For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

References for Theme: Ancient Greece

  • Agathon
  • Aristophanes
    • Frogs. Assemblywomen. Wealth (2002)
      (p.507) (Wealth) chremylus Well, don’t we say that Poverty is the sister of Beggary? poverty And you’re the ones who also say that Dionysius is the same as Thrasybulus! No, the life I represent is certainly nothing like that and never will be. You see, you’re describing the beggar’s life, which means living without possessions; by contrast, the poor man’s life means being thrifty and hard working, and though he has nothing to spare, he doesn’t lack the necessities either. chremylus By Demeter, how blessed you make his life sound, scrimping and toiling and then having nothing left for his own...
  • Aristotle
    • Nicomachean Ethics (1926)
      (p.3) Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim. (It is true that a certain variety is to be observed among the ends the at which the arts and sciences aim: in some cases the activity of practising the art is itself the end, whereas in others the end is some product over and above the mere exercise of the art; and in the arts whose ends are certain things beside the practice of the...
    • Nicomachean Ethics (1926)
      (p.335) The class of things that admit of variation includes Art. both things made and actions done. But making is different from doing (a distinction we may accept from extraneous discourses). Hence the rational quality concerned with doing is different from the rational quality concerned with making. Nor is one of them a part of the other, for doing is not a form of making, nor making a form of doing. Now architectural skill, for instance, is an art, and it is also a rational quality concerned with making; nor is there any art which is not a rational quality concerned...
    • Nicomachean Ethics (1926)
      (p.337) But no one deliberates about things that cannot vary, nor about things not within his power to do. Hence inasmuch as scientific knowledge involves demonstration, whereas things whose fundamental principles are variable are not capable of demonstration, because everything about them is variable, and inasmuch as one cannot deliberate about things that are of necessity, it follows that Prudence is not the same as Science. Nor can it be the same as Art. It is not Science, because matters of conduct admit of variation; and not Art, because doing and making are generically different, since making aims at an end...
    • Nicomachean Ethics (1926)
      (p.615) Also happiness is thought to involve leisure; (vi) and most leisured; for we do business in order that we may have leisure, and carry on war in order that we may have peace. Now the practical virtues are exercised in politics or in warfare; but the pursuits of politics and war seem to be unleisured—those of war indeed entirely so, for no one desires to be at war for the sake of being at war, nor deliberately takes steps to cause a war: a man would be thought an utterly blood-thirsty character if he declared war on a friendly state...
    • Politics (1932)
      (p.197) In ancient times in fact the artisan class in some states consisted of slaves or aliens, owing to which the great mass of artisans are so even now; and the best-ordered state will not make an artisan a citizen. While if even the artisan is a citizen, then what we said to be the citizen’s virtue must not be said to belong to every citizen, nor merely be defined as the virtue of a free man, but will only belong to those 3who are released from menial occupations. Among menial occupations those who render such services to an individual are...
    • Politics (1932)
      (p.215) In ancient times in fact the artisan class in some states consisted of slaves or aliens, owing to which the great mass of artisans are so even now; and the best-ordered state will not make an artisan a citizen. While if even the artisan is a citizen, then what we said to be the citizen’s virtue must not be said to belong to every citizen, nor merely be defined as the virtue of a free man, but will only belong to those 3who are released from menial occupations. Among menial occupations those who render such services to an individual are...
    • Politics (1932)
      (p.293) For states also are composed not of one but of several parts, as has been said often. One of these parts therefore is the mass of persons concerned with food who are called farmers, and second is what is called the mechanic class (and this is the group engaged in the arts without which it is impossible for a city to be inhabited, and some of these arts are indispensably necessary, while others contribute to luxury or noble living), and third is a commercial class (by which I mean the class that is engaged in selling and buying and in...
    • Politics (1932)
      (p.571) We must therefore consider the list Six necessary functions, of occupations that a state requires: for from these it will appear what the indispensable classes are. First then a state must have a supply of food; secondly, handicrafts (since life needs many tools); third, arms (since the members of the association must necessarily possess arms both to use among themselves and for purposes of government, in cases of insubordination, and to employ against those who try to molest them from without); also a certain supply of money, in order that they may have enough both for their internal needs and...
