No Greener Grass: Life is Painful Everywhere

Plutarch, On the Tranquility of Mind, 466

“Menander addresses those who believe that some kind of life is singularly free of pain, as some people think about the life of farmers, or of bachelors, or of kings. He reminds rightly (Men. Fr. 281):

‘I once thought, Phanias, that rich men,
who are not pressed to borrow money, do not groan
During the night, don’t turn over and over mumbling
“Alas”, and are able to sleep a sweet and
calm sleep.’

He then proceeds to describe how he has noted that the wealthy suffer the same things as the poor:

‘Is there some relation between life and pain?
Pain abides in a rich life; it’s in a famous one,
It grows old alongside a poor life too.’

But just as, while sailing, cowards and the sick believe that they would fair more easily if they moved from a skiff to a larger boat, or again if they went from there to a trireme, they achieve nothing since they carry their sickness and their cowardice with them. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t separate pains and troubles from the soul. These things come from inexperience in affairs, lack of reason, and an inability or ignorance concerning approaching the present circumstances correctly.

These things storm around the rich and poor; they annoy the married and unmarried too. Men avoid appearing in public because of these things but then cannot endure their peaceful life; because of these things, men pursue advancement in the seats of power but when they get there, they are immediately bored.”

Τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἀφωρισμένως ἕνα βίον ἄλυπον νομίζοντας, ὡς ἔνιοι τὸν τῶν γεωργῶν ἢ τὸν τῶν ἠιθέων ἢ τὸν τῶν βασιλέων, ἱκανῶς ὁ Μένανδρος ὑπομιμνήσκει λέγων (fr. 281)

‘ᾤμην ἐγὼ τοὺς πλουσίους, ὦ Φανία,
οἷς μὴ τὸ δανείζεσθαι πρόσεστιν, οὐ στένειν
τὰς νύκτας οὐδὲ στρεφομένους ἄνω κάτω
‘οἴμοι’ λέγειν, ἡδὺν δὲ καὶ πρᾶόν τινα
ὕπνον καθεύδειν•’

εἶτα προσδιελθὼν ὡς καὶ τοὺς πλουσίους ὁρᾷ ταὐτὰ πάσχοντας τοῖς πένησιν

‘ἆρ’ ἐστί’ φησί ‘συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος;
τρυφερῷ βίῳ σύνεστιν, ἐνδόξῳ βίῳ
πάρεστιν, ἀπόρῳ συγκαταγηράσκει βίῳ.’

ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ οἱ δειλοὶ καὶ ναυτιῶντες ἐν τῷ πλεῖν, εἶτα ῥᾷον οἰόμενοι διάξειν, ἐὰν εἰς γαῦλον ἐξ ἀκάτου καὶ πάλιν ἐὰν εἰς τριήρη μεταβῶσιν, οὐδὲν περαίνουσι τὴν χολὴν καὶ τὴν δειλίαν συμμεταφέροντες αὑτοῖς, οὕτως αἱ τῶν βίων ἀντιμεταλήψεις οὐκ ἐξαιροῦσι τῆς ψυχῆς τὰ λυποῦντα καὶ ταράττοντα• ταῦτα δ’ ἐστὶν ἀπειρία πραγμάτων, ἀλογιστία, τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι μηδ’ ἐπίστασθαι χρῆσθαι τοῖς παροῦσιν ὀρθῶς. ταῦτα καὶ πλουσίους χειμάζει καὶ πένητας, ταῦτα καὶ γεγαμηκότας ἀνιᾷ καὶ ἀγάμους• διὰ ταῦτα φεύγουσι τὴν ἀγορὰν εἶτα τὴν ἡσυχίαν οὐ φέρουσι, διὰ ταῦτα προαγωγὰς ἐν αὐλαῖς διώκουσι καὶ παρελθόντες εὐθὺς βαρύνονται.

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