Saturday, February 4, 2012

Works and Days


Works and Days, by Hesiod

Works and Days was quite fun to read. The translation I have is by Richmond Lattimore, and it has little summary lines on the side to let the reader know what's going on. Unlike my copy of the Theogony, it has no footnotes at all, so while I may have missed some nuances, it was easier to stay focused. Works and Days is a more straightforward poem anyway.

Evidently Hesiod had a wastrel brother named Perses, who squandered his half of the family property and then successfully sued the poet for some of his half. Hesiod responded with a sort of life instruction book. He starts off with the stories of Prometheus, Pandora, and the Five Ages of Man to explain why life is stern and life is earnest and you have to earn a living. Then he gives instructions on how to run a farm: when to plow, what kind of help to hire, how to make convenient clothes, how to choose a wife, all sorts of good advice. Other advice is included too; how to send out a merchant ship (if you insist on running that kind of risk), what the proper auspicious days are, how to please the gods and how to keep good company and be a good friend.

I bet it really got up Perses' nose, and Hesiod probably meant it to.




This bust is supposed to be Hesiod, but of course it's entirely imaginative. He looks a bit too agonized for my taste. And this text is from a 1539 printing, with convenient Latin translation.



Next up is Sophocles' Theban plays in the Fagles translation, and it will be my first experience with Fagles. I've almost always read Lattimore. I've always thought that the Oedipus cycle must have been the Greeks' idea of thinking up the worst thing that could possibly happen. Here Oedipus is, a virtuous and intelligent man with everything he could want, and it turns out that he has unwittingly committed the most horrible crimes anyone could imagine. Never call a man happy until he is safely dead!

4 comments:

Cassandra said...

Early Greek self-help book? I thought the "How-to-improve-your-life-find-your-true-love-and-become-happy"-books were an invention of the 21st century :)
I can't wait to read your opinion about Antigone since I LOVE it! Hurry up! ;)
Anyway, I feel a bit left out when everyone is talking about which translations they read, considering that my German translator is called Heinz Peter M├╝hlenbach and no one has ever heard of him. Ah, the inconveniences of not being raised in English!

ShaReKay said...

OMG, Jean, I was laughing out loud at your review. Sibling rivalry in Ancient Greece is somehow hilarious. It makes me want to write a book telling my layabout lil bro to get a real job and be confident people will still be talking about it in 2,000 years. Ha ha ha!
I've got the Penguin Classic edition of Theogony sitting on the shelf. It's translated by Deborah Wender (whoever SHE is). According to the back cover, she "brilliantly conveys the beauty and vigour of the original texts." We'll see.

Jean said...

I love Antigone too, Cassandra, but I can't promise any amazing insights! :)

You made me laugh, SRK. :D But can't you just see Perses being so annoyed at his aggravating smug brother? Ha!

Amy said...

I will be interested to hear how you like Sophocles by Fagles. I gravitate toward Lattimore, generally, too, but haven't seen Fagles' Sophocles.