Hesiodic Advice on Oinops

James_Ward_-_Seashore_and_Cliffs,_with_a_Horse_and_Cart_and_a_Beached_Boat_on_Shore_-_Google_Art_Project-reduced~ A guest post by Sarah Scott and the Oinops Study Group ~

In our initial discussions we concentrated on the Homeric epics and identified some of the themes that appear in our focus passages. When we viewed together the main subjects surrounding the words appearing with oinops, pontos, ‘sea’, and bous, ‘ox’, we started to see a connection with seasonality (see ‘Oinops and Oxen’), so we decided to look in more detail at the two oinops passages in Hesiodic Works and Days. These fall in a section of the text that we had not read during the HeroesX project, when we had concentrated on the first half of the poem and the discussion of justice between two brothers.

Passage 1: Works and Days 607–630

In this first passage I have highlighted the key phrases that tied into several different themes that we had discussed in ‘Connecting with Oinops’ and which occur here in close proximity. By using the color highlighting it is immediately apparent that Hesiod is weaving together so many of these themes together:

βουσὶ καὶ ἡμιόνοισιν ἐπηετανόν. αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
δμῶας ἀναψῦξαι φίλα γούνατα καὶ βόε λῦσαι.
εὖτ᾽ ἂν δ᾽ Ὠαρίων καὶ Σείριος ἐς μέσον ἔλθῃ
οὐρανόν, Ἀρκτοῦρον δ᾽ ἐσίδῃ ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ηώς,                          610
ὦ Πέρση, τότε πάντας ἀποδρέπεν οἴκαδε βότρυς:
δεῖξαι δ᾽ ἠελίῳ δέκα τ᾽ ἤματα καὶ δέκα νύκτας,
πέντε δὲ συσκιάσαι, ἕκτῳ δ᾽ εἰς ἄγγε᾽ ἀφύσσαι
δῶρα Διωνύσου πολυγηθέος. αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ
Πληιάδες θ᾽ Ὑάδες τε τό τε σθένος Ὠαρίωνος                                   615
δύνωσιν, τότ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἀρότου μεμνημένος εἶναι
ὡραίου: πλειὼν δὲ κατὰ χθονὸς ἄρμενος εἶσιν.

εἰ δέ σε ναυτιλίης δυσπεμφέλου ἵμερος αἱρεῖ,
εὖτ᾽ ἂν Πληιάδες σθένος ὄβριμον Ὠαρίωνος
φεύγουσαι πίπτωσιν ἐς ἠεροειδέα πόντον,                                       620
δὴ τότε παντοίων ἀνέμων θυίουσιν ἀῆται:
καὶ τότε μηκέτι νῆας ἔχειν ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ,
γῆν ἐργάζεσθαι μεμνημένος εἶναι, ὥς σε κελεύω.
νῆα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἠπείρου ἐρύσαι πυκάσαι τε λίθοισι
πάντοθεν, ὄφρ᾽ ἴσχωσ᾽ ἀνέμων μένος ὑγρὸν ἀέντων,                        625
χείμαρον ἐξερύσας, ἵνα μὴ πύθῃ Διὸς ὄμβρος.
ὅπλα δ᾽ ἐπάρμενα πάντα τεῷ ἐγκάτθεο οἴκῳ
εὐκόσμως στολίσας νηὸς πτερὰ ποντοπόροιο:
πηδάλιον δ᾽ἐυεργὲς ὑπὲρ καπνοῦ κρεμάσασθαι.
αὐτὸς δ᾽ ὡραῖον μίμνειν πλόον, εἰσόκεν ἔλθῃ:                                    630
(Hesiod Works and Days 607–630, from Perseus)

Bring in the fodder and the chaff. This way, there will be enough
for your oxen [bous] and your mules. After that,
let your servants give a rest to their knees and unyoke your pair of oxen [bous].
But when Orion and Sirius reach the middle of the sky [‘at dawn’],
and when rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus,                                                                    610
then it is, Perses, that you should cut off and take home all the grape-clusters.
Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights.
Then shade them over for five more, and, on the sixth, draw off into jars
the gifts of joyous Dionysus. But when
the Pleiades and the Hyades and strong Orion                                                                     615
begin to set, then it is that you should be mindful [memnēmenos] to plow
in season. And so the pleiōn may be lodged well and firmly under the earth.

