Ethics of Hesiod

From Hesiod’s poem “Works and Days” one can start the ancient ethics. In Homer’s poems, people and gods are immoral. They have nothing sacred. There is only one virtue – bravery and only one vice – cowardice. Homer’s Odysseus is not at a loss in the choice of means. He does not know the pangs of conscience. He’s cunning. His cunning Odysseus inherited from his grandfather Autolycus – a deceiver and a thief. Later, in the V century. BC. E., in the play Sophocles “Filoktet” Odysseus is presented as a “complete scoundrel”. This indicates the development by that time of the ethical consciousness of the Hellenes, which begins precisely with Hesiod. Hesiod puts forward an important ethical thesis that the human being is different from the animal, that the animal does not know what is good and what is evil, but the person knows. Hesiod says: “Animals … do not know the truth. People gave the truth to Kronid – the highest good “(Proceedings and Days, 277-279). However, what happened in the life around Hesiod was contrary to human nature, and the ethical law of Zeus.

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Hesiod sharply expressed the contradiction between being and due. In fact, the situation is such that “today I myself would not be just myself among people, but I would also order my son” (ibid., 270-272). Hesiod cannot resolve this contradiction. He does not even have the idea of an afterlife. Reward and retribution are possible only in this world. Hesiod draws the image of a just state. It is flourishing. And the unjust state is dying. Also at the level of a person “in the end the righteous man is shamed” (217 – 218). But all this is only in obligation, in the present, ethical principles are often trampled upon. Hesiod remains only to express the hope that “Zeus does not always tolerate this” (273). The ethical code of Hesiod is reduced to the norm of observance of the measure. Hesiod teaches: “Take care in all things and do your deeds in time.” For Hesiod – a small proprietor-farmer – this meant compliance with thrift, calculation in everything, hard work. Even the relationship with the gods Hesiod subordinates the calculation: “Victims of the immortal gods bring in proportion to prosperity” (336). Ethical commandments of Hesiod include also the injunction not to offend the stranger, the orphans, the old father, not to commit adultery with the brother’s wife.

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The poem “Works and Days” was a great success in Hellas. It was preserved entirely – and precisely because for the ancient Greeks it was a treasure trove of ethical maxim and useful advice.

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