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Works and Days by Hesiod: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Hesiod, the Yeoman Poet
  • 0:33 The Structure of…
  • 1:53 Myths and Fables
  • 4:34 Analysis of ''Works and Days''
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson, we will learn about the great Greek poet Hesiod's masterpiece,'Works and Days'. We will see how it is structured, analyze the most important chapters, and discuss the style and message of this fundamental work.

Hesiod, the Yeoman Poet

Hesiod, who lived around 700 B.C., was a poet-peasant who lived in the village of Ascra. Hesiod had a very hard life. For this reason, his vision of the world is not optimistic.

Hesiod in a mosaic.
mosaic

Hesiod reported that one day, the Muses had approached him and told him to compose his two great works: ''Theogony'' and ''Works and Days''. ''Theogony'' is a poem about the gods, their genealogy, and their adventures. ''Works and Days'' is a poem about men, their survival, and the reasons for their suffering.

Hesiod with the Muse.
muse

The Structure of ''Works and Days''

The book is structured as follows:

  • The Proem is a poem dedicated to the Pierian Muses (the Muses of Olympus). Here, the poet asks the help of the Muses.
  • The Introduction is dedicated to Perses, Hesiod's brother. The poet explains to him that the world is dominated by discord.
  • Myths and Fables: This is the central part of the book, where several myths are told. We will examine them in detail later.
  • Works: Here, the central idea is expressed; evil is easy and virtue is very hard. Hesiod introduces a very revolutionary idea. At this time, areté (virtue or value) was considered an innate characteristic of the higher social groups. Hesiod, nevertheless, maintained that all men can improve and attain virtue by themselves.
  • Peasant's calendar: Hesiod explains the tasks that peasants must do during every season of the year. For example, cut the wood in autumn, prune the vines in spring, etc.
  • Navigator's calendar: Here, the poet discusses the best days for navigation and the precautions that must be taken.
  • Family management advice: A guide on how to choose a wife and friends, among other things.
  • Conclusion: Some advice on how to build a good reputation.
  • Days: A list of the days in the month, and the work that must be done on each one.

Initial page of Works and Days, 1539.
text

Myths and Fables

In this central chapter, we can find the Myth of the Ages, the Myth of Pandora, and the Fable of the Hawk and the Nightingale.

Myth of the Ages

There have been various ages:

  • The Golden Age: In the time of Cronus (father of Zeus and lord of time), gods lived amongst peaceful and happy humans. Men did not grow old, and they died while they slept without suffering. Zeus turned them into daemons (benign protective spirits) for reasons we will discover later.

Golden Age.
golden

  • The Silver Age: In this age, children grew up happy together with their mothers for a hundred years. Then, they became adults. Unfortunately, these adults did not honor the gods, so Zeus, enraged, destroyed them.

The Close of the Silver Age.
silver

  • The Bronze Age: Mankind of the Bronze Age came from the Ash Trees. They were very strong and very proud. However, they were only interested in war, and so they ended up destroying themselves.
  • The Age of the Heroes: Humans were heroic and magnificent. It's the age of Achilles, Hector, Ulysses, and the other heroes of the Trojan War. Many of them died in the war, and others went to the Fortunate Islands, a kind of paradise where they would live happily ever after.
  • The Iron Age: The worst of all. It is the age of Hesiod and his contemporaries. It's a hard and unjust time where humans are victims of their own violence and injustice.

Iron Age.
iron

The Myth of Pandora

To explain the transition from the Golden to Silver Age, Hesiod described the events in the myth of Pandora.

It begins with the god, Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan and a friend of mortals. To help the humans, Prometheus deceived Zeus and gave mankind fire and the plow.

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.
prometheus

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