A Blessed Man

“Is the governor positioning himself for a White House run in 2024?”–Politico, June 23, 2022

Theognis, 933-938

Excellence and beauty attend few men.
Blessed is the one to whom fate grants both.
Everybody honors him: Gen Y, his peers,
And old boomers all make way for him.
With age he becomes more distinguished
Among his countrymen, and none of them
Wants to disrespect or cost him his due.

παύροις ἀνθρώπων ἀρετὴ καὶ κάλλος ὀπηδεῖ:
ὄλβιος, ὃς τούτων ἀμφοτέρων ἔλαχεν.
πάντες μιν τιμῶσιν: ὁμῶς νέοι οἵ τε κατ᾽ αὐτὸν
χώρης εἴκουσιν τοί τε παλαιότεροι:
γηράσκων δ᾽ ἀστοῖσι μεταπρέπει, οὐδέ τις αὐτὸν
βλάπτειν οὔτ᾽ αἰδοῦς οὔτε δίκης ἐθέλει.

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California
and potential 2024 presidential candidate,
before fitted shirts.

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.

Fool Me As Often As You Like

“I asked Judge Kavanaugh whether the passage of time is relevant to following precedent. He said decisions become part of our legal framework with the passage of time and that honoring precedent is essential to maintaining public confidence.”–Senator Susan Collins, October 2018

“Collins says Kavanaugh ‘misled’ her with private assurances”–New York Times, June 2022

Theognis, 963-970.

Don’t praise a man until you know him through and through,
His impulses, leanings, and conduct.
Many hide a false and cunning character
By cosplaying for a day certain leanings.
But time reveals each one’s actual ways.

I too strayed quite far from sense: I lauded you
Before I knew just what you were about.
Now, like a ship, I give you a wide berth.

μήποτ᾽ ἐπαινήσῃς πρὶν ἂν εἰδῇς ἄνδρα σαφηνέως,
ὀργὴν καὶ ρυθμὸν καὶ τρόπον ὅστις ἂν᾽ῇ.
πολλοί τοι κίβδηλον ἐπίκλοπον ἦθος ἔχοντες
κρύπτουσ᾽, ἐνθέμενοι ῥυθμὸν ἐφημέριον:
τούτων δ᾽ ἐκφαίνει πάντων χρόνος ἦθος ἑκάστου.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ γνώμης πολλὸν ἄρ᾽ ἐκτὸς ἔβην:
ἔφθην αἰνήσας πρίν σου κατὰ πάντα δαῆναι
ἤθεα: νῦν δ᾽ ἤδη νηῦς ἅθ᾽ ἑκὰς διέχω.

Senator Susan Collins being suckered.

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.

Calling on Achilles

Homer, Iliad 9.182-204.

They made their way along the shore of the crashing sea,
praying earnestly to Earth-Bearer Earthquaker
that it would be easy to sway Aeacus’s proud-hearted kin.
They arrived at the Myrmidon huts and ships
and found him lifting his spirits with the lyre,
one with clear notes, handsome, ornate, its bridge made of silver.
He had taken it from the spoils of Eetion’s sacked city,
and with it he cheered himself up, singing of men’s famous deeds.
Only Patroclus sat with him, and in silence
he waited for the grandson of Aeacus to end his song.

The party stepped forward, noble Odysseus in the lead.
Now they stood before him. Achilles jumped up, flabbergasted.
He had left his seat, but held his lyre.
When Patroclus saw the men he too reacted, and stood.
Fast-footed Achilles welcomed them:
“Greetings! Dear men have come (the need must be great!),
the Achaeans I love most, even in my anger.”

After these words, noble Achilles ushered the party in
and seated them on couches and purple carpets.
He told Patroclus who was standing near:
“Set out the mixing bowl, son of Menoitius!
Mix the wine quite strong! A cup for each man!
Those I love most are under my roof!”

