Hesiod’s View of Mankind’s Past and Future

The Greek poet Hesiod authored Theogony and Works and DaysTheogony is a recounting of how the ancient Greeks believed the world and the gods were born.  Works and Days is a rebuke to Hesiod’s brother Perses when he bribed the courts to take Hesiod’s portion of their inheritance and bestow it to Perses.  Through the study of each of these texts I have concluded on how Hesiod viewed mankind and his past and future.

Mankind’s beginning wasn’t described in either of the above-mentioned works.  But there is an origin story of the races of men.  Zeus created five ages of men: gold, silver, bronze, heroes, and iron, respectively.  The iron age of men is the age that Hesiod believed he lived in.  Hesiod foretells that Zeus will destroy the iron race when it is fully corrupted, just as he did to the silver and bronze races.  The age of heroes, or, demi-gods as they are also called, were a race that dwelled apart from the rest of mankind.

The silver and bronze ages of men were races that conceived in the hearts and minds only evil and sought to destroy good.  These races Zeus destroyed because of their behavior.  Which leads to another interesting train of thought.  Zeus punished the races of men that did great evils repeatedly, and yet, in Works and Days, Hesiod prompts Perses to do good and live by ethics so that Zeus will reward you with prosperity.

From this we can deduce that Zeus dishes out sanctions based on man’s ethical actions or unethical actions.  Leading up to yet another conclusion: Hesiod believed that if a man lived morally and, as he encourages Perses to do, work hard to till the ground and reap the fruits of labor and lay up capital to ensure safe retirement, Zeus will reward him with economical success.  In Theogony, the story of Prometheus is recited.  Prometheus was the man who gave men fire, stolen from the gods.  To punish him, Zeus pinned him to a rock and had an eagle come down and eat Prometheus’ liver.  Everyday his liver grew back, and everyday the eagle ate it up again.  This is another demonstration of how Zeus deals with man’s behavior.

An ironic thing about Zeus is that he never lives by his own moral standards, ever.  He constantly is unfaithful to his wife Hera and has children with other gods and mortals.  One can find this throughout Greek mythology: the gods aren’t perfect.  They don’t always live by a strict moral code.  That is one unbelievably ironic fact about the Greek gods.  They punish humans when they don’t adhere to the standards of living, and then the gods themselves are hypocritical.

A final conclusion is: Hesiod ultimately believes that Zeus and the gods will give men success if they stick to working hard and practicing religion, or, if men commit evil deeds, the gods will punish them physically, economically or otherwise.  He foretells that men will eventually fall into practicing evil continually, and that Zeus will destroy the iron age of men.

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