HESIOD’S WORKS & DAYS: How to teach self-sufficiency

By Lilah Grace Canevaro

OUP (2015) h/b 269pp £55.00 (ISBN 9780198729549)

In the context of a recent rise in interest in the 7th C BC farmer-poet Hesiod’s work, Canevaro makes an important contribution to the discussion. She provides a thorough commentary on the Works & Days from a thematic perspective, and by examination of different ideas surrounding the text concludes again and again that Hesiod’s purpose was twofold: 1) to produce a didactic work from a position of established authority; 2) to promote an independence and self-sufficiency in his audience. At first glance these purposes may seem contradictory, but C. skilfully shows how they actually co-exist happily.

C. starts by considering the context of performance for Works & Days and argues that the multiple addressees point towards multiple performance contexts, and suggests that we can find coherence in the text while at the same time enjoying it for its quotability. This quality is clear from the extent to which Hesiod is quoted in antiquity with both didactic and moral purpose, closely tied to the text.

In chapter 3, C. considers the Iron Age context and how fitting it is that we must work hard to understand what Hesiod is saying, just as the Iron Age requires hard work. She notes that, in contrast with his Theogony, Hesiod shifts away from reliance on the Muses (arguing that this is all of a piece with his emphasis on self-sufficiency), and then she explores the comparisons and contrasts between the two poems. For example, she discusses the different treatments of Pandora in the two poems, leading to a consideration of women in the Iron Age and the warnings Hesiod feels compelled to offer about them.

In chapter 4, C. looks at the methods Hesiod uses to encourage his audience to think for themselves. She looks at the choices he presents (whilst always highlighting the correct one!); his implication (through the Myth of Races) that his audience must listen to him if they want a better future; his use of deliberately ambiguous language and complex and ambiguous ideas to make his audience think for themselves; the long-term picture he presents in the light of which he argues for self-sufficiency and at the same time reciprocity.

In conclusion, C. argues that the two modes of reading the text which she advocates leave gaps for the reader to fill—in itself promoting self-sufficiency—and considers other ancient didactic texts which work much like Hesiod’s. She notes that Hesiod accepts that full self-sufficiency can never be a reality since man must rely e.g. on trade and the advice of a teacher such as himself, but she still sees in Hesiod the idea that both didacticism and self-sufficiency lead to character development.

C. assumes a fair knowledge of the Works & Days, and indeed some knowledge of Greek (not all of it translated), but her summaries of her analyses and thorough discussions of sources at the end of each section very successfully pull together the threads of what she is saying. The book is both accessible and of interest to the scholar and the general reader.

Penny Whitworth—RGS, Newcastle

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