08 February 2007

Hesiod Works and Days 230-233

Hesiod is naming some of the rewards from Zeus for acting justly (please forgive the Old High Translationese):

οὐδέ ποτ᾽ ἰθυδίκῃσι μετ᾽ ἀνδράσι λιμὸς ὀπηδεῖ       230
οὐδ᾽ ἄτη, θαλίῃς δὲ μεμηλότα ἔργα νέμονται.
τοῖσι φέρει μὲν γαῖα πολὺν βίον, οὔρεσι δὲ δρῦς
ἄκρη μέν τε φέρει βαλάνους, μέσση δὲ μελίσσας:

Nor does famine ever follow after men giving right judgement,
nor folly, but in abundance they attend to the fields in their care.
To them the earth bears much sustenance, and on the mountains
the oak bears acorns on all branches and within it (it bears) bees.

I'm disappointed in West's commentary. "βαλάνους: used as pig-fodder in Homer (Od. 10.242, 13.409), but it looks as if Hesiod sees some greater value in them. Some varieties of acorn, at least after roasting, are supportable by the human digestion, ..." Discussion about human acorn consumption follows, and then an attempt to suggest the word βάλανος might mean "chestnut" here — not completely unlikely, though it seems unnecessary.

Acorn mast is still used to fatten up pigs (Serrano ham!), who will eat that nearly to the exclusion of all else when it's available. Homer certainly recognized the value of acorns for a good pig:

δήεις τόν γε σύεσσι παρήμενον: αἱ δὲ νέμονται
πὰρ Κόρακος πέτρῃ ἐπί τε κρήνῃ Ἀρεθούσῃ,
ἔσθουσαι βάλανον μενοεικέα καὶ μέλαν ὕδωρ
πίνουσαι, τά θ᾽ ὕεσσι τρέφει τεθαλυῖαν ἀλοιφήν.       410

You'll find him [a swineherd] with the pigs, who pasture
beside Korax Rock near Arethousa Spring
eating plentiful acorn and drinking dark water,
which makes pigs fat with dripping lard.

(For "dripping" for θάλλω, see The Meaning of IE *dhal- by Steven Lowenstam, TAPA Vol. 109 (1979) pp. 125-135.)

Nice fat pigs are a valuable commodity, not to mention tasty. We don't eat bees, but the honey they produce. We don't eat fields, but the grain they produce. I don't see why Hesiod cannot then list acorns as a good, not as a food for us, but for their value for growing fat pigs.

No comments: