The ethical cause and effect presented in Hesiod’s Works and Days compared with that of the Furies in The Eumenides

In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod says that we should be just in all our dealings. The reason for this is that if we are unjust, Zeus will punish us. In Greek religion, Justice is not just a concept, but is an actual god; like Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, or any of the others. In fact Justice is Zeus’ daughter, and Zeus is always listening to her. If anyone hurts her, Hesiod says, then she bothers Zeus until he punishes the offender. If you want to have a good life, he says, obey Zeus and the gods and sacrifice to them. If you are just, then you will have prosperity in your life. You do not want to make Zeus angry, because he is powerful and he might bring negative sanctions on you.

Hesiod says that there are two goddesses of strife. We are instructed to stay away from one goddess of strife and stay with another. One, Hesiod says, is harsh and cruel and brings war, battle, and the courts. The second is competition in the market, which is a good thing. The world has unlimited plenty, but the gods do not reveal it to mankind, so man must work for it. If we follow the path of the first goddess, then Zeus will punish us, because we are not being just. Zeus sees everything, and he has 30,000 spirits who report to him what is going on in the earth; so nothing escapes Zeus.

To follow in the path of the second goddess, we should know how to be competitive in the market and how to get wealth. What is needed is a house, a female slave to work, and hard work. There are many gods, and you need to know who to pray to. You need to pray to Zeus and Demeter, in particular, because they are the gods you have to deal with most as a farmer. Hesiod suggests that we work in the off-season so that we can gain even more capital for ourselves. He also suggests that we pay attention to the numbers of the days and to the omens of birds.

In Aeschylus’ play The Eumenides, The Furies seem to think of justice in somewhat similar terms, but there are a few differences. They think that they have authority given to them by the fates, and that no one can take away their authority. They see justice as a matter of vengeance, that if someone’s hands are clean, then they will not pursue that him and he will be unharmed all of his life. But, if someone murdered someone else, they will pursue that person until he is dead. If you want to have a good life, keep your hands clean. Their system of justice seems to be more vengeance-based than that of works and days.

The both appeal to people to be just in their dealings, but the main difference is who you are accountable to. According to the furies, man is under their jurisdiction because they are older and were given this authority by the fates. But the Olympian gods, who took over later and are mostly younger than the furies, think that they are in charge because they were awarded their jurisdictions by Zeus. Man has to deal with both systems of law by two different sets of gods, and they should be careful not to incur the anger of either set of gods and to do what they say.


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