a representation of the social values man should strive to use and abide by.

Hesiod consistently discusses Peace and the rewards that come to a peaceful people, from good crops to the happy eyes of the Gods watching over them. Hesiod also warns what will happen to those who live in violent communities: "Often a whole community together suffers in consequence of a bad man who does wrong and contrives evil" (West and Hesiod 44). He also warns his brother that the Gods have "spies" on Earth who report misdeeds directly back to the Gods, and the Gods will bring down suffering and unhappiness on everyone around the evildoer. Hesiod is warning his brother against wickedness, and notes that is why Zeus created Right, to give men a righteous path to follow. Clearly, this is one of the most important values for the time, for Hesiod brings it up directly after his fables and tales of the Gods. The Dark Ages in Greece were a time of strife, when Kings ruled, and there was no democracy. It was a difficult time, and Hesiod seems to be telling his brother that the only way to make the times better is to understand right from wrong, refrain from using force, and live a good, decent life, according to the demands of the Gods. The early years of civilization brought fighting and wars to all the people, and so, Hesiod promotes peace because there was so much dissention in the world, and it seemed life was better when there was peace and harmony.

Work is a central theme to Hesiod's poem, and clearly an important social value of the time. He admonishes his brother not to be lazy, and encourages him to work for a number of reasons, including stating, "It is from work that men are rich in flocks and wealthy, and a working man is much dearer to the immortals" (West and Hesiod 46). Wealth is also an important social value, but even without wealth or prestige, work is preferable to a life of idleness and sloth. He continues, "A man of ineffectual labour, a postponer, does not fill his granary: it is application that promotes your cultivation, whereas a postponer of labour is constantly wrestling with Blights" (West and Hesiod 49). Clearly, work is foremost in Hesiod's thoughts, for he equates work not only with success, but also with a full larder, and this is abundantly important in a time when the population was predominantly agricultural, and they raised their own food for the most part. The lesson is simple - an idle man will starve, and a man who works will not.

Since Greeks lived in villages and towns during this time, neighbors and neighborhoods were important, and Hesiod urges his brother and others to be kindly toward their neighbors, and ignore their enemies. The household was fundamental in society, so the household is an important part of Hesiod's work, and how to manage the household is important to the Gods.

Hesiod's writings also indicate the general feeling about women during the time. He calls women "cheaters" and urges men not to listen to them. He also extols the virtues of having only sons, and leaving the household to the son when the father passes on.

The poem indicates that women had a lesser place in society than men did, and that men did not trust women, but simply married because they needed someone to keep house and help in the fields. The status of women would increase slightly as the Greek culture developed, but women were not equal with men, and did not enjoy the same privileges and honors that men did. Hesiod urges men to marry virgins, so they can "teach" them the ways of the world, and urges them to marry neighbors, who they know and appreciate. While men were urged to take wives, they were still admonished to keep separate from them, in case contamination might result. Hesiod states, "And let not a man cleanse his skin with woman's washing water, for that too carries a grim penalty for a time" (West and Hesiod 59). Clearly, women were considered a necessary nuisance at best and filthy cheaters at the worst.

Many of the rules Hesiod lists for his brother to be successful in work indicate how superstitious the people were during the Dark Ages. He has quite strict rules for planting crops, resting in the winter, the type, and age of the best oxen for working the fields, and much more. These strict rules often seem odd to the modern day reader, but it is clear they were quite important to the early Greeks, and they believed in the power of the Gods over their lives, and so they had to obey strict codes of behavior in just about everything they did. Hesiod writes, for example, "And never step across the fair-flowing water of ever-running rivers until you have prayed, looking into the fair stream, after washing your hands in the lovely clear water" (West and Hesiod 59). This is just one example of the behavior found acceptable during the time, and indicates that social values were based on very strict mores that were handed down by the Gods and passed on by writers like Hesiod. In addition, Hesiod lays out very specific days of the month that were the best for certain activities, and others where activities should be avoided. This too indicates the superstitions of the people, and illustrates how these superstitions played such an important and vital part in their lives. They simply could not do certain things at certain times without incurring the wrath of the Gods.

Another important aspect of life at the time was the social order of the villages. One chief, who was more prosperous than…

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