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Hesiod's Theogony Or Hesiod's "Works and Days"
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Pithy wisdom from 2800 years ago

all from: Hesiod: Works & Days, Theogony,
Translated by Stanley Lombardo at Univ of Kansas

I wish
I had nothing to do with this fifth generation
Wish I had died before or been born after,
Because this is the Iron Age.
Not a day goes by
A man doesn't havc some kind of trouble.
Nights too, just wearing him down. I mean
The gods send us terrible pain and vexation.
Still, there'll be some good mixed in with the evil,
And then Zeus will destroy this generation too,
Soon as they start being born grey around the temples.
Then fathers won't get along with their kids anymore,
Nor guests with hosts, nor partner with partner,
And brothers won't be friends, the way they used to be.
Nobody'll honor their parents when they get old
But they'll curse them and give them a hard time,
Godless rascals, and never think about paying them back
For all the trouble it was to raise them.
They'll start taking justice into their own hands,
Sacking each other's cities, no respect at all
For the man who keeps his oaths, the good man,
The just man. No, they'll keep all their praise
For the wrongdoer, the man who is violence incarnate,
And shame and justice will lie in their hands.
Some good-for-nothing will hurt a decent man
Slander him, and swear an oath on top of it.
Envy will be everybody's constant companion,
With her foul mouth and hateful face, relishing evil.
And then
up to Olympos from the wide-pathed Earth,
lovely apparitions wrapped in white veils,
off to join the Immortals, abandoning humans
There go Shame and Nemesis. And horrible suffering
Will be left for mortal men, and no defense against evil.

alternative translation

But when judges judge straight, for neighbors
As well as for strangers, and never turn their backs
On Justice, their city blossoms, their people bloom.
You'll find peace all up and down the land
And youngsters growing tall, because broad-browed Zeus
Hasn't marked them out for war. Nor do famine or blight
Ever afflict folk who deal squarely with each other.
They feast on the fruits of their tended fields,
And the earth bears them a good living too.
Mountain oaks yield them acorns at the crown,
Bees and honey from the trunk. Their sheep
Are hefty with fleece, and women bear children
Who look like their parents. In short, they thrive
On all the good things life has to offer, and they
Never travel on ships. The soil's their whole life.
......
Invite your friend to a feast, leave your enemy alone,
And be sure to invite the fellow who lives close by.
If you've got some kind of emergency on your hands,
Neighbors come lickety-split, kinfolk take a while.
A bad neighbor's as much a curse as a good one' s a Blessing.
You've got a real prize if you've got a good neighbor.
Nary an ox would be lost if it weren't for bad neighbors.
Get good measure from a neighbor and give back as good,
Measure for measure, or better if you're able,
So when you need something later you can count on him then.


Now I'm speaking sense to you, Perses you fool.
It's easy to get all of Wickedness you want.
She lives just down the road a piece, and it's a smooth road too.
But the gods put Goodness where we have to sweat
To get at her. It's a long, uphill pull
And rough going at first. But once you reach the top
She's as easy to have as she was hard at first

----

Marry at the right age. Bring home a wife
When you're just about thirty, give or take
A few years. That's marrying in season.

A woman ought to wed when she's five years a woman.
Marry her virgin so you can teach her prudent ways.
The best girl to marry is the girl next door,
But have a good look around and make sure first
That marrying her won't make you a joke to your neighbors

A man couldn't steal anything better than a good wife,
Just as nothing is more horrible than a bad one,
Some freeloader who roasts her man without a fire
And serves him up to a raw old age.

(translator's notes:)769-80 [695-705] The misogyny of the poem down to this point is, if anything, somewhat mitigated in the advice on marriage. It is generally characteristic of the poem to put everything in a bad light, to focus on the dangers and threats inherent in all the aspects of life it gives advice on, and clearly women are viewed as a necessary evil and marriage a reluctant concession to the need to produce an heir. The observation that "a man couldn't steal anything better than a good wife" nevertheless goes some way toward restoring balance.
(I would ask the Sisters about that before commenting further! -- Ed (still sounds a lot like property to me...))

Don't throw a man's poverty up in his face.
He's already hurting, and it comes from the gods.
The best treasure in the world is a tongue
That knows when to stop, the greatest pleasure
Is when it goes as it should. Say bad things
And you're sure to hear worse yourself.

Don't be tiresome at a potluck dinner:
It's good entertainment and cheap at that.

Don't pour a libation of wine at dawn
To Zeus or any other immortal god
Without first washing your hands:
They'll spit your prayers out.

Don't piss standing up while facing the sun.
Between sunset and sunrise, remember,
Don't piss on the road or on the roadside,
Or naked. The blessed gods own the night.
A religious man sits down, if he's got any sense,
Or he goes by the wall of an enclosed courtyard.

Don't let your privates be seen smeared with semen
Near the hearth at home. Be careful to avoid this.

Don't beget children after coming home From a burial.
Wait until after a feast of the gods.

Don't ever set foot in a river you're fording
Without saying your prayers first. Gaze deep
Into the current as you wash your hands
In the precious white water Whoever crosses
A river unwashed (I mean hands and wickedness)
The gods visit with nemesis and suffering later.

Don't trim the dry from the five-branched quick
Using honed flashing steel at a feast of the gods.

Don't ever put a jug on top of the mixing bowl
When folks are drinking It's deadly bad luck.

Don't leave the wood rough on a house you're building
Or a chattering crow might perch on it and croak.

Don't eat from impure pots, nor wash from them
Either. There's a terrible vengeance in them.

Don't let a boy of twelve sit on gravestones and such.
It's a bad thing to do. Makes a man unmanly.
Nor a twelve month old, it comes to the same thing.

Don't wash in a woman's bath-water,
Which for a time has a bitter vengeance in it.

Don't, if you come across a sacrifice burning,
Find fault with what the fire consumes.
The god will visit you with nemesis for sure.

Don't piss in the mouth of a river that flows to the sea,
Nor in springs either. And don't ever shit in them.

That's the way to behave. And try to avoid being
The object of talk. A bad reputation is easy to get,
Difficult to endure, and hard to get rid of.
Talk never really dies, not when so many folks
Are busy with her. Talk too is some kind of a god.

all from: Hesiod: Works & Days, Theogony, Translated by Stanley Lombardo
with introduction and notes by Robert Lamberton. 1993,
Hackett Publishing Co. ISBN 0-87220-179-1
for which grateful thanks to Waterston's and any other conspirators...
Stanley Lombardo at Univ of Kansas


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Hesiod's Theogony Or Hesiod's "Works and Days"
Perseus Classics collection and digital library

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