“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.
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