Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition 11: Poetry! You can see some of the winning entries below.
1st place (Year 10): May F.
May’s winning entry
Circa 750 to 650, Hesiod, an ancient Greek poet, wrote poetry. He focused on humanity and its autochthony (The Oxford English Dictionary describes this as “whose ancestors all came from the same place.”) Similarly, Euripides was an ancient Greek tragedian, whose tragedies were performed in Athens c480- c406. In this essay, I am going to discuss Hesiod and Euripides’ creation myths, how they can be compared and some of the aspects of (what is known) of their lives that influenced them.
One way that Hesiod’s “Works and Days” can be considered more persuasive is through its belief that Humanity is the ultimate creation: one that would later be destroyed. Throughout time immemorial, the belief that God (or Gods) are punishing humanity for their sins is consistent throughout- during the Black Death of 1346-1353, flagellants walked the streets whipping themselves in penance. Despite this having no positive effect on the plague, it was done to save themselves from God’s wrath. However, Hesiod speaks with certainty: that “Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth”. This comes from an acknowledgement of the creations that came before and is something that modern society believes that we are descended from apes and evolved. Hesiod notoriously wrote Didactic poetry, hence the use of decisive, declarative sentences. Perhaps Hesiod had the first, albeit slightly warped, idea about evolution?
However, Euripides also presents some persuasive points. Despite writing tragedies most of the time, this poem has an underlying hopeful tone, as seen in the line. This is relevant to the modern day due to humanity’s desire for eternal life and is said by Hermes in a matter-of-fact way, suggesting his ambivalence but equal joy at his servitude to Phoebus. The concept of joy in serving a higher being is one that many religions cover, such as Christianity in the idea of servitude to God and to others. Therefore, Euripides’ myth may be more believable for theists. However, modern pursuits are often focused on a form of self-centred hedonism, making its message less likely to be listened to by a more modern audience. Furthermore, Hermes is renown in Greek mythology for being a fraudulent trickster, so it seems unlikely that he would sing about the joys of selflessness.
Hesiod’s ages of mankind are similar to the ones used by archaeologists to describe the “three ages of man” and so makes his creation myth easier to relate to, for a modern audience that is used to any potentially scientific terminology. However, some might develop this to say that Hesiod is not describing the evolution of humanity, but the growth of the average Greek man, starting with a golden, silent infant, developing into one of the many men who “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”. However, some would (not unfoundedly) accuse Hesiod of being a cantankerous person resenting the younger generation for not repaying their “aged parents.”
In this essay, I have discussed some of the comparisons, criticisms and beliefs that can link to Hesiod and Euripides’ works. I have come to the conclusion that, whilst I do not agree with either myth, they both contain elements of beliefs that are in Abrahamic religions and important moral messages.
1st place (Year 11): Su Nay Y.
Su Nay’s winning entry
Hesiod’s theory on the deterioration of human morals, eventually leading up to the disregard of moral and religious standards, is easier to follow and interpret than Euripides’ theory. Euripides presents a theory of origin where humans are from the earth: autochthones. However, there is no set conclusion to his theory, only that the fate and blood of humans are within the earth itself, which is ambiguous compared to Hesiod’s structured theory. A theory that is easier to understand, with clear arguments could indicate a more persuasive approach to the origin of humankind.
In Hesiod’s Work and Days, there is the mention of five ages (the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and the Iron Age) who succumb to more hardship with time. He describes the first age, the Golden Age, where men “dealt in ease and peace among their lands”, and he eventually speaks of the Iron Age, the last of the five, where “men never rest from labour and sorrow by day”. The lives of mankind become more laborious as they evolve through time, which Hesiod believes to end with the destruction of Zeus’ kind. There is a clear pattern of the deteriorating lives of humans, which seems thought out and coherent, which could be persuasive among people, as one could be led to believe that the clarity of this theory is more believable.
Alternatively, Euripides’ theory is embedded into his work, Ion. His theory surrounding the autochthone nature of man is not as apparent to readers, as it does not have a set structure, only an explanation of the origin of man. Whereas Hesiod speaks of an origin and the eventuality of humans. Euripides does subtly suggest that the fate (and possibly the future) of humans is within the earth itself, which could frame a vague answer, but with no such clarity as Hesiod’s theory. A theory that covers both the beginning of man and how we could end up is more persuasive than one that partially covers the whole question of the evolution of mankind (from the start to a possible ending).
Additionally, Hesiod’s theory on the destruction of moral standards is backed up by his previous words. It is mentioned in ‘Works and Days’ that mortal men do not learn from their mistakes, becoming worse with time – even with this information, one could come up with the hypothesis that there could possibly be a destructive ending, which is entirely plausible (in context). Since this theory can be interpreted and understood easily, it could suggest that Hesiod’s theory is more persuasive. However, Euripides’ theory could be more impactful as it could provide multiple interpretations to the idea of autochthones, therefore leading to the discussion and questioning of the theory itself.