“Ox-Skinning Days”: Hesiod’s Strange View of Winter

[Lenaion is the month that occupies the end of January and beginning of February.]

 Hesiod, Works and Days 504-528

“Avoid the month of Lenaion, terrible days, all of them ox-skinning,
Avoid it and the frosts which grow cruelly
Over the earth as Boreas blows them on.
Boreas, through horse-breeding Thrace and the wide sea
Raises the cold, blowing on, and the earth and trees whimper.
He fells many high-headed oaks and broad pines
As he leaps over the much-nourishing earths and forest glens,
And the whole forest roars then in anguish.
The beasts bristle, they tuck their tails beneath their legs,
Even those with skin covered in fur. He goes cold
Straight threw them, even when they are covered in wool.
He pierces an ox-hide which cannot hold him;
He blows straight through a thin-coated got. But not sheep—
No, because their hair is lush and thick, the might
Of the wind Boreas cannot pierce it. But it makes an old man
Curved. Boras does not touch the tender maiden’s skin
If she stays at home, inside, next to her dear mother,
Where she does not know the deeds of golden Aphrodite
As she bathes her fine skin and anoints with olive oil,
Rubbing herself down in the deepest room of her home,
On that day when the boneless cold grates his foot
In his fireless home and his harsh pastures.
No sun promises to rise on his pastures,
But he turns slowly on the countries and cities of
The darker men, and shines sluggishly for all the Greeks.”

Μῆνα δὲ Ληναιῶνα, κάκ’ ἤματα, βουδόρα πάντα,
τοῦτον ἀλεύασθαι καὶ πηγάδας, αἵ τ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
πνεύσαντος Βορέαο δυσηλεγέες τελέθουσιν,
ὅς τε διὰ Θρῄκης ἱπποτρόφου εὐρέι πόντῳ
ἐμπνεύσας ὤρινε, μέμυκε δὲ γαῖα καὶ ὕλη·
πολλὰς δὲ δρῦς ὑψικόμους ἐλάτας τε παχείας
οὔρεος ἐν βήσσῃς πιλνᾷ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ
ἐμπίπτων, καὶ πᾶσα βοᾷ τότε νήριτος ὕλη·
θῆρες δὲ φρίσσουσ’, οὐρὰς δ’ ὑπὸ μέζε’ ἔθεντο·
τῶν καὶ λάχνῃ δέρμα κατάσκιον· ἀλλά νυ καὶ τῶν
ψυχρὸς ἐὼν διάησι δασυστέρνων περ ἐόντων·
καί τε διὰ ῥινοῦ βοὸς ἔρχεται οὐδέ μιν ἴσχει,
καί τε δι’ αἶγα ἄησι τανύτριχα· πώεα δ’ οὔτι,
οὕνεκ’ ἐπηεταναὶ τρίχες αὐτῶν, οὐ διάησι
ἲς ἀνέμου Βορέω· τροχαλὸν δὲ γέροντα τίθησιν
καὶ διὰ παρθενικῆς ἁπαλόχροος οὐ διάησιν,
ἥ τε δόμων ἔντοσθε φίλῃ παρὰ μητέρι μίμνει,
οὔπω ἔργα ἰδυῖα πολυχρύσου ᾿Αφροδίτης,
εὖ τε λοεσσαμένη τέρενα χρόα καὶ λίπ’ ἐλαίῳ
χρισαμένη μυχίη καταλέξεται ἔνδοθι οἴκου,
ἤματι χειμερίῳ, ὅτ’ ἀνόστεος ὃν πόδα τένδει
ἔν τ’ ἀπύρῳ οἴκῳ καὶ ἤθεσι λευγαλέοισιν·
οὐ γάρ οἱ ἠέλιος δείκνυ νομὸν ὁρμηθῆναι,
ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ κυανέων ἀνδρῶν δῆμόν τε πόλιν τε
στρωφᾶται, βράδιον δὲ Πανελλήνεσσι φαείνει.

Boreas the north-wind | Athenian red-figure pelike C5th B.C. | Martin von Wagner Museum, University of Würzburg

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