τὼ δὲ βάτην παρὰ θῖνα πολυφλοίσβοιο θαλάσσης
πολλὰ μάλʼ εὐχομένω γαιηόχῳ ἐννοσιγαίῳ
ῥηϊδίως πεπιθεῖν μεγάλας φρένας Αἰακίδαο.
Μυρμιδόνων δʼ ἐπί τε κλισίας καὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην,
τὸν δʼ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείῃ
καλῇ δαιδαλέῃ, ἐπὶ δʼ ἀργύρεον ζυγὸν ἦεν,
τὴν ἄρετʼ ἐξ ἐνάρων πόλιν Ἠετίωνος ὀλέσσας·
τῇ ὅ γε θυμὸν ἔτερπεν, ἄειδε δʼ ἄρα κλέα ἀνδρῶν.
Πάτροκλος δέ οἱ οἶος ἐναντίος ἧστο σιωπῇ,
δέγμενος Αἰακίδην ὁπότε λήξειεν ἀείδων,
τὼ δὲ βάτην προτέρω, ἡγεῖτο δὲ δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
στὰν δὲ πρόσθʼ αὐτοῖο· ταφὼν δʼ ἀνόρουσεν Ἀχιλλεὺς
αὐτῇ σὺν φόρμιγγι λιπὼν ἕδος ἔνθα θάασσεν.
ὣς δʼ αὔτως Πάτροκλος, ἐπεὶ ἴδε φῶτας, ἀνέστη.
τὼ καὶ δεικνύμενος προσέφη πόδας ὠκὺς Ἀχιλλεύς·
χαίρετον· ἦ φίλοι ἄνδρες ἱκάνετον ἦ τι μάλα χρεώ,
οἵ μοι σκυζομένῳ περ Ἀχαιῶν φίλτατοί ἐστον.
ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας προτέρω ἄγε δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
εἷσεν δʼ ἐν κλισμοῖσι τάπησί τε πορφυρέοισιν.
αἶψα δὲ Πάτροκλον προσεφώνεεν ἐγγὺς ἐόντα·
μείζονα δὴ κρητῆρα Μενοιτίου υἱὲ καθίστα,
ζωρότερον δὲ κέραιε, δέπας δʼ ἔντυνον ἑκάστῳ·
οἳ γὰρ φίλτατοι ἄνδρες ἐμῷ ὑπέασι μελάθρῳ.

Face mask depicting Achilles playing the lyre before Patroclus et al.
A Gerard de Lairesse is selling it for $17.

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.

A Son Gives His Father Life

Vergil, Aeneid. X.783-800

Then pious Aeneas hurled his spear, piercing
Mezentius’s incurved shield, its three bronze sheets,
linen layers, and three bull-hides well joined.
The spear sunk into his groin, though not with force.

Aeneas thrilled at the sight of Tuscan blood.
He whipped out his sword and dashed forward, fired up.
Lausus saw, and with his face awash in tears
heaved a heavy groan from love for his dear father.

O Lausus, this is where your hard death came,
And your finest actions too: . . .

Mezentius, now helpless and injured, turned
In retreat, dragging the enemy’s spear
lodged in his shield. His son then rushed to the fight:
and when Aeneas raised his death-bearing right hand,
Lausus faced the sword himself, obstructing
and stopping him.

Lausus’s comrades cheered like mad:
the father was leaving the field
protected by his son’s shield.

tum pius Aeneas hastam iacit: illa per orbem
aere cauum triplici, per linea terga tribusque
transiit intextum tauris opus, imaque sedit
inguine, sed uiris haud pertulit. ocius ensem
Aeneas, uiso Tyrrheni sanguine laetus,
eripit a femine et trepidanti feruidus instat.
ingemuit cari graviter genitoris amore,
ut vidit, Lausus, lacrimaeque per ora volutae.
hic mortis durae casum tuaque optima facta. . .
Ille pedem referens et inutilis inque ligatus
cedebat clipeoque inimicum hastile trahebat:
prorupit iuvenis seseque immiscuit armis
iamque adsurgentis dextra plagamque ferentis
Aeneae subiit mucronem ipsumque morando
sustinuit. socii magno clamore sequuntur,
dum genitor nati parma protectus abiret…

Detail from Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son (1669).
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

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.

