Falling from Pegasos: Or, What’s a Heaven For (Pindar, Browning,Gilbert and Friends)

This is a repost. But I never get sick of these poems. And many of my students and colleagues might need some inspiration this time of year.

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

File:Red-figure plate showing Bellerophon riding Pegasus and a Chimera, by the Baltimore painter, second half of the 4th century BC, Monsters. Fantastic Creatures of Fear and Myth Exhibition, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome (12836992534).jpg
Red Figure by the Baltimore Painter, 4th Century BCE

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
The passage above from Pindar assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c).

 

“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι ἀναπτῆναι βουληθεὶς τῷ Πηγάσῳ, κούφως παρακινδυνεύσας, κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ Διὸς οἰστρωθέντος τοῦ Πηγάσου ἐκπίπτει καὶ χωλοῦται•
καὶ ἐπλανᾶτο κατὰ τὸ ᾿Αλήιον χωλός. καὶ ῞Ομηρός φησιν (Ζ 201).

The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:


Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662

“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις πάντ’ ἀνὴρ εὐδαιμονεῖ•
ἢ γὰρ πεφυκὼς ἐσθλὸς οὐκ ἔχει βίον,
ἢ δυσγενὴς ὢν πλουσίαν ἀροῖ πλάκα.
πολλοὺς δὲ πλούτῳ καὶ γένει γαυρουμένους
γυνὴ κατῄσχυν’ ἐν δόμοισι νηπία.

Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις•
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν.
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

Feeling Old? A Story about Bellerophon Probably Won’t Help

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.

Bellerophon

Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

Continue reading “Feeling Old? A Story about Bellerophon Probably Won’t Help”

Pindar Knows What a Heaven’s For (Not Bellerophon…)

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

Bellerophon

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Manic Monday: Euripidean Fragments on Fortune, Suffering and Intelligence

Euripides, fr. 102 (Alcmene)

“We are all wiser at weighing our neighbor’s bad luck than our own.”

σοφώτεροι γὰρ συμφορὰς τὰς τῶν πέλας
πάντες διαθρεῖν ἢ τύχας τὰς οἴκοθεν.

Euripides fragment

Euripides,fr. 205 (Antiope)

 

“I know that I suffer and this is no small pain:
Not to know, now that brings some pleasure to
The troubled—ignorance is an advantage amid grief.”

φρονῶ δ’ ὃ πάσχω, καὶ τόδ’ οὐ σμικρὸν κακόν·
τὸ μὴ εἰδέναι γὰρ ἡδονὴν ἔχει τινὰ
νοσοῦντα, κέρδος δ’ ἐν κακοῖς ἀγνωσία.

 

Euripides, fr. 290 (Bellerophon)

“I always fear less a dull man who is naturally strong
Than someone who is weak and clever.”

ἀεὶ γὰρ ἄνδρα σκαιὸν ἰσχυρὸν φύσει
ἧσσον δέδοικα τἀσθενοῦς τε καὶ σοφοῦ.

Euripidean Fragments and Bellerophon’s Atheism

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Things turn out badly for Bellerophon, as one might imagine.

 

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

 

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

 

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις·
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

 

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

Bellerophon from Fragments to Falling to the Ground

Bellerophon is an interesting figure to consider from Greek myth because his story changes over time (and because we have mostly only fragments and hints about his narrative). In early accounts he is clearly a classic beast-slayer who kills a princess, but he is also an over-reacher who suffers for hubris.

The most famous account of Bellerophon (typically called the first as well) is in the Iliad (6.152-206) where Glaukos describes his grandfather’s flight from Proitos the ruler of the Argives whose wife accused Bellerophon of rape. Bellerophon goes to Lykia and defeats three challenges (the Khimaira, Amazons and Solymoi) and also evades an ambush. Bellerophon wins a princess and a kingdom. Cryptically, Glaukos describes Bellerophon as falling out of favor with the gods and wandering alone.

