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Association of Polytheist Traditions

Works and Days

Written by the Greek poet Hesiod around 700 BCE, Works and Days is a book of advice on how an ordinary man should live his life, in harmony with the world, with the gods, and with other people. It is the earliest written source of its kind in Europe. Its subjects range from agriculture to seafaring, with an almanac of days of good and ill omen for different undertakings, and also includes some general ethical principles. A selection of extracts are offered below.

The translation used is by H G Evelyn-White, in the Loeb Classical Library edition (Harvard University Press, 1975).

  • [30]    Little concern has he with quarrels and courts, who has not a year's victuals laid up betimes...
  • [105]    ...there is no way to escape the will of Zeus.
  • [213]   ...listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden... the better path is to go by on the other side, towards Justice... but only when he has suffered does the fool learn this.
  • [265]   He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.
  • [280]   ...whoever knows the right, and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity; but whoever deliberately lies in his witness and forswears himself, and so hurts Justice and sins beyond repair, that man's generation is left obscure thereafter. But the generation of the man who swears truly is better thenceforward.
  • [295]   That man is altogether best who considers all things himself and marks what will be better afterward and at the end; and he, again, is good who listens to a good adviser; but whoever neither thinks for himself nor keeps in mind what another tells him, he is an unprofitable man.
  • [299]   Work... that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter, richly crowned, may fill your barn with food...
  • [303]   Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle...
  • [311]   Work is no disgrace: it is idleness which is a disgrace.
  • [312]   Shame is with poverty, but confidence is with wealth.
  • [342]   Call your friend to a feast; but leave your enemy alone; and especially call him who lives near you: for of any mischief happen in the place, neighbours come ungirt, but kinsmen stay to gird themselves.
  • [345]   A bad neighbour is as great a plague as a good one is a blessing; he who enjoys a good neighbour has a precious possession.
  • [352]   Do not get base gain: base gain is as bad as ruin. Be friends with the friendly, and visit him who visits you. Give to one who gives, but do not give to one who does not give. A man gives to the free- handed, but none gives to the close-fisted.
  • [373]   Do not let a flaunting woman coax and cozen and deceive you: she is after your barn.
  • [405]   First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plough - a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the ox as well - and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another...
  • [493]   Pass by the smithy and its crowded lounge in winter time, when the cold keeps men from field work, - for then an industrious man can greatly prosper his house...
  • [574]   Avoid shady seats and sleeping until dawn in the harvest season...
  • [604]   Look after the dog...do not grudge him his food, or some time the Day-Sleeper may take your stuff.
  • [643]   Admire a small ship, but put your freight in a large one...
  • [689]   Do not put all your goods in hollow ships; leave the greater part behind, and put the lesser part on board...
  • [695]   Bring home a wife to your house when you are of the right age, while you are not far short of thirty years nor much above; this is the right age for marriage. Let your wife have been grown up four years, and marry her in the fifth. Marry a maiden, so that you can teach her careful ways, and especially marry one who lives near you, but look well about you and see that your marriage will not be a joke to your neighbours. For a man wind nothing better than a good wide, and again, nothing worse than a bad one.
  • [706]   Be careful to avoid the anger of the deathless gods. Do not make a friend equal to a brother; but if you do, do not wrong him first, and do not lie to please the tongue. But if he wrong you first... remember to pay him double; but if he ask you to be his friend again and be ready to give you satisfaction, welcome him. He is a worthless man who makes now one and now another his friend; but as for you, do not let your face put your heart to shame.
  • [719]   The best treasure a man can have is a sparing tongue... for if you speak evil, you yourself will soon be worse spoken of.
  • [722]   Do not be boorish at a common feast where there are many guests: the pleasure is greatest and the expense is least.
  • [825]   Sometimes a day is a mother, sometimes a stepmother.