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.
δίζησθαι βιοτήν, ἀρετὴν δ᾽ ὅταν ᾖ βίος ἤδη
γῆς ἐπέβην γυμνός, γυμνός θ᾽ ὑπὸ γαῖαν ἄπειμι:
καὶ τί μάτην μοχθῶ, γυμνὸν ὁρῶν τὸ τέλος;
εὐμαρέως τοι χρῆμα θεοὶ δόσαν οὔτε τι δειλὸν
οὔτ ἀγαθόν: χαλεπῷ δ᾽ ἔργματι κῦδος ἔπι.
Hesiod. W&D. 309.
καὶ ἐργαζόμενοι πολὺ φίλτεροι ἀθανάτοισιν.
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.