the power of hail and snow come from a cloud.
thunder happens from bright lightning.
and a city is brought to ruin by influential men,
while the people, because they do not know better,
fall to a despot’s subjugation.
to put one who’s been raised up high back into his place,
that’s not very easy.
so now–not later–one must reflect on these things.
my boy, as long as your chin is smooth
I won’t stop courting you.
not even if it means the death of me.
for you, the one yielding, this is something beautiful.
for me, the one loving, there’s no shame in begging.
but on my father, I make this prayer:
respect me, beautiful boy, and grant me your favor.
otherwise, if one day you come
needing the gifts of violet-wreathed Aphrodite,
as you run after another,
god grant that you meet with the same words I have!
I’m no longer in love with the boy!
I’ve shrugged off hard sorrows!
I’ve gladly escaped the tiresome work!
I’ve been sprung from desire!
all thanks to well-wreathed Aphrodite.
your beauty, my boy, is nothing to me!
ugh! I’m in love with the smooth-skinned boy.
doubtless he tells all my friends,
though that’s not what I want.
but I’ll put up with things not being secret–
many things, contrary to my will and unwelcome.
after all, it’s not over some two-bit boy I seem a broken man.
I must decide the matter at hand along the edge, as it were,
of a carpenter’s rule and square.
Kyrnos, I must give both sides justice and what is fair,
relying on seers, auguring birds and burnt offerings,
so I don’t face shameful reproach for a mistake.
Does the speaker want A and not-A at the same time? Contrast the stated obligation of precision in decision-making with the imprecision of the decision-making procedures (seers, augurs, and sacrifices to the gods). Or, put it this way: contrast objective methods (e.g., drawing a line along the edge of a carpenter’s square) with subjective ones (e.g., reading bird omens). The two approaches are in conflict and yet the speaker presents the latter (subjective) as the means of achieving the former (objectivity).
So, what’s justice? A strict obligation is laid on the speaker, but the instruments available for satisfying it are unreliable: the carpenter’s edge guarantees a straight line, the bird omen guarantees nothing. This of course the speaker knows. But what’s the alternative? The speaker is stating, however indirectly, a problem fundamental to law: justice is a strict obligation, but there are no infallible procedures for its production. What exists are procedures (maybe reading the birds, maybe empaneling a jury), and fidelity to them is what justice more or less is (i.e., more process than outcome). Therefore interpret the poem’s final line not as “omens and the like save me from mistakes” but as “because I follow the established practice of omens and the like, even when I make mistakes I’m spared the worst criticisms.”
If I had my possessions, Simonides,
It would not distress me, as it now does, to consort with the well-born.
But at the moment my possessions recognize me but pass me by.
I’m speechless with need.
Still, I understand better than many that right now we’re being carried along
With the white sails lowered, from the sea of Melos through the murky night,
And a crew unwilling to bail water as the sea pitches over both sides of the ship.
Someone is rescued with great difficulty, behaving as they are.
They’ve deposed the good pilot who skillfully kept watch.
They carry off cargo by force, discipline is destroyed,
And the division of things no longer happens equally, fairly.
Deckhands are in charge, the vulgar are above the well-born.
I’m afraid that perhaps a wave will in a way swallow the ship.
Let these things, concealed by me, be cryptically told to the well-born–
But even someone vulgar could understand, if he’s subtle.
my heart, show to all of our friends a changeable character,
and mix into it the disposition that each of them has.
make it your way, the ways of the infinitely changing octopus
which looks just like whatever rock it clings to.
for the moment go along with this one,
but the next moment, take on a different skin.
craftiness is better for you than rigidity.
“The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home.”–Emerson, “Self Reliance”
true, I went as far as the land of Sicily once,
and I went to the vine-covered plain of Euboea,
and Sparta, that splendid city on the reed-sprouting Eurotas,
and they welcomed me graciously, every place I visited—
yet not one pleasure came to my heart from them.
and so, this truth: nothing is more dear than one’s own country.
LarryBenn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.
“If someone praises you for as long as you see him
But lashes you with an evil tongue when you are apart,
That kind of man is not a very good friend at all.
He’s the kind who speaks smoothly with his tongue, but harbors different thoughts.
Let me have that kind of friend who knows his companion
And puts up with him when he’s mean or in a rage,
Like a brother. But you, friend, keep these things your heart
And you will remember me in future days.”
“One can survive the ruin from counterfeit silver and gold
Kurnos—and a wise person can easily discover it.
But if a dear friend’s mind is hidden in his chest
When he is false and he has a deceptive heart,
Well this the most counterfeit thing god has made for mortals
And it is the most painful thing of all to recognize.
For you cannot know the mind of a man or a woman
Before you investigate them, like an animal under a yoke—
And you cannot imagine what they are like at the right time
Since the outer image often misleads your judgment.”
“Dude, let’s be friends with each other at a distance.
With the exception of wealth, there’s too much of any good thing.
But we can be friends for a long time, just spend time with different men
Who have a better grasp of your mind.”
“Orpheus, you will no longer lead away oaks or stones
Bewitched by your song, or the leaderless herds of beasts.
You will no longer sing the howl of the wind or the hail to sleep
Or calm blizzards of snow or the roaring of the sea.
For you have died. The daughters of memory mourn you
Much, and especially your mother Kalliope.
Why do we weep over our dead sons when not even the gods
Can ward Hades from their children?”