Hesiod: general information + summary of the Works and Days

Hesiod: probably lived about 700 BCE (an educated guess, but not a certainty: our translator, M.L. West, thinks he preceded Homer and flourished circa 730-700 BCE). The way we guess is to use language and ancient testimony, neither of which is entirely reliable. In fact, the ancient testimony tells us 1) that Homer and Hesiod had a contest, and 2) that Hesiod lived before Homer (Ephoros fragment FGrH 70 F 101).
But most scholars date Hesiod after Homer, 1) because Hesiod's poetry has fewer formulaic usages that indicate an origin in a time of orality, and 2) because Hesiod's poetry seems closer in spirit to lyric poets who we know were later.

It seems clear that Hesiod was a real person, not just a link in a chain of traditional singers as Homer may have been. The individuality of Hesiod shines through in his works.

He wrote three works-the Theogony , the Works and Days, the Catalog of Women (fragmentary), and possibly a poem called the Shield, which describes the shield of Hercules, and is clearly based on the description of the shield of Achilles from Iliad 18. The Catalog of Women, also called the the Ehoien ("or the woman who") which is a title taken from the frequently repeated introduction of a new woman with the words "or the woman who," builds on the end of the Theogony and attempts to do for heroes what the Theogony does for the gods.

Strictly speaking, what we know of Hesiod's life is almost entirely derived from his poems, and so is utterly suspect ( cf. the contest with Homer-it may be based in his singing at the funeral games of Amphidamas)-it may not reflect an actual person's life at all-it could be purest fiction.

But nonetheless, the simplest hypothesis is that there was a man named Hesiod who is reporting facts of his life in the poems attributed to him. What he says about himself is that his father was from Asia Minor, a town called Kyme (WD 633), that he received a calling to be a poet on the side of a mountain (Theog. 22f. Erg. 658), he took part in funeral games for Amphidamas in Chalcis (compare the funeral games for Patroclos which Achilles set up in the Iliad), and he had a brother Perses who evidently was not much of a farmer, preferred to have fun in town, and whom he thinks both wronged him in the division of their father's estate and bribed the judges who heard the case.

The funeral games for Amphidamas were in all likelihood celebrated during the Lelantine war (the one in which Lefkandi, the rich dark age site we spoke of, was likely destroyed). Plutarch refers to the death of Amphidamas (schol. vet. in Hesiodi opera et dies, 206, 2-3).

Summary of Works and Days

Opening: invocation of Zeus and the Muses (1-8)
Zeus as supreme ruler and source of human societal order.

2 strifes (11-26): a correction of Theogony 225.
destructive and constructive competition.

Instruction of Perses (27-41): Perses is the poet's brother
work hard, don't go to town and mess with the aristocracy (i.e. the gift-devouring judges)
picture of everyday life for a farmer

Aetiologies (42-105)
Aetiology of working for a living, ills for humankind, sacrifice, and fire (42-58)

Aetiology of women: Pandora (59-105)
Aetiology of ills for humans

Myth of the races: anthropology (106-201)

Hawk and Nightingale(202-212)

Further moral instruction for Perses (213-)
rights and wrongs: violence v. non-violence, oath-keeping v. oath breaking, bribe-swallowing/crooked verdicts v. straight justice, honoring visitors (213-225)
for those who follow straight justice, prosperity results, but for those who are wicked, retribution somehow occurs (226-248)
More specific to Perses and Hesiod: The bribe-swallowing lords will suffer eventually, even if they are prevailing now: Zeus decrees that: Perses, follow right (249-285)
Reward for hard workers
Punishment for those who turn to violence, laziness, and brutal deeds.
Choice of two paths (286-292)
Three ways to live (293-297)
Working hard is the best option (298-319)
Don't steal, don't wrong suppliants and visitors, don't mount others' women, don't wrong orphans, respect old parents: if you do, Zeus will get you. Sacrifice, proptitiate, libate. (320-342)
How to treat your neighbors (342-360)
Save (361-367)
Various maxims: casks, trust but verify, single child, arse-rigged woman (368-381)

DAYS (382 to the end of the work) (the second half of the Works and Days, so-called because it has prescriptions for when to do certain tasks):
Agricultural advice tied to the calendar with interspersed moral advice along the same lines as the WORKS portion.