Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE FARMER'S YEAR IN HESIOD. - The Poems and Fragments
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THE FARMER’S YEAR IN HESIOD. - 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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THE FARMER’S YEAR IN HESIOD.
Works and Days, 383 sqq.
1. For the right understanding of the Hesiodic Calendar it is necessary to remember the immense significance for primitive man of a careful observation of the phenomena of the natural world. In a very real sense primitive man lived in close communion with Nature. Night by night his eyes scanned the vault of heaven and marked the position of the stars. By them the sailor steered his path across the perilous sea; by them the farmer knew in what season he must sow and when he should withhold his hand; by them, too, the homeless wanderer guided his steps, as did Oedipus when the Pythian priestess told him at Delphi of the terrible fate that awaited him if he returned to his home in Korinth: ‘And I, when I had listened to this, turned to flight from the land of Korinth, thenceforth wotting of its region by the stars alone, to some spot where I should never see fulfilment of the infamies foretold in mine evil doom’ (Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 794 sqq.); the shepherd, too, when, for the first time in the year, he saw Arkturos twinkling on the castern horizon at dawn, knew that in the plains the vintagers were busy gathering the vintage, and that it was time for him to drive his flocks home from their six-month summer pasture on the hills to their winter fold, just as did the shepherds of Laios and Polybos after their sojourn on Kithairon ‘from spring to Arkturos, a six-month space’ (Soph. O. T. 1137).
Or again he noted the annual migration of the birds. The gathering of the cranes preparatory to their southward flight to Libya—‘bearing death and doom to Pygmaean men’—at the approach of winter warned the farmer that the sowing season was at hand; the note of the cuckoo, or the twittering swallow told him of the approach of Spring; the sailor by that same gathering of the cranes in late autumn knew that the sailing season was over for the year, that it was time to draw up his boat upon the beach and hang up the rudder where the smoke would keep it dry, till in another year the swallow and the cuckoo should tell him that the seas were open. Even the lowly shell snail brought its message of coming summer. The chattering of the cicala in the noontide heat, the blooming of this plant or that, the flowering of the scolymus, the leaf upon the fig-tree (St. Matthew xxiv. 32, ‘Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh’; cf. W. 679); each had their particular significance in the rustic calendar.
2. The Rising and Setting of the fixed stars. Four epochs in the visibility of the fixed stars were distinguished by the ancients.
(1) Heliacal Rising: this is the first perceptible appearance of a star on the eastern horizon in the morning just before sunrise. This first brief glimpse will become daily longer as the star increases its apparent distance from the sun, the star gaining about four minutes daily on the sun, and thus being visible every night for a longer period before it is extinguished by the rising sun.
(2) Acronychal Rising: this is the last visible ascent from the eastern horizon after sunset; the star is now an evening star, and is visible all night.
(3) Cosmical Setting: this is the term applied to a star when for the first time each year it reached the horizon long enough before sunrise to be still visible.
(4) Heliacal Setting: this is the term applied to a star on the last evening when it can still be seen on the western horizon after sunset, before it follows the sun below the horizon.
Of these four epochs, the first three are those most commonly referred to; and of these three again the first and third are the most important. In Greek, it should be understood, the Rising of a Star means the Heliacal Rising or first appearance on the eastern horizon as a morning star; the Setting of a Star means the Cosmical Setting, or first reaching of the western horizon before sunrise. When the third or Acronychal Rising is referred to it is either specified by an adjective (such as ἀκρόνυχος, ἀκροκνέϕαιος) or the meaning is made obvious by the context.
Besides the phenomena of the rising and setting of the stars, we find reference to the Turnings of the Sun, i.e. the Summer and Winter Solstice or Sunstead. In Homer there is but one mention of the Turnings of the Sun, and in that passage (Od. xv. 403 seq., ‘There is an Isle called Syria, if haply thou hast heard, beyond Ortygia, where are the turnings of the Sun’) it seems to denote the western limits of the Sun’s path. But in Hesiod the expression occurs three times in the sense of Solstice, the context defining whether the reference is to Summer or Winter. The three passages are W. 479 and 564—both of the Winter Solstice—and W. 663 of the Summer Solstice. Another early reference to the Solstice (apparently Winter) is in a fragment of Alkman quoted by Athenaios, x. 416.
The most significant stars in the time of Homer are enumerated in Iliad, xviii. 483 seqq., where we are told that when Hephaistos made the Shield of Achilles, ‘he wrought thereon Earth and Heaven and Sea, and the unwearied sun and the full moon and all the signs (τείρεα) wherewith the Heaven is crowned, the Pleiades and the Hyades and the might of Orion and the Bear (Arktos), which also men call the Wain (ἄμαξα), which turneth in her place and keepeth watch upon Orion, and alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean.’ We have a similar list in Odyssey, v. 270 seqq.: Odysseus sailing from Ogygia ‘steered with the rudder skilfully, and sleep never fell upon his eyes as he looked on the Pleiades and late-setting Bootes and Arktos, which also men call the Wain, which turneth in her place and keepeth watch upon Orion and alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean; that star did Kalypso the bright goddess bid him keep on his left hand as he fared over the sea’ (i.e. to steer east).
Besides these stars Homer knows also the Dog Star. In Iliad v. 4 seq. we are told that Athene gave might and courage to Diomedes: ‘she kindled flame unwearied from his helmet and shield, like to the star of summer (ἀστέρ’ ὀπωρινῷ ἐναλίγκιον) which shineth brightest, when he hath bathed in Ocean.’ The season denoted by Opora is the fruit season, roughly August-September. Hence at the first blush it would seem natural to think that Arkturos was referred to, and so Schol. B. interpreted. But that the reference is to the Dog Star is definitely shown by the similar passage in Iliad xxii. 25 seqq.: ‘And aged Priam was the first to mark him (Achilles) as he sped over the plain, blazing as the star that cometh in the fruit-season’ (L.L.M. ‘at harvest time’ is rather misleading, as it naturally suggests the grain harvest, which was over before the rising of the Dog Star), ‘and conspicuous shine forth his rays amid the host of stars in the darkness of night; whom men name Orion’s Dog. Brightest of all is he, yet an evil sign he is, and bringeth much fever upon hapless men.’
Lastly Homer knows the Evening Star, Hesperos, Il. xxii. 317 seqq.: the gleam from the spear of Achilles was ‘even as the star Hesperos which cometh amid the stars in the darkness of night, fairest of all stars set in Heaven’; and the Morning Star, Heosphoros (Ἑωσϕόρος), Il. xxiii. 226 seq., ‘what time the Morning Star cometh to herald light upon the earth, the star that saffron-robed Dawn cometh after and spreadeth over the salt sea, then,’ &c. The Morning Star is referred to again without a name in Od. xiii. 93 seqq., ‘what time the brightest star ariseth, which chiefly cometh to announce the light of Dawn the early-born, at that hour the sea-faring ship drew nigh to the island.’ As Miss Agnes Clerke (Familiar Studies in Homer, pp. 38-39) rightly remarks, neither Homer nor Hesiod show any faintest knowledge or suspicion either that the Evening Star is only another aspect of the Morning Star or of any distinction at all between planets and fixed stars. The statement (made, e.g., in the Harmsworth Encyclopaedia) s.v. Hesperus, that ‘Hesperus, the Greek name of Venus as the evening star, was identified with the morning star both by Homer and Hesiod, under the name of Phosphorus’ has no foundation in fact. Indeed the name Phosphorus is not found in either poet.
