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Essential, but not necessarily enjoyable
on 1 July 2015
This is one of those books that are incredibly hard to ascribe a star rating to. Did I enjoy reading it? I mean, there were bits that I enjoyed - the list of superstitions at the end of Works and Days, for example - and there were bits that I had to trudge through like I was wading through soup. Of course, much of that is because I'm coming at this text as a modern reader, used to reading fast paced novels, with nuanced characters and intricate plots. Hesiod, being very much not a modern writer, writes in a style that we've now come to find incredibly dry and quite hard going in places.
However, the influence that this work has had, both on our knowledge of Ancient Greece (specifically the beginning of Archaic Greece, given the time frame of around 750BC in which Hesiod was likely writing) and indeed on Western literature as a whole mean that it feels a little like blasphemy to give this work a low rating.
It's thanks to Theogony that we know the widely accepted canonical genealogy of the gods, including the primordial deities, the Titans and the gods of Olympus, and it's thanks to Works and Days that we have an idea of some of the more ancient civilisations of Greece, described and mythologised by Hesiod as the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages, but widely believed to refer to previous civilisations. Works and Days also gives us an invaluable insight into the daily lives of Hesiod's contemporaries, including their livelihoods, their cultural practices, their beliefs and their rituals.
It shows us too the origins of some more unsavoury cultural practices that are still with us today - it's quite clear that women do not enjoy a particularly high status, with Hesiod using the myth of Pandora in Theogony to blame women for all of mankind's ills, and expanding upon this theme in Works and Days to describe how women are a bane on men, eating food and taking up resources that men could otherwise keep for themselves. I'm not saying that we still live in a culture that views women like this, but I'm also not saying that we're not.
Despite the difficulty of rating this work, I've given it a medium 3 stars - 2 stars for the archaic readability and for the chip on my shoulder I admittedly have about Hesiod's gnawing misogyny, and 4 stars for everything else.