Hesiod: Works and Days
Delahoyde & Hughes
WORKS AND DAYS
In addition to the few biographical details we receive in Theogony, here Hesiod reports that he was a singer at the funeral games for a prince of Euboea. Since the Greek alphabet was first used by the Euboeans, this may be why Hesiod’s works were written down.
Works and Days tells of an argument between Hesiod and his brother over their father’s will. Hesiod expounds on issues of right and wrong as illustrated in myths.
The most important myth related is that of Pandora, a more elaborate version of the brief story related in Theogony — the story of Zeus punishing mankind by inflicting woman. Because Prometheus tricked Zeus, the king of gods and men deprived humankind of fire. But Prometheus stole it back. So Zeus had Hephaestos craft a creature out of clay that Athena then supplied with the “womanly skill” of weaving and tended to her clothing and hair. Aphrodite gave her desire and heartbreak, “and all the aching sorrow of love.” Hermes added “thievish morals” and “the soul of a bitch.” Because she was given all these gifts by the gods, she was named “Pandora” (“All-gifted”).
She was sent to Prometheus’ dim brother Epimetheus, who had been instructed not to accept gifts from Zeus. Once among humankind, Pandora lifted the lid of a jar (in the Middle Ages this became “Pandora’s box”), out of which poured ills, torment, pain, disease, anguish, pestilence, etc. Only hope remained in the jar.
- What does it mean that hope remains in Pandora’s jar?
Etiologically, the myth explains the origin of woman and of suffering. In Theogony, Hesiod portrays Pandora and womankind as unproductive consumers. Pretty misogynistic.
The Five Races:
The idea of the progressive degradation of the generations finds its way into Works and Days. Hesiod describes the blissful and ideal golden age, the disrespectful silver age, the violent bronze age, the heroic fourth age (including the Trojan War), and Hesiod’s own iron age.
- Do you believe the world grows progressively worse? Why or why not?
Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days. Trans. Apostolos N. Athanassakis. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Hesiod. Works and Days. Trans. M.L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Powell, Barry B. Classical Myth. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.