Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: Hesiod, Works and Days, 217-229

“Oath runs right alongside crooked judgments.
But a roar comes from Justice as she is dragged where
bribe-devouring men lead when they apply laws with crooked judgments.
She attends the city and the haunts of the hosts
weeping and cloaked in mist, bringing evil to men
who drive her out and do not practice righteous law.
For those who give fair judgments to foreigners and citizens
and who do not transgress the law in any way,
cities grow strong, and the people flourish within them;
A child-nourishing peace settles on the land, and never
Does wide-browed Zeus sound the sign of harsh war.”

αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει ῞Ορκος 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 τέ μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.
οἳ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου,
τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις, λαοὶ δ’ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ·
εἰρήνη δ’ ἀνὰ γῆν κουροτρόφος, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτοῖς
ἀργαλέον πόλεμον τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·

Hesiod’s Works and Days, 265: on Justice

“The man who does evil against another harms himself.”

οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων

 

 

Perhaps (Plato’s) Socrates was thinking of this when he said “doing wrong is worse than suffering it“.

 

Of course, Hesiodic poetry is not always consistent (Fr. 286):

 

“If someone sows wrongs, he will reap wicked profits.

If he suffers what he has wrought, now that is straight justice.”

 

εἰ κακά τις σπείραι, κακὰ κέρδεά <κ’> ἀμήσειεν·

εἴ κε πάθοι, τά τ’ ἔρεξε, δίκη κ’ ἰθεῖα γένοιτο

 

But this description is not completely opposed to the first: one is about personal morality and the other is about a wish for punishment for someone else.

This eye-for-an-eye take on justice is one of the traditional notions epic poetry investigates and Plato’s interlocutors debate. Another, also from Plato, is the idea that justice is relative, merely the hegemonic privilege of those in power.