The Human Nature of Desire

Bacchylides, 1.159-175

“I claim and I will claim that
The greatest glory is virtue.

Wealth attends worthless people too
And longs to inflate any man’s thoughts.

But someone who does well by the gods
Lightens their heart with nobler hope.
Sure, they may be mortal but
If they have health and can live
On their own possessions,
They rival the most prominent.

Joy comes to any human life
that’s free of diseases and overwhelming poverty.

The desire of the rich for big things
And the poor for smaller things is
The same but there’s nothing sweet
In having access to everything.

Humans are always trying to catch
The things that escape them.”

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.

Black and white still photograph of a scene from a movie: a woman holds a child in a hospital bed
Still from the American drama film Wealth (1921) with Ethel Clayton, on page 57 of the September 1921 Photoplay. from Wikimedia Commons

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