Among the finest poets of ancient Greece was Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, who lived in the eighth century B.C. It is still a matter of dispute whether Homer or Hesiod was the earlier poet, and sometimes whether they were one and the same person! At any rate, Hesiod's incredible poetry serves as a major source for our understanding of Greek mythology, farming practices, time-keeping and astronomy. In and of itself, the
Works and Days is unparalleled in its richness and beauty, easily rivaling Homer.
Although many legends have accumulated around Hesiod, it is possible to piece together his biography from the poem itself. He was from Boeotia and had a small farm there. The Works and Days is directed at Hesiod's brother, Perses, who has instituted a corrupt lawsuit in order to wrest their father's land away. In this magnificent poem, Hesiod attempts to explain to his brother why his action is wicked, the importance of hard work, and the methods and timing necessary to the success of farm labor...the "works" and "days".
Essentially, the poem revolves about two general truths: those who are willing to work honestly will get by, and hard labor is the eternal lot of mankind. Hesiod urges his brother to work hard, honor the gods, and avoid idleness. In the process the poem delves into fascinating episodes of Greek mythology and also contains the first known Greek fable.
Two other poems accompany this piece: "Theogony" and "The Shield of Heracles", both attributed to Hesiod, not without dispute. "Theogony" concerns the origins of the world (Gaia), the genealogy of the gods, and how they came to rule from Olympus. "The Shield of Heracles" tells of the expedition of Heracles and Iolaus against Cycnus, though the main delight is the amazing description of the shield Heracles carries.