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Hesiod’s Works and Days


I have not made many notes on the course The Ancient Greek Hero with Gregory Nagy of Harvard for a while. The readings have been from The Odyssey and  I saw no reason to document this work twice. Some of the readings have been from Hesiod’s Theogony which I also covered in my Greek and Roman Mythology course. Although in that course we spoke of Hesiod’s Works and Days we only skimmed the surface. 

credit : historylink101.com

The key word for these readings is dikē, which means ‘justice’ long-term and ‘judgment’ short-term. In ancient Greek poetics, a primary metaphor for dikē is a flourishing field or garden or orchard or grove or vineyard or any other such place where vegetation is cultivated. The typical cult hero is an exponent of dikē. And the worshipers of the cult hero can view the presence of his or her corpse in the local earth as the cause of vegetal flourishing or thriving or blooming. The corpse of the cult hero, as hidden below in the local earth, is envisioned as a talisman of fertility and prosperity for the worshipers who cultivate that earth. Such a vision is a sign of dikēin the long-term sense of ‘justice’.

Some readings showing the importance of this word came from The Odyssey. An example was when Odysseus spoke to his wife whilst still disguised as a beggar. The same passage speaks of the kleos of Penelope as well so it is a very powerful passage.

|107 My lady, who among mortals throughout the limitless stretches of earth |108would dare to quarrel [neikeîn] against you with words? For truly your glory [kleos] reaches the wide firmament of the sky itself |109 – like the glory of some faultless king [basileus], who, godlike as he is, |110 and ruling over a population that is multitudinous and vigorous, |111 upholds acts of good dikē [= eu-dikiai], while the dark earth produces |112 wheat and barley, the trees are loaded with fruit, |113 the ewes steadily bring forth lambs, and the sea abounds with fish, |114 by reason of the good directions he gives, and his people are meritorious [aretân] under his rule. (Odyssey xix 107-114)

The Golden Generation Of Humankind

Initial page of Hesiod’s poem Works and Days, ...

Initial page of Hesiod’s poem Works and Days, with the Greek original text on the left side, and a Latin translation on the right side. From the 1539 edition Hesiodi Ascraei opuscula inscripta ΕΡΓΑ ΚΑΙ ΗΜΕΡΑΙ, sic recens nunc Latinè reddita, ut uersus uersui respondeat, unà cum scholiis obscuriora aliquot loca illustrantibus. Ulpio Franekerensi Frisio autore, addita est antiqua Nicolai Vallae translatio, ut quis conferre queat. Basileae, Mich. Ising., 1539, p. 6–7. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Works and Days (credit :wikimedia.org)

The  Hesiodic Works and Days tells the story of the Golden Generation, a mythological category of humankind that corresponds to the positive aspects of cult heroes. We also find attestation of the idea of cult heroes as basilēes ‘kings’ .

|122 And they [= the Golden Generation of humankind] are superhumans [daimones]. They exist because of the Will of Zeus. |123 They are the good, the earthbound [epi-khthonioi], the guardians of mortal humans. |124 They guard acts of justice [dikē] and they guard against wretched acts of evil. |125 Enveloped in mist, they roam everywhere throughout the earth. |126 They are givers of prosperity. And they had this as a privilege [geras], a kingly one [basilēion].  (Hesiod Works and Days 122-126)
Elsewhere in the Hesiodic Works and Days (248-262), cult heroes are described as agents of the goddess of justice personified, Dikē, who is daughter of Zeus: forces of justice are shown as uniting in their mission to punish men who are adikoi ‘unjust’ (260), especially basilēes ‘kings’ (261) who make dikai ‘judgments’ unjustly, that is, ‘in a crooked way’, skoliōs (262)  Hesiod speaks as an exponent of justice when he admonishes the unnamed kings to speak in a way that ‘makes them straight’, ithunein (263). He has good reason to do this , since he is accusing them of having taken bribes (264) and rendering ‘crooked judgments, that is, skoliai dikai (264).
Hesiod is not only the speaker of Works and Days: he is also the main character. He and his brother,Perses, ‘quarrel’ over inheritance, and the unnamed kings support the brother against Hesiod, having been bribed. Whenever Hesiod speaks to Perses or to the kings in the poem, he presents himself as the representative of dikē ‘justice’ and of whatever is dikaio ‘just’ whereas the other side represent the opposite of justice, which is hubris ‘outrage’ and whatever is adiko- ‘unjust’ .
The opposite of dikē, hubris, which is conventionally translated as ‘outrage’ but can mean other things depending on what the word is referring to. For humans hubris refers to acts that provoke a sense of moral outrage, like those of the suitors in The Odyssey. Faor animals in relates more to violence or sex. For plants it means  excessive productivity in one aspect of the plant, to the detriment of other aspects: for example, in the case of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, hubris would result in the excessive production of wood or of leaves at the expense of the fruit.

The white lupin [shrub] becomes a-karpos [= stops bearing karpos ‘fruit’] when it gets wood-crazy, as it were, and behaves with exuberance [hubris]. (Theophrastus About the aetiologies of plants)

The Silver Generation Of Humankind

The beautiful boy hero Adonis is parallel to the heroes featured in the stylized narrative of the Hesiodic Works and Days about a debased second generation of humankind, the Silver Generation, who were created after the first humans, the Golden Generation. Here is the narrative about the Silver Generation:
|127 Then a second Generation, a much worse one, a later one, |128 the Silver, was made by the gods who abide in their Olympian homes. |129 They were like the Golden one neither in their nature nor in their power of perception [noēma]. |130 As a boy, each one was raised for a hundred years by dear mother; |131 each one was playing around, quite inept [nēpios], at home. |132 But when the time of maturing [hēbân] and the full measure of maturity [hēbē] arrived, |133 they lived only for a very short time, suffering pains [algea] |134 for their acts of heedlessness [aphradiai], since they could not keep overweening hubris |135 away from each other, and they were not willing to care for [therapeuein] the immortal gods, |136 not willing at all, nor were they willing to make sacrifice on the sacred altars of the blessed [makares] gods, |137 the way humans are required by cosmic law [themis] to behave, each group according to its own customs. Anyway, they too, when the time came, |138were hidden away by Zeus son of Kronos. He was angry at them because they did not give honors [tīmai], |139 no they did not, to the blessed [makares] gods who possess Olympus. |140 But when the earth covered over this generation [genos] as well |141 – and they are called the blessed [makares], abiding below the earth [hupokhthonioi], mortals that they are, |142 the Second Ones, though they too [like the First Ones, who are the Golden Generation] get their share of honor [tīmē])  (Hesiod Works and Days 127–142 )

The heroes of the Silver Generation are unable to achieve a stable maturity or hēbē. The  heroes of the Golden Generation live in a Golden Age of stable fertility, as expressed directly by the word karpos ‘fruit’ (117).  The Golden Age presents an idealized picture of wealth that is won by way of dikē: true and lasting, it is antithetical to the sudden and violent wealth that is won by way of hubris and that is destined not to last. the Golden Generation is a positive image of a cult hero, the Silver Generation is a negative image.

Back to Blade Runner

Interestingly Gregory Nagy in his videos came back n to the film Blade Runner which seams to have connections to more and more of my courses.
 The scene was where the replication Roy goes to meat his ‘maker’ the scientist. The scientist has a hideaway where he is almost unreachable. Roy thinks of the scientist called Tyrell as the god who made him and seeks him out.  In the confrontation scene, as Roy enters the room of the scientist, the scientist, in a very cold-blooded way, asks Roy: “What seems to be the problem?” And Roy answers: “Death.” He is angry and frustrated. He has only a few years to live, whereas normal humans have a lot more. The scientist asks: “Would you like to be modified?”  Roy answers: “I had in mind something more radical.” He wants to be immortalized or maybe just mortal but at least not to have the threat of death so quickly approaching. When he starts exploring with the scientist, he finds out that he just wasn’t built that way, he was built not to last. It sinks in for Roy that it’s hopeless, he is mortal; he is doomed to die; and he won’t be immortalized like some exceptional replicants can be immortalized, he takes it out on the cruel, seemingly divine, at least superhuman father who created him. He starts talking about the gods of biomechanics, and whether there  are possibilities and impossibilities for the gods of biomechanics.
For Gregory Nagy this  is very comparable to the feelings of Achilles, and for that matter of his son. We don’t get to read much about his son in our project because the focus is so much on Achilles himself in the Homeric Iliad. But both the father and the son have serious chronology problems. When you start adding up the years of their lifetimes, they don’t seem to be as old as you would think they would be, considering where they are and what status they have in the Homeric Iliad in the story of the Trojan War.It’s especially blatant in the case of Achilles’ son who, could only be about ten years old when he joins the Trojan War. He’s certainly a full-grown adult male, as far as the action of the battle is concerned. A figure like Roy in Blade Runner, who is four years old, or maybe less than four years old is the most perfect specimen of humanity, or so it seems.
We can compare a figure who is very traditional, who is a function of the poetry that created him, Achilles,  to a figure in science fiction who was created by a scientist.Or rather compared by a science fiction writer, who is creating a scientist, who is creating this marvel of humanity, who loves life, it seems, more than ordinary humans. The scientist “father,”  says to the prodigal “son,”  “You’ve lived quite a life, Roy. Revel in your time……….A light that glows twice as bright burns twice as fast.”

credit ; t3.gstatic.com

DR. ELDON TYRELL: You were made as well as we could make you.

