What was Hesiod’s view of the mankind’s past and future?

Hesiod was a Greek poet assumed to have been active in 750-650 B.C..  Among his writings, he wrote a poem called “Works and days” in which he attempts to persuade his brother, Perses, to pay him his rightful share of the inheritance.  The poem is essentially divided into two sections, the first section provides ethical instruction in the way man should live.  The second section provides instruction for how men should live practically.  Hesiod tries to persuade Perses to listen to Zeus (the supreme god) rather than the courts, who may take bribes in making their decisions.  The persuasion of Perses was the purpose of this poem, but in persuading Perses, Hesiod shared his view of mankind’s past and future.

Hesios tells us that there were 5 ages in sequence of mankind.  We are the fifth race.  The first period, was the golden age.  Man lived luxuriously in a god-like lifestyle, men stayed young and healthy and saw no harm or despair.  The second period was the silver age.  These men, unlike the golden age, had to work, however, a child could play for up to 100 years before growing up.  The third period was the bronze age.  The people were made of bronze and lived in a bronze world.  The fourth period of mankind, were the demigods. The demigods were a god-like race of hero men, far more righteous and more noble than man.   Then, finally, there is the fifth period, the iron age.  The iron age is the era we live in now, and we are told by descriptions that this is the lowest of the 5 ages.

In terms of the future, we are told that we (the iron age) are ultimately doomed.  We are told that Zeus will destroy the Iron race, like he did all the others.  It is a pessimistic view, the iron race have nothing to hope for, because ultimately it will be destroyed.

While Hesiod provided this ultimate gloomy fate of men, he also said that men should have good ethic, and that men should pray to and rely on Zeus.  Hesiod gave reasons for short term optimism, but regarding the long term, he had only reasons for pessimism.  In this poem, he is telling mankind to live their lives in justice, and in hard work, but at death, it is over.  The only hope for mankind is death.

To live a prosperous life, according to Hesiod, man must pray to Zeus and live his life according to the will of Zeus.  If a person is unjust, Zeus will inflict sanctions accordingly.  To attain reward, humankind must live justly.  However, Zeus is inconsistent, he is not predictable.  If a supreme figure is not consistent in their laws of ethics, or in the sanctions inflicted based on those laws, then difficulty arises for the person trying to abide by said laws.  Man can attain short term reward, if he is able to please Zeus, but in the long term, there is only darkness and death to look forward to.

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