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The Interpretation of Human Suffering Hesiod’s Poem, Works and Days

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Human Suffering

In Hesiod’s The Works and Days, he identifies human suffering in its many forms and explains why humans seem to live bleak, painful lives. He suggests that one man stealing from, and thus angering, Zeus was the main cause for humankind’s suffering. He also elaborates that mankind was not always a bad race. He tells readers about the ages that came before the age he was currently in—the Iron age. Hesiod tells readers about why humankind experiences suffering and what suffering is to him through poetry and mythology.

Hesiod identifies human suffering as a mixture of several things. He says that humans are cursed to work hard their whole lives, fall ill, live in pain, and live as a blend of both good and bad, “Neither day nor night will give them rest as they waste away with toil and pain. Growing cares will be given them by the gods, and their lot will be a blend of good and bad” (Hesiod 193). Men are cursed to waste away working their land and growing crops. They have to work their whole lives to be able to survive. They’ll grow old and weak and eventually die a painful death.

But why has humankind been cursed to live life this way? In the early days of civilization, a powerful, devious mortal named Prometheus decided to steal fire for humans. Fire is, of course, a symbol of knowledge. Prometheus stole the fire and hid it away from Zeus, and as punishment, the king of gods punished mankind with the gift of Pandora. Pandora was a beautiful young woman crafted of earth and water and given by each of the gods a gift of some kind. Athena taught her to weave, Aphrodite gave her beauty, Hermes gave her a treacherous nature and the ability to lie. She was made to be beautiful and innocent. She was given as a gift to Epimetheus, who was warned by Prometheus to never accept a gift from Zeus, for it may be evil. Epimetheus accepted the gift, despite Prometheus’s warning, and Pandora opened a jar, releasing all evil, “Hope was the only spirit that stayed there in the unbreakable closure of the jar, under its rim, and could not fly forth abroad, for the lid of the great jar closed down first and contained her; this was by the will of the cloud-gathering Zeus of the aegis;” (Hesiod 190). Hope was all that was not released unto mankind, leaving the species hopeless.

Suffering for mankind was not always prevalent. There existed a species of man before the Iron age that were superior and experienced little or no suffering. The Golden age existed in the reign of Kronos, father of Zeus, and these humans lived happy, carefree lives, feasted as much as they wanted, were without the pains of old age, and died a painless, sleeplike death. After the Golden age, there also lived a divine race of heroes, called demigods, that came just before the Iron age. They were all wiped out in battle and by evil and thus started the age of Iron.

Hesiod lived in the Iron age and, supposedly, so does current mankind. Humans live in an age of suffering, pain, and hard labor, perhaps all because of the will of Zeus. “So there is no way to avoid what Zeus has intended” (Hesiod 191).

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