Coming now to Hesiod, we find the same stars mentioned as in Homer. We have the Pleiades, W. 383 (where they are called Atlas-born, or daughters of Atlas), 572, 615, 619: called also Peleiades in F. 177 (9), 178 (10), 179 (11). We have the Hyades and Orion coupled with the Pleiades in W. 615 (the Pleiades and the Hyades and the might of Orion); Orion and the Pleiades, W. 619; Orion coupled with Sirios, W. 609; and Orion by himself in W. 598.
Arkturos is mentioned twice, W. 566 and 610. By Arkturos Hesiod means the same as Homer by Bootes; in later Greek he is also called Arktophylax, and Aratus seems to use Arktophylax for the Constellation, and Arkturos, just as we do, for its brightest star; Arat. Phen. 91 seqq., ‘Behind Helike moves, like to one driving, Arktophylax, whom men also call Bootes, since he appears to lay his hands on the wain-like Bear; all of him is very conspicuous, but under his belt rolls brightly the star Arkturos himself.’ The Schol. on this passage says that Arktophylax was an Arkadian, son of Zeus and Kallisto, and that he was brought up by a goatherd on Mount Lykaion, and being with his mother in danger of his life, Zeus in pity turned him into a star. He adds, ‘This is said to be Arktophylax, Bootes, Orion, . . . and also he is called Trugetes (Vintager). Theon and Hesychios also call Bootes Orion, and it has been suggested that there were two Orions, Bootes being one. This and the identification of the stars mentioned in Job ix. 9, xxxviii. 31-32, Amos, v. 8, cannot be discussed here.
Sirios, as we have seen above, is mentioned by Homer as Orion’s Dog, the Star which cometh in the season of Opora; the name Sirios occurs for the first time in Hesiod, W. 417, 587, 609, S. 153, 397.
Lastly Hesiod mentions the Morning Star, but only as a mythological personification, in T. 381, where we are told that Dawn bare to Astraios ‘the Morning Star (Ἑωσϕόρος) and the shining constellations wherewith the heaven is crowned’.
3. It would be easy, as it might be interesting, to give numerous illustrations of the manner in which the year was mapped out by the Star Calendar. I shall content myself here by giving two illustrations, one ancient, the other modern.
(1) The first is from the collection called Geoponica, a Greek compilation of extracts on agriculture, largely from Roman writers, by Cassianus Bassus, and generally ascribed to a date about a.d. 900-1000. The following Calendar forms chap. 9 of Book I, and is entitled ‘The Rising and Setting of the visible stars. From the Quintilii’. It proceeds thus:
Whereas it is essential that farmers should know the risings and settings of the visible stars, so have I written of them in such manner that even those that are quite unlettered might easily understand the seasons of their rising and setting.
1. On the New Moon in January the Dolphin rises (i.e. heliacally).
2. On 26th February Arkturos rises in the evening (i.e. acronychal rising).
3. On the New Moon in April, the Pleiades suffer acronychal occultation (ἀκρόνυχοι κρύπτονται, cf. Hesiod, W. 385 seqq.: Forty days and nights are they hidden and shine again with the revolving year, when first the sickle is sharpened. That is, the Pleiades are now too near the sun to be visible after nightfall, although above the horizon. They will remain invisible until they arrive sufficiently far in front of the sun to be again visible as a morning constellation at their heliacal rising).
4. On 16th April the Pleiades are occulted in the evening (i.e. the Pleiades are too near the sun to be visible even in the twilight).
5. On 23rd April the Pleiades rise with the sun (i.e. the Pleiades are now in conjunction with the sun; they rise with him and set with him, and are consequently completely invisible).
6. On 29th April Orion is occulted in the evening (see 4).
7. On 30th April the Hyades rise with the sun (see 5).
8. On 7th May the Pleiades become visible in the morning (this is their heliacal rising).
9. On 19th May the Hyades become visible in the morning (heliacal rising).
10. On 7th June Arkturos sets in the morning (Cosmical Setting, as explained above).
11. On 23rd June Orion begins to rise.
12. On 10th July Orion rises in the morning.
13. On 13th July Prokyon rises in the morning.
14. On 24th July the Dog rises in the morning.
15. On 26th July the Etesian winds begin to blow.
16. On 30th July the bright star in the breast of the lion rises.
17. On 25th August the Arrow sets.
18. On 15th September Arkturos rises (heliacal).
19. On 4th October the Crown rises in the morning.
20. On 24th October the Pleiades set with sunrise.
21. On 11th November, the Pleiades set in the morning, and Orion begins to set.
22. On 22nd November the Dog sets in the morning.
(2) As a second illustration of the Star Calendar I take a Rustic Calendar published in an English treatise on agriculture in 1669. The Calendar is of course the Old Style or Julian Calendar, as, though the New Style or Gregorian Calendar was promulgated in 1582, it was not adopted in England till 1752. It is entitled ‘Kalendarium Rusticum, or The Husbandman’s Monethly Directions’. To each month is appended the agricultural operations suitable to the month, but these I shall only give in so far as they illustrate ancient agriculture. As the Calendar is a rustic Calendar, it of course does not enumerate all the days of the month, but only those marked by some particular event. The hours of sunrise and sunset are given, and I have thought it worth while to retain these here. The author of the Calendar in an interesting preface remarks that:
There are two sorts of Times and Seasons prescribed by the Ancients to be observed in Agriculture, viz. of the year, being onely the motion of the Sun through the twelve signes of the Zodiaque, which begets the different seasons and temperatures of the Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter; And of the Aspects and State of the Moon and Stars, whereof, and also of several Prognosticks of the Mutability, state, and condition of the several Seasons, and their natural inclinations, I shall give you at the end of this Kalendar a Breviat, and of such observations as I have found in several ancient and modern Authors, treating of that subject.
This Breviat of Prognosticks is duly appended to the Calendar and corresponds to the Days part of Hesiod’s Works and Days, the Diosemeia of Aratos, or the ‘certa signa’ enumerated by Vergil, Georg. i. 351 seqq. The writer gives warning further that every year is not alike, nor every place, but ‘some years, or at least some seasons of the year, prove more forward by two or three weaks or more, at one time than at another, also the scituation of places either better defended from, or more obvious to the intemperature of the Air begets some alterations; in these and such like cases the subsequent Rules are to be seasonably applyed, by the judicious Husbandman, according as the season happens to be earlier or later, or the different scituation of places requires.’ He refers to his predecessors in writing of Agriculture as ‘Hesiod, Columella, Palladius, de Serres, Augustino, Gallo, Tusser, Markham, Stevenson, and others, and last of all Mr. Evelin, his excellent Kalendarium Hortense, at the end of his Sylva.’
In 1669 the legal and ecclesiastical year in England still began on 25th March (Lady Day), although the popular reckoning was from 1st January. The 1st of January was not adopted as the beginning of the legal year until the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. The writer concludes his preface with a reference to this fact:—
I shall endeavour herein to be as brief as I can, I shall add nothing more than what is necessary, and shall leave out such things that are but little to our purpose, and shall begin with the major part of our Presidents in the like case, although the year in respect of the Suns entrance into Aries, and the commencement of the year, begins in March, yet Tusser declines both and begins at Michaelmas (i.e. 29th September), it being the usual time for the Farmer to enter on his Farm, the ground being then more easily cleered of its former stock, than at any other time; but seeing that it is no very matterial thing when we begin, our labour having no end, we will tread the most usual Path, decline both extreams, and begin when our days do sensibly lengthen, our hopes revive of an approaching Summer, and our Almanacks gives us a New-Years-day.
