It’s Wednesday: An Eternal Death Awaits, No Matter What

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1076-1094

 

“Finally, what great and vile desire for life compels us
To quake so much amidst doubts and dangers?
Mortals have an absolute end to our lives:
Death cannot be evaded—we must leave.
Nevertheless, we move again and still persist—
No new pleasure is procured by living;
But while what we desire is absent, that seems to overcome
All other things; but later, when we have gained it, we want something else—
An endless thirst for life grips us as we gasp for it.
It remains unclear what fortune life will offer,
What chance may bring us and what end awaits.
But by extending life we do not subtract a moment
Of time from death nor can we shorten it
So that we may somehow have less time after our ends.
Therefore, you may continue as living as many generations as you want,
But that everlasting death will wait for you still,
And he will be there for no less a long time, the man who
Has found the end of life with today’s light, than the man who died
Many months and many years before.”

Denique tanto opere in dubiis trepidare periclis
quae mala nos subigit vitai tanta cupido?
certe equidem finis vitae mortalibus adstat
nec devitari letum pote, quin obeamus.
praeterea versamur ibidem atque insumus usque
nec nova vivendo procuditur ulla voluptas;
sed dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
cetera; post aliud, cum contigit illud, avemus
et sitis aequa tenet vitai semper hiantis.
posteraque in dubiost fortunam quam vehat aetas,
quidve ferat nobis casus quive exitus instet.
nec prorsum vitam ducendo demimus hilum
tempore de mortis nec delibare valemus,
quo minus esse diu possimus forte perempti.
proinde licet quod vis vivendo condere saecla,
mors aeterna tamen nihilo minus illa manebit,
nec minus ille diu iam non erit, ex hodierno
lumine qui finem vitai fecit, et ille,
mensibus atque annis qui multis occidit ante.

Before You Shop for Christmas, Read Some More Lucretius

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1430-1439

“The race of man, then, labors uselessly and in vain
as we always consume our time in empty concerns
because we don’t understand that there’s a limit to having—
and there’s an end to how far true pleasure can grow.
This has dragged life bit by bit into the deep sea
and has stirred at its bottom great blasts of war.
But the guardian of the earth turns around the great sky
and teaches men truly that the year’s seasons come full circle
and that all must be endured with a sure reason and order.”

Ergo hominum genus in cassum frustraque laborat
semper et [in] curis consumit inanibus aevom,
ni mirum quia non cognovit quae sit habendi
finis et omnino quoad crescat vera voluptas;
idque minutatim vitam provexit in altum
et belli magnos commovit funditus aestus.
at vigiles mundi magnum versatile templum
sol et luna suo lustrantes lumine circum
perdocuere homines annorum tempora verti
et certa ratione geri rem atque ordine certo.

Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: Hesiod, Works and Days, 217-229

“Oath runs right alongside crooked judgments.
But a roar comes from Justice as she is dragged where
bribe-devouring men lead when they apply laws with crooked judgments.
She attends the city and the haunts of the hosts
weeping and cloaked in mist, bringing evil to men
who drive her out and do not practice righteous law.
For those who give fair judgments to foreigners and citizens
and who do not transgress the law in any way,
cities grow strong, and the people flourish within them;
A child-nourishing peace settles on the land, and never
Does wide-browed Zeus sound the sign of harsh war.”

αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει ῞Ορκος ἅμα σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν·
τῆς δὲ Δίκης ῥόθος ἑλκομένης ᾗ κ’ ἄνδρες ἄγωσι
δωροφάγοι, σκολιῇς δὲ δίκῃς κρίνωσι θέμιστας·
ἣ δ’ ἕπεται κλαίουσα πόλιν καὶ ἤθεα λαῶν,
ἠέρα ἑσσαμένη, κακὸν ἀνθρώποισι φέρουσα,
οἵ τέ μιν ἐξελάσωσι καὶ οὐκ ἰθεῖαν ἔνειμαν.
οἳ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου,
τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις, λαοὶ δ’ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ·
εἰρήνη δ’ ἀνὰ γῆν κουροτρόφος, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτοῖς
ἀργαλέον πόλεμον τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς·

Homer in Argos, Troezen and India: More Anecdotes from Aelian

9.14

“They say that the Argives granted Homer the first prize of all poetic art and put all other poets second to him. When they made a sacrifice, they used to call Apollo and Homer to their table. It is said in addition that because he had no money to give his daughter in marriage, that he gave her the epic the Kypria as a dowry. Pindar agrees with this.”

