Tuesday, March 28, 2017


An Unmitigated Evil

C. Bradford Welles (1901-1969), "Hesiod's Attitude toward Labor," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967) 5–23 (at 8-9):
For we must acknowledge that when Hesiod winds up his introduction with the order to his brother to tuck up his tunic and start digging, he was proposing something which no Greek (I would almost say, no human being) ever did if he could help it, ever looked on as anything but an unmitigated evil.13 Hesiod repeats the horrid notion four times in one line (v.382), and a lingering, spondaic one at that, so that there can be no doubt about it.
ὧδ᾽ ἔρδειν, καὶ ἔργον ἐπ᾽ ἔργῳ ἐργάζεσθαι.
When he says "work," he means "labor," and our traditional translation of the title should not blind us to it. This is labor as it appears in Old Man River, or in the folk-song of the English farmer digging his turnips in the sleet and rain. Unpleasant and undignified, unintellectual and little rewarding. It may be a way to a poor livelihood, but never to riches. If Hesiod's brother had really wanted wealth and had had the sense he was born with, he would not have taken this advice.

13 For ancient attitudes toward labor, cf P. Waltz, "Les Artisans et leur vie en Grèce," RevHist 117 (1914) 5-41. Self-sacrificing toil for others is a Christian notion (Schmid/Stählin [supra n.1] 277 n.7), as is the idea of doing things unpleasant for the good of one's soul (laborare est orare). Voluntary, amateur, light gardening is, of course, quite a different thing.

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