Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

With parliament irretrievably deadlocked over Brexit and the EU intransigent, there remains little belief that either of the prime ministerial candidates can find an even remotely happy solution to the problem. All they can currently offer are the tender leaves of hope.

The ancient Greek farmer poet Hesiod (c. 680 bc) told the story of this ambiguous commodity. The gods, determined that life on Earth should be one of suffering, fashioned an irresistibly beautiful woman, Pandora, and sent her down among men with a large storage jar, which she proceeded to open. Out from it flew all the ills of the world, but Zeus ensured that she put the lid back in time to keep Hope — man’s sole antidote against total despair — securely inside (the imagery is illogical, but this is myth).

That life was hopeless was a common piece of popular wisdom: whatever humans did would probably be in vain. Hesiod disagreed: hope could come to fruition, he said, since life mixed good with ill, and the wise peasant could take practical steps to become self-sufficient through unremitting toil. This would produce full barns to enjoy in good times and insure against bad times. …

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