Abstract This paper considers literary responses to the role of competition in the polis of the late Geometric and Archaic periods through the semantics of the word eris (““strife,”” ““discord””), with particular reference to Hesiod's account of the two Erides at Works and Days 11––26. As Homeric and Epic Cycle usage makes clear, the innovation in this passage is not the assertion that there is a positive as well as a destructive form of eris but the qualitative polarization between them. This polar opposition is a reflex of, and an attempt to gain cognitive mastery over, a fundamental cultural problem: the need of the polis to project direct forms of violence externally as intercommunal warfare, to eliminate internal discord or at least limit its effect, and to use the competitive energies associated with eris positively, in the interest of social and political cohesion. Uses of eris in Herodotus, Xenophon, and Thucydides confirm the lexical argument and show the continuity of these issues in Greek culture.

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