Figure 1. Cranach, Lucas the Elder. c. 1530, Oil and tempera on wood, 74 x 106 cm. Nasjonalmuseet, The Final Art Collections, Norway. From: Nasjonalmuseet, http://samling.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/object/NG.M.00519 (accessed May 4, 2019).
#1. On Being Human: A Divine Perspective
Wednesday, February 6th; 7:00 p.m.
Tyler-Tallman Recital Hall
Speaker: Professor Keyne Cheshire (Classics)
Introduction: Prof. Jeanne Neumann
Event Description: Hesiod’s Works and Days is the earliest extant Greek song devoted to what being human is and what that means for us. Through Hesiod, a bard of some 2,700 years ago, goddesses rebuke us for our human failings and
set us on a path to our best potential, compromised as we are by suffering and certain death. There is a time and a place for all things, including us. We need only plant the goddesses’ words in our hearts, and hope they sing the truth.
Dr. Keyne Cheshire, Professor of Classics at Davidson College, gives a lecture On Being Human: A Divine Perspective. In this lecture, Dr. Cheshire discusses Hesiod’s Works and Days, which is a didactic poem.
In this poem, it discusses The Myth of the Ages. There are five ages of mankind: the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age, and the current age of Iron. The Golden Age man was known for their peace and wealth. When this age came to an end, they were protected from evil and given wealth. The next age, silver age, fought with one another and angered the gods. Zeus destroyed this race. The bronze age were fierce warriors, known as heroes, but died in war with each other. Hesiod, the main character of the poem, regrets that he lives during the present Iron Age. This age is characterized by hardship. He predicts Zeus will destroy this race.
I found this lecture to be interesting and true in some ways, but also too apocalyptic. The dynamic of power at play shows that the gods are in control but that humans are responsible for their own destruction. This idea that the human race has degenerated over time is contradictory to what many people believe today as the progress of the human race. Dr. Cheshire states that the gods set us on a path to our best potential and we need only plant the goddesses’ words in our hearts.
I don’t believe that gods set us on a path to our best potential, more specifically, the Greek gods. They seem merciless and unforgiving in many stories. That may just be a greater metaphor for the unforgiving nature of life. Yet this lecture has led me to question what has led Hesiod to believe that there has been a degeneration of humankind. Is it our lack of empathy? But has there been a decline? I would like to say that we have gained a greater understanding of the human experience, one that continually works to improve the human condition. I do not believe that the Golden Age, the first age of humans, was really characterized by a time of ease and happiness. I do believe that there was great hardship across all of humankind, each characterized by different problems. I would say that we have not degenerated as humankind, but have made progress. In some areas, we have degenerated. That may include how people are known to be self-absorbed and focus on superficial things today like money and fame. We may have lost a sense of human empathy for one another. However, I refuse to give up on humankind. Like in Pandora’s box, despite all the hardships we will continue to face for ages to come, I believe that there is hope for a better future where we continue to improve upon the last age.