Mensis difficillimus hic Hybernus, difficilis ovibus difficilisque hominibus. [= Hesiod, W. 557 sq.]
This moneth is the rich Mans charge, and the poor Mans misery, the cold like the days increase, yet qualified with the hopes and expectations of the approaching Spring; the Trees, Meadows, and Fields are now naked, unless cloathed in white whilest the countreyman sits at home, and enjoyes the Fruit of his past labours, and contemplates on his intended Enterprises, now is welcom a cup of good Cider or other excellent Liquors, such that you prepared the Autumn before, moderately taken it proves the best Physick.
A cold January is seasonable: Plough up or fallow the Ground you intend for Pease.
Sow oats if you will have of the best, says old Tusser:
Prune . . . Vines, so that it be not too frosty.
‘Ut sementem feceris ita et metes’ [= N. T. Galat. vi. 7, δ γὰρ ἂν σπείρῃ ἄνθρωπος, τονˆτο καὶ θερίσει]: This is a principal Seed-Moneth for such they usually call Lenten Grain; this Moneth is usually subject to much Rain or Snow, if it prove either it is not to be accounted unseasonable, the Proverb being, February fill Dike, with either black or white.
Sow Fitches [= Vetches: cf. e.g. Isaiah xxviii. 25, ‘When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place?’], Beans and Oats, Carry out Dung and spread it before the Plough, and also on Pasture Ground, this being the principal Moneth for that purpose. . . .
Soyl Meadows that you cannot overflow or water . . .
You may yet prune and trim Fruit-trees.
The beginning of March usually concludes the nipping Winter, the end initiates the subsequent welcome Spring, according to the Proverb, March comes in like a Lyon, and goes out like a lamb. If it prove cold, it is seasonable to check the pregnant Buds, and forbid them till a more safe and opportune season, near approaching. If this moneth prove dry, the Countrey-man counts it ominous of a happy year for Corn.
Diluculo surgere saluberrimum est. The Mornings now seem pleasant, the days long. The Nymphs of the Woods in consort welcome in Aurora.
If April prove dry, fallowing is good. Gather up Worms and Snails after evening showers.
This Moneth ushers in the most welcome Season of the Year. Now gentle Zephirus fans the sweet Buds, and the Celestial Drops water fair Flora’s Garden.
The Countrey-man’s heart is revived (if this moneth prove seasonable) with the hopes of a happy Autumn; if it be cold it is an Omen of good for health, and promises fair for a full Barn.
If your Corn be too rank, now you may mow it, or feed it with Sheep before it be two forward. Weed corn. In some places Barley may be sown in this Moneth.
Twifallow your Land, carry out Soyl or Compost, gather stones from the Fallows.
A Shower at this time of the year is generally welcome, now Phoebus ascends the utmost limits of the Zodiaque towards the Pole-Artick, and illuminates our most Northern Climes, and makes those Countreys that within a few moneths seemed to be wholly bereft of Pleasure, now to resemble a Terrestrial Paradise, and gives unto them the full proportion of his presence which in the Winter past was withdrawn, that they partake equally of his light with the more Southern Countryes; the glorious Sun glads the Spirit of Nature, and the sweet flowers now refresh the thirsty Earth, the Grain and Fruits now shew themselves to the joy of the Husbandman; the Trees are all in their rich Aray, and the Earth itself laden with the Countreymans wealth, if the weather be calm it makes the Farmer smile on his hopeful Crop.
Fallow your Wheat-land in hot weather, it kills the Weeds. Arationes eo fructuosiores sunt, quo calidiore terra aratur itaque inter solstitium et caniculam absolvendae, saith Varro.
Carry Marle, Lime, and Manure, of what kind soever to your Land, bring home your Coals and other necessary Fewel fetcht far off, before the Teams are busied at the Hay-harvest.
In thirsty July would the parched Earth be glad of a moistening Shower, to refresh and revive the scorched Vegetable. Now is there an equal care taken to avoid Phoebus his bright and burning beams, as in the Winter the furious blasts of cold Boreas. Tempests now injure much the laden Fruit-trees and standing Corn, to the great detriment of the Husbandman.
Now is the universal time for Hay making. Mow your Head-lands, thryfallow where the land requires it.
At the latter end of this Moneth Corn-harvest begins in most places in a forward year.
Now bright Phoebus, after he hath warmed our Northern Hemisphere, retires nimbly towards the Southern, and the fresh Gales of Zephirus begins to refrigerate the scorching Sun-beams. The Earth now yields to the patient Husbandman the fruits of his Labours; This Moneth returns the Countrey-mans expences into his Coffers with increase, and encourages him to another years adventure. If this moneth prove dry, warm, and free from high Windes, it rejoyceth the Country-mans heart, increaseth his gains, and abates a great part of his Disbursements.
It is now the Equinoctial that bids adieu to the pleasant Summer past, and summons us to prepare for the approaching Winter, the Beauty and Lustre of the Earth is generally decaying. Our Country-men and Ladies do now lament the loss of those beautiful Objects, Ceres, Flora, and Pomona, in their Fields, Gardens, and Orchards, so lately presented them withal; But that their minds and hands are busied in preparing for another return, in hopes of a better Crop: gentle Showers now glad the Ploughman’s heart, makes the Earth mellow, and better prepares it for the Wheat, which delights in a moist receptacle: still weather and dry is most seasonable for the Fruits yet on the Trees, the Salmon and Trout in most Rivers go now out of season till Christmas.
This moneth is the most universal time for the Farmer to take possession of his new Farm; get good Seed, and sow Wheat in the dirt and Rye in the dust.
Amend the Fences about the new sown Corn, skare away Crowes, Pigeons, &c., gather Mast and put Swine into the Woods.
Carry home Brakes, saw Timber and Boards, manure your Wheatlands before the Plough.
Now enters October, which many times gives us earnest of what we are to expect the Winter succeeding; that I may say,
If it prove Windy as it usually doth, it finishes the fall of the Leaf, and also shatters down the Mast and other Fruits, leaving neither Leaf nor Fruit.
Lay up Barly-land as dry as you can, Seedtime yet continues, and especially for Wheat.
Well water, furrow, and drain the new sown Corn Land.
November generally proves a dirty moneth, the Earth and Trees wholly uncloathed. Sowing of Wheat and Rye on a conclusion, the Countrey-man generally forsakes the Fields, and spends his time at the Barn, and at the Market. A good fire begins to be welcome.
Wheat may be sown on very warm and rich Lands, especially on burn-baited Land.
Thrash not Wheat to keep until March, lest it prove foisty.
Lay straw or other waste Stuff in moist places to rot for Dung; also lay Dung on heaps.
Fell Coppice-woods, and plant all sorts of Timber, or other Trees; fell Trees for Mechanick uses, as Plough-boot, Cart-boot &c.
Prune Trees, mingle your rich Compost with the Earth in your Orchards against the Spring.
