When the Going Gets Tough. . .

Would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards.  For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them . . . And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth.

Hesiod, the author of this gloomy prediction, lived in troubled times.  The glory days, if anyone could still remember them, had been four or five centuries earlier, when the offspring of the gods lived in their great palaces at Mycenae, Tiryns, and Boeotian Thebes.  The palaces had been burnt by invaders, and many of the Achaeans had fled.  Hesiod’s own village in rural Boeotia, like much of mainland Greece, was experiencing a continuous crisis.  Land was scarce and infertile, and prospects were bleak.  In a dispute over inheritance, Hesiod had lost out to his brother Perses, who had bribed the village chiefs to give judgment in his favor, and Hesiod directs much of this poem, Works and Days, to advising Perses against greed and contentiousness.  Hesiod may have been the first known writer, though by no means the last, to have converted personal misfortune into a general prophecy of doom.

Hesiod’s works are masterpieces of history.  History, remember, is not what happened...

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