Hesiod's Works and Days is one of the first poems in the canon of Western literature and the poet was highly respected in Ancient Greece. The eight century poem runs to a mere 30 pages in AE Stallings' translation.
Works and Days - which follows Hesiod’s earlier work Theogony - is in effect a vade mecum on how to get through life wisely and well. Planting and ploughing at the right time, using the stars in the night sky as a seasonal guide for farm chores, advice too about the sea and its moods and concerning shipbuilding too (should one choose to be a mariner rather than a farmer).
There are other practical nuggets, too. Bad too if loading your cart with too much weight,/You shatter the axle, and you spoil the freight. Ho hum, tell me something I don't know. Okay then, the following injunction - a bit more biting than mere advice - is closer to the bone, a lesson perhaps to us all: Talk’s evil – light and easily raised up, then/Hard to bear, hard to put down again;/For once on many tongues, Rumour’s abroad/Nor wholly dies; she too is a kind of god.
Hesiod was the first Greek poet to supply his own biography, and he lived in the area of Eastern Greece known as Boeotia in or around the eight century. His father was believed to have travelled from Asia Minor to settle there. The poet is pretty unillusioned about his home village of Askra in Boeotia: Bad in winter, harsh in summer, not/Ever pleasant is his crisply terse summation of what sounds even less than a one-horse town.
Work, toil, honest labour, according to Hesiod, `endears you to the Immortals’ - the Immortals being of course the Gods, who are frequently evoked as in Homer. The poem is believed to be addressed to Perses, who was apparently a bit of a wastrel younger brother to the poet. However, there are no flashes of anger in what is an often a lyrical, bucolic poem, quite different from the greater panoramic effect of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, which unlike Works and Days, are dynamic narrative poems, full of action.
The poem was in fact composed in what was very early Greek and marked the reintroduction of writing into Greece, following the end of the so-called Linear B style of writing as employed during the Mycenaean period - 1600–1100 BC - the earliest attested form of Greek.
Who came before whom in the pantheon of early Greek poetry? Translator AE Stallings is unsure, but is inclined to believe that Hesiod preceded Homer, as she suggests in a stimulating introduction to this illuminating poem.