The Outstanding Virtue

Bacchylides 14. 1-18.

It’s best when men receive a good allotment from god.
But heavy fate comes, destroying the good man
And, when set right, even making the bad man shine bright.
There are different honors for different men.

Men’s virtues are countless,
But one stands out from them all:
That a man manages what comes with a just heart.

The lyre’s voice and the clear-sounding choruses
Are not meet for grief-sowing battles,
And neither is the clang of clashing bronze for celebrations.
No, for everything men do there’s a time that’s best.
When a man’s at his best, a god is guiding him too.

εὖ μὲν εἱμάρθαι παρὰ δαίμονος ἀν-
θρώποις ἄριστον:
συμφορὰ δ᾽ ἐσθλόν τ᾽ ἀμαλδύ-
νει βαρύτλατος μολοῦσα
κἀἰ τὸν κακὸν ὑψιφανῆ τεύ-
χει κατορθωθεῖσα: τιμὰν
δ᾽ ἄλλος ἀλλοίαν ἔχει:
μυρίαι δ᾽ ἀνδρῶν ἀρεταί, μία δ᾽ ἐκ
πασᾶν πρόκειται,
ὃς τὰ πὰρ χειρὸς κυβερνᾶ-
ται δικαίαισι φρένεσσιν.
οὔτ᾽ ἐν βαρυπενθέσιν ἁρμό-
ζει μάχαις φόρμιγγος ὀμφὰ
καὶ λιγυκλαγγεῖς χοροί,
οὔτ᾽ ἐν θαλίαις καναχὰ
χαλκόκτυπος: ἀλλ᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστῳ
καιρὸς ἀνδρῶν ἔργματι κάλ-
λιστος: εὖ ἔρδοντα δὲ καὶ θεὸς ὀρθοῖ.

Picture of street sign that originally said "Men Working" but has graffiti added to it saying" on healing".
A street sign in Brooklyn.

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

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