ROY BATTY: But not to last.
 DR. ELDON TYRELL: The light that burns twice as bright burn half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you, you’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize.
ROY BATTY: I’ve done questionable things.
DR. ELDON TYRELL: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time.
 The intensity of life, which is what this main figure, Roy Batty, the replicant, is all about. That intensity of life is certainly good to think with as we compare this character with the character of Achilles in the Homeric Iliad.

Two Further Generations Of Humankind

You can see the contrast between dikē and hubris not only in the contrast between the Golden and the Silver Generations but also in an overall myth of five successive generations of humankind (106–201). This  contrast (Golden and Silver Generations) is part of an overall system of contrasts within the myth of five generations.
Just as the narrative about the Silver Generation, shows the dark side of cult heroes, so also the narrative about the Bronze Generation, shows the dark side of epic heroes. Here is the narrative:
|143 And Zeus the father made another Generation of mortal men, the Third. |144 He made it Bronze, not at all like the Silver. |145 A Generation born from ash trees, violent and terrible. Their minds were set on the woeful deeds of Arēs |146 and on acts of hubris. Grain |147 they did not eat, but their hard-dispositioned heart [thūmos] was made of hard rock. |148 They were forbidding: they had great force [biē] and overpowering hands |149 growing out of their shoulders, with firm foundations for limbs. |150 Their implements were bronze, their houses were bronze, |151 and they did their work with bronze. There was no black iron. |152 And they were wiped out when they killed each other with their own hands, |153 and went nameless to the dank house of chill Hādēs, |154 yes, nameless [nōnumnoi]! Death still took them, terrifying as they were, |155 yes, black Death took them, and they left behind them the bright light of the Sun. (Hesiod Works and Days 143-155)
By contrast, the narrative about the Bronze Generation features a positive picture of the epic hero, with an emphasis on heroic behavior that is dikaion ‘just’ (verse 158), and with a promise of immortalization after death:
|156 But when this Generation too was covered over by the earth, |157 Zeus made yet another Generation on earth, which nurtures many, a fourth one. |158 This one, by contrast [with the third], was just [dikaion]. It was better. |159 It was the godlike generation of men who were heroes [hērōes], who are called |160 demigods [hēmi-theoi]; they are the previous generation [= previous to ours] who lived throughout the boundless earth. |161 These [demigods] were overcome by evil war and the terrible din of battle. |162 Some died at the walls of seven-gated Thebes, the land of Cadmus, |163 as they fought over the sheep of Oedipus. |164 Others were taken away by war over the great yawning stretches of sea |165 to Troy, all on account of Helen with the beautiful hair. |166 Then they [= this Generation] were covered over by the finality of death. |167 But they received, apart from other humans, a life and a place to live |168 from Zeus the son of Kronos, who translated them to the edges of the earth, |169 far away from the immortal gods. And Kronos is king over them. |170 And they live with a carefree heart [thūmos] |171 on the Islands of the Blessed [Nēsoi Makarōn] on the banks of the deep-swirling river Okeanos, |172blessed [olbioi] heroes [hērōes] that they are, and for them there is a honey-sweet harvest [karpos] |173 that comes to fruition three times each year, produced by the life-giving land.
(Hesiod Works and Days 155-173 ).
Hesiodic poetry consistently views heroes through the lens of a post-heroic age, as we can see most clearly when he finally turns to the Iron Generation of humankind, which is his own generation:

|174 If only I did not have to be in the company of the Fifth Generation |175 of men, and if only I had died before it [= the Fifth Generation] or been born after it, |176 since now is the time of the Iron Generation.
(Hesiod Works and Days 174-176)
In this grim Iron Age, which is the here and now for Hesiod, the  divisions between dikē and hubris break down. It is neither a time of  dikē or hubris, because these two forces are presently engaged in an ongoing struggle, and Hesiod expresses his pessimism in the light of his present neikos ‘quarrel’.

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