Advice on living a propserous life

Works and Days (University Press Academic Monograph Reprints) - Hesiod, M.L. West

Okay, this book is both the Theogony and The Works and Days, but I simply want to write about the Works and Days here simply because I cannot find the book under a single listing (unlike the Theogony). Anyway, this is also the version of Hesiod that I own (though I believe it was given to me by a friend when I studied Classical Studies way back in the mists of history).

The Works and Days is advice on how to live the life of a farmer, and is written to Hesiod's brother, who appears to be one of those lazy people (you known the types that don't have a job and sponge of government handouts). Whether he listened to Hesiod or not is another matter because I suspect that a lot of other people since then have listened to him and have hopefully become profitable farmers. In a way, this little book is a lot like the biblical book Proverbs, which also warns against idleness and praises hard work. However, this was written in a different time where pretty much everybody was either an independent businessman or a small scale and self sufficient farmer. Mind you, it appears from this book that we are dealing with a society that has a developed agricultural system and also live in villages as we hear of trades people such as blacksmiths. Also, remember that even though agriculture had developed, many of the farms were still small and clustered close to the main village, not just for protection, but also for ease of trade. We also note that Hesiod talks about becoming a merchant and hints for the best time to sail, so he is obviously a lot more than the simple shepherd from the slopes of Mount Helicon that he claims to be in the Theogony.

Mind you, this book isn't just a plain guidebook to prosperity, but opens with a mythological introduction where we hear of the races of humanity and their degradation. It is also interesting that in one way they degrade, but in another way they grow stronger. The order of the races, as outlined by metals, is Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron, but notice how the order of metals also indicates something different. While the metals become less valuable, they become more practical. Gold is very valuable, but pretty much useless for anything beyond making jewellery and using as a currency. Silver is better, but rare and expensive. Bronze is better, but not as good as iron, and while iron is seen as pretty dull, it was the best metal at the time for agricultural production (as well as for killing each other).

Now, the golden race seem to be a race of semi-divine individuals who were free from toil and lived bountifully, yet they vanished, but it is unclear as to what actually happened. We are told that the Earth covered them up and they became spirits. Biblically this can be related to the race of humanity prior to the fall, as pretty much everything that is said here can be related to pre-fall humanity. While Christians may jump up and say that they did work, remember that Hesiod tells us that they were free from toil, not that they did not work. Much of this is speculation though, but I will continue.

The next race we have is the silver race which coincides with the antediluvian civilisation. Hesiod tells us that they were long lived, but violent amongst themselves. There was no order and they rejected the gods. It is interesting that we see in the Bible a reflection of this, in particular about how they are considered to be violent and evil and living only after themselves. Just as God turned on the Antediluvian race and destroyed them, so did Zeus destroy the silver race.

The bronze race seems to coincide with the immediate post-diluvian race of humanity, and possibly humanity prior to the Tower of Babel. Mind you, Hesiod describes this race as mainly hunter-gatherers who had no real technology, and simply lived by raiding others and taking what was available. This does not coincide with the people of Babel, who seemed to be more technologically advanced than a group of simple hunter-gatherers, but maybe that is because the race of heroes falls in here, before we move to the current race, being the race of iron, who may not be as prestigious as the golden race, but are more technologically developed.

The similarities to Proverbs is striking when Hesiod gets to his section on advice. He has indicated that we live in the iron age, and that if we are to survive the iron age then we need to be wise about how we conduct ourselves. Okay, he shows his wisdom when he tells us that we should not urinate upstream (and in fact we don't urinate in rivers, but in the bushes). On the other hand he also warns us against going around begging from our neighbours. This differs from these days of big cities where beggars can get away with wondering the streets collecting money. In the small village everybody knows everybody else, and while people may be willing to help you out once, and maybe even twice, once we begin to make a habit of it, we end up developing a reputation.

I want to finish off with another idea that comes out of this book, and that is collecting things without working for it. In a way it reminded me of tax collecting. Once again we are seeing a different world, where there was no real big government (at least not in Greece) and society was made up of small villages and independent city states. In Hesiod's world there was no room for the professional politician because everybody had to work to feed themselves. There is no room for those to sit back and expect others to feed them, and the idea of somebody setting themselves up as chief and expecting everybody to pay tribute to them was wrong. Today taxes go to building roads, funding hospitals and universities, as well as paying professional soldiers to defend our shores. Back then this did not exist, even the professional soldier did not exist. Everybody was a soldier, and if the village was attacked, they would take their tools, turn them into weapons, and defend their honour.