For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia

by Hesiod (2018)


Hesiod describes himself as a Boeotian shepherd who heard the Muses call upon him to sing about the gods. His exact dates are unknown, but he has often been considered a younger contemporary of Homer. The first volume of this revised Loeb Classical Library edition offers Hesiod's two extant poems and a generous selection of testimonia regarding his life, works, and reception. In Theogony, Hesiod charts the history of the divine world, narrating the origin of the universe and the rise of the gods, from first beginnings to the triumph of Zeus, and reporting on the progeny of Zeus and of goddesses in union with mortal men. In Works and Days, Hesiod shifts his attention to humanity, delivering moral precepts and practical advice regarding agriculture, navigation, and many other matters; along the way he gives us the myths of Pandora and of the Golden, Silver, and other Races of Men. The second volume contains The Shield and extant fragments of other poems, including the Catalogue of Women, that were attributed to Hesiod in antiquity. The former provides a Hesiodic counterpoint to the shield of Achilles in the Iliad; the latter presents several legendary episodes organized according to the genealogy of their heroes' mortal mothers. None of these is now thought to be by Hesiod himself, but all have considerable literary and historical interest. Glenn W. Most has thoroughly revised his edition to take account of the textual and interpretive scholarship that has appeared since its initial publication.

Key Passage

(Works and Days)The man who thinks of everything by himself, considering what will be better, later and in the end—this man is the best of all. That man is fine too, the one who is persuaded by someone who speaks well. But whoever neither thinks by himself nor pays heed to what someone else says and lays it to his heart—that man is good for nothing. So, Perses, you of divine stock, keep working and always bear in mind our behest, so that Famine will hate you and well-garlanded reverend Demeter will love you and fill your granary with the means of life. For Famine is ever the companion of a man who does not work; and gods and men feel resentment against that man, whoever lives without working, in his temper like stingless drones that consume the labor of the bees, eating it without working. But as for you, be glad to organize your work properly, so that your granaries will be filled with the means of life in good season. It is from working that men have many sheep and are wealthy, and if you work you will be dearer by far to immortals and to mortals: for they very much hate men who do not work. Work is not a disgrace at all, but not working is a disgrace. And if you work, the man who does not work will quickly envy you when you are rich; excellence and fame attend upon riches. Whatever sort you are by fortune, working is better, if you turn your foolish spirit away from other men’s possessions toward work, taking care for the means of life, as I bid you. Shame is not good at providing for a needy man—shame, which greatly harms men and also benefits them: for shame goes along with poverty, and self-confidence goes along with wealth. (p.111)


Hesiod, Ancient Greece, Greek Mythology, Divinity, Agriculture, Farming, Navigation, Race, Virtue, Animal Labour, Work Ethic


Hesiod, Ancient Greece

Links to Reference


Most, G. W.



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