May You Count Yourself Lucky, Today

Sophocles, Trachinae 1-3

“People have an ancient famous proverb:
That you should not judge any mortal lives
You can’t see them as good or bad before someone dies

Λόγος μὲν ἔστ᾿ ἀρχαῖος ἀνθρώπων φανεὶς
ὡς οὐκ ἂν αἰῶν᾿ ἐκμάθοις βροτῶν, πρὶν ἂν
θάνῃ τις, οὔτ᾿ εἰ χρηστὸς οὔτ᾿ εἴ τῳ κακός·

Soph. Trach. 132-135

“For neither starry night
Nor the death spirits
Nor wealth remain for mortals,
But delight and loss disappear
And then each returns again.”

μένει γὰρ οὔτ᾿ αἰόλα
νὺξ βροτοῖσιν οὔτε κῆ-
ρες οὔτε πλοῦτος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄφαρ
βέβακε, τῷ δ᾿ ἐπέρχεται
χαίρειν τε καὶ στέρεσθαι.

Trachiniae 943-947

“whoever counts more than
Two days ahead in their life,
Is foolish. When it comes to living well
There’s no tomorrow before the present day is done.”

…ὥστ᾿ εἴ τις δύο
ἢ κἀπὶ πλείους ἡμέρας λογίζεται,
μάταιός ἐστιν· οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ᾿ ἥ γ᾿ αὔριον
πρὶν εὖ πάθῃ τις τὴν παροῦσαν ἡμέραν.

1270-1274

“No one can see what the future will be,
And our present is our pity
But their shame,
And hardest of all people
On the one who endures this ruin.”

τὰ μὲν οὖν μέλλοντ᾿ οὐδεὶς ἐφορᾷ,
τὰ δὲ νῦν ἑστῶτ᾿ οἰκτρὰ μὲν ἡμῖν,
αἰσχρὰ δ᾿ ἐκείνοις,
χαλεπώτατα δ᾿ οὖν ἀνδρῶν πάντων
τῷ τήνδ᾿ ἄτην ὑπέχοντι.

 

Herodotus, Histories 1.32

“I cannot answer what you ask me until I hear that you have ended your life well. Someone who is really rich is no more blessed than someone who has enough for just a day unless chance finds them keeping all the fine things and dying well. For many super wealthy people turnout unlucky and many of modest means fare well. The person who is really wealthy but unlucky is ahead of the merely lucky person in two ways but the lucky person has many advantages over the unlucky.

A wealthy person has the resources to do what they want and to hold out when disaster strikes. But a lucky person does not get disabled, sick, avoids suffering, has good children, and keeps looking good. If that person dies well in addition to these other things, well that’s the kind of person you’re looking for. Then someone is worthy of being called blessed.

But don’t call anyone blessed before they’re dead. Just lucky.”

ἐκεῖνο δὲ τὸ εἴρεό με, οὔκω σε ἐγὼ λέγω, πρὶν τελευτήσαντα καλῶς τὸν αἰῶνα πύθωμαι. οὐ γάρ τι ὁ μέγα πλούσιος μᾶλλον τοῦ ἐπ᾿ ἡμέρην ἔχοντος ὀλβιώτερος ἐστί, εἰ μή οἱ τύχη ἐπίσποιτο πάντα καλὰ ἔχοντα εὖ τελευτῆσαι τὸν βίον. πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ζάπλουτοι ἀνθρώπων ἀνόλβιοι εἰσί, πολλοὶ δὲ μετρίως ἔχοντες βίου εὐτυχέες. ὁ μὲν δὴ μέγα πλούσιος ἀνόλβιος δὲ δυοῖσι προέχει τοῦ εὐτυχέος μοῦνον, οὗτος δὲ τοῦ πλουσίου καὶ ἀνόλβου πολλοῖσι· ὃ μὲν ἐπιθυμίην ἐκτελέσαι καὶ ἄτην μεγάλην προσπεσοῦσαν ἐνεῖκαι δυνατώτερος, ὃ δὲ τοῖσιδε προέχει ἐκείνου· ἄτην μὲν καὶ ἐπιθυμίην οὐκ ὁμοίως δυνατὸς ἐκείνῳ ἐνεῖκαι, ταῦτα δὲ ἡ εὐτυχίη οἱ ἀπερύκει, ἄπηρος δὲ ἐστί, ἄνουσος, ἀπαθὴς κακῶν, εὔπαις, εὐειδής. εἰ δὲ πρὸς τούτοισι ἔτι τελευτήσει τὸν βίον εὖ, οὗτος ἐκεῖνος τὸν σὺ ζητέεις, ὁ ὄλβιος κεκλῆσθαι ἄξιος ἐστί· πρὶν δ᾿ ἂν τελευτήσῃ, ἐπισχεῖν, μηδὲ καλέειν κω ὄλβιον ἀλλ᾿ εὐτυχέα.

File:Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer, Getty Center.JPG
Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer

Nobility Comes Not from Noble Birth: Euripides, fr. 52

“Our conversation will be superfluous if
We praise nobility in human birth.
For long ago at the moment we were first created
And the earth produced mortals one could distinguish
She raised us all up with similar appearance.
We have no special trait. One race
Are the well-born and the low-born.
Time makes some haughty with custom.
But god makes some noble with intelligence
and understanding, not wealth….”

περισσόμυθος ὁ λόγος, εὐγένειαν εἰ
βρότειον εὐλογήσομεν.
τὸ γὰρ πάλαι καὶ πρῶτον ὅτ’ ἐγενόμεθα,
διὰ δ’ ἔκρινεν ἁ τεκοῦσα γᾶ βροτούς,
ὁμοίαν χθὼν ἅπασιν ἐξεπαίδευσεν ὄψιν.
ἴδιον οὐδὲν ἔσχομεν• μία δὲ γονὰ
τό τ’ εὐγενὲς καὶ τὸ δυσγενές•
νόμῳ δὲ γαῦρον αὐτὸ κραίνει χρόνος.
τὸ φρόνιμον εὐγένεια καὶ τὸ συνετὸν
ὁ θεὸς δίδωσιν, οὐχ ὁ πλοῦτος.

This is from Euripides’ lost play Alexandros.

Homer, Odyssey 8.167-70

“The gods don’t bless men with everything—

not with looks, brains and persuasive speech.

One man may not appear very impressive

But god crowns his form with words…”

οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν

ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ᾽ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ᾽ ἀγορητύν.

ἄλλος μὲν γάρ τ᾽ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,

ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει …

This, of course, is Odysseus’ response to being told that “the greatest glory a man can acheive is with his hands and his feet”.