Don’t Look Back

Here is a portion of Virgil’s account of what happened after Orpheus, escorting his wife from the underworld, turned around to look at her:

Virgil., Georgics, IV. 494-506

She said: “What folly, Orpheus, what terrible folly
Has destroyed me, a wretched woman, and you too?
Look, the hard fates are calling me back again.
And look, sleep is closing my swimming eyes.
Now, farewell! I’m borne away in the vast encircling
Night, and I reach out to you with helpless hands
That, alas, are no longer your hands.”

That’s what she said. Then suddenly, from his sight,
Like smoke amid light breezes, she was gone.
She did not see him vainly clutching shadows
And trying to say ever more things to her.
What’s more, Death’s boatman did not let him cross
The swamp stretched before him.

What could he do? Where was he scrambling to
With his wife snatched away a second time?
With what tears could he move the gods?
Which divinities could he move with words?

No matter. She was afloat the Stygian raft, already cold.

Illa “Quis et me” inquit “miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? en iterum crudelia retro
fata vocant conditque natantia lumina somnus.
iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas.”
dixit et ex oculis subito, ceu fumus in auras
commixtus tenues, fugit diversa, neque illum
prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem
dicere praeterea vidit; nec portitor Orci
amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
quid faceret? quo se rapta bis coniuge ferret?
quo fletu manis, quae numina voce moveret?
Illa quidem Stygia nabat iam frigida cumba.

Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein.
Orpheus and Eurydice. 1806.
Glyptoteket, Copenhagen.

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.

The Wretched of the Earth

“The night of the massacre, I was awakened by my family. My parents and five siblings were there. I was told we had to leave and that was it.”

–Viola Fletcher, 107 years old, survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

“It is hard when you leave without knowing where you’re going, without understanding what will happen to you or if you’ll ever see your parents, grandmother, or friends again.”

–Yevhenia, Ukrainian refugee in Poland.

Virgil, Eclogue I. 1-18.

Meliboeus:

Tityrus, while you lie under a broad sheltering beech
Rehearsing a pastoral song on the slender oaten reed,
We’re leaving the sweep and sweet fields of our homeland.
We’re fleeing our home, while you, Tityrus, at ease in the shade
Teach the woods to say and say again, “lovely Amaryllis.”

Tityrus:

O Meliboeus, a god gave us this peace.
And since he will always be a god to me,
Soft lambs from our fold will often stain his altar.
He lets my cattle roam, as you see, and he lets me
make music to my liking on the rustic flute.

Meliboeus:

No judgment, but I marvel, since turmoil abounds In the land.
Look how in my distress I drive the goats with dispatch.
But even then, Tityrus, I can barely budge this one.
Here in the hazel thicket, a short while ago, she birthed twins.
And, dear me, she left the hope of the flock on the bare stones.
If only my mind had been right…The oaks struck from heaven
I often think of: they foretold this catastrophe.
But all that aside, Tityrus, tell us, who is your god?

**
“Turmoil abounds in the land” (usque adeo turbatur agris turbamur): Servius, the ancient commentator on Virgil, offered this gloss on the phrase:

“There is no distinguishing of guilt or deserts . . . The choice of ‘turmoil abounds’ is truly wise because it is impersonal; it applies to all people in general . . . Whereas, if you read “we are in turmoil” it would seem applicable only to a few.”

usque adeo turbatur agris turbamur sine ulla discretione culpae vel meriti . . . sane vera lectio est ‘turbatur’, ut sit inpersonale, quod ad omnes pertinet generaliter . . . si enim ‘turbamur’ legeris, videtur ad paucos referri.

Ecloga I.

Meliboeus

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui Musam meditaris avena:
nos patriae fines et dulcia linquimus arva;
nos patriam fugimus: tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvas.

Tityrus

O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
namque erit ille mihi semper deus, illius aram
saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
Ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.