But let us suppose that the desire for stormy navigation seizes you,
when the Pleiades, fleeing the strong and violent Orion,
plunge into the misty pontos,                                                                                                620
and the blasts of winds of all kind rage.
At this time you must not have ships sailing the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos].
Instead, be mindful [memnēmenos] to work the land, as I bid you.
Haul up your ship on dry land and pack it [pukasai] with stones
all over, which will stand up to the power of the winds blowing their dampness.          625
And pull out the plug of the bilge-drain; otherwise, the rain of Zeus will rot it, [the ship].
Put away in your house all the tackle and fittings,
and store neatly the wings [sails] of your pontos-traveling ship.
Hang up the well-made steering-oar [pēdalion] over the smoke [of the fireplace].
And you yourself should wait until the time for seasonal navigation has come.            630
(Hesiod Works and Days 607–630, modified from Sourcebook)

This passage occurs in the  “Days” part of Works and Days: the references to the stars and constellations at a particular point in the horizon at a particular time of day are ways of measuring at what time of year people should carry out certain actions. On one level, this is practical: an appropriate time to plant, reap, sail, stay home — like a farmers’ almanac.

But the language is interesting, and it talks about the sort of activities we have seen in the other passages we have looked at in the previous blogs.

In line 608 we have a pair of oxen (dual form, as in the Ajax and Odysseus passages), although their color is not given, and there is even a servant with weary legs, like the man to whom Odysseus is compared, who wants to go home for dinner (see ‘Oinops and Oxen’ for a discussion of those passages).

The stars are referenced in relation to Dawn, which ties in with our theme of light/seeing.

grapes dryingSatyrs_vine_press_BM_D550In lines 611 and 614 there are references to harvesting grapes, drying them for ten days and nights, then keeping them covered for another five before putting the processed fruit into jars. It is not clear whether this refers to dried grapes, or a liquid, in which case it could be wine. Whatever it is, the text uses the expression ‘the gifts of Dionysus’ but does not refer to the vine (i.e. the name oinē does not appear explicitly) or to the exactly what it is that is put in the jars, or if it is, indeed, wine. But (according to Wikipedia) in ancient Greece, one of the techniques for making wine was to dry the grapes, and then crush and draw off the liquid where it could ferment, so it is likely that he is referring to wine-making. It seems significant that the poetry seems to be deliberately avoiding using the word.

There is also reference to plowing (616), and to putting the pleiōn into the ground. The note on this line in the Sourcebook says that nobody really knows what the word pleiōn means: maybe seed, maybe something to do with the Pleaides plunging below the horizon. The translation by H.G. Evelyn-White has ‘completed year [constellation cycle]’. Perhaps that link with the stars and the sun setting and rising which forms the measure of time is also linked to the seed sinking into the earth and then rising again. Whatever the exact meaning, as with the advice about harvesting and processing grapes, this passage again seems to indicate that plowing should be done according to the correct season.

The next reference to the sea, pontos, at lines 620–622 pairs the noun not with oinops but with another common epithet for the sea, ἠεροειδέα [ēeroeidea, ‘misty’], as well as with the preposition ἐς [es, ‘into’]. These lines refer specifically to the dangers of sailing at the wrong time of year, during storms, which relates to the Homeric passages we discussed in ‘Oinops and the Wide Open Sea’.

The advice is to draw the ship up onto land for the winter. I noticed that it is important that it should be kept dry, at line 626:

χείμαρον ἐξερύσας, ἵνα μὴ πύθῃ Διὸς ὄμβρος.
otherwise, the rain of Zeus will rot it.


This passage reminded us all of the sēma of Nestor with:

ἕστηκε ξύλον αὖον ὅσον τ᾽ ὄργυι᾽ ὑπὲρ αἴης
ἢ δρυὸς ἢ πεύκης: τὸ μὲν οὐ καταπύθεται ὄμβρῳ,
Standing over there is a stump of deadwood, a good reach above ground level.
It had been either an oak or a pine. And it hasn’t rotted away from the rains.
(Iliad XXIII 327–328, Sourcebook)

And we noticed in relation to this that the steering-oar is being smoked above the fireplace. Claudia thought it was metonymic for the ship as a whole, as if it were being sacralized.  The word κρεμάσασθαι [kremasasthai, from kremaō, ‘to hang up’] is often used in the sense of hanging something up as an offering, although the expression ‘hanging up one’s rudder’ can also be used metaphorically to mean ‘give up the sea’ (LSJ, on Perseus).

I wondered if the smoke from the fire was preserving it, like smoked fish or mummies [tarikhos], and also wondered if the steering oar is in a sacred position receiving the smoke as the gods do when the sacrifices are burned.

Claudia pointed out that the hearth is a fixed point. There seems to be something very significant about preservation: the grapes are also dried, then preserved (and transformed) by storage in underground jars; the boat is preserved by packing it with stones; and the steering oar is preserved by smoking. The stones in the boat also make it fixed, weighted down but on dry land, and it is also fixed and cannot go anywhere.