  • Burford, Alison
  • Burford, Allison
  • Chrysostom, Dio
    • The Seventh, or, Euboean, Discourse (1932)
      (p.343) I desired to show in some way or other that poverty is no hopeless impediment to a life and existence befitting free men who are willing to work with their hands, but leads them on to deeds and actions that are far better and more useful and more in accordance with nature than those to which riches are wont to attract most men. 
    • The Seventh, or, Euboean, Discourse (1932)
      (p.345) It would now be our duty to consider the life and occupations of poor men who live in the capital or some other city, and see by what routine of life and what pursuits they will be able to live a really good life, one not inferior to that of men who lend out money at excessive rates of interest and understand very well the calculation of days and months, nor to that of those who own large tenement houses and ships and slaves in great numbers!
    • The Seventh, or, Euboean, Discourse (1932)
      (p.347) But let us see what the variety and nature of the occupations are which they are to follow in order to live in what we believe is the proper way and not be often compelled to turn to something unworthy because they are out of work. The occupations and trades in the city, if all are taken into consideration, are many and of all kinds, and some of them are very profitable for those who engage in them if one thinks of money when one says “profitable”. But it is not easy to name them all separately on account of...
  • Euripides
    • Suppliant Women. Electra. Heracles (1998)
      (p.159) (Electra)ELECTRA: I regard you as no less a friend to me than the gods. You did not take advantage of my trouble. For mortals it is a great stroke of fortune to find one to heal their bad luck, as I have found you. So even without any urging from you I must with all my strength help you with your work, lightening your toil so that you may bear it more easily. The tasks you have out of doors are enough. I must look after the indoors. When a laborer comes in from outside, it is pleasant for him...
    • Suppliant Women. Electra. Heracles (1998)
      (p.159) (Electra)ELECTRA: I regard you as no less a friend to me than the gods. You did not take advantage of my trouble. For mortals it is a great stroke of fortune to find one to heal their bad luck, as I have found you. So even without any urging from you I must with all my strength help you with your work, lightening your toil so that you may bear it more easily. The tasks you have out of doors are enough. I must look after the indoors. When a laborer comes in from outside, it is pleasant for him...
  • Herodotus
    • The Persian Wars ()
      (p.481) Now whether this separation, like other customs, has come to Greece from Egypt, I cannot exactly judge. I know that in Thrace and Scythia and Persia and Lydia and nearly all foreign countries those who learn trades and their descendants are held in less esteem than the rest of the people, and those who have nothing to do with artisans’ work, especially men who are free to practise the art of war, are highly honoured. Thus much is certain, that this opinion, which is held by all Greeks and chiefly by the Lacedaemonians, is of foreign origin. It is in...
  • Hesiod
    • Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia (2018)
      (p.111) (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...
    • Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia (2018)
      (p.119) (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...
  • Homer
    • Odyssey, Book VI (1919)
      (p.237) So he said and they went apart and told the princess. But with water from the river noble Odysseus washed from his skin the brine which covered his back and broad shoulders, and from his head he wiped the scurf of the barren sea. But when he had washed his whole body and anointed himself with oil, and had put on him the clothes which the unwed maiden had given him, then Athene, the daughter of Zeus, made him taller to look upon and stronger, and from his head she made the locks to flow in curls like the hyacinth...
    • Odyssey (1919)
      (p.233) “As when some man overlays gold upon silver,A skilled man whom Hephaistos and Pallas Athene have taughtArts of all kinds, and he turns out graceful handiwork…”
    • The Iliad (1924)
      (p.137) When he had thus spoken, his feet bore him on; but the Achaeans firmly awaited the Trojans as they advanced, yet were not able to thrust them back from the ships, though there were fewer of them, nor could the Trojans break the battalions of the Danaans and get among the huts and the ships. But as the carpenter’s line makes straight a ship’s timber in the hands of a skilled workman who knows well all manner of craft through the promptings of Athene, so evenly was strained their war and battle. And some fought their fight at one ship,...
