When I first began teaching in 1969 there was, apart from Evelyn-White’s Loeb edition (rev. 1936), only one English translation of Hesiod readily available for classroom use—Richmond Lattimore’s. 1 Lattimore was for many years the premier translator from Greek in the English-speaking world, and his Hesiod is an excellent version. However, it lacks commentary, ( Works and Days, but not Theogony, is equipped with a very terse running precis on the left facing the translation on the right). This is a serious drawback, since Hesiod, in his subject matter, literary genre, social and cultural milieu, style, and vocabulary, requires commentary or at least light annotation more than Homer or Greek tragedians or most other authors commonly read in college classes. In the past two decades or so, this requirement has been fulfilled—for both the Works and Days and the Theogony—by no less than five new translations-with-commentary: viz., Wender, Athanassakis, Fraser, West, Lombardo/Lamberton. 2 For the Works and Days, there is now a sixth choice, one that is both distinctive and, for a particular audience, preferable to its predecessors.
The first advantage of this edition is the special expertise of its authors. David Tandy is a classical philologist at the University of Tennessee; his specific interests in the ancient world are indicated in the titles of books he has authored or edited: From Political Economy to Anthropology: Situating Economic Life in Past Societies (1994), Warriors into Traders: The Power of the Market in Early Greece (1997). Tandy’s co-author (and Tennessee colleague), Walter Neale, is emeritus professor of economics and author of Economic Change in Rural India: Land Tenure and Reform in Uttar Pradesh, 1800-1955 (1962) and Developing Rural India: Policies, Politics, and Progress (1990). Both men are disciples of the economic historian Karl Polanyi, whose substantivist theories of economy were developed during his tenure at Columbia between 1946 and 1958. Polanyi was the animating spirit of a group dedicated to the study of economic aspects of institutional growth; Moses Finley was one of the participants in that group. 3
Naturally, given their background as scholars, the authors approach Hesiod from a decidedly socioeconomic angle. But Tandy’s command of the philological side of Hesiodic scholarship ensures that the concerns and results of more traditional, literary investigations of the Greek poet are not neglected. The 48-page Introduction competently addresses all the usual issues of authorship, date of composition, poetic style, generic classification, author’s persona, parameters of the (fictive or biographical) mise-en-scene of advice to Perses, and so on. Rated purely on the detail and quality of its handling of such topics, the Introduction matches the best of the other editions mentioned above, though Frazer also has a valuable brief discussion of the influence of Near Eastern wisdom literature, and Lamberton is stronger on religion.
However, the real contribution of the Introduction (as of the Commentary) is its discerning reconstruction of Hesiod’s historical and socioeconomic milieu. A section entitled “The World of Hesiod’s Time” provides a good brief synopsis of changing economic and political conditions during the millennium or so from late Bronze Age through Dark Age to early Archaic, with a useful discussion of the role of leaders designated as basilees in early Greek poetry (adroit comparisons to the leadership system in India before the British). Especially well-taken are the comments (pp. 22-25) on the differences between, on the one hand, the Mycenaean Era and “on a reduced scale” the Dark Age, when “the production and provisioning of goods was centrally organized in redistributive systems,” and, on the other, Hesiod’s own time when “trade was growing important, as were markets, but neither the trade nor even a single one of the markets [was] … part of a self-regulating market system ….” The authors make pertinent comparisons with market conditions in Assyria and Babylonia, at Tilmun (Bahrain), Al Mina, and Tyre.
The section entitled “Hesiod’s Daily Bread” treats topics bearing more closely on the daily round of farm life: agricultural equipment, storage, the cycle of seasonal tasks, transport, crop failure, the problem of debt, and so on. Especially interesting is the (duly cautious) calculation of the likely size of Hesiod’s oikos : “ten or twelve adult equivalents … needing upwards of 6,000 pounds of grain each year.” This required fifteen acres if a three-field system was used, twenty if a two- field system. “Then we should allow some additional acreage for vegetables …, vines, and some olive and fruit trees. Hesiod’s oikos thus contained 25, and perhaps more than 30, acres” (p. 30). Such information adds depth to Hesiod’s poem by strengthening the reader’s grasp of the economic realities of life for small farmers in late eighth-century Boeotia. The distinctive contribution of Tandy and Neale is their insistence that this world is “without an economic center that benefits those in Hesiod’s position,” a world in which “Hesiod and his neighbors are forced to fend for themselves by banding together and aspiring to autarky within their independent oikoi” (p. 37). This goes far to account for the sense of embattlement that pervades the Works and Days.
