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Essay/Term paper: Hesiod and virgil

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Expository Essays

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To work the land as a form of living and to gain sustenance as a result of this work, this is the issue addressed by both Hesiod in Works and Days and Virgil in The Georgics. However, while each poet advocates the same lifestyle, each poet's true meaning lies in what they hope to achieve through an agricultural existence. For Hesiod, a bucolic existence is a means of attaining plentiful stores, making life easier both socially and physically, as well as developing a closeness with the gods. On the other hand, Virgil felt that the life of a farmer was not just about attaining ample stores for living, but rather about developing a connection with nature, and ultimately achieving happiness as a result of this connection.

Throughout Works and Days, Hesiod discusses the proper approach to many aspects of farming. At the same time however, he makes constant references to various gods and goddesses, explaining their relation to whatever aspect of farming he is currently discussing, and continuing by illustrating the proper method of paying homage to these gods. The overall frame of mind held by Hesiod can be seen in lines 456 through 481. This passage begins with the work ethic held in such high esteem by Hesiod when he writes, "When ploughing-time arrives, make haste to plough."(pg. 73 l. 456) Constantly, Hesiod is making references to work ethic, describing idlers as men who will "wrestle with ruin all their days."(pg. 72 l. 407) The concept of idlers suffering at the hands of the gods surfaces frequently, as the lazy man is despised by both gods and men. In addition to the moral issues, Hesiod also focuses on the actualities of farming. He is constantly informing the reader on the approach to farming, and what to do during certain times of the year as well as what to do in certain situations. For instance, in the chosen passage, Hesiod writes, "And strike the oxen as they tug the straps. A slave should follow after with a stick to hide the seed and disappoint the birds."(pg.74 ll. 469-71) Here, Hesiod is simply describing the ploughing of the land and the deposit of seeds. All these explanations are conducive to the sole purpose of attaining plentiful stores. However, Hesiod does pay tribute to the gods, and he holds that prayers and sacrifices to the gods will have an impact on the farmer's success. This is evidenced when Hesiod writes, "Makes prayers to Zeus the farmer's god and to holy Demeter, for her sacred grain..."(pg.73 ll. 65-66) Finally, at the end of the passage, Hesiod describes the end result that is what motivates to begin with by writing, "If you proceed as I've described...You'll sweep the cobwebs from your storage jars...Till pale spring arrives...other men will come to you in need."(pg.74 ll. 73-81) This final part of the passage illustrates the most important concepts that Hesiod was presenting, for in trying to dissuade his brother from his lazy ways, Hesiod told Perses that he would have to beg from others in order to gain sustenance if his stores were not plentiful. This was the deeply grounded existence that Hesiod advocated. Work and you will be rewarded, and thus you are assured of a meaningful existence based upon self sufficiency intermingled with homage to the gods.
The motives behind Virgil's advocated lifestyle were very different from those of Hesiod. Nevertheless, the two did have many similarities in content, if not in meaning. Like Hesiod, Virgil spends much time concentrating on various "how to" aspects of farming. However, unlike Hesiod, Virgil's explanations mingle with obvious, reverent tributes to nature, achieved through vivid description. For example, when Virgil is advising ass to what pastures one should take their goats or cattle, he says, "Go seek the distant glades of rich Tarentum or pasture such as hapless Mantua lost that feeds white swans upon its reedy rivers."(pg.83 ll. 197-98) In similar circumstance, Hesiod would most likely have been much more straightforward, discussing specifics of what to look for rather than describe areas that are of obvious beauty, obvious nature. Virgil also held Hesiod's reverence of the gods, yet, unlike Hesiod, this was not a central area of focus. Virgil seemed to use the various gods and goddesses as extensions of nature, describing their powers in conjunction with the beauty of the land. However, this is not to say that Virgil did not believe in paying homage to the gods, as he frequently thanks certain gods for that which they have put upon the earth. However, despite these similarities, Virgil's true meaning can be found in the passage contained by lines 475-494 on pages 92-93. Within this passage, Virgil praises understanding, as he begs the Muses to teach him "to know the paths of the stars in heaven, the eclipses of the sun and the moon's travails, the cause of earthquakes..."(pg.92 ll. 478-80) and other various natural occurrences. Another concept that Virgil stresses that is apparent in this passage is the concept of fulfillment through an everlasting connection to nature. He looks for fulfillment in the country, the streams, the rivers, and the woods. This complete reverence of nature culminates when Virgil writes, "But happy too is the he who knows the gods of the countryside, knows Pan and old Silvanus and the sister nymphs."(pg.93 ll. 492-94) Here, Virgil states that true happiness comes not just from seeing and appreciating nature, but through understanding it as well, as the gods of nature stand for more than just the physical landscape itself. In nature, Virgil saw more than just a means for survival. He saw the means for spiritual sustenance in that purity. Virgil's disdain for the rise of civilization only serves to emphasize his beliefs, for at the end of book two he writes, "thus it was that Rome became the fairest thing in the world...This life was led on earth by golden Saturn. when none had ever heard the trumpet blown or heard the sword-blade clanking on the anvil."
So it becomes clear that despite their similarity in content, the two poets did have very different viewpoints on the nature of things. Hesiod perceived the cultivation of land as a means for physical survival, independence, and as a link to the gods. Virgil perceived the very same lifestyle as a means for attaining understanding and thus, spiritual wholeness. To Virgil, nature was uncorrupted, free of the proceedings that cause a man to lose his connection to nature and therefore lose himself.

 

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