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DIED B.C. 730.
ESIOD'S own lines record that, as he was feeding his
flocks near Helicon in Boeotia, he was commissioned
by the muses to be the bard of didactic, as Homer was of epic, poetry; and Plato, alluding to the intellectual creations of both, observes, “Who would not rather have such children than ordinary human offspring ?'
In his poem entitled, “Works and Days,' addressed to his brother Perses, he first contrasts, by the aid of proverb lore, honest labour with idleness, and worthy emulation with strife and envying. The next part consists of hints relating to husbandry, and the last of remarks on lucky and unpropitious days for the occupations of rural and nautical life. The antiquity of four separate callings is established in the following lines
• Thus emulous his wheel the potter turns,
Elton. Referring to the offence of Prometheus, he narrates how Jupiter and his attendant deities created the nymph Pandora, to scatter from her casket the ills that haunt our frail humanity, concealing hope beneath the lid. Then he describes the five ages of the world, and the increase of evil as each succeeds the other.
The first race of mortals in the golden age he represents as, after death, becoming genii, and moving invisibly through
the earth as ministers of good, and guards of man.' In the silver age the innocence of childhood was retained for a hundred years, but men gave not to the deities due respect, and, when earth hid them, they did not attain to immortality. Still more degenerate was the brazen age,
'They by each other's hands inglorious fell,
In horrid darkness plunged, the house of hell.' The venerated heroes, however, are assigned an after state in the Isles of the Blest,
. Apart from heaven's immortals, calm they share
Elton. During the iron era the race becomes corrupt, unrestful, and toilsome,
Scarcely they spring into the light of day,
(Élton), and all is violence, oppression, and sword law; until, at last, in the poet's own generation, the fair forms of all the nobler impulses,
From the broad earth have winged their heavenward flight,
Elton. The allegory thus finished, its lesson is illustrated by a fable of the hawk and the nightingale, and a comparison of the results of iniquity and justice, followed by some terse general maxims, inculcating industry, honesty, and expediency, with a mistrust of women, and a warning that the more children the more cares.'
Turning now to farming operations, the poet indicates the seasons by the movements of the stars, bidding the husbandman begin reaping when the Pleiades rise in May, and ploughing when they set in November. Then he is told he must have his own implements, that the work-deferrer never sees his barn full, when to fell timber, how to make an axle-tree, the proper wood and shape for a plough, that nineyear-old oxen are best for yoking, and that a ploughman
should be middle-aged. With equal minuteness, the work proper to each season is indicated; the protection of the cattle from the winter cold, and the need of warm clothing and plenty of food for the labourers; the time for vine-pruning, early rising at harvest-time, and temperate rest and relaxation during the summer heats. After the corn has been winnowed the household staff may be reduced, and a dog, with sharp teeth, should be kept to guard the premises from the day-sleep-night-wake gentry. Then follow directions for the vintage, and instructions how to make boats and tackle safe for the winter.
Various social duties and precepts are next enforced, and summed up thus :
"So do, and shun the ill report of men;
Davies. The remainder of the poem consists of a calendar of the lucky and unlucky days of the lunar month, without much clue to the reasons why, and concludes with the precept that blest and fortunate is he who knowingly doeth all with an eye to these days, unblamed by the gods, discerning omens, and avoiding transgression.'
Many of Hesiod's adages form the germs of proverbs still in use, such as,
• The half is more than all,' a paradox to illustrate moderation ;
The fool first suffers, and is after wise,' as expressing the teaching of experience;
• Ill counsel worst is to the counsellor ;' or,
• Who fears his oath shall leave a name to shine
With brightening lustre through his latest line;' and,
When on your home falls unforeseen distress,
Half-clothed come neighbours; kinsmen stay to dress.' A still more generally adopted one is
* And those who ploughed the field shall reap the corn.
Whilst the most curious is,
Nine generations lives the babbling crow
Davies. In his “Theogony' the poet's aim is to cast the divine functions into a systematic sequence, derived from the songs of the earlier bards, and the traditions of the ancient temples. Dealing first with the creation of the world, he represents Chaos as primeval, and Earth, Tartarus, and Love as coming next into existence :
• Love then arose,
The generations of the various deities and their progeny follow, in genealogical and circumstantial detail, in the form of a continuous narrative, full of stirring scenes and graceful fancies, from which most of the Greek mythology, as well as many of the descriptions in ‘Paradise Lost,' and much of the information in modern classical dictionaries, have been derived.
The theme of his other poem, 'The Shield of Hercules,' is the combat of that hero with the robber Cycnus and his father, Mars, near Apollo's temple at Pagasæ; the elaborate description of the several parts of the buckler combining the details of the expedition in which it was employed. The story is too prolix to epitomise, but several passages indicate a common ideal with that of Homer's 'Shield of Achilles,' many of the descriptions are very spirited, and, although some passages are suspected to be later interpolations, the work is generally considered as entitled to a place in classical literature.
HIS poet was regarded by later Greek writers as a
teacher of wisdom and virtue, by means of de
tached maxims in elegiac verse; but more recent biographers have claimed for him a higher position, as a scholar, poet, and politician, of noble birth, whose compositions contain much that is highly poetical in thought, as well as forcible in expression.
His works are fragmentary, and the following extracts are some of the best specimens of his genius ;
* Learning and wealth the wise and wealthy find
* The daily marriages we make
• Adopt with every man the style and tone
Most fortunate are those, alive or dead,