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Hesiod’s Ascra

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Hesiod’s Ascra
    Book Description:

    InWorks and Days,one of the two long poems that have come down to us from Hesiod, the poet writes of farming, morality, and what seems to be a very nasty quarrel with his brother Perses over their inheritance. In this book, Anthony T. Edwards extracts from the poem a picture of the social structure of Ascra, the hamlet in northern Greece where Hesiod lived, most likely during the seventh century b.c.e. Drawing on the evidence of trade, food storage, reciprocity, and the agricultural regime as Hesiod describes them inWorks and Days,Edwards reveals Ascra as an autonomous village, outside the control of a polis, less stratified and integrated internally than what we observe even in Homer. In light of this reading, theconflict between Hesiod and Perses emerges as a dispute about the inviolability of the community's external boundary and the degree of interobligation among those within the village.Hesiod's Ascradirectly counters the accepted view ofWorks and Days,which has Hesiod describing a peasant society subordinated to the economic and political control of an outside elite. Through his deft analysis, Edwards suggests a new understanding of bothWorks and Daysand the social and economic organization of Hesiod's time and place.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92957-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-29)

    Works and Dayspresents a double social dynamic. On the one hand the poem is animated by a contrast between village and city, Ascra and Thespiae—or so I assume—built around the figures of Hesiod and thebasilēes,or “kings.” This opposition structures the opening appeal to Perses (W&D27–41) in which Hesiod advises that he stick to the farm and avoid theagorē,where the kings preside over disputes. On the other, the opposition between the poor and the prosperous—a slender difference, as I shall argue, for Hesiod’s small world—has also left a deep imprint...

  6. 2 External Relations: Ascra and Thespiae
    (pp. 30-79)

    In this section of my argument I wish to cover four topics, the conflict between Perses and Hesiod, trade between Ascra and the outside world, arrangements for pooling of village resources, and general relations between Ascra and Thespiae. As a starting point, however, it will be useful to examine the main points of the arguments of Édouard Will, whose work has been so influential, and of David Tandy, who offers a recent and powerful development of this approach, since these focus especially upon the relations of Hesiod and Ascra with Thespiae.

    Explaining Hesiod’s situation from Solon’s diagnosis of the situation...

  7. 3 Internal Relations: Ascra as Community
    (pp. 80-126)

    There is, then, little inWorks and Daysto support the contention that the lords of Thespiae exercised much influence over Ascra at all, let alone held its inhabitants in thrall to debt and rent or dominated them as a subservient peasant class. I wish now to consider the evidence provided by Hesiod for the internal organization of his community. In the first place I will consider the organization and priorities of the individual household and in the second the mode of integration of these individual households into more complex structures.

    I do not mean to suggest, however, by the...

  8. 4 The Agricultural Regime of Works and Days
    (pp. 127-158)

    In my view the evidence fromWorks and Daysleads to the conclusion that Hesiod’s Ascra was neither very centralized nor very hierarchized as a community. It is generally agreed that social complexity is intimately connected with the factors of agricultural regime and population density. Johnson and Earle argue that integration and stratification in a community are preceded by subsistence intensification that is itself the result of population growth.¹ A growing population after all must be fed. Initially, then, new land is taken under cultivation at the existing level of intensity in order to meet a growing demand for food....

  9. 5 The Shape of Hesiod’s Ascra
    (pp. 159-175)

    Donlan (1982, 1989, and 1998) has characterized the Homeric polity as a low-level chiefdom. The Homeric chieftain’s ability to coerce his followers is in fact quite limited and the primary source of his authority is his generosity. The chief obliges his followers, including other chiefs where possible, within a system of generalized reciprocity, the apex of which he occupies. Thebasileusthus serves a redistributive role, at least among his followers, hishetairoi.¹ Donlan’s analysis, however, also shows the Homeric chiefdom to be inherently unstable and its hierarchy in constant danger of disintegrating into a regime of balanced reciprocity. Homeric...

  10. 6 Persuading Perses
    (pp. 176-184)

    Readers ofWorks and Dayshave recognized the importance of the contrast Hesiod builds up in the poem between the village and the polis. In fact, it is the weight given this topos inWorks and Daysthat has, in my view, led astray most attempts to reconstruct its historical context. My own argument that this opposition is not primary but is governed by that between the prosperous and the needy within the village should in no way, moreover, be understood as denying to the village/polis contrast its prominence. In analyzing the relationship between these two topoi—poor/prosperous and village/polis—...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 185-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-208)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)