Youth, Brief as a Dream–Two Fragments from Mimnermus

Mimnermus fr. 1

“What life and what pleasure is there without golden Aphrodite?
May I die when I no longer care about these things—
Secrets sex, persuasive gifts, and bed—
The kinds of youthful flowers that bewitch
Men and women. When grievous old age press on
It makes a man equal ugly and foul
And dark worries always wear on his thoughts—
He can’t even take pleasure in seeing the rays of the sun.
But he is hateful to young men, and dishonored by women.
So hard did the god make old age.”

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθηι
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Mimnermus, fr. 5

“Honored youth is brief as a dream
Old age is hard and ugly old age
Drapes over your head,
As hateful as it is dishonored—and it makes a man
Unrecognizable—it harms your eyes and shadows your mind”

ἀλλ᾿ ὀλιγοχρόνιον γίνεται ὥσπερ ὄναρ
ἥβη τιμήεσσα· τὸ δ᾿ ἀργαλέον καί ἄμορφον
γῆρας ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτίχ᾿ ὑπερκρέμεται,
ἐχθρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ ἄτιμον, ὅ τ᾿ ἄγνωστον τιθεῖ ἄνδρα,
βλάπτει δ᾿ ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ νόον ἀμφιχυθέν

 

Image result for Ancient Greek old man

“Learn As Long As You Are Ignorant”: Seneca on What He Has to Teach

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher? You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.

But the human race still shames me every time I enter the school. Near to that theater of the Neapolitans, I have to pass that house of Metronax. There, the place is packed too as with a burning desire they judge who is the best flute player. The Greek horn and a herald bring a crowd. But in the place where we seek what a good man is, where how to be a good man may be learned, the smallest audience sits and they seem to most people to be up to no good in their pursuit. They are called useless and lazy. May such derision touch me. For the insults of the ignorant should be heard with a gentle mind. Contempt itself must be held in contempt as we journey toward better things.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum. Pudet autem me generis humani, quotiens scholam intravi. Praeter ipsum theatrum Neapolitanorum, ut scis, transeundum est Metronactis petenti domum. Illud quidem fartum est et ingenti studio, quis sit pythaules bonus, iudicatur; habet tubicen quoque Graecus et praeco concursum. At in illo loco, in quo vir bonus quaeritur, in quo vir bonus discitur, paucissimi sedent, et hi plerisque videntur nihil boni negotii habere quod agant; inepti et inertes vocantur. Mihi contingat iste derisus; aequo animo audienda sunt inperitorum convicia et ad honesta vadenti contemnendus est ipse contemptus.

 

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Next Time You Feel Self-Conscious at the Gym, Remember This

Diogenes Laertius, 6.92

“Zeno of Citium writes in his Anecdotes that after Kratês unthinkingly sewed a sheepskin to his cloak, he looked absurd and was laughed at when he exercised. He was in the habit of raising his hands and saying “Be bold, Kratês, for your eyes and your body. Someday you will see these men who laughing at you worn out by sickness and envying you, criticizing their own laziness.

He used to say that we should pursue philosophy until generals seemed to be donkey-drivers. He also claimed that those who lived with flatterers were as exposed as calves among wolves—For there is no one to protect these or those, but only those who contrive against them. When he perceived he was dying, he sang to himself, saying “you are going to Hades’ home, dear hunchback”. [For he was a hunchback because of old age.”

Ζήνων δ’ ὁ Κιτιεὺς ἐν ταῖς Χρείαις καὶ κῴδιον αὐτόν φησί ποτε προσράψαι τῷ τρίβωνι ἀνεπιστρεπτοῦντα. ἦν δὲ καὶ τὴν ὄψιν αἰσχρὸς καὶ γυμναζόμενος ἐγελᾶτο. εἰώθει δὲ λέγειν ἐπαίρων τὰς χεῖρας, “θάρρει, Κράτης, ὑπὲρ ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ τοῦ λοιποῦ σώματος· τούτους δ’ ὄψει τοὺς καταγελῶντας, ἤδη καὶ συνεσπασμένους ὑπὸ νόσου καί σε μακαρίζοντας, αὑτοὺς δὲ καταμεμφομένους ἐπὶ τῇ ἀργίᾳ.” ἔλεγε δὲ μέχρι τούτου δεῖν φιλοσοφεῖν, μέχρι ἂν δόξωσιν οἱ στρατηγοὶ εἶναι ὀνηλάται. ἐρήμους ἔλεγε τοὺς μετὰ κολάκων ὄντας ὥσπερ τοὺς μόσχους ἐπειδὰν μετὰ λύκων ὦσιν· οὔτε γὰρ ἐκείνοις τοὺς προσήκοντας οὔτε τούτοις συνεῖναι, ἀλλὰτοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας. συναισθανόμενος ὅτι ἀποθνήσκει, ἐπῇδε πρὸς ἑαυτὸν λέγων (PPF 10 B 9),

στείχεις δή, φίλε κυρτών,

[βαίνεις] εἰς ᾿Αίδαο δόμους [κυφὸς ὥρην διὰ γῆρας].

