Front Page Titles (by Subject) ON W. 113 sqq. - The Poems and Fragments
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ON W. 113 sqq. - Hesiod, The Poems and Fragments 
The Poems and Fragments done into English Prose with Introduction and Appendices by A.W. Mair M.A. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908).
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ON W. 113 sqq.
‘Neither were they subject to miserable eld, but ever the same’ (or ‘alike’) ‘in hand and foot they took their pleasure in festival apart from all evil. And they died as overcome of sleep.’ The meaning is that the men of the Golden Age never grew old; hand and foot, on which old age shows its most obvious effects, remained as vigorous as in youth; they did not die by a slow process of decay, but ‘God’s finger touched them and they slept’. Sleep is not here a mere metaphor for death: that is a later metaphor; the earliest approach to it in Greek literature is probably Pindar, Istbmians iii. 40, where, speaking of the Kleonymidai, he says that Poseidon ‘now giveth to this house this hymn of wonder, and leadeth up out of her bed (ἐκ λεχέων ἀνάγει) the ancient glory of the famous deeds thereof; for she was fallen on sleep (ἐν ὕπνῳ γὰρ πέσεν); but she awaketh and her body shineth preeminent, as among stars the Morning-star’ (Myers). The same metaphor occurs also in Istbm. vi. 16, ‘the grace of the old time sleepeth, and men are unmindful thereof’; but in the first quotation the language is extremely suggestive of death: λεχέων can mean both ‘bed’ and ‘bier’, while ἀνάγω also suggests resurrection from the dead, as in Aischylos, Ag. 1023 (ϕθιμένων ἀνάγειν). Already in Homer, Il. xvi. 672, &c., as in Hesiod, Theog. 212 (Children of Night), Sleep and Death are brothers. In Aischylos, Ag. 1451, ‘endless sleep’ means ‘death’, as so frequently elsewhere. In Aisch. Eumen. 68, ὕπνῳ πεσονˆσαι is simply ‘fallen asleep’ in the literal sense.
Dr. James Adam, Religious Teachers of Greece (Gifford Lectures, T. & T. Clark, 1908), p. 76, has a curious mistranslation of our passage. He writes, ‘nor did pitiable old age come upon them, but with bands like feet and feet like hands they had joy in banquets evermore.’ And he proceeds to say, ‘the obscure words which I have italicized receive perhaps some light from the burlesque account in Plato’s Symposium (189 E) of the structure of the human frame before the creation of women: in those days man, we are told, was androgynous and round, with four hands and four feet constructed, it would seem, on the same plan, and rendering it easy to travel rapidly from place to place by a series of somersaults.’
Now in the first place it may be doubted whether Hesiod’s words could bear the interpretation here put upon them; in any case, such a wonderful phenomenon would not have been introduced in an unemphatic parenthesis between αἰεί and its verb—as it is if αἰεί belongs to τέρποντο, and not, as I take it, to ὁμοɩ̂οι mainly (of course it also in a way affects τέρποντο, because on this interpretation the sense expressed by πόδας καὶ χεɩ̂ρας ὁμοɩ̂οι and that expressed by τέρποντο are homogeneous elements of perpetual felicity. So long as the two things are homogeneous it makes no difference whether, as here, they form a combination, or a contrast). Moreover, Plato’s words in no way imply that the Androgyni had hands like feet or feet like hands; indeed, he rather emphasizes the opposite by repetition: ‘he had four hands and four feet . . . turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all.’ To the modern mind an interpretation which rather suggests the notion of primitive man going ‘on all fours’, as it were, might seem plausible, but so far as I know is quite un-Greek; there is nothing in Aischylos’s account of the state of the primitive men whom Prometheus rescued—‘who lived like ants in sunless caves’—to suggest that they did not walk erect.
Finally it is easy to show how frequently the ‘hands and feet’ are referred to as tests of age or identity: e.g. Homer, Od. xi. 494 sqq. Achilles in Hades says to Odysseus, ‘Tell me if thou hast heard aught of noble Peleus, whether he still hath honour amid many Myrmidons, or if they dishonour him throughout Hellas and Phthia, because old age is come upon his hands and feet’; so Od. xix. 357 sqq. Penelope says to Eurykleia, ‘Come, rise now, prudent Eurykleia, wash the agefellow of thy lord; yea, even Odysseus, I ween, by now is such as he in feet and such as he in hands: for in the day of evil men speedily wax old’; so, verse 380 sqq., Eurykleia declares, ‘never yet have I seen any one so like to look on, as thou art like to Odysseus in form and in voice, and in feet’; Od. iv. 149 sqq., Helen had remarked how like Telemachos was to Odysseus. Menelaos agrees, ‘for such were his feet and such as these his hands, the flashing of his eyes, his head and his hair withal.’ The type of expression was indeed proverbial, and there can be no slightest doubt as to Hesiod’s meaning here.