Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The details of Hesiod’s biography at times overshadow his contributions to the literary tradition. Whether he was a contemporary of Homer (proven unlikely by careful linguistic analysis); whether he ever bested the author of the Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e.; English translation, 1611) and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614) in a poetry contest (equally unlikely); even whether the brother to whom Works and Days is addressed actually lived (a fact questioned skillfully by twentieth century scholar Gilbert Murray)—all are of little importance in comparison to his works, especially his long didactic poem on the joys and vicissitudes of the agricultural life. In Works and Days, Hesiod explains how the people of his day fit into a cosmos peopled by gods who interact frequently, if indirectly, with them and with the creatures of the natural world. His advice, sometimes philosophical, sometimes extremely practical, shows how one can live a life that can be at some times happy, at all times virtuous.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the significance of Hesiod’s accomplishment is to compare his work to that of Homer. The latter fills his stories with heroes and gods engaged in political and military struggles; personal bravery, cunning, and might serve as measures of greatness. By contrast, Hesiod focuses on the commonplace, on life outside the limelight...
(The entire section is 1536 words.)
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