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)When the Atlas-born Pleiades rise, start the harvest—the plowing, when they set. They are concealed for forty nights and days, but when the year has revolved they appear once more, when the iron is being sharpened. This is the rule for the plains, and for those who dwell near the sea and those far from the swelling sea in the valleys and glens, fertile land: sow naked, and plow naked, and harvest naked, if you want to bring in all of Demeter’s works in due season, so that each crop may grow for you in its season, lest being in need later you go as a beggar to other people’s houses and achieve nothing—just as now you have come to me. But I shall not give you anything extra, nor measure out extra for you. Work, foolish Perses, at the works which the gods have marked out for human beings, lest someday, sorrowing in your spirit, together with your children and your wife you seek a livelihood among your neighbors, but they pay no attention to you. For two times maybe and three times you will succeed; but if you bother them again, you will accomplish nothing but will speak a lot in vain, and the rangeland of your words will be useless. I bid you take notice of how to clear your debts and how to ward off famine: a house first of all, a woman, and an ox for plowing—the woman one you purchase, not marry, one who can follow with the oxen—and arrange everything well in the house, lest you ask someone else and he refuse and you suffer want, and the season pass by, and the fruit of your work be diminished. Do not postpone until tomorrow and the next day: for the futilely working man does not fill his granary, nor does the postponer; industry fosters work, and the work-postponing man is always wrestling with calamities. (p.119)


Hesiod, Ancient Greece, Greek Mythology, Divinity, Agriculture, Virtue, Work Ethic


Hesiod, Ancient Greece

Links to Reference


Most, G. W.



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