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Works and Days


The Works and Days (Ancient Greek: Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι, Erga kai Hēmerai) is a didactic poem of some 800 lines written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod around 700 BCE. At its center, the Works and Days is a farmer's almanac in which Hesiod instructs his brother Perses in the agricultural arts. Scholars have seen this work against a background of agrarian crisis in mainland Greece, which inspired a wave of colonial expeditions in search of new land. In the poem Hesiod also offers his brother extensive moralizing advice on how he should live his life. The Works and Days is perhaps best known for its two mythological aetiologies for the toil and pain that define the human condition: the story of Prometheus and Pandora, and the so-called Myth of Five Ages.

In the Works and Days, Hesiod describes himself as the heir of a farm bequeathed to him and his brother Perses. However, Perses apparently squandered his wealth and came back for what is owned by Hesiod. Perses went to law and bribed the lords to judge in his favour. The poem contains a sharp attack against unjust judges like those who decided in favour of Perses; they are depicted as pocketing bribes as they render their unfair verdicts. Hesiod seems to have thought that instead of giving him money or property which he will again spend in no time, it is better to teach him the virtues of work and to impart his wisdom which can be used to generate an income.

Like the Theogony, the Works and Days begins with a hymnic invocation to the Muses, albeit much shorter (10 verses to the Theogony's 115) and with a different focus. The poet invokes the "Pierian Muses" to sing of their father Zeus and his control of the fates of mankind. Through the power of Zeus men might be famous or nameless; he easily strengthens and oppresses the strong, reduces the conspicuous and raises up the inconspicuous; easily he straightens the crooked and withers the many. Hesiod then appeals to Zeus to guide his undertaking: "Hearken, seeing and hearing, and through justice put straight the laws; and may I speak the truth to Perses."


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