Bellerophon

Homer, however, does not mention Pegasos. In Hesiod, there is a close connection between the monster, the flying horse, and the Hero:

Theogony, 319-325

“She gave birth to the Khimaira who breathes unquenchable fire,
A terrible, large beast who is swift and strong.
She has three heads: one from a sharp-toothed lion,
The other of a goat, and the third is from a powerful serpent.
The lion is in front, the snake at the end, with the goat in the middle:
She exhales the terrible fury of burning fire.
Pegasos and noble Bellerophon killed her.”

ἡ δὲ Χίμαιραν ἔτικτε πνέουσαν ἀμαιμάκετον πῦρ,
δεινήν τε μεγάλην τε ποδώκεά τε κρατερήν τε.
τῆς ἦν τρεῖς κεφαλαί• μία μὲν χαροποῖο λέοντος,
ἡ δὲ χιμαίρης, ἡ δ’ ὄφιος κρατεροῖο δράκοντος.
[πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσση δὲ χίμαιρα,
δεινὸν ἀποπνείουσα πυρὸς μένος αἰθομένοιο.]
τὴν μὲν Πήγασος εἷλε καὶ ἐσθλὸς Βελλεροφόντης•

This fragment does not tell a significant part of this heroic narrative witnessed elsewhere by Hesiod, Bellerophon’s magical birth. This is recounted in the fragmentary Catalogue of Women (Hes. Fr. 43a 81-91).

“She [Eurynomê, daughter of Nisus] after having sex in Poseidon’s embrace
Gave birth to Glaukos blameless Bellerophon
Who excelled all men on the boundless earth in virtue.
His father […] gave him the horse Pegasos,
The swiftest one […]
Everywhere […]
With him he [overcame the] fire [of the Khimaira]
And he married the child […]
Of the revered king […]
The master […]
She gave birth to […]”

ἣ δὲ Ποσε[ιδάωνος ἐν] ἀγκοίνηισι μιγεῖ[σα
Γλαύκωι ἐν̣[….. …]ἀμύμονα Βελλε[ροφόντην,
ἔξοχον ἀνθ̣[ρώπων ἀρ]ε̣τῆι ἐπ’ ἀπείρονα γ[αῖαν.
τῶι δὲ καὶ η[…… πα]τὴρ πόρε Πήγασο[ν ἵππον
ὠκύτατον [….. ….. ….]μ̣ινεπτε[
πάντηι ἀν[….. ….. ….]ε̣.τα…[
σὺν τῶι πῦρ̣ [πνείουσαν Χίμαιραν.
γῆμε δὲ πα̣[ῖδα φίλην μεγαλήτορος ᾿Ιοβάταο
αἰδοίου βασ[ιλῆος
κοίρανος α[
ἣ τέ[κε

In this fragment we find the core elements of his story (Pegasos and the killing of the Khimaira) combined with two typical elements of the heroic narrative (divine parent, winning of princess) but without the elaborations of the Homeric narrative where Bellerophon is an exile and eventually falls out of divine favor.

Bellerophon’s fall from grace becomes a major aspect of his narrative presentation in the fifth century. The Epinician poet Pindar from Thebes presents him as an example to be avoided:

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“In seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end,
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, he is too brief himself to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos threw his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
for injustice however sweet.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

This passage assumes some basic knowledge on the part of its audience, for instance: the connection between Bellerophon and Pegasos and how the former was in a position to fall from the latter. It is clear from the use of the figure as a negative example that the story had both broad currency and a typical understanding. A Scholiast in writing on Pindar’s 13th Olympian ode elaborates on the details of the fall (Schol. In Pindar Ol. 13.130c)

“For it is reported that when he planned to fly up on Pegasos and put himself in danger on high, he fell when Pegasos was bitten by a fly according to Zeus’ plan and he was crippled. So Homer says that he wandered crippled on the Alêion plain (Il. 6.201).

