“To me, custom and nature are not merely not opposed but they are most closely related, similar and overlapping one another. For custom is the way we approach nature and nature is our avenue to custom; we do call one the starting point and one the result: let nature be called the leader and culture the follower. Custom never would have built walls or outfitted men against them if nature hadn’t given man hands.”
“Lyre, don’t hang on your peg any longer,
Keeping your seven-toned voice still–
Here are my hands! I want to send
Alexander something, a golden wing of the Muses,
A centerpiece for the parties to end the month,
When the sweet pressure of fast cups
Warms the sensitive hearts of young men,
And expectation of Aphrodite mixed up
with Dionysian gifts shakes up their thoughts.
Wine makes the thoughts of men blast off!
Suddenly one is tearing down a city’s walls,
And another thinks he is king of the world!”
“Human knowledge has countless forms— whether learned in some prophetic art or allotted the Graces’ honor, the wise man certainly flourishes with golden hope.
Another man aims his dabbled bow at boys. Others fortify their hearts in the field Or with herds of cattle. But the future bears ends that make the path of fortune unmeasurable.
This thing is best: to be a noble man envied by many men.
I know something about wealth’s great power: It makes even the most useless man useful.
But why do I pilot my great tongue so and drive off the road? When the moment of victory is appointed for mortals, only then the wise man must…[ ] With flutes [pay back the favor of the gods] And mingle [among those who may envy]
The last few lines of this poem are completely fragmentary. In italics I put in something just to complete the sentence. I think that the reference to flutes probably indicates some ritual celebration, but I also wanted the end to repeat the note of warning about the mutability of fortune.
“I suggest you safeguard my words by writing them on tablet in your minds” αἰνῶ φυλάξαι τἄμ᾿ ἔπη δελτουμένας
Aeschylus, Suppliants, 200-204
“Don’t be too aggressive or broken in speech: These people are especially ready to be angry. Remember to be accommodating: you are a foreign refugee in need. To speak boldly is not a fitting move for the weak.”
“You are the city, really. You are the people. An unjudged chief of state rules The altar, the city’s hearth, With only your votes and nods, With only your scepter on the throne You judge every need. Be on guard against contamination!”
“Write this down with the many other notes In your mind of the wisdoms from your father: An unfamiliar mob is evaluated by time, But everyone has an evil tongue prepared to lash out over immigrants and speaking foully is somehow easy. I advise you not to bring me shame Now that you are in the age which turns mortal gazes.”
“There are many kinds of useful notions in this book,
Against a friend or an enemy, when speaking in court or assembly
Addressing a scoundrel or someone good and noble, for a stranger
Or someone in a rage, for someone drunk, or violent
Or anything bad that happens–this book has a sharp point for them.
It also has wise sayings– whoever heeds them becomes
Better and readier for every situation.
You don’t need to say a lot, just one of these words.
Steer any subject to whichever one of them fits.
Even though I was ready for many things, I used to be blamed
Because I was long winded, and could not give my opinion concisely.
So I listened to this complaint and I composed this craft
So that anyone may say “Epicharmus was a smart dude.
He spoke many clever ideas in short verses and now
He is letting us try to speak briefly as he does too!”
Everyone who learns these things will appear to be wise,
He won’t talk nonsense ever, if he remembers every word.
If someone is annoyed by something in these words,
Not because he has acted wrongly or is in disagreement with them,
Let him know that it is a good misfortune to nurture a broadly-informed mind.”
“Don’t make any of these citizens your friend, Polypaides
At least not in your heart for any real need.
But seem to be friendly to all in your speech,
While sharing your business with no one, especially not
Anything serious. For then, you would know the thoughts of vile men,
How there is nothing trustworthy in their actions,
But they adore tricks, deceptions, and conspiracies,
Just like people who cannot be saved.”
“Someone wouldn’t be wrong in saying that ignorance is a third cause of f*ck-ups. But a law-maker would be better in splitting this cause into two, understanding the simple one as a cause of minor mistakes. The doubled ignorance—when someone who is screwing up is held not only by ignorance but by the belief of wisdom too as if they perfectly understand all the things they know nothing about—is the cause of serious and harmful mistakes when it has power and strength.
But when present in people who are weak, doubled ignorance produces the errors of children and old people. A law-maker will consider these mere mistakes and will make laws accordingly, which will be the most lenient and full of pardon of all.”