Hesiod’s Warning to Judges & Legislators

Hesiod, Works & Days, 213-224

O Perses, hear what is the right way
and do not add to the sum of its violations.
action contrary to right is always bad for an ignoble man,
but even a good man can’t readily bear it:
it mixes with madness and the burden crushes him.

the better path goes round the other way,
towards justice:
for right prevails over injustice
until the very end.
only by suffering does a fool learn this.
so, in the meanwhile, Oath rushes to crooked judgments,
never missing a beat.

but there are confused cries when Justice is hauled
where bribe-devouring men in congress
hand down corrupt judgments.
and there’s a ruckus when mist-shrouded Justice
goes into the capitol and the other places men gather,
bringing misfortune to people,
the ones, that is, who would drive her away
and who are not square in their dealings.

ὦ Πέρση, σὺ δ᾽ ἄκουε δίκης, μηδ᾽ ὕβριν ὄφελλε:
ὕβρις γάρ τε κακὴ δειλῷ βροτῷ: οὐδὲ μὲν ἐσθλὸς
ῥηιδίως φερέμεν δύναται, βαρύθει δέ θ᾽ ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς
ἐγκύρσας ἄτῃσιν: ὁδὸς δ᾽ ἑτέρηφι παρελθεῖν
κρείσσων ἐς τὰ δίκαια: Δίκη δ᾽ ὑπὲρ Ὕβριος ἴσχει
ἐς τέλος ἐξελθοῦσα: παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.
αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει Ὅρκος ἅμα σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν.
τῆς δὲ Δίκης ῥόθος ἑλκομένης, ᾗ κ᾽ ἄνδρες ἄγωσι
δωροφάγοι, σκολιῇς δὲ δίκῃς κρίνωσι θέμιστας.
ἣ δ᾽ ἕπεται κλαίουσα πόλιν καὶ ἤθεα λαῶν,
ἠέρα ἑσσαμένη, κακὸν ἀνθρώποισι φέρουσα,
οἵ τε μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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