  • Hunnicutt, Benjamin Kline
  • Lytle, Ephraim
  • Plato
    • Lysis. Symposium. Gorgias (1925)
      (p.159) (Symposium) And who, let me ask, will gainsay that the composing of all forms of life is Love’s own craft, whereby all creatures are begotten and produced? Again, in artificial manufacture, do we not know that a man who has this god for teacher turns out a brilliant success, whereas he on whom Love has laid no hold is obscure? If Apollo invented archery and medicine and divination, it was under the guidance of Desire and Love; so that he too may be deemed a disciple of Love, as likewise may the Muses in music, Hephaestus in metal-work, Athene in weaving...
    • Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo (2017)
      (p.125) So I ended up going to the artisans, das I was aware that I understood nothing so to speak, whereas I knew that I’d find that they understood a lot of fine things. And in this I was not mistaken and indeed they understood things I didn’t, and in this respect they were wiser than me. But, my fellow Athenians, it seemed to me that these fine craftsmen had the same shortcoming as the poets—because each of them practiced his craft well, he considered himself very wise in other highly important subjects as well—and this error of theirs concealed what...
  • Plutarch
    • Plutarch's Lives: Volume III (1916)
      (p.5) (Pericles) Labour with one’s own hands on lowly tasks gives witness, in the toil thus expended on useless things, to one’s own indifference to higher things. No generous youth, from seeing the Zeus at Pisa, or the Hera at Argos, longs to be Pheidias or Polycleitus; nor to be Anacreon or Philetas or Archilochus out of pleasure in their poems. For it does not of necessity follow that, if the work delights you with its grace, the one who wrought it is worthy of your esteem. Wherefore the spectator is not advantaged by those things at sight of which no...
    • Plutarch's Moralia, Volume X (1936)
      (p.29) (That a Philosopher Ought to Converse Especially with Men in Power) In clasping Sorcanus to your bosom, in prizing, pursuing, welcoming, and cultivating his friendship—a friendship which will prove useful and fruitful to many in private and to many in public life—you are acting like a man who loves what is noble, who is public-spirited and is a friend of mankind, not, as some people say, like one who is merely ambitious for himself. No, on the contrary, the man who is ambitious for himself and afraid of every whisper is just the one who avoids and fears being called...
  • Thucydides
    • History of the Peloponnesian War, Volume 1 (1919)
      (p.327) “For we are lovers of beauty yet with no extravagance and lovers of wisdom yet without weakness. Wealth we employ rather as an opportunity for action than as a subject for boasting; and with us it is not a shame for a man to acknowledge poverty, but the greater shame is for him not to do his best to avoid it. And you will find united in the same persons an interest at once in private and in public affairs, and in others of us who give attention chiefly to business, you will find no lack of insight into political...