Claudia also pointed out that the verb for ‘packing’ (used here with ‘stones’) in line 624 is πυκάσαι [pukasai]. The root of this word also  appears in the adjective pukanos which has a sense of being packed closely in both space and time, and is used of things like tiles, feathers on a bird, or groans of lamentation. One example is in Odysseus’ account of the Greeks being tightly packed together when they were hiding inside the wooden horse:

“Then when we went down into the horse that Epeios toiled to make with the best [aristos] of the Argives, and it was laid entirely upon me

525to open the door to our close-packed [pukinos] ambush or close it,”
(Odyssey xi 523-525, cited by Mary Ebbott and Casey Dué in Chapter 2 of Iliad 10 and the Poetics of Ambush)

Another is in the description of the troops led by the two Ajaxes:

τοῖαι ἅμ᾽ Αἰάντεσσι διοτρεφέων αἰζηῶν
δήϊον ἐς πόλεμον πυκιναὶ κίνυντο φάλαγγες
thus did the ranks of stalwart youths move in a dark mass to battle under the Ajaxes”
(Iliad IV 280-282, from Perseus)

A steering-oar is in the hand of Menelaos’s steersman Phrontis when he dies, in one of our other passages:

Apollo with his painless
[280] shafts killed Phrontis the steersman of Menelaos’ ship (and never a man knew better how to handle a vessel in rough weather) so that he died then and there with the steering oar [pēdalion] in his hand, and Menelaos, though very anxious to press forward,
[285] had to wait in order to bury his comrade and give him his due funeral rites. But when at last that one [Menelaos] was going across the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos], and had sailed on as far as the Malean headland, Zeus of the wide brows counseled evil against him and made it blow hard
[290] till the waves ran mountains high. Here he divided his fleet and took the one half towards Crete where the Cydonians dwell round about the waters of the river Iardanos. There is a high headland hereabouts stretching out into the sea from a place called Gortyn,
[295] and all along this part of the coast as far as Phaistos the sea runs high when there is a south wind blowing, but past Phaistos the coast is more protected, for a small headland can make a great shelter. Here this part of the fleet was driven on to the rocks and wrecked; but the crews just managed to save themselves.
[300] As for the other five ships, they were taken by winds and seas to Egypt
(Odyssey iii 279–300, modified from Sourcebook)

And in the following passage, although oinops is not mentioned, the steering-oar also features prominently when Odysseus on his raft sets out from Circe’s island and keeps his eyes on the same stars that are mentioned in the Hesiod passage:

he [Odysseus] sat and guided the raft skillfully by means of the rudder [pēdalion]. He never closed his eyes, but kept them fixed on the Pleiades, on late-setting Boötes, and on the Bear – which men also call the wagon, and which turns round and round where it is, facing Orion,
and alone never dipping into the stream of Okeanos
(Odyssey v 270–275, modifed from Sourcebook)

The Pleiades are only visible during the winter months, and in the passage from Works and Days the advice is not to sail at that time of year. Jacqui pointed us to how Professor Nagy discusses this part of Odysseus’ voyage in The Best of the Achaeans 10§38, which demonstrates how Odysseus is sailing at that most dangerous time of year.

This means that the journey of Telemakhos is also undertaken during the winter months, again against the advice in Works and Days, which throws light on why the dangerous oinopa ponton appears in one of our other passages:

Telemakhos went on board ….. Then the men loosed the hawsers and took their places on the benches. [420]Owl-vision Athena sent them a fair wind from the West, that whistled over the wine-faced [oinops] sea [pontos (Odyssey ii 416–420, modified from Sourcebook)

The stars, the Dawn, the navigation by watching, all tie in with the themes of watching, seeing, and light, that we noticed in our other passages.

Claudia drew our attention to lines 616 and 623 where μεμνημένος [memnēmenos, ‘mindful’] is repeated. This word comes up several times in Works and Days (and is flagged in the Sourcebook translation). The word relates to memory and remembering and the verb me-mnē-mai ‘remember, totally recall’ which Phoenix used in his narrative to Achilles about Meleagros (Iliad IX 527, discussed as the key word for Hour 2 in H24H). If this is simply a reminder about the calendar on one level, the word could mean ‘remember’, but if there is something more special about these passages the word could have the sense of ‘total recall’, which could signal something more important is going on here.

Passage 2: Works and Days 814–818

παῦροι δ᾽ αὖτε ἴσασι τρισεινάδα μηνὸς ἀρίστην
ἄρξασθαί τε πίθου καὶ ἐπὶ ζυγὸν αὐχένι θεῖναι                            815
βουσὶ καὶ ἡμιόνοισι καὶ ἵπποις ὠκυπόδεσσι,
νῆα πολυκλήιδα θοὴν εἰς οἴνοπα πόντον
εἰρύμεναι: παῦροι δέ τ᾽ ἀληθέα κικλῄσκουσιν.
(Hesiod, Works and Days 814–818, from Perseus)

Or again, few people know that the thrice-nine of the month is best
for opening a wine-jar [pithos] and for putting yokes [zugon] on the necks
of oxen [bous], mules, and swift-footed horses,
or for hauling a swift ship with many oars down to the wine-faced pontos.
Few give it its alēthēs  name.
(Hesiod, Works and Days 814–818, modified from Sourcebook)

We immediately spotted again a close juxtaposition of our key themes.