Phoebus now leaves us the shortest days and longest nights, is newly entred Capricornus, the most Southern Celestial Sign, and begins his Annual Return, which very much rejoyceth the Countreyman’s heart, to see a lengthening of the day, although accompanied by an increase of Cold. The Earth is generally fast locked up under its frozen Coat, that the Husbandman hath leisure to sit and spend what Store he hath before-hand provided.
Now is it time to house old Cattel; cut all sorts of Timber and other Trees for Building or other Utensils.
Plant all sort of Trees that shed their Leaf, and are natural to our English Clime, and not too tender.
Let horses blood. Fat swine and kill them. Plough up the Land for Beans, drain Corn-fields where Water offends, and water or overflow your Meadows.
4. Before examining the Hesiodic Calendar in detail it will be well to consider the agricultural system of the heroic age in general. That system seems to have been as follows. It is a sort of two-shift rotation. Rotation of crops, in the sense of taking different kinds of crops from a given piece of land in different years, was unknown. Hence the only means by which the land could recuperate its vigour was to leave it untilled in alternate years. This system, once universal, has furnished Pindar with two fine similes: Nem. vi. 8 sqq., in honour of Alkimidas of Aigina, in whose family athletic prowess displayed itself in alternate generations: ‘Now doth Alkimidas evince his breeding, like to the fruitful fields which, alternately, now yield to man his yearly bread from the plains, and now again, they rest and recover their strength.’ So again Nem. xi. 37, in honour of Aristagoras of Tenedos, whose father had not been a distinguished athlete: ‘Ancient deeds of prowess repeat their vigour in alternate generations of men. Neither doth the dark fields yield their fruit continuously, nor will the trees with every circling year bear their fragrant flowers in equal wealth, but in their turns only: thus also doth Fate guide the race of men.’
I have said the land was left idle in alternate years, and so Vergil advises: Georg. i. 71 sq. ‘Alternis idem tonsas cessare novales, Et segnem patiere situ durescere campum’; and Pliny, N. H. xviii. 19, 176, defines novale in the same way: novale est quod alternis annis seritur. But the system need not have been always so definite as this, and even alternis annis might be taken somewhat less strictly, as a simple opposite to ‘continuously’. Thus in Palestine to-day, where the same procedure is still followed, the leaving of the land fallow is more or less haphazard, depending on the abundance or lack of rain, or the supply of human and animal labour. Only they at least take care to vary the land for the winter and the summer sowing. For the latter the land requires careful preparation, and after the first breaking-up is ploughed two or three times.
A similarly haphazard system of fallowing prevailed in the North of Scotland, at least up to the beginning of last century. Here is a description by the Hon. John Johnston (in an address to the Wisconsin Farmers’ Institute, Illinois, in 1897) of the system of agriculture which obtained in Aberdeenshire in the days of his grandfather, who farmed from 1782-1832: ‘The farms in our neighbourhood in my grandfather’s time were divided into the “intown” and the “outfields”. The former was about a third of the farm around the houses. All the manure was placed upon it, and it, of course, was the richest land, but that is not saying much, for the manure amounted to but little. They would always plough the land in the same direction, and in time the ridges became like small hills with valleys between them. There was no such thing as rotation of crops, and turnips, clover, and potatoes were unknown. Oats, peas, and barley were the chief crops; and after the “intown” had been cropped for years and would not produce more than about twice the seed, part of it was given a rest—that is, was not ploughed. Thereupon, it produced a bountiful crop of wild grasses, thistles, “skellochs,” sorrel, rushes, and tansies. If this was the treatment of the “intown”, you can imagine how the “outfields” looked. I remember that our “outfields” on the hill were largely covered with heather, and on the low and wet ground with rushes, for drains were not thought of. I need hardly say that the use of artificial manure was wholly unknown, although they did treat the soil once in a while to a little taste of lime.’
The land then thus left unsown becomes to all intents and purposes uncultivated land. It has, so to speak, to be ‘taken in’ afresh: it is new land. Hence, I think, the Greek term νειός, if that be connected with νέος, ‘new,’ as the Latin novalis suggests. If, however, we separate νείατος (= lowest), νειόθεν (= from the bottom) from νέος, then νειός might conceivably mean simply ‘soil’ generally, and this we might parallel with English ‘bottom’, Scots ‘boddum’ (so frequently used of soil), Latin fundus, Greek πυθμήν. But, after all, for our present purpose it is not necessary to dogmatize about the derivation of the word.
Now, assuming the two-shift system, let us call one A, the other B. Towards the end of April the grain harvest on A is ripening. After harvest A will normally lie untouched until the following spring. It will then be turned up (ἔαρι πολεɩ̂ν, W. 462) just before harvest, and will undergo several similar operations, until finally, at the cosmical setting of the Pleiades about the end of October or beginning of November, it will be ploughed and sown, and will again bear a crop of grain in the following year, after an interval of two years from the previous crop. Meanwhile B, which had carried a crop the year previous to A’s first crop, provides the crop in the intermediate year, i.e. in A’s blank year; and so on in rotation. Nothing could be simpler, and this with slight modifications was the universal system of primitive agriculture.
The turning of the fallow was done either by the plough or by the mattock. Aratus, Phaen. 5 sqq., says that ‘Zeus is kindly unto men and sheweth them favourable signs and stirreth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood: he telleth them when the soil is best for oxen’ (i.e. for the plough) ‘and for the mattock: he telleth when the seasons are favourable for trenching about plants and for casting all manner of seeds.’ So also Xenophon, Oec. xvi, refers to ‘making the fallow’ with the mattock (σκάπτοντες τὴν νεὸν ποιοɩ̂εν).
The first turning took place in spring, and the verb used is πολεɩ̂ν. The corresponding Latin word is proscindere, which means not to plough early, but to break up by straight furrows (rectis sulcis), the adverb pro having the same force here as in prosa oratio, i.e. prorsa ‘gerade oder schlicht vor sich hingehende’, as opposed to cross ploughing (sulcis obliquis vel transversis). The land then lay exposed to wind and weather till harvest, when it was turned a second time (θέρεος νεωμένη, W. 462). Then in early September, or late August, as we may infer from the known later practice (cf. Geopon. iii. 12, 6; Verg. Georg. i. 67 sq., &c.), it was turned a third time. It is to this ‘thrice-turned field’, or ‘thryfallow’ in old English phrase, that Homer refers, Il. xviii. 541 sq. (typical field on Shield of Achilles) ἐν δ’ ἐτίθει νειὸν μαλακήν, πίειραν ἄρουραν, | εὐρεɩ̂αν τρίπολον—the scene being not a spring scene, as the commentators interpret, but an autumn (winter) scene; cf. also Od. v. 127, νειῷ ἐνὶ τριπόλῳ, and the name of Demeter’s foster-son Triptolemos, i. e. Τριπόλεμος. There is of course no reference to three crops a year. The term πολεɩ̂ν (cf. πολεύειν, Soph. Antig. 340 sq., ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος | ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων) of itself merely means turning the surface (cf. ἐπιπολη̂ς). νεονˆν, Lat. novare, seems to express the same thing by a different metaphor. It is interesting to note that our own ‘fallow’ means literally ‘harrowed’, from A.-S. fealb = harrow. And just as ‘fallow’ of colour in ‘fallow deer’ is related, I imagine, to Greek πολιός, so I fancy is ‘fallow’ as applied to land related to Greek πολεɩ̂ν.
