Hannah’s “Hard Day” and Hesiod’s “Two Roads”: Poetic Wisdom in Philo’s De ebrietate

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In De ebrietate 150, Philo quotes Hesiod’s Works and Days (287, 289-292) in his interpretation of Hannah’s alleged drunkenness in 1 Samuel. These poetic verses contrast the difficulty of the road to virtue with the ease of acquiring wickedness. On Philo’s reading, the misperception of Hannah’s “hard day” by her accuser illustrates the moral lesson of Hesiod, namely, that fools consider virtue to be beyond attainment. In the context of recent interest in the ways in which Philo’s literary methods converge with those of other ancient readers, especially Alexandrian scholars, this study situates Philo’s application of Hesiod’s didactic poetry within its wider history of interpretation. As early as Plato and continuing through Philo’s time, Hesiod’s “two roads” was frequently cited in philosophical discourse and debate. Moreover, analogously to Philo, Alexandrian critics employed this passage in explaining the morality of literary characters. Philo’s use of Hesiod is consistent with this interpretive tradition. At the same time, his originality consists in his creation of a dialogue between Hesiod and biblical narrative in which both voices converge around the same ethical lesson.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




Harry A. Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (2 vols.; rev. ed.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), 1:78-81.


See, e.g., Monique Alexandre, “La culture profane chez Philon,” in Philon d’ Alexandrie (ed. Roger Arnaldez, Claude Mondésert, and Jean Poilloux; Paris: Cerf, 1967), 105-29; Alan Mendelson, Secular Education in Philo of Alexandria (hucm 7; Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1982), 25-46; John J. Collins, Jewish Wisdom in the Hellenistic Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 148-53.


Isaac Heinemann, Philons griechische und jüdische Bildung: Kulturvergleichende Untersuchungen zu Philons Darstellung der jüdischen Gesetze (Breslau: M. & H. Markus, 1932; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1962).


David T. Runia, “Philo and Hellenistic Doxography,” in Philo of Alexandria and Post-Aristotelian Philosophy (ed. Francesca Alesse; Studies in Philo of Alexandria 5; Leiden: Brill, 2008), 13-54.


Maren R. Niehoff, Jewish Exegesis and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 133-85.


Erkki Koskenniemi, “Philo and Classical Drama,” in Ancient Israel, Judaism, and Christianity in Contemporary Perspective: Essays in Memory of Karl-Johan Illman (ed. Jacob Neusner et al.; Studies in Judaism; Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2006), 137-51; Koskenniemi, “Philo and Greek Poets”; Katell Berthelot, “Philon d’Alexandrie, lecteur d’Homère: quelques éléments de réflexion,” in Prolongements et renouvellements de la tradition classique (ed. Anne Balansard, Gilles Dorival, and Mireille Loubet; Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l’Université Provence, 2011), 145-57.


David Lincicum, “A Preliminary Index to Philo’s Non-Biblical Citations and Allusions,” SPhil 25 (2013): 139-67. I wish to thank David Lincicum for providing me with a copy of this index in advance of publication. This represents a remarkable improvement upon what was previously available. The index prepared by Joannes Leisegang in volume 7 of the Cohn-Wendland edition is limited to an index nominum and an index verborum. The Loeb Classical Library (vol. 10) adds a scriptural index.


Colson, Philo, 505. He translates σκληρὰ ἡμέρα, however, as “a hard day.” Jean Gorez’s French translation, De ebrietate, De sobrietate (Les oeuvres de Philon d’Alexandrie 11-12; Paris: Cerf, 1962), as “une rude journée” perhaps comes close to the nuance suggested by Colson.


David Konstan, “Excerpting as a Reading Practice,” in Deciding Culture: Stobaeus’ Collection of Excerpts of Ancient Greek Authors (ed. Gretchen Reydams-Schils and Carlos Lévy; Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 9-22, at 11; see also Henry Chadwick, “Florilegium,” rac 7 (1969): 1131-59.


His most extensive anthology (Eusebius, Praep. ev. 13.12.9-16), lists a series of verses attributed to Homer, Hesiod, and Linus aimed at supporting the Jewish Sabbath; on which, see Walter, Der Thoraausleger Aristobulos, 150-71. He maintains that Aristobulus adapted these from a Pythagorean florilegium (esp. 166-71); see also more recently Lutz Doering, “Excerpting Texts in Second Temple Judaism: A Survey of the Evidence,” in Selecta colligere, ii: Beiträge zur Technik des Sammelns und Kompilierens griechischer Texte von der Antike bis zum Humanismus (ed. Rosa Maria Piccione and Matthias Perkams; Alessandria: Edizioni dell’ Orso, 2005), 1-38, esp. 4-15.


On this passage, see Ford, “Plato’s Two Hesiods,” 150-51; Koning, “Plato’s Hesiod,” 96-98.


Ford, “Plato’s Two Hesiods,” 150; see also Wolfsdorf, “Hesiod, Prodicus, and the Socratics,” 4. In addition, Prodicus’ well-known epideictic speech, the Choice of Heracles, was influenced by Hesiod’s two roads. He presents the hero as faced with a choice between an easier road to badness and a harder road to goodness. Xenophon has Socrates summarize Prodicus’ speech in the context of his quotation of Op. 287-292 (Mem. 2.1.21-34); see Wolfsdorf, “Hesiod, Prodicus, and the Socratics,” 6-8.


Koskenniemi, “Philo and Greek Poets,” 313.


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