  • Xenophon
    • Memorabilia (1997)
      (p.107) For of all things good and fair, the gods give nothing to man without toil and effort. If you want the favour of the gods, you must worship the gods: if you desire the love of friends, you must do good to your friends: if you covet honour from a city, you must aid that city: if you are fain to win the admiration of all Hellas for virtue, you must strive to do good to Hellas: if you want land to yield you fruits in abundance, you must cultivate that land: if you are resolved to get wealth from...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.161) (Memorabilia) “And which do you think are the better, his slaves or your free folk?”“My free folk, I think.”“Then isn’t disgraceful that he does well by his lower types while you with your better types are in difficulty?”“Of course his dependants are skilled workers while mine have had a liberal education.”“What is a skilled worker? one who knows how to produce something useful?”“Certainly.”“Are groats useful?”“Yes, very.”“And bread?”“No less so.”“What about men’s and women’s coats, shirts, jackets, tunics?”“Yes, all these things too are very useful.”“Then don’t the members of your household know how to make any of these?”“I believe they can make...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.163) (Memorabilia)“And so, just because they are free and related to you, you think they should do nothing but eat and sleep? Do you find that other free folk who live this sort of life are better off and happier than those who are usefully employed in work that they understand? Or is it your experience that idleness and carelessness help people to learn what they ought to know and remember what they learn, to make themselves healthy and strong, and to get and keep things that are of practical use, but industry and carefulness are useless things? When these women...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.191) (Memorabilia)“And have you considered how to make the men obey you? Because without that horses and men, however good and gallant, are of no use.”“True, but what is the best way of encouraging them to obey, Socrates?”“Well, I suppose you know that under all conditions human beings are most willing to obey those whom they believe to be the best.8 Thus in sickness they most readily obey the doctor, on board ship the pilot, on a farm the farmer whom they think to be most capable at farming.”“Yes, certainly.”“Then it is likely that in horsemanship too, one who clearly knows...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.415) (Oeconomicus)“Surely, Socrates, there is no need to go through the whole list. For it is not easy to get workmen who are skilled in all the occupations, nor is it possible to become an expert in them all. Please select the branches of knowledge that seem the noblest and would be most suitable for me to cultivate: show me these, and those who practice them; and from your own knowledge give me any help you can toward learning them.” “Very good, Critobulus; for to be sure, the so-called banausic occupations are scorned and, naturally enough, held in low regard in...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.425) (Oeconomicus)   “Furthermore, the story goes that when Lysander came to him bringing the gifts from the allies, this Cyrus treated him in friendly fashion, as Lysander himself related once to a stranger at Megara, adding besides that Cyrus personally showed him around his paradise at Sardis. Now Lysander admired the beauty of the trees there, the accuracy of their spacing, the straightness of the rows, the regularity of the angles, and the multitude of sweet scents that clung around them as they walked; and in amazement he exclaimed, ‘Cyrus, I really do admire all this loveliness, but I am far...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.427) (Oeconomicus)“I’m telling you this,” continued Socrates, “because not even the wealthiest can do without farming. For the pursuit of it is in some sense a luxury as well as a means of increasing one’s estate and of training the body in all that a free man should be able to do. In the first place, the earth yields to cultivators the food by which people live; she yields besides the luxuries they enjoy. Secondly, she supplies what they use to decorate altars and statues and themselves, along with most pleasant sights and scents. Thirdly, she produces or feeds the ingredients...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.429) (Oeconomicus)“Yet again, because the earth is a goddess she also teaches righteousness to those who can learn; for the better she is served, the greater the benefits she gives in return. So if at any time those who are occupied in farming and are receiving a rigorous and manly teaching are forced by great armies to quit their lands, because they are men well prepared in mind and body, they can invade the country of those who keep them out of their own and take what they need to support themselves. Often in time of war it is safer to...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.435) (Oeconomicus)  We thought that it is impossible to learn all the branches of knowledge, and we agreed with our cities in rejecting the so-called banausic occupations because they seem to spoil the body and enervate the mind. We said that the clearest proof of this would be evident if in the course of a hostile invasion the farmers and craftsmen were made to sit apart, and each group were asked whether they voted for defending the land or withdrawing from the open and guarding the city walls. We thought that in these circumstances the men who are occupied with the...
    • Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology (1997)
      (p.509) (Oeconomicus) “Well, I won’t go on to ask whether anything more is needed in your man, after you have implanted in him a desire for your prosperity and have made him also careful to see that you achieve it, and have obtained for him, besides, the knowledge needed to ensure that every piece of work done will add to the profits, and further, have made him capable of governing, and when besides all this, he takes as much delight in producing grand harvests for you in due season as you would take if you did the work yourself. For it seems...
    • Oeconomicus (1997)
      (p.423) some say, Critobulus, that when the king bestows gifts, he first invites those who have distinguished themselves in war, because it is useless to have broad acres under tillage unless there are men to defend them; and next to them, those who best stock and cultivate the land, saying that even stouthearted warriors cannot live without the aid of workers.
View all themes.
How to contribute.