‘Fallow’ is by some, but I think wrongly, supposed here also to refer merely ‘to the prevailing colour’ of fallow fields. This might seem to derive some plausibility from Milton’s ‘Russet lawns and fallows gray, Where the nibbling flocks do stray’. But probably the other derivation could be proved to be correct.
Any one of those ‘turnings’ or ‘fallowings’ might be duplicated: Xenophon, Oeconom. xvi, εἰ ἐν τῷ θέρει ὅτι πλειστάκις μεταβάλοι τις τὴν γη̂ν; Theocritus, xxv. 25 sq., τριπόλοις σπόρον ἐν νειοɩ̂σιν | ἔσθ’ ὅτε βάλλοντες καὶ τετραπόλοισιν ὁμοίως. Columella, ii. 4, ‘igitur uliginosi campi proscindi debent post idus mensis Aprilis. Quo tempore cum arati fuerint, viginti diebus interpositis circa solstitium, quod est ix. vel viii. Kal. Iulias, iteratos esse oportebit, ac deinde circa Septembres tertiatos.’ Finally at the setting of the Pleiades at the beginning of November the ‘thrice-ploughed’ field is ploughed and sown, this last ploughing being merely an integral part of the sowing operation, as described, W. 467 sqq. Hence ἄροτος, though one may translate it ‘ploughing’, regularly means also ‘sowing’ as in, e.g., Theophrast. H. P. viii. 6, 1, σπείρειν δὲ συμϕέρει πάντα μάλιστα μὲν ἐν τοɩ̂ς ὡραίοις ἀρότοις, and Arat. Phaen. 1051 sqq.
The imaginary conversation in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, chap. xvi. sqq., so well illustrates the whole subject of ploughing and sowing that it seems worth while to give a summary of it here:—
Isch. First, Socrates, I wish to show you that what is described by theorists as the most difficult point of agriculture—the knowledge of the nature of the soil—is not really difficult.
Soc. I think the experts are right. A man who does not know what the soil can produce, cannot know what to sow or what to plant.
I. Then one can learn by observation of another man’s land what it is capable or incapable of producing, in the way of crops or trees; knowing this, there is no good in tempting Providence (οὐκέτι συμϕέρει θεομαχεɩ̂ν). There is no advantage to a man in sowing or planting what he would like, rather than what the ground pleases to produce or nurture. If the land, owing to the sloth of its tenants, is not able to show its nature, one can learn a truer account of it from [the observation of] any neighbouring place often than from a neighbouring man (i.e. tenant). At the same time land left untilled (χερσεύ[Editor: illegible character]υσα) exhibits its nature. If it produces a fine crop of wild plants, then with cultivation it will produce a fine crop of cultivated plants. Even those inexperienced in farming are able to distinguish the nature of land.
S. Yes, even seamen, passing hurriedly along the coast, do not hesitate to characterize land as good or bad according to the crops they see, agreeing in general with experts in agriculture.
I. Where then shall I begin my precepts in agriculture—you know a great deal.
S. I want to know—being a philosopher—by what method of culture I can, if I will, get the best crop of barley or of wheat.
I. Well, you know, first of all, that one must prepare the fallow for sowing (τῷ σπόρῳ νεὸν δεɩ̂ ὑπεργάζεσθαι).
I. Suppose then we commenced ploughing (ἀρονˆν) the land in winter?
S. Nay, it would be mud.
I. Well, summer?
S. The ground will be hard for a team to stir (σκληρὰ . . . κινεɩ̂ν τῷ ζεύγει).
I. I dare say then we must begin this operation in spring.
S. Yes, for it is natural that the ground when stirred at that season should most of all be loosened.
I. And also the grass (πόαν), being turned up at that season, will furnish manure (κόπρον) for the land, and at the same time it will not shed seed so as to grow. You know, I fancy, that if the fallow (ἡ νεός) is to be good, it must be free from weeds (ὕλης δεɩ̂ καθαρὰν . . . εἰ̂να[Editor: illegible character]) and, as much as possible, baked in the sun (ὀπτὴν ὅτι μάλιστα πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον).
S. I agree.
I. Do you think these objects could be better achieved than by turning the ground as often as possible in summer (εἰ ἐν τῷ θέρει ὅτι πλειστάκις μεταβάλοι τις τὴν γη̂ν).
S. I am quite assured that there is no better means of having the weeds on the surface (ἡ ὕλη ἐπιπολάζοι) and withered by the heat (αὐαίνοιτο ὑπὸ τονˆ καύματος) and the land baked (ὀπτῷτο) by the sun, than stirring it in midsummer and at midday by the team [i.e. by the plough].
I. But if men were to make the fallow by digging (σκάπτοντες τὴν νεὺν ποιοɩ̂εν), is it not clear that they also would separate the soil and the weeds?
S. Yes, and they would cast down the weeds on the surface so as to wither, and turn the earth, so that the raw soil [cf. Latin crudus = undigested] should be baked.
I. You see, then, Socrates, we are agreed about the fallow.
S. Yes, we are.
I. Now about sowing, have you any other opinion than that we should sow at that season which is universally recognized to be best—by the men of old through experience, by men of the present day by tradition? When the autumn time comes (ὁ μετοπωρινὸς χρόνος), all men look to God for the time when He will rain on the earth and let them sow.
S. All men recognize that, Ischomachos, and that they must not, if it can be helped, sow while the land is dry, obviously because they had grievous disasters to wrestle with (πολλαɩ̂ς ζημίαις παλαίσαντες) who sowed before they were bidden by God to sow.
I. Then we are all agreed upon these things.
S. Yes, as God teaches, so men agree; as, for instance, all men think it better to wear thick cloaks in winter, if they can, and to burn fire, if they have wood.
I. But in this particular many differ about sowing, whether the early sowing is the best, or the middle, or the last.
S. Nay, God guides not the year according to a fixed rule: one year is best for the early sowing, another for the middle, another for the latest.
I. Do you think, Socrates, it is the better policy to select one of the sowing times and use it—whether one is sowing much seed or little—or to begin with the earliest sowing and continue sowing till the latest?
S. I think, Ischomachos, it is better to share in the whole sowing season. For I consider it much better to get always a sufficient crop of corn, than to get sometimes abundance, sometimes not even an adequate supply.
I. In this point then also you the pupil agree with me the teacher—and that though you declare your opinion before me.
S. Why, is there any subtle art in casting seed?
I. Assuredly, Socrates, let us consider this point too. You know that the seed must be cast from the hand.
S. Yes, I have seen it done.
I. And some can cast the seed evenly, some cannot.
S. Then in this point the hand wants practice, as a harper’s does, so as to obey the will.
I. Certainly. But what if the land be rather thin, or rather rich?
S. How do you mean? By thin do you mean weak, by rich do you mean strong?
I. I do; and my question is—would you give both kinds of land the same quantity of seed, or to which of them would you give the greater quantity?
S. I think that the stronger a wine is, the more water one should add: if a burden is to be carried, I would put the greater weight on the stronger man: if a certain number of persons have to be supported, I would make the more affluent support the greater number. But whether weak land becomes stronger the more seed you put in it—like cattle,—as to that you must instruct me.
