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An interpolation in Hesiod

January 27, 2012

In the Works and Days, after cataloguing the various means by which Zeus can learn of unjust behavior (and thereupon punish it) Hesiod concludes:

ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
οἷ τ’ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων,
ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη.
πάντα ἰδὼν Διὸς ὀφθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας
καί νυ τάδ’, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσ’, ἐπιδέρκεται, οὐδέ ἑ λήθει,
οἵην δὴ καὶ τήνδε δίκην πόλις ἐντὸς ἐέργει.

Guard against this, you kings, straighten out your speeches
you gift-eaters, and forget all about crooked judgments.
A man makes ills for himself when he makes ills for another,
And an ill counsel is illest for the counselor.
The eye of Zeus, which sees and notices everything
also beholds this now, if it wants to, and he does not escape him
what kind of justice this city actually contains. (Hes. Op. 263-9)

Lines 265-6 look, in Martin West’s words “like a pair of preexisting proverbs, not especially appropriate here, though one can see why they might come into Hesiod’s head.”  Although not normally given to aggressive athetization, I believe the lines in question were not present in the version of this passage which is responsible for its structure.  (I’m not sure, in the context of orally-derived works like Hesiod, “interpolated into the text” is the correct way to think about it.)  λάθεσθε in 264, in the context of the description of divine omniscience which proceeds it, invites a pun involving the active form of that verb, which means not “forget” but the “escape the notice of”; it practically begs the structure to be something like “forget about your crooked judgments, for you will not escape the notice of Zeus.”  But the active of λανθάνω does not actually appear until 268, by which point the linguistic force of the analogy has significantly dissipated.  This would be rectified if we were to simply excise the intruding maxims of 265-6, which makes the passage significantly smoother:

ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
πάντα ἰδὼν Διὸς ὀφθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας
καί νυ τάδ’, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσ’, ἐπιδέρκεται, οὐδέ ἑ λήθει,
οἵην δὴ καὶ τήνδε δίκην πόλις ἐντὸς ἐέργει.

Guard against this, you kings, straighten out your speeches
you gift-eaters, and forget all about crooked judgments.
The eye of Zeus, which sees and notices everything
also knows this now, if he wants to, and it does not escape him
what kind of justice this city actually contains. (Hes. Op. 263-9)

Or, to emphasize the parallelisms:

Guard against this and straighten out your speeches, you kings,
and forget all about crooked judgments, you gift-eaters.

The eye of Zeus, which sees and notices everything, also beholds this now, if he wants to,
and it does not escape him what kind of justice this city actually contains.

The parallelism here is practically Hebraic,(1) and the use of λανθάνω occurs in the second line of each doublet — exactly the kind of satisfying structure that was lacking in the lines before our emmendation.  The two maxims in the middle show a similar kind of doubling arrangement, but more clumsily executed, and without any specific connection to the other two

It is easy to see how the maxims — whose relation to the poem is a clear one — might have intruded.  If they are indeed interpolations, then they probably inserted from the margins, where some industrious soul had written them as comparanda.  Alternately, as West points out, it is easy to see how they might have come into a performer’s head, and he may (at a point when the text of this little bit, if not of the whole poem, was relatively fixed) have inserted them careless of the structure of the whole.

1. See West ad 225-47 for another example of the Semitic-style parallelism in Hesiod.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 6:05 am

    The more I read Hesiod, the greater my temptation to cut him up. The thing is chock-full of one-liners that could either go or stay; my instinct is frequently that the poem would be better off without them. This is, of course, part of its charm as a rambling little collection of folk-wisdom. But I do wonder what the result would be if one was relatively ruthless about it. This is common with Homer — West’s text is infamous for cutting out sections he doesn’t feel fit into a his vision of a very tightly-structured poem. Hesiod (of whom West is also an important editor, possibly the most important of this century) has been spared this treatment, possibly because we just don’t think he’s as good — there’s less temptation to remove things that are “unworthy of him.”

    But what if we did take our scissors to Hesiod? Perhaps we would notice more structures like the one I just tried to elucidate if we removed a certain amount of the detritus that the poem has gathered to itself over the years.

    I continue to be fascinated by a thesis that Jamie Redfield put forward on Monday (it’s in the category of things he introduces with “maybe I’ll write a paper about this someday,” so I may be letting the cat out of the bag here), which is that Hesiod’s Works and Days was the text through which everybody learned to read. His argument was that people in antiquity quote Hesiod with a greater frequency than any ancient author other than Homer, and yet there’s less obvious reason for them to do so. After all, if you owned one book in antiquity, it was Homer — if you owned another, it probably wasn’t Hesiod. Furthermore, the Homeric poems have all this institutional support at the great festivals, being recited every year in there entirety. We have some hints that rhapsodes recited Hesiod as well, but with nothing like the focus and regularity.

    Where, then, would the Greeks (by whom I mean, as always, wealthy and well-educated Athenians) get such a thorough familiarity with the man? Dr. Redfield’s answer was in the school-room, to which the moralizing content of the W&D was well-suited. I keep thinking of the similar use of Isaac Watts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Against_Idleness_And_Mischief) in the eighteenth and nineteenth century schoolroom. If its use was in the schoolroom, it would provide a motivation for the gradual accretion of extra maxims (which some industrious cultural mechanic wanted children to absorb with their letters) to a text which was originally more coherent, and a reason why the poem (of necessity now a written document and much less flexible than it would have been as an piece of oral culture) did not adapt around them.

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