“Human strength is meager
Our plains incomplete
Toil follows toil in our short lives.
Death looms inescapable for all—
Men who are good and bad draw
of that an equal portion.”
ἀνθρώπων ὀλίγον μὲν
κάρτος, ἄπρακτοι δὲ μεληδόνες,
αἰῶνι δ’ ἐν παύρωι πόνος ἀμφὶ πόνωι·
ὁ δ’ ἄφυκτος ὁμῶς ἐπικρέμαται θάνατος·
κείνου γὰρ ἴσον λάχον μέρος οἵ τ’ ἀγαθοὶ
ὅστις τε κακός.
“Since you are human, never say what will come tomorrow.
Nor, if you see a fortunate man, how long it will last.
For not even the time of a tender-winged fly
Is not as fast.”
ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν μή ποτε φάσηις ὅ τι γίνεται 〚αὔριον〛,
μηδ’ ἄνδρα ἰδὼν ὄλβιον ὅσσον χρόνον ἔσσεται·
ὠκεῖα γὰρ οὐδὲ τανυπτερύγου μυίας
οὕτως ἁ μετάστασις.
“All things come to a single, blasted Charybdis—
Great virtues and wealth all the same.”
πάντα γὰρ μίαν ἱκνεῖται δασπλῆτα Χάρυβδιν,
αἱ μεγάλαι τ’ ἀρεταὶ καὶ ὁ πλοῦτος.
“Not even those who were long ago,
The half-divine sons of our lord gods,
Came to old age without finishing
A life of toil, pain and danger.”
†οὐδὲ γὰρ οἳ πρότερόν ποτ’ ἐπέλοντο,
θεῶν δ’ ἐξ ἀνάκτων ἐγένονθ’ υἷες ἡμίθεοι,
ἄπονον οὐδ’ ἄφθιτον οὐδ’ ἀκίνδυνον βίον
ἐς γῆρας ἐξίκοντο τελέσαντες.†
“The knowledge of man 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
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]
… Μυρίαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται·
ἦ γὰρ σ[ο]φὸς ἢ Χαρίτων τιμὰν λελογχὼς
ἐλπίδι χρυσέᾳ τέθαλεν
ἤ τινα θευπροπίαν ἰ-
δώς· ἕτερος δ’ ἐπὶ παισὶ
ποικίλον τόξον τιταίνει·
οἱ δ’ ἐπ’ ἔργοισίν τε καὶ ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀ[γ]έλαις
θυμὸν αὔξουσιν. Τὸ μέλλον
δ’ ἀκρίτους τίκτει τελευτάς,
πᾶ τύχα βρίσει. Τὸ μὲν κάλλιστον, ἐσθλὸν
ἄνδρα πολλῶν ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυζήλωτον εἶμεν·
οἶδα καὶ πλούτου μεγάλαν δύνασιν,
ἃ καὶ τ[ὸ]ν ἀχρεῖον τί[θησ]ι
χρηστόν. Τί μακρὰν γ̣[λ]ῶ[σ]σαν ἰθύσας ἐλαύνω
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ; Πέφαται θνατοῖσι νίκας
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. Any other suggestions?
Plutarch, On The Tranquility of Mind, 467 C-D
“Thoughtful men–just a bees have find honey in thyme, the most bitter and driest plants–extract something fitting and useful to themselves even from the most adverse situations.
It is necessary that we practice and take care of this first, like the man who missed a dog with a stone but struck his step-mother instead and said “That’s not so bad”. For it is possible to change our reception of chance from undesired outcomes. Diogenes was sent into exile? “That’s not so bad!” For he began to become a philosopher after his exile.”
οἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι, καθάπερ ταῖς μελίτταις μέλι φέρει τὸ δριμύτατον καὶ ξηρότατον ὁ θύμος, οὕτως ἀπὸ τῶν δυσχερεστάτων πολλάκις πραγμάτων οἰκεῖόν τι καὶ χρήσιμον αὑτοῖς λαμβάνουσι.
Τοῦτ’ οὖν δεῖ πρῶτον ἀσκεῖν καὶ μελετᾶν, ὥσπερ ὁ τῆς κυνὸς ἁμαρτὼν τῷ λίθῳ καὶ τὴν μητρυιὰν πατάξας ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως’ ἔφη ‘κακῶς•’ ἔξεστι γὰρ μεθιστάναι τὴν τύχην ἐκ τῶν ἀβουλήτων. ἐφυγαδεύθη Διογένης• ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως κακῶς’• ἤρξατο γὰρ φιλοσοφεῖν μετὰ τὴν φυγήν.
Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b
“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”
Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.
And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)
“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”
Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.
*ἰατρικῇ: lit. “art of medicine”; some translations use “therapy”.
“Philosophers claim that Fortune is insane, blind, and savage,
That she stands on a rolling and treacherous stone—
Whichever way chance tips that stone, fortune falls nearby.
They say that she is insane because she is merciless, unsteady and faithless.
They repeat that she is blind because she does not see where she goes;
she is savage because she makes no distinction between a worthy or worthless man
But there are different philosophers who deny that Fortune exists
Who say that the law that governs everything is chance.
This is closer to real life and habit teaches us through experience.
Just as Orestes who once was a king, was also once a beggar.”
Fortunam insanam esse et caecam et brutam perhibent philosophi
Saxoque instare in globoso praedicant volubilei
Quia quo id saxum inpulerit fors,eo cadere Fortunam autumant.