Meliboeus

Non equidem invideo; miror magis: undique totis
usque adeo turbatur agris. en, ipse capellas
protinus aeger ago; hanc etiam vix, Tityre, duco.
hic inter densas corylos modo namque gemellos,
spem gregis, a!, silice in nuda conixa reliquit.
saepe malum hoc nobis, si mens non laeva fuisset,
de caelo tactas memini praedicere quercus.
Sed tamen, iste deus qui sit, da, Tityre, nobis.

Venezuelans fleeing their country.
Newsweek

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.

Seneca on Life’s Ups and Downs

Seneca, Thyestes, 607-621.

You whom the ruler of land and sea
Gave great power over life and death,
Put away your haughty, pompous airs.
What an inferior man fears from you
You in turn fear from a higher master.
All power is under more grave power.

The rising day sees a man at peak pride,
And the departing day sees him ruined.
No one should be too sure of good fortune,
And no one should despair better won’t come.
Clotho mixes the two, stops Fortune
Standing still, and turns every destiny.

No one has had such propitious gods
That he can promise himself tomorrow.
A god turns and turns our lives, wheeling
Them about in a whirring whirlwind.

Vos quibus rector maris atque terrae
ius dedit magnum necis atque vitae,
ponite inflatos tumidosque vultus.
quicquid a vobis minor expavescit,
maior hoc vobis dominus minatur;
omne sub regno graviore regnum est.
quem dies vidit veniens superbum,
hunc dies vidit fugiens iacentem.
Nemo confidat nimium secundis,
nemo desperet meliora lassis:
miscet haec illis prohibetque Clotho
stare Fortunam, rotat omne fatum,
nemo tam divos habuit faventes,
crastinum ut posset sibi polliceri.
res deus nostras celeri citatas
turbine versat.

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.

Athlete and Singer

Pindar. Olympian 11: For Hagesidamus of Western Locri.

There’s a time when people most need wind.
And a time when they most need heavenly waters,
The rainy offspring of clouds.
But if with hard work someone succeeds,
Then sweet-voiced hymns, the ground of future fame
And a true pledge of great achievement, rise up.

This hymn is full-throated praise for Olympic victors.
My tongue wants to preserve their achievements,
But only through a god does a man brim with the skill.
This is true for Olympic victors too.

Know this, Hagesidamus, son of Archestratus,
Your boxing is the reason I will descant sweet song,
Ornament for your golden-olive crown,
And tribute to the Western-Locrian tribe.

Join the celebrations there, O Muses.
I promise you will find a people not hostile to guests
And not unfamiliar with beauty, but wise and warlike.
Believe what I say, for neither fire-colored fox
Nor loud-roaring lions change character.

Comment:

It’s only when Pindar addresses Hagesidamus by name is the hymn unambiguously concerned with the athlete and not the singer himself.

After all, the composition of a hymn is as much the product of a singer’s hard work as it is a reward for the athlete’s. The hymn supports both a singer’s and an athlete’s future renown. And, Pindar tells us, athletes and singers have an identical reliance on the god.

The blending of singer and athlete goes on. I render Pindar’s line as “my tongue wants to preserve their achievements,” but the Greek ambiguously says, “preserve it” (τὰ . . . ποιμαίνειν). “It” could be (as I’ve interpreted the word) the athletic feat, but equally it could be Pindar’s own hymn.

The word I render as “to preserve,” ποιμαίνειν, literally means “to shepherd.” I follow the scholiast in assuming that Pindar uses “shepherd” to mean something like “protect.” But “to shepherd” also means “to guide,” or “to be responsible for.” If we interpret “to shepherd” in one of these other senses, we can read Pindar as saying he wishes he were responsible for (and not just singing about) Olympic victories.

And so when Pindar says his praise of athletes is ἀφθόνητος, “without envy” (I render it “full-throated”), he might be signaling just the opposite.

