Penelope On the Brevity of Life and Immortal Fame

Penelope speaks to the disguised stranger in the Odyssey

Homer, Od. 19.325–324

“Stranger, how could you learn about me, if I am in any way
Superior to other women in my thought and clever wit,
Especially if you dine dressed terribly in the halls?
For human beings have short lives.
One who is harsh and knows harsh things,
All mortals will wish for him to have pains later
While alive and when he is dead everyone mocks him.
But whoever is blameless and thinks blameless thoughts.
Guests carry his kleos wide and far to all people.
And many say that he is a good man.”

πῶς γὰρ ἐμεῦ σύ, ξεῖνε, δαήσεαι, εἴ τι γυναικῶν
ἀλλάων περίειμι νόον καὶ ἐπίφρονα μῆτιν,
εἴ κεν ἀϋσταλέος, κακὰ εἱμένος ἐν μεγάροισι
δαινύῃ; ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσιν.
ὃς μὲν ἀπηνὴς αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀπηνέα εἰδῇ,
τῷ δὲ καταρῶνται πάντες βροτοὶ ἄλγε’ ὀπίσσω
ζωῷ, ἀτὰρ τεθνεῶτί γ’ ἐφεψιόωνται ἅπαντες·
ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀμύμων αὐτὸς ἔῃ καὶ ἀμύμονα εἰδῇ,
τοῦ μέν τε κλέος εὐρὺ διὰ ξεῖνοι φορέουσι
πάντας ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, πολλοί τέ μιν ἐσθλὸν ἔειπον.”

Schol. ad Od. 19.328

“Human beings are short-lived”: she says this as a euphemism and is really talking about glory. For, since human beings have brief lives, they need to do well in their life and leave a good fame about themselves behind them.”

ἄνθρωποι δὲ μινυνθάδιοι τελέθουσι] τοῦτο πρὸς τὴν εὐφημίαν εἴρηκεν, καὶ ἀναφέρεται ἐπὶ τὸ κλέος. ὀλιγοχρόνιοι δὲ ὑπάρχοντες οἱ ἄνθρωποι ὀφείλουσιν εὖ πράττειν ἐν τῷ βίῳ, καὶ φήμην ἀγαθὴν περὶ ἑαυτῶν ἀπολείπειν. V.

A red figure pyxis from c. 430 BCE



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