Insanam autem esse aiunt quia atrox incerta instabilisque sit;
Caecam ob ream esse iterant quia nil cernat quo sese adplicet;
Brutam quia dignum atque indignum nequeat internoscere
Sunt autem alii philosophi qui contra Fortunam negant
Esse ullam sed temeritate res regi omnes autumant.
Id magis verisimile esse usus reapse exeriundo edocet.
Velut Orestes modo fuit rex, factus mendicus modo.
Pacuvius? Perhaps not a household name like Ennius, Naevius or even Livius Andronicus–but according to the tradition he was Ennius’ nephew, a painter as well as a poet, and one of Rome’s greatest tragedians. Of course, we have only fragments.
“The race of man complains wrongly about its nature, namely the fact that it is feeble in strength, limited in years and ruled more by chance than virtue. To the contrary, you can realize through contemplation that nothing else is greater or more extraordinary—that human nature lacks only perseverance instead of strength or time. The leader and ruler of mortal life is the mind. When it proceeds to glory along virtue’s path, it is fully powerful, potent and famous; it does not need fortune since fortune cannot grant or revoke honesty, perseverance, or any other good quality from any man. But a mind seized by desires is dedicated to laziness and worn by obedience to physical pleasure; accustomed to ruinous temptation for too long, when, thanks to sloth, strength, age and wit have diminished, only then is the weakness of nature at fault. Every man shifts his own responsibility to his circumstances.”
 Falso queritur de natura sua genus humanum, quod inbecilla atque aevi brevis forte potius quam virtute regatur. Nam contra reputando neque maius aliud neque praestabilius invenias magisque naturae industriam hominum quam vim aut tempus deesse. Sed dux atque imperator vitae mortalium animus est. Qui ubi ad gloriam virtutis via grassatur, abunde pollens potensque et clarus est neque fortuna eget, quippe quae probitatem, industriam aliasque artis bonas neque dare neque eripere cuiquam potest. Sin captus pravis cupidinibus ad inertiam et voluptates corporis pessum datus est, perniciosa libidine paulisper usus, ubi per socordiam vires tempus ingenium diffluxere, naturae infirmitas accusatur: suam quisque culpam auctores ad negotia transferunt.
I can’t help but thinking that maybe Sallust had read (or heard) the beginning of the Odyssey where Zeus complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)
ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν
“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”
But, of course, there is a typically eclectic blend of Roman philosophy in Sallust’s statements: some Stoicism, an echo, perhaps, of Empedocles and much more….
Since we have lately been a bit obsessed with Housman’s idea of scholarship, his invective, and his memory for student names, I thought it only fair to visit with a poet he edited (and there was no way I was reading Manilius this morning):
“…Ruler of Olympos, why did you
Add this worry to human suffering:
To learn of coming horrors through awful omens?
Is it true that the father of nature, when he first grasped unformed realms
And the raw material as creation’s flame receded,
Established causality forever, an act which bound him
To keep the law himself, carrying out the ordered ages
that he decreed for the world with his unchangeable boundary?
Or is it that nothing is certain, and chance wanders without reason:
It turns and returns and governs human outcomes?
May you be prepared, whatever is true, to be sudden:
May man’s mind be blind to future fate; allow the fearful to hope.”
…cur hanc tibi, rector Olympi,
sollicitis uisum mortalibus addere curam, 5
noscant uenturas ut dira per omina clades?
siue parens rerum, cum primum informia regna
materiamque rudem flamma cedente recepit,
fixit in aeternum causas, qua cuncta coercet
se quoque lege tenens, et saecula iussa ferentem 10
fatorum inmoto diuisit limite mundum,
siue nihil positum est, sed fors incerta uagatur
fertque refertque uices et habet mortalia casus,
sit subitum quodcumque paras; sit caeca futuri
mens hominum fati; liceat sperare timenti.
Lucan’s lines of thought are so long! But I do like this passage….
“The god Zeus gives good to some people sometimes
and bad other times. He’s capable of everything.”
ἀτὰρ θεὸς ἄλλοτε ἄλλῳ
Ζεὺς ἀγαθόν τε κακόν τε διδοῖ· δύναται γὰρ ἅπαντα· —
Zeus, himself, might disagree since he thinks mortals share the blame for their own fortunes. But this epic is keenly interested in exploring the horrible complicity of god and man that causes and exacerbates suffering.
If someone chances to hit first, he gets a trophy;
but for a man is a good and dutiful citizen,
even if he conquers everyone in honesty,
there is no trophy
κἄν τις τύχῃ πρῶτος, εἴληφε χειρόνιπτρον,
ἀνὴρ δ᾿ ὅταν τις ἀγαθὸς ᾖ καὶ χρήσιμος πολίτης,
νικᾷ τε πάντας χρηστὸς ὤν, οὔκ ἔστι
I cheated a bit on χειρόνιπτρον, but I thought that “trophy” would make more sense in English…
“Many super-wealthy people are unhappy while many who have less are fortunate in the end.”
πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ζάπλουτοι ἀνθρώπων ἀνόλβιοι εἰσί, πολλοὶ δὲ μετρίως ἔχοντες βίου εὐτυχέες.
(I know, I know. I added a bit to the end to echo the rest of the passage. And students love to debate the varied meanings of bios in Herodotus.)
Judge it for yourself, here: The Full Text.