Greek Culture : Hesiod & Demosthenes Essay

Hesiod and Demosthenes were representatives of Greek culture, who mirrored traditional ideologies and values of their time but became unable to confront the new ideology and culture that emerged to replace the old ones.

Hesiod was one of the representatives of Archaic Greece, whose literary works, such as Works and Days reveal his personal worldview as well as the worldview and culture of Archaic Greece. Hesiod represents Greek society as the agrarian society which mirrors the essence of Greek economy and culture of that time[1]. Greeks were dependent on the agricultural production, but they have already started to develop trade and explored sea routes to accelerate their economic development.

However such exploration of the outer, non-Greek world, has raised the problem of juxtaposition between Greek and Others, whom Greeks called barbarians. Nevertheless, the interaction of Greek with Others was relatively low in the time of Hesiod and the agrarian basis of Greek society and culture was still very strong and comprised the core of the dominant ideology. This is why Hesiod promoted hard work and reliance on the good will of gods in his literary works which mirrored the essence of Greek culture of that time[2]. Greek culture was grounded on stereotypes which presented hard agrarian work as the virtue of any true Greek.      Religion played an important part in the life of Greeks in that time, this is why Hesiod insists on the importance of worshipping gods and their goodwill to help Greeks. This idea mirrors the dominant cultural and religious concept that prevailed in Archaic Greek society. Greeks believed that their life and outcomes of their work depended on the goodwill of gods. Such a view was the result of natural conditions of Greece and the traditional dependence of agriculture on natural conditions which could not be controlled by humans. This is why changes in natural conditions affected crops and productivity of Greek farmers. As a result, they viewed those changes not as the result of natural processes but rather as the result of the divine interference. Hence, Greeks worshipped their gods and hoped that gods would help them to get good crops and increase the productivity of their agriculture, which comprised the core of Archaic Greek economy and shaped the dominant ideology and culture of Archaic Greece.

At the same time, Works and Days and the key ideas Hesiod conveys through his literary work mirror the profound crisis in the Greek agriculture of that time that urged the colonization of new territories and accelerated the creation of Greek settlements through the Mediterranean region as well as the Black Sea region. Hesiod lived in the time which became the watershed between the Archaic and Classical period in Greek history and culture. This was the time of the beginning of the fast and expansive colonization which required the change of the traditional ideology and culture of Greece based on agrarian principles and values and contributed to the rise of the military and trade culture, ideology and economy, because the colonization inevitable involved military clashes of Greeks with Others and the spread of Hellenistic culture and civilization accelerated trade between the mainland Greece and colonies throughout the Mediterranean and the Black Sea region.

In contrast to Hesiod, who represented the Archaic Greek ideology and culture, Demosthenes represented the Classical Greek ideology and culture. Demosthenes stood for the traditional Greek dominance and independence of Greek city states. He strived to revive Greek city-states in face of Macedonian dominance[3]. In this regard, Demosthenes stuck to traditional values of Greeks of the Classical period which were grounded on the great power of Greece based on the colonization of huge territories throughout the Mediterranean and the growth of Greek economy based on the trade with colonies and other states. The image of the past power of Greek city-states shaped the worldview of Demosthenes and encouraged him to promote the idea of the revival and unification of Greece to confront and overthrow the Macedonian control. Hence, Demosthenes ideas mirror the dominant ideology of the Classical Greek culture which had started to become obsolete since Macedonia had risen as the new power that challenged and invaded Greece[4]. In such a situation, traditional ideals prompted Demosthenes to stand for their revival and the revival of Greece.

However, the dominant ideology had started to change under the impact of Macedonia, which had grown in power and attempted to position itself as the major power and uniting power of the Hellenistic world. In such a way, ideas and views of Demosthenes became obsolete and came into clashes with the new dominant ideology. This was probably why his last attempt to change Greece after the death of the Macedonian King Phillip II failed, when his successor Alexander the Great came to power and took the full control over Greece. Such transition became crucial for the national identity of Greeks because it expanded the national identity from Greek vs. Others concept to Hellenist world vs. Others one[5]. The new national identity went beyond boundaries of Greece and incorporated nations and tribes which shared Greek values and worldview, like Macedonians did. This is why Demosthenes attempted to challenge the new ideology but failed.

Thus, Hesiod and Demosthenes were representatives of Greek culture, who lived in the time of great changes. They both stood for the traditional ideology and culture, which they were accustomed to and which they attempted to retain in Greek civilization. However, they had proved to be unable to stop the progress and profound changes triggered by changes in the socioeconomic and political environment that ultimately urged cultural changes in Greece and Greek city-states.

Works Cited:

Blanshard, A.J. L. and Sowerby, T.A. Thomas Wilson’s Demosthenes and the Politics of Tudor Translation, International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 12 , No. 1, (Summer 2005): 46–80. 

Hesiod. Works and Days. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015.

Montanari, F., Rengakos, A., and Tsagalis, C. Brill’s Companion to Hesiod, New York: Leiden, 2009.

Phillips, D. Philip and Athens, Athenian Political Oratory: 16 Key Speeches. New York: Routledge, 2004.

MacDonald, S. Inside European Identities. Providence: Berg, 1997.


[1] Hesiod. Works and Days. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015, 26.

[2] Montanari, F., Rengakos, A., and Tsagalis, C. Brill’s Companion to Hesiod, New York: Leiden, 2009, 72

[3] Blanshard, A.J. L. and Sowerby, T.A. Thomas Wilson’s Demosthenes and the Politics of Tudor Translation, International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 12 , No. 1, (Summer 2005): 72.

[4] Phillips, D. Philip and Athens, Athenian Political Oratory: 16 Key Speeches. New York: Routledge, 2004, 72.

[5] MacDonald, S. Inside European Identities. Providence: Berg, 1997, 178.

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