Saturday’s Sophoclean Sex Sententia

Plato, Republic 329:

I was once with Sophocles when someone asked him, ‘O Sophocles, how do things stand with you in the old love-making line? Can you still lie with a woman?’ Sophocles responded, ‘Ah man, you should sing a song of triumph for me – for indeed, I have most gladly fled from love as though I had gotten away from a cruel and raving master.’ It seemed to me at the time that he had spoken well on the subject, and I think so no less even today. Indeed, we are granted a certain peace and freedom from such concerns in old age. When our desires relent and finally cease to draw us out, then indeed does Sophocles’ saying come true, and we are entirely freed from many a raving master. But respecting these things, and our relationships with our friends, my dear Socrates, there is one cause to consider – not old age, but rather the person’s character. If they have their lives well-ordered and are easily contented, then old age is a moderate burden. But to a man of the opposite character, both old age and youth happen to be burdensome affairs.

None of this nonsense for Sophocles!

καὶ δὴ καὶ Σοφοκλεῖ ποτε τῷ ποιητῇ παρεγενόμην ἐρωτωμένῳ ὑπό τινος· “Πῶς,” ἔφη, “ὦ Σοφόκλεις, ἔχεις πρὸς τἀφροδίσια; ἔτι οἷός τε εἶ γυναικὶ συγγίγνεσθαι”; καὶ ὅς, “Εὐφήμει,” ἔφη, “ὦ ἄνθρωπε· ἁσμενέστατα μέντοι αὐτὸ ἀπέφυγον, ὥσπερ λυττῶντά τινα καὶ ἄγριον δεσπότην ἀποδράς.” εὖ οὖν μοι καὶ τότε ἔδοξεν ἐκεῖνος εἰπεῖν, καὶ νῦν οὐχ ἧττον. παντάπασι γὰρ τῶν γε τοιούτων ἐν τῷ γήρᾳ πολλὴ εἰρήνη γίγνεται καὶ ἐλευθερία· ἐπειδὰν αἱ ἐπιθυμίαι παύσωνται κατατείνουσαι καὶ χαλάσωσιν, παντάπασιν τὸ τοῦ Σοφοκλέους γίγνεται, δεσποτῶν πάνυ πολλῶν ἐστι καὶ μαινομένων ἀπηλλάχθαι. ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων πέρι καὶ τῶν γε πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους μία τις αἰτία ἐστίν, οὐ τὸ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀλλ’ ὁ τρόπος τῶν ἀνθρώπων. ἂν μὲν γὰρ κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι ὦσιν, καὶ τὸ γῆρας μετρίως ἐστὶν ἐπίπονον· εἰ δὲ μή, καὶ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ νεότης χαλεπὴ τῷ τοιούτῳ συμβαίνει.

 

4 thoughts on “Saturday’s Sophoclean Sex Sententia

  1. Should Εὐφήμει really be translated as “sing a song of triumph” here? I always thought it was more like “heaven forbid” in this context.

    • Ah, you may be right. I (shame to say) typically write these translations out in some haste as I am reading, and rarely consider these things in much substantial depth. I think that I was led on by the notion of escaping from a cruel master as a cause for celebration, but your suggestion may indeed be more appropriate to the context. Thanks for reading!

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