Justice and the City


(Excerpts from the Works & Days)

Muses of the sacred spring Pieria
Who give glory through song,
Come here, tell of Zeus your father and chant his praise.
Through him mortal men are
Famed or unfamed, sung or unsung alike,
As great Zeus wills.
For easily he makes strong,
And easily he brings the strong man low;
Easily he humbles the proud
And raises the obscure,
Easily he straightens the crooked
And blasts the proud,--

Zeus who thunders aloft
And has his dwelling most high.

Attend thou with eye and ear,
And make judgments straight with righteousness.

And I, Perses, would tell of true things.

And now I will tell a fable for princes, who themselves understand.  Thus said the hawk to the nightingale with speckled neck, while he carried her high up among the clouds, gripped fast in his talons, and she, pierced by his crooked talons, cried pitifully.  To her he spoke disdainfully: "Miserable thing, why do you cry out?  One far stronger than you now holds you fast, and you must go wherever I take you, songstress as you are.  And if I please I will make my meal of you, or let you go.  He is a fool who tries to withstand the stronger, for be does not get the mastery and suffers pain besides his shame."  So said the swiftly flying hawk, the long-winged bird.

But you, Perses, listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man.  Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion.  The better path is to go by on the other side toward justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race.  But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this.  For Oath keeps pace with wrong judgments.

There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgments, take her.  And she, wrapped in mist, follows to the city and haunts of the people, weeping, and bringing mischief to men, even to such as have driven her forth in that they did not deal straightly with her.

But they who give straight judgments to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them.  Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care.  The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst.  Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents.  They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit.

But for those who practise violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Kronos, ordains a punishment.  Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Kronos lays great troubles upon the people, famine and plague together, so that the men perish away, and their women do not bear children, and their houses become few, through the contriving of Olympian Zeus.  And again, at another time, the son of Kronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

You princes, mark well this punishment you also; for the deathless gods are near among men and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgments, and reck not the anger of the gods.  For upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits, watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgments and the deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth.  And there is virgin Justice, the daughter of Zeus, who is honored and reverenced among the gods who dwell on Olympus, and whenever anyone hurts her with lying slander, she sits beside her father, Zeus the son of Kronos, and tells him of men's wicked heart, until the people pay for the mad folly of their princes who, evilly minded, pervert judgment and give sentence crookedly.  Keep watch against this, you princes, and make straight your judgments, you who devour bribes; put crooked judgments altogether from your thoughts.

He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.

The eye of Zeus, seeing all and understanding all, beholds these things too, if so he will, and fails not to mark what sort of justice is this that the city keeps within it.   Now, therefore, may neither I myself be righteous among men, nor my son--for then it is a bad thing to be righteous--if indeed the unrighteous shall have the greater right.  But I think that all-wise Zeus will not yet bring that to pass.

But you, Perses, lay up these things within your heart and listen now to right, ceasing altogether to think of violence.  For the son of Kronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right which proves far the best.  For whoever knows the right and is ready to speak it, far-seeing Zeus gives him prosperity; but whoever deliberately lies in his witness and foreswears himself, and so hurts Justice and sins beyond repair, that man's generation is left obscure thereafter.  But the generation of the man who swears truly is better thenceforward.

To you, foolish Perses, I will speak good sense.  Badness can be got easily and in shoals; the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us.  But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows; long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard.

That man is altogether best who considers all things himself and marks what will be better afterwards and at the end; and he, again, is good who listens to a good adviser; but whoever neither thinks for himself nor keeps in mind what another tells him, he is an unprofitable man.  But do you at any rate, always remembering my charge, work, high-born Perses, that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and fill your barn with food; for Hunger is altogether a meet comrade for the sluggard.  Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labor of the bees, eating without working; but let it be your care to order your work properly, that in the right season your barns may be full of victual. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance, and  working they are much better loved by the immortals.

Work is no disgrace: it is idleness which is a disgrace.  But if you work, the idle will soon envy you as you grow rich, for fame and renown attend on wealth.  And whatever be your lot, work is best for you, if you turn your misguided mind away from other men's property to your work and attend to your livelihood as I bid you.  An evil shame is the needy man's companion, shame which both greatly harms and prospers men: shame is with poverty, but confidence with wealth.

Wealth should not be seized: god-given wealth is much better; for if a man takes great wealth violently and perforce, or if he steals it through his tongue, as often happens when gain deceives men's sense and dishonor tramples down honor, the gods soon blot him out and make that man's house low, and wealth attends him only for a little time.  Alike with him who does wrong to a suppliant or a guest, or who goes up to his brother's bed and commits unnatural sin in lying with his wife, or who infatuately offends against fatherless children, or who abuses his old father at the cheerless threshold of old age and attacks him with harsh words, truly Zeus himself is angry, and at the last lays on him a heavy requital for his evil doing.  But do you turn your foolish heart altogether away from these things, and, as far as you are able, sacrifice to the deathless gods purely and cleanly, and burn rich meats also, and at other times propitiate them with libations and incense, both when you go to bed and when the holy light has come back, that they may be gracious to you in heart and spirit, and so you may buy another's holding and not another yours.

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