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Hesiod's Works And Days Dike Notes

Classics Notes > Early Greek Hexameter Poetry Notes

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What is the role of Dike in Hesiod's Works and Days?
The role of Dike in the Works and Days is essentially the protection of our humanity; it is needed to protect us from utter self-destruction and under it our societies can flourish. It is also needed to protect the rights of the weak against the arrogant claims of the strong; Hesiod has a special warning for the kings, whom Zeus will use Dike to punish if they step out of line. Even this punishment is a protection for our humanity; boundaries are needed because humans given free license ultimately destroy themselves. This means that Dike defines what it is to be human because without it we cannot exist and without it we are no different from the animals. At the beginning of the Works and Days Hesiod describes the five ages of men. The first is the golden race who leave in peace and luxury like the gods but they are ultimately swallowed by the earth; this is the best men ever have in on earth, from now on there is a gradual descent into the misery and cruelty which come to define the human race without Dike. The silver race lives a long and happy childhood but when they come of age they are unable to restrain themselves from crimes against each other and against the gods so Zeus is forced to destroy them and try again. The bronze race is far worse; they have hearts as hard as adamant and they are always occupied with war and violence, meaning that they ultimately utterly destroy themselves. The next race, that of the demigods, is more righteous than the two that preceded it but even so they too destroy themselves with ugly war and fearful fighting. However they have some saving graces; Zeus lets some of the most righteous among them live in the Isles of the Blessed, carefree for all time. This starts to show the advantages of following Dike, but it was still not enough for the demigods. Hesiod finally comes to our generation, the worst of all, into which the poet wishes he had never been born because it is nothing but constant misery and hard work for all men. He utters a grim prophecy and predicts that Zeus will eventually destroy us if we act violently and without justice like we have done in the past; "Fist law men; one will sack another's town, and there will be no thanks for the man who abides by his oath or for the righteous or worthy man, but instead they will honour the miscreant and the criminal. Law and decency will be in the fists. The villain will do his better down by telling crooked tales, and will swear his oath upon it". The only way to save ourselves from this future is to, as he tells Perses, obey Dike and follow her in all things; this is what will save us from self-destruction and prevent Zeus from destroying us just as has happened in the previous ages of man. Hesiod here presents a very grim picture indeed of what life will be like without Dike and by doing so he shows its fundamental role in protecting humanity; it is imperative that we do not allow ourselves to live in a world which is run by the cruel and evil sides of our own nature but rather we must strengthen Dike, the virtue which represents the innate goodness that also exists within humanity. The destruction of Zeus may be threatened but really we will have destroyed ourselves long before this by giving into our own unrestrained desires, in many ways the gods would be doing us a favour by relieving us from such a world; Dike is

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