Political Change as Seen from the Other Side

Theognis 667-682

If I had my possessions, Simonides,
It would not distress me, as it now does, to consort with the well-born.
But at the moment my possessions recognize me but pass me by.
I’m speechless with need.
Still, I understand better than many that right now we’re being carried along
With the white sails lowered, from the sea of Melos through the murky night,
And a crew unwilling to bail water as the sea pitches over both sides of the ship.
Someone is rescued with great difficulty, behaving as they are.
They’ve deposed the good pilot who skillfully kept watch.
They carry off cargo by force, discipline is destroyed,
And the division of things no longer happens equally, fairly.
Deckhands are in charge, the vulgar are above the well-born.
I’m afraid that perhaps a wave will in a way swallow the ship.
Let these things, concealed by me, be cryptically told to the well-born–
But even someone vulgar could understand, if he’s subtle.

εἰ μὲν χρήματ᾽ ἔχοιμι, Σιμωνίδη, οἷά περ ἤδη,
οὐκ ἂν ἀνιῴμην τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι συνών.
νῦν δέ με γινώσκοντα παρέρχεται, εἰμὶ δ᾽ ἄφωνος
χρημοσύνῃ, πολλῶν γνοὺς ἂν ἄμεινον ἔτι,
οὕνεκα νῦν φερόμεσθα καθ᾽ ἱστία λευκὰ βαλόντες,
Μηλίου ἐκ πόντου νύκτα διὰ δνοφερήν,
ἀντλεῖν δ᾽ οὐκ ἐθέλουσιν, ὑπερβάλλει δὲ θάλασσα
ἀμφοτέρων τοίχων. ἦ μάλα τις χαλεπῶς
σῴζεται, οἷ᾽ ἔρδουσι· κυβερνήτην μὲν ἔπαυσαν
ἐσθλόν, ὅτις φυλακὴν εἶχεν ἐπισταμένως·
χρήματα δ᾽ ἁρπάζουσι βίη, κόσμος δ᾽ ἀπόλωλεν,
δασμὸς δ᾽ οὐκέτ᾽ ἴσος γίνεται ἐς τὸ μέσον·
φορτηγοὶ δ᾽ ἄρχουσι, κακοὶ δ᾽ ἀγαθῶν καθύπερθεν.
δειμαίνω μή πως ναῦν κατὰ κῦμα πίῃ.
ταῦτά μοι ᾐνίχθω κεκρυμμένα τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσιν.
γινώσκοι δ᾽ ἄν τις καὶ κακός ἂν σοφὸς ᾖ.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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