Ethics in Works and Days and the Eumenides

Works and Days, by Hesiod, is a prompting to his brother to do the right thing and not take the inheritance from him.  Perses, the brother, had already spent all his inheritance and was devising bribes for the courts to rule in his favor.  Hesiod wrote Works and Days in the form of a poem.  The contents were reprimands to Perses about the idyllic lifestyle and the right way to earn prosperity for one’s self.  But we have no record of whether Perses adhered to his brother’s wisdom.  Anyway, it proposes lessons of ethical cause and effect pertaining to the ancient Greeks’ religion and tradition.

Justice, Zeus’ daughter, is the god of, well, justice.  She watches the actions of men and reports back to Zeus.  Zeus then rewards the actions, good or evil, in any way he deems as appropriate.  This Hesiod took note of in Works and Days and continued to advise Perses about it.  That man’s actions bring sanctions based on the goodness or badness of them.  Hesiod said it is a hard road to prosperity, but, once there, one can gain happiness.  Continuing, he warns that it is an easy path to evil, but it will all come back on the evildoer in pain and destruction.

Hesiod did not omit the topic of work ethic in the poem.  He told Perses of the proper way to lay up capital for one’s self so that later one can retire with pleasure and ease.  Hesiod also advised about working after the harvests, a procedure that would lead to even more wealth.

We are never told what Perses did in the poem after Hesiod showed it to him.  We don’t know whether he heeded the advice of his brother and returned the inheritance to him, or carried out his plans of bribery of the courts in order to steal it.

In The Eumenides, Aeschylus, a Greek playwright, put contrasted the laws of the Olympian gods versus those of the underground gods, namely the furies.

The furies, according to Greek mythology, were goddesses of revenge.  They hunted down murderers and caused them suffering and destruction.  Orestes is the protagonist in the trilogy The Oresteia.  In the series of plays, Agamemnon, king of the city of Argos, is murdered by his wife, Clytaemnestra.  One of her reasons for killing him was that he sacrificed his own daughter in order to gain favorable winds to Troy by Artemis.  Apollo the prophet-god ordered Orestes to kill Clytaemnestra to avenge his father, or he would be tormented by sanctions from Apollo himself.  Orestes was trapped between two factions: Apollo’s sanctions and the murder of his mother.  Reluctant at first, Orestes proceeded with Apollo’s command after the affirmation from his friend and sister and killed his mother who afterward cursed him with the furies.

The Furies chased Orestes and finally catch up with him at the temple of Athena, goddess of wisdom.  Eventually, a court was decided and a jury of Greek citizens brought up.  The furies spelled their case as did Orestes.  The jury was evenly divided so Athena casted her vote for Orestes. Furious, the furies claimed that they would spread their poisons over Athens, causing fruitlessness and famine.  But Athena persuaded them to recede from such desires with promises of the worshiping of the furies by Athenians.

Who’s law is more powerful here?  It seems to be the Olympians’.  In the plays, a lengthy cycle of revenge and blood-guilt taking place in Orestes’ family.  Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Clytaemnestra killed her husband for his action, Orestes avenged his father with the death of his mother, and the furies hunted down Orestes.  As stated, a string of death is intertwined with revenge and guilt that was only ended by the decision of a court.

What can we conclude from the ethical causes and effects of the poem Works and Days and the plays of The Oresteia?  Works and Days‘ advises people to be moral and ethical or face the judgment of Zeus’ justice.  Additionally, it gives what Hesiod believes as proper ways to live and build up capital.  One of its wise statements was that it is a hard road to prosperity, but, once there, Zeus blesses the prosperous with easy living and success (paraphrased).  The Eumenides’ ethics were more grounded on which gods’ laws to follow.  I deemed that the Olympian’s laws were more revered and respected than the furies’.  Orestes won out in the end because of the system of justice that an Olympian god devised rather than traditional sanctions of the underground gods.


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