Hesiod on Justice and the Corruption of Power (Works and Days, 256-273)

“Justice is a maiden who was born from Zeus.
The gods who live on Olympus honor her
and whenever someone wrongs her by bearing false witness
she sits straightaway at the feet of Zeus, Kronos’ son
and tells him the plans of unjust men so that the people
will pay the price of the wickedness of kings who make murderous plans
and twist her truth by proclaiming false judgments.
Keep these things in mind, bribe-swallowing kings:
whoever wrongs another also wrongs himself;
an evil plan is most evil for the one who makes it.
The eye of Zeus sees everything and knows everything
and even now, if he wishes, will look on us and not miss
what kind of justice the walls of our city protects.
Today, I wouldn’t wish myself to be a just man among men
nor my son, since it bad to be a just man
If anyone who is more unjust has greater rights.
But I hope that Zeus, the counselor, will not let this happen.”


ἡ δέ τε παρθένος ἐστὶ Δίκη, Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα,
κυδρή τ’ αἰδοίη τε θεοῖς οἳ ῎Ολυμπον ἔχουσιν,
καί ῥ’ ὁπότ’ ἄν τίς μιν βλάπτῃ σκολιῶς ὀνοτάζων,
αὐτίκα πὰρ Διὶ πατρὶ καθεζομένη Κρονίωνι
γηρύετ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀδίκων νόον, ὄφρ’ ἀποτείσῃ
δῆμος ἀτασθαλίας βασιλέων οἳ λυγρὰ νοεῦντες
ἄλλῃ παρκλίνωσι δίκας σκολιῶς ἐνέποντες.
ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων,
ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη.
πάντα ἰδὼν Διὸς ὀφθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας
καί νυ τάδ’, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσ’, ἐπιδέρκεται, οὐδέ ἑ λήθει
οἵην δὴ καὶ τήνδε δίκην πόλις ἐντὸς ἐέργει.
νῦν δὴ ἐγὼ μήτ’ αὐτὸς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιος
εἴην μήτ’ ἐμὸς υἱός, ἐπεὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον
ἔμμεναι, εἰ μείζω γε δίκην ἀδικώτερος ἕξει.
ἀλλὰ τά γ’ οὔπω ἔολπα τελεῖν Δία μητιόεντα.


Although he holds out the promise of a world governed by just and wise rulers in the Theogony, Hesiod laments the failure of those in power to uphold justice and judge those beneath them fairly in the Works and Days. Those in power or favored by power structures, it seems, have always had their own interests in mind.


Differences Between Kingship and Tyranny: Aelian, 2.20

“They say that Antigonus the king was popular and mild. It is possible for anyone who has the time to study about him to examine the very sources about the man. He will discover there that he was altogether kind and inoffensive, as I am about to explain. Antigonus, when he saw his son treating their subjects rather violently and rashly, said “Don’t you know, child, that our kingdom is merely a glorified slavery?” This word from Antigonos to his child was rather kind and humane. To whomever this is not the case, he seems to me to know neither what is kingly or political, but rather to have lived under a tyranny”

᾿Αντίγονόν φασι τὸν βασιλέα δημοτικὸν καὶ πρᾶον γενέσθαι. καὶ ὅτῳ μὲν σχολὴ τὰ κατ’ αὐτὸν εἰδέναι καὶ αὐτὰ ἕκαστα ἐξετάζειν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἀνδρός, εἴσεταιἑτέρωθεν• εἰρήσεται δ’ οὖν αὐτοῦ καὶ πάνυ πρᾶον καὶ ἄτυφον ὃ μέλλω λέγειν. ὁ ᾿Αντίγονος οὗτος ὁρῶν τὸν υἱὸν τοῖς ὑπηκόοις χρώμενον βιαιότερόν τε καὶ θρασύτερον ‘οὐκ οἶσθα’ εἶπεν, ‘ὦ παῖ, τὴν βασιλείαν ἡμῶν ἔνδοξον εἶναι δουλείαν;’ καὶ τὰ μὲν τοῦ
᾿Αντιγόνου πρὸς τὸν παῖδα πάνυ ἡμέρως ἔχει καὶ φιλανθρώπως• ὅτῳ δὲ οὐ δοκεῖ ταύτῃ, ἀλλ’ ἐκεῖνός γε οὐ δοκεῖ μοι βασιλικὸν ἄνδρα εἰδέναι οὐδὲ πολιτικόν, τυραννικῷ δὲ συμβιῶσαι μᾶλλον.

Half is Greater than the Whole: Hesiod on Corruption in the Courtroom

Works and Days, 27-41

“O Perses, keep these things in your mind
and don’t let the evil-hearted strife keep your heart from work
while you lurk about observing conflict in the assembly.
For the season of conflicts and assemblies is a short one
for any man whose life is not abundantly stocked at home
in time, when the earth produces Demeter’s bounty.
After you have made your fill of that, you can reap conflicts and strife
over another’s possessions. It will not be possible for you a second time
to act like this. But let us bring our conflict to a resolution,
with straight judgements, whichever ones are best from Zeus.
For we have already divided up our inheritence, but you
made off with much more as you kowtowed to bribe-taking
kings, the men who long judge this kind of case.
The fools, they do not know how much half is greater than the whole
Nor how much wealth is in mallow and asphodel.”

῏Ω Πέρση, σὺ δὲ ταῦτα τεῷ ἐνικάτθεο θυμῷ,
μηδέ σ’ ῎Ερις κακόχαρτος ἀπ’ ἔργου θυμὸν ἐρύκοι
νείκε’ ὀπιπεύοντ’ ἀγορῆς ἐπακουὸν ἐόντα.
ὤρη γάρ τ’ ὀλίγη πέλεται νεικέων τ’ ἀγορέων τε
ᾧτινι μὴ βίος ἔνδον ἐπηετανὸς κατάκειται
ὡραῖος, τὸν γαῖα φέρει, Δημήτερος ἀκτήν.
τοῦ κε κορεσσάμενος νείκεα καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλοις
κτήμασ’ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις. σοὶ δ’ οὐκέτι δεύτερον ἔσται
ὧδ’ ἔρδειν• ἀλλ’ αὖθι διακρινώμεθα νεῖκος
ἰθείῃσι δίκῃς, αἵ τ’ ἐκ Διός εἰσιν ἄρισται.
ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ’, ἄλλα τε πολλὰ
ἁρπάζων ἐφόρεις μέγα κυδαίνων βασιλῆας
δωροφάγους, οἳ τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δικάσσαι.
νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς
οὐδ’ ὅσον ἐν μαλάχῃ τε καὶ ἀσφοδέλῳ μέγ’ ὄνειαρ.

This passage occurs right after Hesiod has described the two different types of Eris. By implication, a man attended by the better strife works hard to put up his own food and does not have time to be sated by strife and conflict over someone else’s possessions (τοῦ κε κορεσσάμενος νείκεα καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλοις / κτήμασ’ ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις). Only after establishing these principles does Hesiod turn back to the personal conflict: they have already divided their inheritance (ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ’) but his brother has engaged bribe-taking officials to make a judgment against him to get more.