An Encomium to Youth

Euripides, Heracles 637-654:

“Youth is always precious to me, and old age, a burden heavier than Aetna’s crags, is placed upon my head, shrouding the light of my eyes in shady gloom. Let me not possess the fortune of an eastern tyrant, and let me not choose houses full of gold in preference to youth, which is the most beautiful thing both in fortune and in poverty. I hate old age, such a sad and deadly thing. Let it be swept away among the waves! Would that it never came upon the homes and cities of mortals! Let it be born away on wings through the air!

If the gods had intelligence and wisdom, according to mortal standards, they would have given us a two-fold youth, a clear mark of virtue wherever it were found, and those who have died would cross again the double channel into the rays of the sun. But the base-born would have but one single life, and thus it would be possible to distinguish the bad from the good, just as sailors know the number of the stars among the clouds. But as things stand now, there is no clear boundary between the bad and good, and as time rolls on, it increases nothing but wealth.”

Thomas Cole, ‘Mount Etna from Taormina,’ 1843

ἁ νεότας μοι φίλον αἰ-
εί: τὸ δὲ γῆρας ἄχθος
βαρύτερον Αἴτνας σκοπέλων
ἐπὶ κρατὶ κεῖται, βλεφάρων
σκοτεινὸν φάος ἐπικαλύψαν.
μή μοι μήτ᾽ Ἀσιήτιδος
τυραννίδος ὄλβος εἴη,
μὴ χρυσοῦ δώματα πλήρη
τᾶς ἥβας ἀντιλαβεῖν,
ἃ καλλίστα μὲν ἐν ὄλβῳ,
καλλίστα δ᾽ ἐν πενίᾳ.
τὸ δὲ λυγρὸν φόνιόν τε γῆ-
ρας μισῶ: κατὰ κυμάτων δ᾽
ἔρροι, μηδέ ποτ᾽ ὤφελεν
θνατῶν δώματα καὶ πόλεις
ἐλθεῖν, ἀλλὰ κατ᾽ αἰθέρ᾽ αἰ-
εὶ πτεροῖσι φορείσθω.

εἰ δὲ θεοῖς ἦν ξύνεσις
καὶ σοφία κατ᾽ ἄνδρας,
δίδυμον ἂν ἥβαν ἔφερον
φανερὸν χαρακτῆρ᾽ ἀρετᾶς
ὅσοισιν μέτα, κατθανόντες τ᾽
εἰς αὐγὰς πάλιν ἁλίου
δισσοὺς ἂν ἔβαν διαύλους,
ἁ δυσγένεια δ᾽ ἁπλοῦν ἂν
εἶχεν ζόας βίοτον,
καὶ τῷδ᾽ ἦν τούς τε κακοὺς ἂν
γνῶναι καὶ τοὺς ἀγαθούς,
ἴσον ἅτ᾽ ἐν νεφέλαισιν ἄ-
στρων ναύταις ἀριθμὸς πέλει.
νῦν δ᾽ οὐδεὶς ὅρος ἐκ θεῶν
χρηστοῖς οὐδὲ κακοῖς σαφής,
ἀλλ᾽ εἱλισσόμενός τις αἰ-
ὼν πλοῦτον μόνον αὔξει.

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