Yearling,father,son

“Fleecy sheep are weighed down with wool,
and women bear children who resemble their fathers.” 
Hesiod, Works and Days

In describing “a city that prospers,” Hesiod points to something rather unexpected: that “women bear children who resemble their fathers.” We find ourselves wondering what he means. Won’t children always resemble their fathers to some extent? And besides, with some men, wouldn’t it be better if their children didn’t resemble them? It is not easy to discern just what he means by these enigmatic words.

I think it’s about the role of true fathers.

A key sign that things are well in society is when children resemble their fathers–and the children can be proud of it. They have been chiseled into adults, in large part through the presence of their fathers.

Unmentioned motherhood is no way denigrated. It is here taken for granted. Children do not resemble their fathers unless they have a mother with a certain character. And as a rule mothers are more reliably present to their children, even as a society corrupts, and fathers become less present. But in a city that prospers, fathers too are present: to their wives and to their children.

Hesiod draws our attention to the very nature of fatherhood. To be a father is to bring about an image of oneself. This makes powerfully clear just what kind of man a father must be: a man worthy of imitating. I do not see how I can expect my children to become anything better than what they see in me. This should make me tremble.

Fleecy sheep being weighed down with wool are a great thing. But when a child can think of no greater compliment than to be told, “You remind me of your father!” then something is profoundly right in the world. At least, in that child’s world.

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. The last three weeks treated the former, and this is the first of three Wednesday Quotes devoted to the characteristics of the latter.

Image: Gregory Peck and Claude Jarman, Jr. in The Yearling, 1946.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:

Living with Yourself

“And a virtuous man wishes to live with himself; for he does so with pleasure, since the memories of his past acts are delightful and his hopes for the future are good, and therefore pleasant. His mind is well stored too with subjects of contemplation.” Aristotle,...

read more

Might vs. Valor

Phalinus, messenger from Persian King Artaxerxes, demands that the Persians (who had fought with Cyrus, now dead, against Artaxerxes) put down their arms. Xenophon responds: “Phalinus, at this moment, as you see for yourself, we have no other possessions save arms and...

read more

Bethany Weekends: Spring, Summer Schedule

Socrates insisted on the centrality of examining our lives. The purpose of such examination is clear: we will come closer to being the persons we can be if we accept the challenge of our human identity, of being rational. This is our privilege: to use our reason to...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest