The Pleasure of a Life without Helplessness

Bacchylides, Odes 1. 159-177

I claim and I will continue to claim
that excellence receives the greatest glory.
Wealth tends to join up
With even worthless people–
It longs to puff up a man’s thoughts,

But someone who treats the gods well
Inflates their heart with a hope for greater glory–
Even though mortal, they earn health and
Can live from their own means and
Compete among the foremost.

Pleasure joins every human life
Once the helplessness of poverty and disease
Is removed.

Rich people desire equal
In proportion to their wealth,
And the poor want less–
Yet there’s nothing sweet
When mortals can get everything.
We always try to take
Whatever escapes us.”

φαμὶ καὶ φάσω μέγιστον
κῦδος ἔχειν ἀρετάν· πλοῦ-
τος δὲ καὶ δειλοῖσιν ἀνθρώπων ὁμιλεῖ,

ἐθέλει δ᾿ αὔξειν φρένας ἀνδρός·
ὁ δ᾿ εὖ ἔρδων θεούς
ἐλπίδι κυδροτέραι
σαίνει κέαρ. εἰ δ᾿ ὑγιείας
θνατὸς ἐὼν ἔλαχεν
ζώειν τ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἰκείων ἔχει,
πρώτοις ἐρίζει· παντί τοι
τέρψις ἀνθρώπων βίωι
ἕπεται νόσφιν γε νόσων
πενίας τ᾿ ἀμαχάνου.

ἶσον ὅ τ᾿ ἀφνεὸς ἱμείρει
μεγάλων ὅ τε μείων
παυροτέρων· τὸ δὲ πάντων
εὐμαρεῖν οὐδὲν γλυκύ
θνατοῖσιν, ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ τὰ φεύγοντα
δίζηνται κιχεῖν.

A painting of a dark room with a starving old man in the foreground, attracting a lot of light to his emaciated body
Hendrick ter Brugghen, “The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus”

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