Pithos_Louvre_CA4523In line 815, there is a reference to the wine-jar [pithos]:  these were the large storage vessels that were buried in the ground to preserve the wine.

The passage says that “few people know” the right time to open the jars, so we wondered: is this section referring to wine that is just for general consumption? Or was it for a ceremony?

And perhaps the reference here gives weight to our suggestion above that “the gifts of joyous Dionysus” that were not named in line 614 above did indeed refer to wine.

Then the poem refers to the yoke (with that suggestion of a pair: the word means joined, as we saw with the two Ajaxes in ‘Oinops and Oxen’)and the plow animals. The oxen are not described here as ‘wine-faced’ but with the proximity to wine-jars and, in the next line, to oinopa ponton, the association still seems to be suggested. The reference to swift-footed horses sounds more like animals that could be used to draw chariots, whether for journeys (like Telemakhos on his trip from Nestor’s palace to visit Menelaos at Sparta in Odyssey iv) or for warfare (like so many of the best fighters in Iliad).

Lines 817–818 talk about the right time for the ship to put out to sea, εἰς οἴνοπα πόντον [eis oinopa ponton], and this time the sea is the destination (denoted by eis and the accusative case).

With reference to the passage quoted above, Professor Nagy explains the significance of the appropriate day and knowing its true name:

“The Hesiodic name ‘thrice-nine’ would be the pan-Hellenic designation, as implied by the word alēthēs. … . Local designations of this day may have been subject to tabu. The number thrice-nine is particularly sacred” (Sourcebook, ‘Hesiodic Works and Days’, footnote 40)

This suggests that it was not simply a question of the spring weather coming: it was important that certain activities took place at a ritually correct time. It also reinforces that idea that not naming something (as with the product of the grape harvest in the first passage) could be due to its relationship with something sacred.

Initiation into seasonality

We noticed the connection with the ‘seeing’, ‘vision’, or ‘light’ aspect of oinops through the Dawn and the Pleiades, and those connections with the danger, the wine, oxen, plowing, preservation; and with steering, and perhaps by extension, steering one’s way through life’s journey by the seasons and maybe by the stars.

And we know that Works and Days is focused on dikē, ‘justice, and also the cosmic order of things’, wherein everything grows in balance — and it also tells us to be aware of making the proper decisions at the proper times, otherwise disaster will occur.

But we were also starting to see connections with the ritual of initiation. The reference to wine is reminiscent of another of our passages: in ‘Connecting with Oinops’  Jenna talked about time of day, and there was similarly a connection to opening wine:

“Then they made all fast throughout the ship, filled the mixing-bowls to the brim, and made drink offerings to the immortal gods that are from everlasting,” (Odyssey ii 430, Sourcebook).

The fact that our first Hesiodic passage does not explicitly mention wine by name reminded us of muō, defined by Professor Nagy as follows:

muein (first person muō), which means ‘have the mouth closed’ (or ‘have the eyes closed’) for non-initiates but ‘say in a sacred kind of way’ (or ‘see in a sacred kind of way’) for initiates.” (H24H 16§30).

The poetry seems to be working on two levels: mundane for the uninitiated, and with deeper meanings for those who have a deeper understanding. And taken with the evidence about memnēmenos, ‘mindfulness’ being related to the word for ‘total recall’, and with the need for everything to be performed at the correct time — to be seasonal — suggested that it applies not only initiation, but to other types of ritual.

Please join us in the Forum to discuss these Hesiodic oinops passages further, for example:

  • How does the advice in this part of the ‘Days’ relate to the sense of absolute justice or cosmic order in the ‘Works’?
  • What do you make of the advice and the themes that surround our oinops passages here?
  • How do the words used provide clues to what is not being said?

Coming next time: Oinops, Sacrifice, and Ritual

Image credits

James Ward: Seashore and Cliffs with a Horse and Cart and a Beached Boat on Shore, Google Art Project

Grapes left to dry, Wikimedia Commons

Satyr working a wine press consisting of a pile of round wicker-work mats. Fragmentary terracotta relief, Roman artwork, 1st century AD, British Museum, Wikimedia Commons.

Philip Halling: Rotting boat, Mylor Creek, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons

Pithos, Louvre, Wikimedia Commons