Why Bother with Work?

Phocylides (Fr.9) gives seemingly sensible advice about life and work:

Pursue a career,
And when you’ve settled in,
Pursue distinction too.

Palladas (Greek Anthology 10.58) pushes back. Given the nature of life, he needs a reason to bother:

I stepped onto the earth, naked,
And under the ground I’ll go, naked;
Why then do I work hard, pointlessly,
Seeing that the end is nakedness?

Theognis (463-465) says let the epic ideal of glory be the motivation:

The gods don’t give you anything,
Bad or good, just like that.
No, distinction rests on hard work.

Hesiod (Works & Days 309) says let the gods be reason enough:

Those who work are more loved by the immortals.

But Zora Neale Hurston (Letter to Burroughs Mitchell. Aug. 23, 1950) has a simple take most of us can relate to:

Tried to loaf but work haunts me.

Phocylides. Fr.9.

δίζησθαι βιοτήν, ἀρετὴν δ᾽ ὅταν ᾖ βίος ἤδη

Palladas. 10.58

γῆς ἐπέβην γυμνός, γυμνός θ᾽ ὑπὸ γαῖαν ἄπειμι:
καὶ τί μάτην μοχθῶ, γυμνὸν ὁρῶν τὸ τέλος;

Theognis. 463-465.

εὐμαρέως τοι χρῆμα θεοὶ δόσαν οὔτε τι δειλὸν
οὔτ ἀγαθόν: χαλεπῷ δ᾽ ἔργματι κῦδος ἔπι.

Hesiod. W&D. 309.

καὶ ἐργαζόμενοι πολὺ φίλτεροι ἀθανάτοισιν.

Why not get some writing done wherever
You happen to be, naked?

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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