Pseudo-Seneca BM GR1962.8-24.1

A probable bust of Hesiod


around 750-650 B.C., Greece

Father - a poor trader who moved to Beotia, where he became a peasant, a farmer. 

Works and Days

1. Zeus rules the world: “Through him mortal men are famed or un-famed, sung or unsung alike, as great Zeus wills. For easily he makes strong, and easily he brings the strong man low; easily he humbles the proud and raises the obscure, and easily he straightens the crooked and blasts the proud”

2. There are 2 kinds of strife: one which urges men to war, and the other which urges men to compete with other men: “She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbour, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbour vies with is neighbour as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men”. 

3. The gods hid from men the means of life (food, drink, housing, clothing, etc.) “Else you would easily do work enough in a day to supply you for a full year even without working”. And that’s the goal of development of our productive forces: to work very little, or not at all.

Philosophy of history:

4. First, there was a golden race of men. They lived like gods, free from toil. They had everything: “they had all good things; for the fruitful earth unforced bare them fruit abundantly and without stint”. 

5. Second, there was a silver race of men, less noble. They had a childhood of 100 years, and after that lived only a little, for they didn’t praise gods. 

6. Third generation of men – from ash trees. These loved war and used bronze weapons: “They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men. Great was their strength and unconquerable the arms which grew from their shoulders on their strong limbs. Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements: there was no black iron. These were destroyed by their own hands”.

7. Fourth was a race of demi-gods, heroes. Mentions the story of “seven-gated Thebes” and the siege of Troy, as the deeds of this race (an epoch, era in development of human history). 

8. Fifth is the race of iron, to which the poet belongs. It is the age of hard work and sorrow. This is the age of civil wars: “The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another's city.”

9. Here, we see the beginning of morality, or rules of justice: “He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most”. Notice: morality follows from philosophy of history. Once we have a general idea of development, we can form conceptions about how to behave. Hence, "philosophy of history" first, "morality" second. Philosophy of history - theory, but morality - practical guide. 

10. Men differ from animals by knowledge of right and justice: “fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right which proves far the best. For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity; but whoever deliberately lies in his witness and forswears himself, and so hurts Justice and sins beyond repair, that man's generation is left obscure thereafter”.

11. Easy road to badness, and a tough one to goodness: “Badness can be got easily and in shoals: the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows: long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach”. 

12. A calendar for when to start and end agricultural work: “When the Pleiades, daughters of Atlas, are rising (10), begin your harvest, and yourploughing when they are going to set”.

13. Tells how to live well, to have a good life: “First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plough -- a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the oxen as well -- and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another, and he refuses you, and so, because you are in lack, the season pass by and your work come to nothing. Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn, nor one who puts off his work: industry makes work go well, but a man who putts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin”. 

14. Next are instructions for when to sail a ship. The best time to go sailing is when the hottest days are over (July – August). Spring time is also a good time for sailing. “Observe due measure: and proportion is best in all things”.

15. How to marry: “Bring home a wife to your house when you are of the right age, while you are not far short of thirty years nor much above; this is the right age for marriage. Let your wife have been grown up four years, and marry her in the fifth. Marry a maiden, so that you can teach her careful ways, and especially marry one who lives near you, but look well about you and see that your marriage will not be a joke to your neighbours. For a man wins nothing better than a good wife, and, again, nothing worse than a bad one, a greedy soul who roasts her man without fire, strong though he may be, and brings him to a raw (35) old age”. Ideas of marriage, sexual union, are part of one's morality code. 


Describes origin of the Universe and gods, according to Greek myths and legends

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