I. (smiling) You are jesting, Socrates. You may be sure that if you put seed in the ground, and then, at the period when the ground receives abundant nourishment from the air and the green braird has sprung up from the seed, you then plough it in, this forms food for the ground, which receives strength from it as from manure. If, however, you allow the earth to nurture the seed right on till harvest, then it is difficult for a weak soil to bring a large crop to maturity.
S. I understand you to mean that the weaker the soil the smaller quantity of seed you would put in it?
I. I do, and you agree with me when you say that the weaker the person the smaller the burden you would put on them.
S. Now, why do you turn the hoers (σκαλέας) on to the corn?
I. You know that in winter there are frequent rains?
I. Suppose then some of the corn gets covered up by a deposit of mud owing to the rains, while on the other hand some roots are laid bare by a flood: often too the rains cause weeds to spring up along with the corn and choke it.
S. All this is natural.
I. Then just here the corn needs some assistance?
I. How then shall we assist that part of the corn which is covered with mud?
S. By loosening the soil (ἐπικουϕίσαντες τὴν γη̂ν).
I. And how assist that which has its roots laid bare?
S. By the contrary process of gathering the earth about it (ἀντιπροσαμησάμενοι τὴν γη̂ν).
I. What if the corn is choked by weeds springing up with it and robbing it of its sustenance—like the drones which, themselves useless, rob the bees of the sustenance which they have stored up by their labour?
S. The weeds would have to be rooted out—just as we take the drones out of the hives.
I. Don’t you think then that we are justified in turning on the hoers?
S. Certainly. And I am thinking how good a thing is the introduction of an apt simile. Your mention of drones has made me quite angry with weeds—much more than your simple mention of weeds.
5. We are now in a position to examine the Farmer’s Year as expounded in W. 383-617, which I am confident we shall find a much more lucid and orderly document than appears to be commonly supposed.
The reader should of course remember that the dates of the rising and setting of stars depend on the date at which we suppose Hesiod to have lived. Owing to the precession of equinoxes the rising of a star becomes progressively later, about one day in seventy years. Also there is a certain ambiguity about ‘rising’ and ‘setting’, due to the fact that a star, although really above the horizon, may yet be invisible owing to the presence of mist on the horizon. This of course in a clear atmosphere like that of Greece will be relatively less important than in this country. Further, the reader should be warned that there is a natural tendency among writers to assume a fixed date for the rising and setting of stars, without taking account of the effect of precession. If we could be sure that Hesiod was speaking strictly of his own day, and if we could be quite sure of his definition of rising and setting, we could fix his date by the well-known passage in W. 564 sqq., where he says that Arkturos rises acronychally sixty days after the Winter Solstice. Thus De Morgan on The Use of the Globes (1845) says: ‘Hesiod distinctly states that Arkturos rose at sunset sixty days after the Winter Solstice. Assuming that Hesiod lived b.c. 900 in latitude 38° . . . we find this is exactly true, though the agreement to one day is doubtless accidental.’
In the following remarks the latitude assumed is that of Athens, 38°, and the date 800 b.c. As the precession of the equinoxes completes its cycle in 25,868 years, say 26,000 years, the precession in 2,600 years is 360/10°, and in 2,700 years (i. e. the period from 800 b. c. to the present time) the amount of precession is 37½.
Hesiod, then, begins his exposition by defining the two critical epochs in the farmer’s year—sowing and harvest. The former (the word used is ‘ploughing’, but I need not further insist that ‘ploughing’ here has nothing whatever to do with following the νειὸς τρίπολος, but is merely an integral part of the operation of sowing, cf. Euripid. Electra, 78 sq., where Electra’s peasant (αὐτουργός) protector says, ‘But I with break of day will turn my oxen on to the land and sow the fields’) is defined as taking place at the setting of the Pleiades, i. e. the cosmical setting of the Pleiades twenty-five days after the autumnal equinox. The harvest is to take place at the rising (heliacal) of the Pleiades, i. e. twenty-seven days after the vernal equinox. Hesiod then adds the remark that the Pleiades are invisible (κεκρύϕαται) for forty days and forty nights, i. e. owing to their proximity to the sun they are invisible, though really above the horizon, for a certain period before conjunction and for a certain period after conjunction, but ‘shine again with the revolving year, when first the sickle is sharpened’, i. e. they now arrive sufficiently in front of the sun to be visible on the eastern horizon just before sunrise, i. e. they now rise heliacally.
It should be observed that at the present day the Pleiades are invisible in this country for more than sixty days, from the end of April to the beginning of July, being in conjunction about May 18.
It would perhaps merely confuse matters to illustrate here the immense significance of the Pleiades for the early observer, as for primitive communities all over the world at the present day. Neither need we discuss here the origin of the name Pleiades, which some derive from πλεɩ̂ν, to sail, in reference to their significance for the early sailor; others from root of Πλείονες, as if meaning ‘many’: neither of which derivations seems convincing. In England they used to be known as the ‘Clocke Henne and Chickens’ or the ‘Brood-henne’, &c. In Latin of course they were called Vergiliae, or poetically Atlantides, as in Vergil, Georg. i. 221, ‘Ante tibi Eoae1 Atlantides abscondantur, | . . . Debita quam sulcis committas semina’; or by their Greek name, as Verg. Georg. i. 138, Propert. ii. 16, 51, iii, 5, 36, &c. Every English reader is familiar with the passages in the Old Testament which have been supposed to refer to the Pleiades: Job ix. 9, ‘Which maketh Arkturos, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south’; xxxviii. 31 sq., ‘Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arkturos with his sons?’ The word here translated Pleiades is in Hebrew Kīmah (בִּיםָה), and occurs again in Amos v. 8, where the O. V. has ‘the seven stars’. The identification is not certain, but is thought to be supported by Assyrian kimtu, ‘family’, Arab. kumat, ‘heap’, Ath-thurayya, ‘the little ones’. The word translated ‘sweet influences’ (םַעַדַ[Editor: illegible character]וֹח) is now generally rendered ‘bands’ or ‘knots’. G. Hoffman (as quoted by Cheyne) identifies Kīma with Sirios, while ’Ayish (עַיִשׁ), generally taken to be Arkturos, he identifies with Pleiades.
One other reference to the Pleiades may be referred to here, because it so clearly indicates the association of ploughing and sowing: it is from the Phaenomena of Aratos, 264 sqq.: ‘Small and dim though they be, yet notable they wheel at morn and eventide, thanks to Zeus, who hath commanded them to give the signal both of harvest (θέρεος) and of winter’s beginning and impending ploughing,’ where the Scholiast’s note is perhaps worth translating:—
He calls them ‘small’ because they consist of faint stars. But ‘notable’ nevertheless and famous because both their rising and their setting are of essential import to men, since at their rising harvest should be begun, and at their setting, ploughing. By ‘at morn’ (ἡρι) he means dawn or their rising. For they rise with the sun at dawn when he is in Tauros, from the 25th of the month Pharmouthi [Barmoodeh] which with the Romans is April, which date also is the harvesting season among the Egyptians; ‘at eventide’: they rise in the evening [Acronychal Rising] when the sun is in Scorpio, in the month of Athur [Hátoor], which among the Romans is November, which is the ploughing season. For they are evening stars when they rise toward evening. The succeeding words mean ‘notable at morn and eventide they wheel and are carried round with the heavens. And of this Zeus is the cause, who placed them among the stars, who made them bring the signals alike of the beginning of harvest and the beginning of winter.’ Understand then, they rise in the morning in Pharmouthi at the beginning of harvest: they set in the morning in the month of Athur at the beginning of winter.
