Works and Days Book Summary - Works and Days Book explained in key points

Works and Days summary


Brief summary

Works and Days by Hesiod is a didactic poem that shares advice on how to live a virtuous life, including guidance on agriculture, good governance, and the importance of hard work and justice.

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    Works and Days
    Summary of key ideas

    Moral Guidance and Agrarian Instructions

    At the beginning of Works and Days, Hesiod, the revered Greek poet, addresses his brother Perses who squanders his inheritance and resorts to corrupt magistrates for support. Hesiod advises him about the virtue of hard work and the paths of right and wrong. He emphatically underscores the difference between good and bad Eris – symbolizing productive rivalry and destructive conflict, respectively. Accordingly, he encourages the pursuit of the former to foster industriousness and shun laziness.

    Hesiod then turns to detailed rules of farming, a calendar for the agricultural year marking when to sow, plow, and harvest. These instructions reflect a deep respect Hesiod holds for farmers' work and the seasonal rhythms of agriculture guided by the gods. The utility of each farmed item, from grains to cattle to boats, is vividly illustrated to underscore the holistic advantage of self-sustenance.

    Divine Intervention and Human Endeavors

    In the further chapters of Works and Days, Hesiod introduces the narrative of Pandora – the first woman according to Greek mythology. Zeus, to punish Prometheus for stealing fire from the gods, sends Pandora who unleashes all human miseries by opening a jar out of curiosity. Despite resulting in a world full of hardships, the tale ends with hope left within the closed jar – offering an optimism to humanity in the face of adversities.

    Next, emphasizing on the acceptance of personal responsibility, Hesiod speaks about the "Ages of Man". He elaborates on ages: Golden, Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and Iron, each representing humankind's decreasing morality and happiness. He mourns our current age – the Age of Iron, where strife and toil prevail. However, he offers solace that people can still lead an honorable life through just and moral living.

    The Importance of Justice and Caution

    Moving towards the second half of the book, Hesiod lays emphasis on the principle of justice. By sharing the myth of a hawk and a nightingale, he illustrates power dynamics and the importance of law and order in society. Justice, according to him, is crucial as Zeus punishes the unjust while rewards the just, a belief in divine justice governing human actions.

    The poet’s words on caution resonate in his instructions on seafaring. He counsels to pay careful attention to signs and omens and suggests safe times for sea travel. Warned are the readers, for example, not to set sail when Pleiades, a star cluster, disappear from the sight, as it's a harbinger of stormy weather.

    Farm Life and Its Social Implications

    In concluding parts of Works and Days, Hesiod advocates for an austere yet fulfilling life of farming. He elaborates on socio-economic aspects intertwined with farming, endorsing the virtues of thriftiness and detesting greed. He underscores the power of sustained labor and advocates for a solitary, self-reliant life that shields against the financial liability of societal dependencies.

    Wrapping up his words of wisdom, Hesiod minutely outlines domestic details like when to gather wood, which wine is the healthiest, and which days are suitable for different activities. Works and Days, therefore, is not just a didactic discourse on ethics and morality, but serves as a comprehensive guide to a virtuous and pragmatic lifestyle in Hesiod's times.

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    What is Works and Days about?

    "Works and Days" is a didactic poem by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. It offers practical advice on farming, as well as moral and ethical guidance for living a just and virtuous life. The poem also delves into the themes of labor, justice, and the relationship between gods and humans. It is a valuable insight into the daily life and beliefs of the ancient Greeks.

    Works and Days Review

    Works and Days by Hesiod (8th century BCE) is a fascinating exploration of ancient Greek life and morality. Here's why we recommend reading this book:

    • It offers timeless advice on work, justice, and the rhythms of agricultural life, providing valuable insights into the Ancient Greek mindset.
    • Delving into myths and legends, it offers a captivating glimpse into the origins of the world, providing a rich cultural backdrop to the timeless themes explored within.
    • The book's exploration of human nature and relationships is deeply thought-provoking, challenging readers to reflect on their own values and actions.

    Who should read Works and Days?

    • Curious individuals seeking insights into ancient Greek culture and mythology
    • Readers interested in moral and practical guidance on leading a virtuous and fulfilling life
    • Students of literature, philosophy, or history looking for an introduction to epic poetry and its significance

    About the Author

    Hesiod was an ancient Greek poet who lived around the 8th century BCE. He is best known for his works "Works and Days" and "Theogony". Hesiod's "Works and Days" is a didactic poem that provides practical advice on farming, as well as moral and ethical guidance. It also explores the themes of justice, labor, and the human condition. Hesiod's writings have had a significant influence on Western literature and thought.

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    Works and Days FAQs 

    What is the main message of Works and Days?

    The main message of Works and Days is to live an honest and industrious life in harmony with the gods and the natural world.

    How long does it take to read Works and Days?

    The reading time for Works and Days varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Works and Days a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Works and Days is a worthwhile read for those interested in ancient Greek literature. It provides insight into agricultural practices, moral advice, and the relationship between humans and gods.

    Who is the author of Works and Days?

    The author of Works and Days is Hesiod.

    What to read after Works and Days?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Works and Days, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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