ἔστιν ἀνθρώποις ἀνέμων ὅτε πλείστα
χρῆσις, ἔστιν δ᾽ οὐρανίων ὑδάτων,
ὀμβρίων παίδων νεφέλας.
εἰ δὲ σὺν πόνῳ τις εὖ πράσσοι, μελιγάρυες ὕμνοι
ὑστέρων ἀρχὰ λόγων
τέλλεται καὶ πιστὸν ὅρκιον μεγάλαις ἀρεταῖς.
ἀφθόνητος δ᾽ αἶνος Ὀλυμπιονίκαις
οὗτος ἄγκειται. τὰ μὲν ἁμετέρα
γλῶσσα ποιμαίνειν ἐθέλει:
ἐκ θεοῦ δ᾽ ἀνὴρ σοφαῖς ἀνθεῖ πραπίδεσσιν ὁμοίως.
ἴσθι νῦν, Ἀρχεστράτου
παῖ, τεᾶς, Ἁγησίδαμε, πυγμαχίας ἕνεκεν
κόσμον ἐπὶ στεφάνῳ χρυσέας ἐλαίας
ἁδυμελῆ κελαδήσω,
Ζεφυρίων Λοκρῶν γενεὰν ἀλέγων.
ἔνθα συγκωμάξατ᾽: ἐγγυάσομαι
ὔμμιν, ὦ Μοῖσαι, φυγόξενον στρατὸν
μηδ᾽ ἀπείρατον καλῶν,
ἀκρόσοφον δὲ καὶ αἰχματὰν ἀφίξεσθαι. τὸ γὰρ
ἐμφυὲς οὔτ᾽ αἴθων ἀλώπηξ
οὔτ᾽ ἐρίβρομοι λέοντες διαλλάξαντο ἦθος.

Pierre Bonnard. The Boxer (Self Portrait). 1931.

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.

A Hero For Our Times

“Elon Musk says Twitter deal on hold . . . Shares plunge 18%”

-CNBC, 13 May 2022

Pindar. Olympian 2. 51-56.

“Experiencing success
Relieves the stress of struggle.
The fact is, wealth garnished with fame
Makes pretty much anything possible,
And it underwrites an extreme and savage ambition.
It’s a conspicuous star, wealth.
It’s this man’s true light.”

. . . τὸ δὲ τυχεῖν
πειρώμενον ἀγωνίας δυσφρονᾶν παραλύει.
ὁ μὰν πλοῦτος ἀρεταῖς δεδαιδαλμένος φέρει τῶν τε καὶ τῶν
καιρόν βαθεῖαν ὑπέχων μέριμναν ἀγροτέραν,
ἀστὴρ ἀρίζηλος, ἐτήτυμον
ἀνδρὶ φέγγος . . .

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.

Seneca on Globalization

At a moment of anxiety about the consequences and sustainability of globalization, consider that Seneca himself (1st century AD) reflected on how a more modest, earlier globalization affected the world. 

The first passage is an idealization of the local. And the second passage is his reflection on a world where distant places are drawn together: 

Seneca, Medea 329-334

Our fathers knew simple times
Far removed from corruption.
Each was a provincial–held to his own shore
And grew old in his ancestral field.
Rich in little,
Save only for what his native land provided,
He did not know abundance.

Seneca, Medea 364-374.

Now, in our day, the sea gives way
And suffers all laws. No celebrated Argo
Fitted together by Pallas’s hands,
Royal rowers aboard, is called for.

Any old skiff wanders the deep.
Every border has been breached.
Cities have planted walls in new lands.
In a world open for business
Nothing is where it used to be:
The Indian drinks the cold Araxes river,
And the Persians drink the Alba and the Rhine.

329-334

Candida nostri saecula patres
videre, procul fraude remota.
sua quisque piger litora tangens
patrioque senex factus in arvo,
parvo dives,
nisi quas tulerat natale solum,
non norat opes.

364-374.

Nunc iam cessit pontus et omnes
patitur leges: non Palladia
compacta manu regum referens
inclita remos quaeritur Argo—
quaelibet altum cumba pererrat;
terminus omnis motus et urbes
muros terra posuere nova,
nil qua fuerat sede reliquit
pervius orbis:
Indus gelidum potat Araxen,
Albin Persae Rhenumque bibunt.

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.