Hesiod on Justice and the Corruption of Power (Works and Days, 256-273)

“Justice is a maiden who was born from Zeus.
The gods who live on Olympus honor her
and whenever someone wrongs her by bearing false witness
she sits straightaway at the feet of Zeus, Kronos’ son
and tells him the plans of unjust men so that the people
will pay the price of the wickedness of kings who make murderous plans
and twist her truth by proclaiming false judgments.
Keep these things in mind, bribe-swallowing kings:
whoever wrongs another also wrongs himself;
an evil plan is most evil for the one who makes it.
The eye of Zeus sees everything and knows everything
and even now, if he wishes, will look on us and not miss
what kind of justice the walls of our city protects.
Today, I wouldn’t wish myself to be a just man among men
nor my son, since it bad to be a just man
If anyone who is more unjust has greater rights.
But I hope that Zeus, the counselor, will not let this happen.”

 

ἡ δέ τε παρθένος ἐστὶ Δίκη, Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα,
κυδρή τ’ αἰδοίη τε θεοῖς οἳ ῎Ολυμπον ἔχουσιν,
καί ῥ’ ὁπότ’ ἄν τίς μιν βλάπτῃ σκολιῶς ὀνοτάζων,
αὐτίκα πὰρ Διὶ πατρὶ καθεζομένη Κρονίωνι
γηρύετ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀδίκων νόον, ὄφρ’ ἀποτείσῃ
δῆμος ἀτασθαλίας βασιλέων οἳ λυγρὰ νοεῦντες
ἄλλῃ παρκλίνωσι δίκας σκολιῶς ἐνέποντες.
ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
οἷ 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.
νῦν δὴ ἐγὼ μήτ’ αὐτὸς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιος
εἴην μήτ’ ἐμὸς υἱός, ἐπεὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον
ἔμμεναι, εἰ μείζω γε δίκην ἀδικώτερος ἕξει.
ἀλλὰ τά γ’ οὔπω ἔολπα τελεῖν Δία μητιόεντα.

 

Although he holds out the promise of a world governed by just and wise rulers in the Theogony, Hesiod laments the failure of those in power to uphold justice and judge those beneath them fairly in the Works and Days. Those in power or favored by power structures, it seems, have always had their own interests in mind.

 

2 thoughts on “Hesiod on Justice and the Corruption of Power (Works and Days, 256-273)

  1. Indeed one can only hope that justice and the eye of Zeus will see what’s going on and bring just retribution.

    The eye of Zeus could be the sun

    Zeus father from Ida Lord noblest greatest
    And Helios who sees all and hears all.

    Ζεῦ πάτερ Ἴδηθεν μεδέων κύδιστε μέγιστε,
    Ἠέλιός θ᾽, ὃς πάντ᾽ ἐφορᾷς καὶ πάντ᾽ ἐπακούεις

    Iliad 3.277

    Or something more

    τὸ μὴ δῦνόν ποτε πῶς ἄν τις λάθοι;

    How can anyone escape the notice of that which never sets.

    Heraclitus fragment 16

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