BruegelTheWeddingDance

“Men whose justice is straight know neither hunger nor ruin, but amid feasts enjoy the yield of their labors.”
Hesiod, Works and Days

Festivity. The word brings longing to the heart; we find ourselves wondering where it can be found. In describing a flourishing society Hesiod points especially to the festivity of the just.

Festivity is one of the three Greek ‘Graces,’ along with Splendor and Joy. Hesiod associates each of these with those who are just and law-abiding. Not only does justice set humans apart from the rest of the animal world, it is the source of blessing and only true happiness.

Does Hesiod think that the unjust really can’t have feasts? Perhaps the operating distinction is between parties and feasts. Only the just can have true festivity. Who are these just? Their justice is called ‘straight’—they bend not to the desire for ill-gotten gains or trivial, passing pleasures. For them work itself is a blessing, ordered not to greed but to household needs and honest living with neighbors.

The unjust may indeed have much stuff, and throw parties that turn heads, fill bellies, and massage egos. But the just have feasts, where they enjoy the yield of their own labors, knowing it to be the fruit of their putting first things first, rendering what is due to God and man. A scarcity of material resources does not dampen the festivity springing from the straightness of justice, a festivity that unites people, rendering a joy that lingers.

Many seek to satisfy themselves with the products of their work; only the just have feasts where they rejoice in the fruits of their labors.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead. It also describes various characteristics of both a troubled time period—Hesiod’s own, and those of a golden age. After three weeks treating the former, this is the second of three Wednesday Quotes devoted to the characteristics of a golden age.

Image: Pieter Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

Previous articleWhen Children Resemble Their Fathers
Next articleFPR Conference. Register Now!
John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Admirable sentiments to be sure, but pollyannish too, I’m afraid.

    When I look at history, I see that those who are the most “just” are often not honored and rewarded, but scorned or burned at the stake. Those with the deepest sense of justice question the framework upon which most humans gauge success or “just” rewards — they query the self-satisfied festivities. The human capacity for delusion is ever-present; the most unjust often believe (with clear conscience apparently) that the unseen hand rewards them, and justly so. I wish it wasn’t so.

    Look around.

  2. Mr. Ludwig-Krause,
    I take your admonition to look around seriously. While I certainly understand your account of what you have seen, I think a different ultimate judgment can be made of what is out there. As Plato, Boethius, and others have noted from time immemorial, it seems that the unjust and the self-centered thrive. In some sense being unjust can be said ‘to pay.’ Nevertheless I think we can see that in the most important sense injustice does not pay. To judge that injustice pays, it seems to me, implies that we value things as the unjust do–treating lesser things as more important than they are. The just on the other hand put other things first, and are able to find a joy and festivity in those things that others do not taste.

  3. ” In some sense being unjust can be said ‘to pay.’ Nevertheless I think we can see that in the most important sense injustice does not pay.”

    Right — this is parallel to the old adage “cheaters never win.”

Comments are closed.