The last section of the Introduction, “Hesiod and His Brother: The View from the Periphery,” proceeds by short semantic-field studies of certain crucial terms as they relate to Hesiod’s representation of Perses and his plight: chrea, dike, and more briefly, kerdos (also treated earlier in the Introduction), neikos, and agora. The authors also summarize and indicate their agreement with or dissent from the work of such influential scholars as Gernet, Will, and Detienne.
Tandy did the translation with input from Neale, who would “read … balk, question, and suggest.” The translation and commentary are presented on facing pages, a format much preferable to endnotes (Wender, Athanassakis, West, Lombardo/Lamberton) or alternating text and comment (Frazer). The rendition is, like West’s, prose, with little aspiration to stylistic finesse (West uses verse for some of the proverb sequences and sometimes deliberately makes Hesiod sound “a little quaint and stilted”). It is very literal, meant as “a working translation, a tool for serious sociological analysis of a terribly important point in human history” (p. xii). To this end, some words are left untranslated: dike, basileus, chrea, and kerdos because they are impossible to pin down in one English word; oikos, polis, agora because they are “highly specific to ancient Greece.” All these words are discussed in the Introduction.
Thus, at lines 33-41, we read: “When you [Perses] have collected your fill of sustenance, then you might support wranglings and contentions over the possessions of others. You will never have a second chance to do these things: right here let us settle our wrangling with straight dikai, which are from Zeus and best. For we had already distributed the holding, but you snatched and carried off many other things, energetically feeding the pride of gift-eating basilees, who are willing to propose a dike in this case.” This is accurate and workmanlike, though “energetically” is nice for
The commentary provided in this edition is fuller by far than those of its competitors (all of which include the Theogony), and draws on the best current scholarly work, including the large-scale commentaries by West (1978) and Verdenius (1985). As an example, lines 33-41 are equipped with six notes running nearly two full pages in a smaller font than the translated text. The notes address in some detail matters of semantics (the meaning of kleros /”holding”), syntax (the temporal and locative force of “right here”), ambiguity (in the epithet “gift-eating”), obscurity (regarding the nature of the dike), choice of words (what mega kudainon means literally), and botany (mallow a common herbal laxative, asphodel “a barely edible root”). The user is also referred to loci similes and to relevant secondary material (e.g., Gagarin on dike). By contrast, besides the inevitable identification of mallow and asphodel, Wender and West have no comment; Frazer explains the proverbial background of the notion of “gift-eating” nobles acting as judges; Athanassakis identifies the “kings” as “no more than local nobles with political as well as juridical authority,” and explains the proverbial nature of lines 40-41; Lamberton informs that the feud between Hesiod and Perses is a lawsuit over inheritance and observes that the mention of “bribe-eating lords” gives us “the first glimpse of the structure of Hesiodic society.” This degree of difference in the level of annotation is typical.
A list of Works Cited and a (rather restricted) Index conclude the volume. There is no glossary of names, places, etc. like those to be found in most of the other editions mentioned above.
For an audience (say, freshmen in a classics survey course) needing only an initial encounter with a smooth, aesthetically pleasant English Works and Days, Lattimore or Wender may be better choices than the book under review. And, too, other editions give fuller attention to Near Eastern/Biblical and other literary parallels (Frazer and West), to religion (Lombardo/Lamberton), and to survivals and analogues in modern Greek customs and folklore (Athanassakis). But for students at a more advanced stage in their study of ancient history or early Greek poetry, Tandy/Neale is now the best choice. Professional scholars, too, will find in it much that is suggestive in a brief compass (at top value for the dollar).
1. Hesiod: The Works and Days, Theogony, The Shield of Herakles (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959).
2. Dorothea Wender (trans.), Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days. Theognis: Elegies (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973); Apostolos N. Athanassakis, (trans.), Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Shield (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983); R.M. Frazer (trans.), The Poems of Hesiod (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983); M.L. West (trans.), Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); Stanley Lombardo and Robert Lamberton (edd. and trans.), Hesiod: Works and Days and Theogony (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993).
3. See M.I. Finley, The Use and Abuse of History (1975; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), p. 117; also the “Editors’ Introduction” in M.I. Finley, Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, ed. B.D. Shaw and R.P. Saller (New York: Viking, 1982), p. xix.