Mankind in the Eyes of Hesiod

Hesiod’s Works and Days was centered around mankind, and living a just and successful life. It was written to Hesiod’s brother Perses, with whom he had had a legal dispute over inheritance. Perses won the case, and received a much larger inheritance than Hesiod. Part of Works and Days was devoted to convincing Perses that he had received his inheritance unjustly. Another part was simply very practical brotherly advice on how to live a successful, productive life. But the beginning of the book gave an important account of the origins of mankind and its troubles.

Works and Days said that mankind began with a ‘golden’ race of men, created directly by the gods. These men were free from sorrow, grief, and unhappiness. When they died, they became ‘pure spirits’, who wandered about the world, guarding mortal men and keeping watch on judgements. After the golden race, another race was created by the gods, one of silver. This silver race was far less noble than the golden race. Hated by Zeus, this race was destroyed because it refused to pay homage to the gods. Then the gods created a race of men which sprung from ash trees and had bronze houses, tools, and armor. This bronze race was very powerful and very warlike, and ended up destroying itself. After that Zeus created a fourth race, one of demi-gods. These demi-gods were heroes and fought in many wars, including the Trojan war. They were loved by Zeus put away to peaceful, sorrowless corners of the earth. Then, finally, Zeus created a fifth race, our own, of iron. This race was hated by Zeus, and suffered to toil upon the earth in sorrow and strife until destroyed.

Prometheus gave men fire, which angered Zeus greatly because it gave undue honor to man. But instead of punishing Prometheus, he punished mankind by ordering the creation of an irresistible snare with an evil and deceitful nature: the first woman. This first woman, Pandora, opened the box containing all of man’s troubles and scattered them about the world. Everything in the box flew out, except for hope, which remained.

Mankind, according to Hesiod, has been in a downward spiral since its creation. First gold, then silver, then bronze, then demi-gods, then iron, which will eventually be destroyed by Zeus. Remember, mankind still has hope. All that can be done is to accept fate, be successful, and work diligently until the end.

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One thought on “Mankind in the Eyes of Hesiod

  1. Pingback: Optimism in Livy and Ovid | supererling

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