 

Image result for Crates the philosopher

Isocrates Taught Until He was 98–And That Isn’t What Killed Him

All across Texas (and other states, I imagine), the arrival of spring break brings teachers and students relief. For me–and some others I know–the moment is one of existential crisis as well.  What does it mean to be so happy for a break?

I wonder if I will have the dedication and stamina to be like Isocrates, teaching right up to the end of my days:

Pausanias, 1.18.8

“On a pillar sits a statue of Isocrates who stands out in memory for three qualities: his dedication in the fact that he never stopped accepting students even when he had lived to 98 years; his wisdom in keeping himself out of politics and from meddling in public affairs; and his sense of freedom: he was so aggrieved at the report of the battle at Chaironea that he died voluntarily.”

κεῖται δὲ ἐπὶ κίονος ᾿Ισοκράτους ἀνδριάς, ὃς ἐς μνήμην τρία ὑπελίπετο, ἐπιπονώτατον μὲν ὅτι οἱ βιώσαντι ἔτη δυοῖν δέοντα ἑκατὸν οὔποτε κατελύθη μαθητὰς ἔχειν, σωφρονέστατον δὲ ὅτι πολιτείας ἀπεχόμενος διέμεινε καὶ τὰ κοινὰ οὐ πολυπραγμονῶν, ἐλευθερώτατον δὲ ὅτι πρὸς τὴν ἀγγελίαν τῆς ἐν Χαιρωνείᾳ μάχης ἀλγήσας ἐτελεύτησεν ἐθελοντής.

Isocrates_pushkin

 

 

If the New Year Makes You Feel Old, Don’t Read This

Euripides, fr. 25 (Aeolus):

“Alas, the ancient proverb holds well:
We old men are nothing other than a sound
and an image, lurking imitations of dreams.
We have no mind and but we think we know how to think well.”

φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·
γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος
καὶ σχῆμ’, ὀνείρων δ’ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·
νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ’ εὖ φρονεῖν.

This is certainly uplifting. Not sure if I prefer to age with Euripides in mind or this:

Democritus, fr. 296

“Old age is the perfect handicap: it has everything and lacks everything.”

γῆρας ὁλόκληρός ἐστι πήρωσις·
πάντ’ ἔχει καὶ πᾶσιν ἐνδεῖ.

If not, maybe we can take some solace in Pindar:

Pindar, Olympian 4.25-27

“Sometimes even young men grow grey hair before the right time of life”

φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις
ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί
θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον

But if we get too high on that, we can always rely on Cicero to bring us back to earth:

Sophocles,  fr. 65

“No one loves living as much as a man growing old”

τοῦ ζῆν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ

 

Cicero, On Old Age 24

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1. 1164-1174: Entropy Strikes! (slowly)

Some more Lucretius to lighten a day’s burden:

“Now as he shakes his head slowly the ancient plowman
whispers that his great labors have amounted to nothing
and when he compares his life’s work to former times
he often praises the good fortunes of his father.
It is sad but true: the caretaker of the shriveled vine
blames the passage of time and carps about his generation,
complaining how the older world so full of devotion
managed to support life with much slighter means,
when each man was apportioned a smaller bit of land.
He does not understand that all things deteriorate over time
in the approach to the journey’s end, worn out by the ancient span of years.”

 

iamque caput quassans grandis suspirat arator
crebrius, in cassum magnos cecidisse labores,               
1165
et cum tempora temporibus praesentia confert
praeteritis, laudat fortunas saepe parentis.
tristis item vetulae vitis sator atque <vietae>
temporis incusat momen saeclumque fatigat,
et crepat, antiquum genus ut pietate repletum               
1170
perfacile angustis tolerarit finibus aevom,
cum minor esset agri multo modus ante viritim;
nec tenet omnia paulatim tabescere et ire
ad capulum spatio aetatis defessa vetusto.

Euripides, fr. 25 (Aeolus): On old Men, Lurking and Thinking

 

“Alas, the ancient proverb holds well:

We old men are nothing other than a sound

and an image, lurking imitations of dreams.

We have no mind and but we think we know how to think well.”

 

φεῦ φεῦ, παλαιὸς αἶνος ὡς καλῶς ἔχει·

γέροντες οὐδέν ἐσμεν ἄλλο πλὴν ψόφος

καὶ σχῆμ’, ὀνείρων δ’ ἕρπομεν μιμήματα·

νοῦς δ’ οὐκ ἔνεστιν, οἰόμεσθα δ’ εὖ φρονεῖν.

 

This is certainly uplifting. Not sure if I prefer to age with Euripides in mind or this:

 

Democritus, fr. 296

 

“Old age is the perfect handicap: it has everything and lacks everything.”

 

γῆρας ὁλόκληρός ἐστι πήρωσις·

πάντ’ ἔχει καὶ πᾶσιν ἐνδεῖ.

 

If not, maybe we can take some solace in Pindar:

 

Pindar, Olympian 4.25-27

“Sometimes even young men grow grey hair before the right time of life”

 

φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις

ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί

θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον

 

But if we get too high on that, we can always rely on Cicero to bring us back to earth:

 

Cicero, On Old Age 24

“No one is so old that he thinks he could not live another year”

nemo enim est tam senex qui se annum non putet posse vivere