λέγεται γὰρ ὅτι ἀναπτῆναι βουληθεὶς τῷ Πηγάσῳ, κούφως παρακινδυνεύσας, κατὰ βούλησιν τοῦ Διὸς οἰστρωθέντος τοῦ Πηγάσου ἐκπίπτει καὶ χωλοῦται•
καὶ ἐπλανᾶτο κατὰ τὸ ᾿Αλήιον χωλός. καὶ ῞Ομηρός φησιν (Ζ 201).

The story of Bellerophon’s exile, told in Homer, is clarified or re-envisioned with the story of his downfall as articulated as a moral in Pindar. In Athenian Tragedy, Bellerophon became a popular figure (we have fragmentary plays by Sophocles and Euripides). Bellerophon’s eventual vengeance upon Sthenboia (an alternative for Anteia, Proitios’ wife) is the man story in Euripides’ play of that name that starts with a rumination on the trouble women cause for men:


Euripides, Stheneboia Fr. 661-662

“There is no man who is lucky in all things.
Either a man born noble has no livelihood
Or the baseborn ploughs fertile fields.
And many who boast of their wealth or birth
Are shamed by a foolish woman in their homes.”

Οὐκ ἔστιν ὅστις πάντ’ ἀνὴρ εὐδαιμονεῖ•
ἢ γὰρ πεφυκὼς ἐσθλὸς οὐκ ἔχει βίον,
ἢ δυσγενὴς ὢν πλουσίαν ἀροῖ πλάκα.
πολλοὺς δὲ πλούτῳ καὶ γένει γαυρουμένους
γυνὴ κατῄσχυν’ ἐν δόμοισι νηπία.

Just as Pindar uses Bellerophon as a vehicle to deliver a moralizing message, so too Euripides uses the hero to voice general concerns. In a second play on Bellerophon, Euripides returns to the moral content of Pindar’s complaint but, rather than simply portraying an instance of hubris, he offers a hero challenging the nature of divinity.

Here are two fragments from the lost Euripidean Bellerophon in which the eponymous hero denies that the gods exist. He does not seem to say that there are no gods at all, but his complaints are like those of Xenophanes who complains about the misbehavior of Homer’s gods.

Instead, Bellerophon’s complaints are based on the fact that since the world seems unjust and the gods are supposed to ensure justice, therefore they must not exist (either totally or in the form man makes them).

Euripides, fr.286.1-7 (Bellerophon)

“Is there anyone who thinks there are gods in heaven?
There are not. There are not, for any man who wishes
Not to be a fool and trust some ancient story.
Look at it yourselves, don’t make up your mind
Because of my words. I think that tyranny
Kills so many men and steals their possessions
And that men break their oaths by sacking cities.
But the men who do such things are more fortunate
Than those who live each die piously, at peace.
I know that small cities honor the gods,
Cities that obey stronger more impious men
Because they are overpowered by the strength of their arms.”

φησίν τις εἶναι δῆτ’ ἐν οὐρανῷ θεούς;
οὐκ εἰσίν, οὐκ εἴσ’, εἴ τις ἀνθρώπων θέλει
μὴ τῷ παλαιῷ μῶρος ὢν χρῆσθαι λόγῳ.
σκέψασθε δ’ αὐτοί, μὴ ἐπὶ τοῖς ἐμοῖς λόγοις
γνώμην ἔχοντες. φήμ’ ἐγὼ τυραννίδα
κτείνειν τε πλείστους κτημάτων τ’ ἀποστερεῖν
ὅρκους τε παραβαίνοντας ἐκπορθεῖν πόλεις•
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶντες μᾶλλόν εἰσ’ εὐδαίμονες
τῶν εὐσεβούντων ἡσυχῇ καθ’ ἡμέραν.
πόλεις τε μικρὰς οἶδα τιμώσας θεούς,
αἳ μειζόνων κλύουσι δυσσεβεστέρων
λόγχης ἀριθμῷ πλείονος κρατούμεναι.

Euripides, fr. 292.6 (Bellerophon)

“If the gods do a shameful thing, they are not gods.”

εἰ θεοί τι δρῶσιν αἰσχρόν, οὐκ εἰσὶν θεοί.

What’s A Heaven For? Falling from Pegasos (Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49)

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!