“No Mortal Could Rival Me In Work”: Some Greek Passages for Labor Day

laimPlutarch, Perikles 1.4 5-6

“Often and quite contrarily, we look down on a laborer while delighting in his work.”

πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.56-57

“His accuser claimed that he selected the most wretched lines from the most famous poets and used them as proofs to teach his followers to be evildoers and tyrants. He is said to have used the line from Hesiod “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” (WD 311) to claim that the poet exhorted not to refrain from any work, unjust or shameful, but to do everything for profit.

Socrates, although he might agree that it is good and useful for a man to be a worker and harmful and bad for him to be lazy—that work is good and laziness is bad—he used to say that being a worker required people to do something good. Gambling or any other immortal occupation which takes from others he used to call laziness. Within these parameters, Hesiod’s claim that “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” holds true.

ἔφη δ᾿ αὐτὸν ὁ κατήγορος καὶ τῶν ἐνδοξοτάτων ποιητῶν ἐκλεγόμενον τὰ πονηρότατα καὶ τούτοις μαρτυρίοις χρώμενον διδάσκειν τοὺς συνόντας κακούργους τε εἶναι καὶ τυραννικούς, Ἡσιόδου μὲν τὸ: ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος·
τοῦτο δὴ λέγειν αὐτὸν ὡς ὁ ποιητὴς κελεύει μηδενὸς ἔργου μήτ᾿ ἀδίκου μήτ᾿ αἰσχροῦ ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῦτα ποιεῖν ἐπὶ τῷ κέρδει.

Σωκράτης δ᾿ ἐπεὶ διομολογήσαιτο τὸ μὲν ἐργάτην εἶναι ὠφέλιμόν τε ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, τὸ δὲ ἀργὸν βλαβερόν τε καὶ κακόν, καὶ τὸ μὲν ἐργάζεσθαι ἀγαθόν, τὸ δ᾿ ἀργεῖν κακόν, τοὺς μὲν ἀγαθόν τι ποιοῦντας ἐργάζεσθαί τε ἔφη καὶ ἐργάτας εἶναι, τοὺς δὲ κυβεύοντας ἤ τι ἄλλο πονηρὸν καὶ ἐπιζήμιον ποιοῦντας ἀργοὺς ἀπεκάλει. ἐκ δὲ τούτων ὀρθῶς ἂν ἔχοι τὸ: ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος.

Hesiod Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι·

Image result for ancient greek harvest vase

The “Harvesters vase” from Agia Triada ( 1500-1400 BC). Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.15-16

“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”

Φασὶ δέ τινες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, καὶ ὅταν δῶρα διδῷ ὁ βασιλεύς, πρῶτον μὲν εἰσκαλεῖν τοὺς πολέμῳ ἀγαθοὺς γεγονότας, ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄφελος πολλὰ ἀροῦν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἀρήξοντες· δεύτερον δὲ τοὺς κατασκευάζοντας τὰς χώρας ἄριστα καὶ ἐνεργοὺς ποιοῦντας λέγοντα, ὅτι οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἱ ἄλκιμοι δύναιντο ζῆν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι. λέγεται δὲ καὶ Κῦρός ποτε, ὅσπερ εὐδοκιμώτατος δὴ βασιλεὺς γεγένηται, εἰπεῖν τοῖς ἐπὶ τὰ δῶρα κεκλημένοις, ὅτι αὐτὸς ἂν δικαίως τὰ ἀμφοτέρων δῶρα λαμβάνοι· κατασκευάζειν τε γὰρ ἄριστος εἶναι ἔφη χώραν καὶ ἀρήγειν τοῖς κατεσκευασμένοις.

Plutarch, fr. 43

“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”

Μηδεὶς λοιδορείτω τὸν στίχον εἰς τὸν πολυάρατον πλοῦτον ὁρῶν τὸν πόρρω τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐσκηνημένον, ἀλλὰ πλοῦτον οἰέσθω νῦν λέγεσθαι τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων πορισθεῖσαν ἀφθονίαν τοῖς ἐργαζομένοις δικαίαν οὖσαν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων πόνων ἠθροισμένην.

Pindar, Isthmian 1.47

“Men find different payment sweet for different work.”

μισθὸς γὰρ ἄλλοις ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἔργμασιν ἀνθρώποις
γλυκύς

Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

“Gods and men alike dislike a lazy man.”

τῷ δὲ θεοὶ νεμεσῶσι καὶ ἀνέρες ὅς κεν ἀεργὸς.

Archilochus fr. 307

“The trap does the sleeping fisherman’s work”

εὕδοντι δ᾿ αἱρεῖ κύρτος

Euripides, Hippolytus 189-190

“The life of men is wholly grievous, nor is there any release from toil.”

πᾶς δ’ ὀδυνηρὸς βίος ἀνθρώπων
κοὐκ ἔστι πόνων ἀνάπαυσις.

Homer, Odyssey 15.321-324

“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or heaping dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”

δρηστοσύνῃ οὐκ ἄν μοι ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος,
πῦρ τ’ εὖ νηῆσαι διά τε ξύλα δανὰ κεάσσαι,
δαιτρεῦσαί τε καὶ ὀπτῆσαι καὶ οἰνοχοῆσαι,
οἷά τε τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι παραδρώωσι χέρηες.”

Odyssey, 18.366-383

“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”

“Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ’ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη·
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ βόες εἶεν ἐλαυνέμεν, οἵ περ ἄριστοι,
αἴθωνες μεγάλοι, ἄμφω κεκορηότε ποίης,
ἥλικες ἰσοφόροι, τῶν τε σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνόν,
τετράγυον δ’ εἴη, εἴκοι δ’ ὑπὸ βῶλος ἀρότρῳ·
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις, εἰ ὦλκα διηνεκέα προταμοίμην.
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ πόλεμόν ποθεν ὁρμήσειε Κρονίων
σήμερον, αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ σάκος εἴη καὶ δύο δοῦρε
καὶ κυνέη πάγχαλκος ἐπὶ κροτάφοισ’ ἀραρυῖα,
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις πρώτοισιν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι μιγέντα,
οὐδ’ ἄν μοι τὴν γαστέρ’ ὀνειδίζων ἀγορεύοις.

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