Hesiod, then, after defining the dates of those two important epochs, subjoins to them some subsidiary precepts with which we need not concern ourselves here, as they are of general application.
Next, in 405-47 he discusses the indispensable preliminaries to farming: First in 405-13 he gives what is clearly a kind of proverbial list of three essentials—a house, a woman, a ploughing ox. We need not trouble ourselves here as to whether line 406 is genuine or not, i. e. whether the ‘woman’ is to be understood as wife or female slave. These three essentials must be got, and of course this does not depend on the weather and so no date needs to be assigned.
Secondly in 414-47 Hesiod gives a list of farm implements which must be provided. All of them are of wood, and hence Hesiod defines the proper time for cutting wood, namely when the annual growth of the tree ceases and the leaves fall. In very similar words Theophrastos, H. P. V. i. 1, says:—
As a general rule, every sort of wood is most seasonable for strength not merely when it ceases to put forth shoots but still more when it has ripened its fruit.’
Hesiod defines this time by saying that it is when ‘the might of the keen sun abateth sweltering heat, when Zeus Almighty raineth in the autumn and the flesh of men turneth lighter far—for then the star Sirios goeth over the heads of men born to death [or in Chapman’s phrase, ‘hard-fate-foster’d man’], but for a brief space in the daytime, and taketh a greater space of the night’. Now the heliacal rising of Sirios in 800 b.c. was about twenty days after the Summer Solstice, i. e. about July 12. The time now referred to is after the vintage season, i. e. about October, when the dog-days are long past and Sirios is sufficiently in advance of the Sun to be visible for a large part of the night. It is in fact what our ancestors called the ‘Shake-time’, when the ‘autumnal leaves’ strew the brooks in Vallombrosa, the time of the ‘wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes.’
It is enough to compare what Cato says, De Agri Cultura, xvii, ‘Robus materies, item ridica, ubi solstitium fuerit ad brumam (mid-winter), semper tempestiva est. . . . Ulmus, cum folia cadunt, tum iterum tempestiva est.’
The implements enumerated by Hesiod are discussed elsewhere.
All is now in readiness for the approach of the sowing season. This might be defined in various ways. Xenophon, as we have seen, in the Oeconomicus tells us how ‘all men, when the autumn time comes, look to God for the time when he will rain on the earth and let them sow’. The tremendous significance of the coming of rain at the right time and in the right amount in a dry country can hardly be fully appreciated by the inhabitants of a country with a climate like ours. Readers of Rolf Boldrewood or Rudyard Kipling will remember vivid pictures of the agony of the rainless season, the weary waiting for the rain. So in Palestine all depends on the coming of rain at the right time. On November 16, in Lydda, north-west of Jerusalem, a festival is celebrated—by the Jews in honour of Elias, by the Moslems in honour of Chidr, by the Christians as the feast of St. George. This festival signifies for the Palestine farmer of every confession the commencement of field-work. Before this time the ‘early rain’, which marks the end of the five-months rainless period, must have fallen: otherwise it is bad. The rainy season falls into three periods: that of the ‘early rain’ in October: that of the ‘winter rain’ from the beginning or middle of November until March: and that of the ‘latter rain in April. ‘In the course of October,’ says a recent German writer, ‘the clouds gather in the West. One afternoon a strong wind springs up: all is in expectation. After darkness comes on, faint thunder is heard, a few scanty drops fall, and then all at once there is a downpour. A general jubilation prevails, for the early rain is come. For some days it continues, yet not a drop runs into the cisterns, all is absorbed by the parched earth. Then once more blue sky and laughing sunshine: the ground is soaked and already the first green peeps forth.’ Hence the frequent reference in the Old Testament to rain: Lev. xxvi. 4 sqq., ‘Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.’ Deut. xi. 14 sqq., ‘I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn and thy wine and thine oil; and I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full’; and elsewhere. So in the New Testament, Acts xiv. 17, ‘Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.’
In the present instance, however, the sign of the sowing season selected by Hesiod, 448 sqq., is the crane. The crane nested in Thrace, Scythia, and Macedonia—as it once did in England—but was in Greece only a bird of passage. It passed through Greece about October in the course of its migration to the South—Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia. Hence its constant association with sowing, much as of the rook with us. It is needless here to quote many examples: Theognis, 1197 sqq., in language very like Hesiod’s, speaks of the crane coming as the ‘herald of sowing in its season’ (ἀρότου ὡραίου,—once again of the ploughing which is also sowing); Aristoph. Av. 709 sqq., the signal to sow (σπείρειν) is the departure of the crane to Libya; Arat. Phaen. 1075 sq., the seasonable ploughman rejoices in the flocks of cranes when they arrive in season; Theoc. xi. 30, ‘the wolf follows the goat, the crane follows the plough’—language very reminiscent of R. L. Stevenson’s account of the feelings of the invalid in Ordered South: ‘He knows that already in England the sower follows the ploughman up the face of the field, and the rooks follow the sower’: hence Porphyrios, de Abstinent. iii. 5, calls the crane ‘Demeter’s herald’, and Antipater Sid., in A. P. vii. 172, calls it a ‘thief of seed’; hence too the quaint etymology in E. M. s.v., γέρανος, ἀπὸ τονˆ τὰ τη̂ς γη̂ς ἐρευνα̂ν σπέρματα. In the Old Testament, Jeremiah viii. 7, we have a reference to the migration of the crane: ‘Yea, the stork in heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.’
The coming of the crane then is the sign of the proper time to sow, and he who sows then will have a good harvest. On the other hand, says Hesiod, W. 479, if you delay sowing till the turning of the Sun, i.e. the Winter Solstice, you will have a poor harvest which ‘thou shalt carry home in a basket, and few there be that shall admire thee’ [or ‘look on with envy’]; language curiously like that of Psalm cxxix. 6 sqq., ‘Let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withereth afore it groweth up: Wherewith the mower filleth not his hand; nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom: Neither do they which go by say, The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we bless you in the name of the Lord.’ Similarly the Geopon. ii. 14, 3, lays down the rule that the sowing of both wheat and barley should be finished before the Winter Solstice.
If, however, says Hesiod, you do sow at the Winter Solstice your one hope of a good crop will be a heavy rain on the third day after the arrival of the cuckoo: W. 486 sq., ‘When first the cuckoo uttereth his note amid the leaves of the oak and rejoiceth men over the limitless earth, then may Zeus rain on the third day and cease not, neither overpassing the hoof of an ox nor falling short thereof: so shall the late plower vie with the earliest.’ Now the cuckoo is first heard in Attica about March. Aristotle tells us, H. A. ix, 49 B, 13, that it is heard from spring to the rising of the Dog-star. In the Birds of Aristophanes, 504 sqq., Peisthetairos says that in Egypt and Phoenicia the coming of the cuckoo was the signal for the wheat and barley harvest. The time, then, here referred to is sometime in March.
