Fragmentary Friday: The Invention of Writing

Euripides, Palamedes (fr. 578)

“Alone once I set out drugs of forgetfulness,
Voiceless, yet speaking—when I made the syllables
I discovered as letters for men to see
So one who was not present over the wide sea
Knows well everything happening in his home,
And as someone dies he speaks for those writing the measure of his wealth
For his children and for the one who accepts it to know.
And the evils that cause people to fall into strife,
A record dissolves–it does not permit the speaking of lies.”

Τὰ τῆς γε λήθης φάρμακ’ ὀρθώσας μόνος
ἄφωνα καὶ φωνοῦντα συλλαβάς τε θεὶς
ἐξεῦρον ἀνθρώποισι γράμματ’ εἰδέναι,
ὥστ’ οὐ παρόντα ποντίας ὑπὲρ πλακὸς
τἀκεῖ κατ’ οἴκους πάντ’ ἐπίστασθαι καλῶς,
παισίν τ’ ἀποθνῄσκοντα χρημάτων μέτρον
γράψαντας εἰπεῖν, τὸν λαβόντα δ’ εἰδέναι.
ἃ δ’ εἰς ἔριν πίπτουσιν ἀνθρώποις κακά,
δέλτος διαιρεῖ, κοὐκ ἐᾷ ψευδῆ λέγειν.

fr. 580

“Agamemnon, human beings have every kind
Of luck—but it comes together in this one thing.
Everyone—both those who love art and those
Who live without it toil over money
And whoever has the most is the wisest.”

Ἀγάμεμνον, ἀνθρώποισι πᾶσαν αἱ τύχαι
μορφὴν ἔχουσι, συντρέχει δ᾿ εἰς ἓν τόδε·
†τούτου† δὲ πάντες, οἵ τε μουσικῆς φίλοι
ὅσοι τε χωρὶς ζῶσι, χρημάτων ὕπερ
μοχθοῦσιν, ὃς δ᾿ ἂν πλεῖστ᾿ ἔχῃ σοφώτατος.

581

“Endless numbers of us might become leaders
But in a long time only one or two might become wise.”

στρατηλάται τἂν μυρίοι γενοίμεθα,
σοφὸς δ᾿ ἂν εἷς τις ἢ δύ᾿ ἐν μακρῷ χρόνῳ.

Image result for ancient greek palamedes

Palamedes before Agamemnon in a 1626 painting by Rembrandt

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