Fraternal conflict in Hesiod's Works and Days

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In addressing his brother, Hesiod departs from traditional didactic models we know from the Near East which are usually based on father/son or teacher/pupil relationships. This paper argues that Hesiod chooses a brother as his addressee because this better fits what he wants to teach, and how he wants to teach it.
Works and Days is an Iron-Age poem, and Hesiod an Iron-Age poet – though he would rather not be (174-5). The Iron Age is a time of conflict: men are at odds with the earth (176-8), and women are at odds with men (586-7); children will be at odds with parents, guests with hosts and brothers with brothers (182-4). Hesiod needs to teach us how to manage the Iron-Age condition, and so he establishes a didactic framework itself rooted in a conflict – the quarrel with Perses.
Throughout Works and Days self-sufficiency is consistently foregrounded as the ideal way of managing the Iron-Age condition. To instil this ideal, Hesiod employs a didactic method based on intellectual self-sufficiency: he encourages thinking for oneself and reaching conclusions independently. This is best channelled through a sibling: someone of supposedly equal standing; someone who feels at liberty to question and to protest against injustice. Much of Hesiod’s advice brings to mind that typical sibling complaint “But it’s not fair!”
However, self-sufficiency creates a fundamental tension with the didactic thrust of the poem, as teaching inevitably involves a relationship of exchange. To negotiate this apparent contradiction, Hesiod must also retain didactic authority and moral control. To this end, through a series of mythical paradigms he casts himself as the elder, better, brother.
Just like Hesiod’s didactic project, poised precariously as it is between autonomy and dependence, the relationship between brothers strikes a delicate balance between equality and hierarchy. Hesiod chose such a didactic model to invite conflict – but only insofar as it might lead to consensus.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConflict and Consensus in Early Hexameter Poetry
EditorsPaolo Bassino, Lilah Grace Canevaro, Barbara Graziosi
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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