Pliny, N. H. x. 9, says, ‘As touching the Cuckow, it seemeth that he cometh of some hawk changed into his shape at one certain time of the yeere: for then those other hawks are not to be seene, unless some very few days. Hee sheweth himself also but for a small season in summer time and afterwards appeareth no more. . . . In the spring he commeth abroad, and by the beginning of the dog daies hideth himself.’ Again, xviii. 26, ‘Thus you see how these fixed stars and signes above rehearsed doe ordinarily keep their courses, ruling and governing the time betweene, to wit, from the spring Aequinox in March, unto the sixth day before the Ides of May, which is the nineth of the said moneth. During the first fifteen daies of which half quarter, the husbandman must make hast and take in hand that work which he was not able to goe through with and dispatch before the Aequinox; knowing full well, that upon neglect of this businesse arose first the opprobrious reproches that vine pruners and cutters doe hear on both sides of their eares, from passengers and wayfaring men, by way of counterfeiting the song of that summer bird which they call the Cuckow: for it is counted so foule a shame, worthie a checke and rebuke, that the said bird should come and find a pruning hook or bill in a vine at that time of the yeare, that folk therefore stick not to let flie at them bold taunts and broad biting scoffes, even in the first beginning of the Spring.’ The belief that the cuckoo ‘commeth of some hawke chaunged into his shape at one certaine time of the yeare’ was very common in antiquity, cf. Aristotle, H. A. vi. 7. The ‘cowardliness’ of the cuckoo was proverbial, De Gen. Anim. iii. 1; hence the point of Latin cuculus as term of abuse; also ‘cuckold’ in Old English. Hence, too, the modern ‘all fools’ day’ on April 1, i.e. the day of the coming of the cuckoo, cf. the old rhyme, ‘The first of April, Hunt the gowk (= cuckoo) another mile.’ So the ‘gowk’s storm’ in Scotland is a storm at the beginning of April, just as the frothy matter seen on plants in summer is popularly called gowk’s spittle, and supposed to be deposited by the gowk or cuckoo; and of course ‘gowk’ in Scotland is a regular word for ‘fool’.
In the above passage of Hesiod the words which I have rendered ‘on the third day’ are generally rendered ‘for three days’. The matter need not be discussed here. But the supposed difficulty, which first suggested that translation, viz. that the third day should be fixed on and the coming of the cuckoo thus made so definite a date, is no difficulty at all to any one acquainted with the nature of popular rustic proverbs. Moreover the migration of birds is extraordinarily consistent. Here, for example, are the dates given by a Scottish observer in a letter to the Glasgow Herald, May 1, 1907; the place of observation being, I think, Argyleshire:—
Sowing, then, being completed before the Winter Solstice, there ensues the period of mid-winter which Hesiod next discusses, W. 493-563. Here, for the first time in Greek poetry, we find a month named Lenaion, which seems clearly to correspond to part of December and part of January. During this period, ‘when the Boneless One gnaweth his own foot within his fireless house and cheerless home; for the sun showeth him no pasture whereto to go, but wheeleth over the land and city of swarthy men and shineth more slowly on the Panhellenes’, little outdoor work is possible, and no definite farm operations are prescribed. Yet the farmer must not waste his time in idle loitering about the smith’s forge and the like. There are many things which the diligent farmer can do indoors. The rest of this passage is taken up with advice to the farmer about winter clothing, feeding of man and beast, &c.
The allusion to the Boneless One, or cuttlefish, has reference to the popular notion that in the winter the cuttlefish feeds on its own suckers.
Then we arrive at the next stage in our Calendar which is marked by the acronychal rising of Arkturos sixty days after the Winter Solstice. This implies an earlier date than we have assumed; in 800 b.c. Arkturos rose about fifty-eight days after the Winter Solstice. This is followed by the coming of the swallow—the harbinger of spring. The coming of the swallow is remarkably consistent, the Scottish observer before quoted giving the following dates: April 25, 1897; May 3, 1903; April 28, 1904; May 2, 1905; April 25, 1906; April 25, 1907.
The swallow’s coming, then, is the signal for pruning vines. The time is about the end of February or early March.
Next the shell-snail crawls up the plants, fleeing the Pleiades, i.e. the rising of the Pleiades is at hand, and then, says Hesiod—the time is April—trenching about the vines should be over and the farmer must prepare for the grain harvest. Then follow some precepts about harvesting.
Harvest being over, the hot time of the Dog Days ensues, the time when ‘Sirios parcheth head and knees, and the skin is dry for heat’—when the cicala chatters, when goats are fattest and wine is best—when the scolymus blooms (this being, as Theophrastos tells us, June). For this season no work is prescribed. It is the time for a picnic in the shade.
Next follows the time for threshing, defined by the rising of Orion, i.e. in July. Threshing being over and the corn stored, fodder and litter must be gathered in, and so on.
Next comes the time of vintaging, defined thus: ‘What time Orion and Sirios come into mid-heaven and rosy-fingered Morning looketh upon Arkturos, then pluck thy grapes.’ In other words, Arkturos now rises heliacally, while Orion and Sirios, which rose about, say, beginning and middle of July respectively, are now near the zenith in the morning. The time is roughly September.
Then again, towards the end of October, ‘the Pleiades and the Hyades and the might of Orion set’ (i.e. cosmically), and the farmer must bethink himself of ploughing (i.e. sowing), and the farmer’s year is ended and again begun.
To this farmer’s year Hesiod appends a brief note on Seafaring (W. 618-94). Here we need only concern ourselves with the dates given. First, sailing is impracticable when ‘the Pleiades fleeing the mighty strength of Orion plunge into the misty deep’, i.e. when the Pleiades set cosmically, i.e. about the end of October or beginning of November. They are said to flee from the might of Orion because they set before him.
The setting of the Pleiades regularly marked the end of the sailing season, just as it marked the beginning of the farmer’s year. It is enough to quote the epigram attributed to Theocritos: ‘O man, be careful of life and be not a sailor untimely: man’s life is short. Hapless Kleonikos thou didst task to go unto bright Thasos, a merchant from hollow Syria; a merchant, O Kleonikos, and seafaring at the very setting of Pleias with Pleias didst thou set.’
Two epochs are given as suitable for sailing. The first is a period of about fifty days from the Summer Solstice onward—say July-August: ‘for fifty days after the turning of the sun, when summer (i.e. harvest, θέρος), the weary season, hath come to an end, sailing is seasonable for men.’ One needs to remember the nationality of the writer to appreciate the humour of Professor Bury’s translation of these words in his History of Greece, p. 109, ‘For fifty days after the solstice till the end of harvest is the time for sailing’! Seeing that harvest was over before the solstice (as indeed Hesiod says, ἐς τέλος ἐλθόντος θέμεος), it is hard to find a period of fifty days between the solstice and the end of harvest!
This period is terminated by the rising (of course, ‘heliacal’) of Arkturos, which marked the commencement of vintaging: ‘And haste with all speed to return home again; neither await the new wine and autumn rain, and winter’s onset and the dread blasts of the South Wind, which, coming with the heavy autumn rain of Zeus, stirreth the sea and maketh the deep perilous’ (W. 673 sqq.).
The other sailing season is in spring, defined by the appearance of leaves on the fig-tree. Hesiod, however, does not commend this season: ‘Also in the spring may men sail; when first on the topmost spray of the fig-tree leaves appear, as the footprint of a crow for size, then is the sea navigable. This is the spring sailing, which I commend not, for it is not pleasing to my mind, snatched sailing that it is. Hardly shalt thou escape doom. Yet even this men do in ignorance of mind’ (W. 678 sqq.).
[1 ]Better eoae, i.e. in the morning.