Have we become the Men of Iron once more?

We have often thought that we have progressed in our society beyond what society was in the Classical Period and even the Pre-Christian Roman Empire. (This is, of course, based on the assumption that non-European societies were somehow more primitive than European — an assumption that I as the writer do not share). However, it seems like we have “reverted” to being like the Fifth Race of Man that Hesiod mentions in Works and Days,

[169c] And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another generation, the fifth, of men who are upon the bounteous earth.
[170] Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth. The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another’s city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis [shame of wrongdoing and indignation against the wrongdoer], with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.

Sadly, this passage is reminiscent of what seems to be going on in the world today. And, it is something that is also discussed further on in the same classical work where Hesiod discusses Justice and just behavior. In the following passage, Hesiod talks of both Justice and Outrage. He also counsels against giving in to Outrage.

JUSTICE AND GOOD CONDUCT

[212] 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 towards 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 judgements. There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgements, 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.

[225] But they who give straight judgements 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.

[238] But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Cronos lays great trouble 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 Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

This applies directly to our situation in the United States, where recently one the members of our House of Representatives (the equivalent of the Boule in Athens of the Classical Period) was shot by someone who had become more and more distressed about civic matters in this country. It is very tempting to give in to outrage and not work constructively and through DIALOG with one another to reach towards Justice in our country and towards all of our citizenry.

We don’t agree as to what true justice is in this country where there are citizens within it who feel that things like racial and sexual equality are less important than an ideological “purity” that this country has never had. There are some citizens who do not feel that their rights are being preserved when others are attaining those rights for the first time. The various civil rights movements still in existence within our country are evidence that we still have farther to go in order to truly reach Justice in our country. And, this is where making sure we do not give in to outrage becomes important. Yes, we can be angry about inequities in our society. However, we need to translate this anger into JUST action. This is not something that is easy, but if we pay attention to the precepts found in Hellenic Polytheistic philosophy, we can do it.

 

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