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!