 

῞Οτι ποιητικῆς ἁπάσης ᾿Αργεῖοι τὰ πρῶτα ῾Ομήρῳ ἔδωκαν, δευτέρους δὲ αὐτοῦ ἔταττον πάντας. ποιοῦντες δὲ θυσίαν, ἐπὶ ξένια ἐκάλουν τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα καὶ ῞Ομηρον. λέγεται δὲ κἀκεῖνο πρὸς τούτοις, ὅτι ἄρα ἀπορῶν ἐκδοῦναι τὴν θυγατέρα, ἔδωκεν αὐτῇ προῖκα ἔχειν τὰ ἔπη τὰ Κύπρια. καὶ ὁμολογεῖ τοῦτο Πίνδαρος.

11.2

“The traditions of Trozen report that the epics of Oroebantius of Troezen are earlier than Homer’s. They also say that Dares the Phrygian, whose Phrygian Iliad survives even to today, I think, was earlier than Homer. Melêsander of Miletus wrote about the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.”

῞Οτι ἦν ᾿Οροιβαντίου Τροιζηνίου ἔπη πρὸ ῾Ομήρου, ὥς φασιν οἱ Τροιζήνιοι λόγοι. καὶ τὸν Φρύγα δὲ Δάρητα, οὗ Φρυγίαν ᾿Ιλιάδα ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἀποσωζομένην οἶδα, πρὸ ῾Ομήρου καὶ τοῦτον γενέσθαι λέγουσι. Μελήσανδρος ὁ Μιλήσιος Λαπιθῶν καὶ Κενταύρων μάχην ἔγραψεν.

 

12.48

“[Men say] that the Indians have translated the words of Homer into their own native language and they sing them; and they aren’t the only ones: the Persian kings do too, if we can trust those who write about these things.”

῞Οτι ᾿Ινδοὶ τῇ παρά σφισιν ἐπιχωρίῳ φωνῇ τὰ ῾Ομήρου μεταγράψαντες ᾄδουσιν οὐ μόνοι ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ Περσῶν βασιλεῖς, εἴ τι χρὴ πιστεύειν τοῖς ὑπὲρ τούτων ἱστοροῦσιν.

Strife (Eris) Has Two Different Genealogies, But They Both Mess Us Up: Hesiod

The poet Hesiod provides two different stories for the genealogy of Strife (Conflict, Competition). One appears in the Theogony and is mostly about War and Violence. The other comes from the Works and Days and is probably a free-market economist’s mythical dream come true. Both, doubtlessly, cause pain.

Hesiod, Theogony, 224-232

“Ruinous night then gave birth to Deception and Sex
And destructive Old Age, and also strong-hearted Strife.
Then hateful Strife gave birth to grief-causing toil,
And Forgetfulness, and Hunger, and tearful Pains,
Battles, Wars, Murders, and Mankillings,
Conflicts, Lies, Arguments, Doubletalk,
Bad-government, Blindness, and Gatherings with others,
And even Oath, who pains mortal men the most of all
Whenever someone willingly breaks a sworn word.”

Νὺξ ὀλοή• μετὰ τὴν δ’ ᾿Απάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τ’ οὐλόμενον, καὶ ῎Εριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.
αὐτὰρ ῎Ερις στυγερὴ τέκε μὲν Πόνον ἀλγινόεντα
Λήθην τε Λιμόν τε καὶ ῎Αλγεα δακρυόεντα
῾Υσμίνας τε Μάχας τε Φόνους τ’ ᾿Ανδροκτασίας τε
Νείκεά τε Ψεύδεά τε Λόγους τ’ ᾿Αμφιλλογίας τε
Δυσνομίην τ’ ῎Ατην τε, συνήθεας ἀλλήλῃσιν,
῞Ορκόν θ’, ὃς δὴ πλεῖστον ἐπιχθονίους ἀνθρώπους
πημαίνει, ὅτε κέν τις ἑκὼν ἐπίορκον ὀμόσσῃ•

Works and Days, 11-26

“There isn’t only a single child called Strife, but there are two
on the earth. Whoever recognizes the first, praises her;
But the other is much-to-blame. They have distinct characters.
The first marshals terrible war and conflict, the wicked witch,
No mortal loves her, I think, but forced by the plans of the gods
They honor the burdensome Strife.
Dusky night bore the other one first
And Kronos’ high-throned son who lives on high
Set her in the roots of the earth and made her much better for men.
She readies even those who are lazy to go to work.
For, whenever a man who shirks hard work sees
Another man who is wealthy, he hurries to plow and plant
And order his house well. Neighbor envies his neighbor
As he becomes comfortable. This is the good Strife for men.
Now, a potter strives with a potter and a carpenter with carpenter—
Even a beggar rivals a beggar, and a singer another singer.”

Οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην ᾿Ερίδων γένος, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
εἰσὶ δύω• τὴν μέν κεν ἐπαινήσειε νοήσας,
ἣ δ’ ἐπιμωμητή• διὰ δ’ ἄνδιχα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν.
ἣ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμόν τε κακὸν καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλει,
σχετλίη• οὔ τις τήν γε φιλεῖ βροτός, ἀλλ’ ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης
ἀθανάτων βουλῇσιν ῎Εριν τιμῶσι βαρεῖαν.
τὴν δ’ ἑτέρην προτέρην μὲν ἐγείνατο Νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
θῆκε δέ μιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
γαίης [τ’] ἐν ῥίζῃσι καὶ ἀνδράσι πολλὸν ἀμείνω•
ἥ τε καὶ ἀπάλαμόν περ ὁμῶς ἐπὶ ἔργον ἐγείρει•
εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἴδεν ἔργοιο χατίζων
πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρόμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
οἶκόν τ’ εὖ θέσθαι• ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ’• ἀγαθὴ δ’ ῎Ερις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.
καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.

Homer’s Golden Words: When Hesiod and Homer Throw Down, Meles’ Son Wins the First Round

From the Contest of Homer and Hesiod (lines 71-94), most likely a text from the Roman Imperial age drawing upon earlier material. The story has it that Hesiod eventually wins, but Homer takes the first round.

 

“Although both poets competed wonderfully, they report that Hesiod gained the trophy in the following way. After he entered the middle of the contest ground, he inquired from Homer certain questions, and Homer answered. Hesiod said:

“Son of Meles, Homer who knows the mysteries of the gods,
Tell me foremost what is best for mortals?”

Homer Answered:

“First, it is best for mortals to not be born.
If born, to pass through Hades’ gates as soon as possible.”

Hesiod asked a second question:

“Tell me this too, Homer so like the gods,
What do you think is the fairest thing for mortals?

And Homer answered:

“ When merriment overtakes the whole people
as they feast in the halls and listen to a singer,
sitting in order next to tables filled with
food and meat as a cup-bearer draws wine from a bowl
and carries it to pour in all their cups.
This seems to my thinking to be the fairest thing.”

And when these words were uttered, they say that everyone was so amazed at them that the Greeks called them “the golden words” and even to this day everyone pronounces them before feasts or libations.”

ἀμφοτέρων δὲ τῶν ποιητῶν θαυμαστῶς ἀγωνισαμένων νικῆσαί φασι τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸν τρόπον τοῦτον• προελθόντα γὰρ εἰς τὸ μέσον πυνθάνεσθαι τοῦ ῾Ομήρου καθ’ ἓν ἕκαστον, τὸν δὲ ῞Ομηρον ἀποκρίνασθαι. φησὶν οὖν ῾Ησίοδος•
υἱὲ Μέλητος ῞Ομηρε θεῶν ἄπο μήδεα εἰδὼς
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι πάμπρωτα τί φέρτατόν ἐστι βροτοῖσιν;
῞Ομηρος•
ἀρχὴν μὲν μὴ φῦναι ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἄριστον,
φύντα δ’ ὅμως ὤκιστα πύλας ᾿Αίδαο περῆσαι.
῾Ησίοδος τὸ δεύτερον•
εἴπ’ ἄγε μοι καὶ τοῦτο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελ’ ῞Ομηρε,
τί θνητοῖς κάλλιστον ὀίεαι ἐν φρεσὶν εἶναι;
ὁ δέ•
ὁππότ’ ἂν εὐφροσύνη μὲν ἔχῃ κατὰ δῆμον ἅπαντα,
δαιτυμόνες δ’ ἀνὰ δώματ’ ἀκουάζωνται ἀοιδοῦ
ἥμενοι ἑξείης, παρὰ δὲ πλήθωσι τράπεζαι
σίτου καὶ κρειῶν, μέθυ δ’ ἐκ κρητῆρος ἀφύσσων
οἰνοχόος φορέῃσι καὶ ἐγχείῃ δεπάεσσιν.
τοῦτό τί μοι κάλλιστον ἐνὶ φρεσὶν εἴδεται εἶναι.

ῥηθέντων δὲ τούτων τῶν ἐπῶν, οὕτω σφοδρῶς φασι θαυμασθῆναι τοὺς στίχους ὑπὸ τῶν ῾Ελλήνων ὥστε χρυσοῦς αὐτοὺς προσαγορευθῆναι, καὶ ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἐν ταῖς κοιναῖς θυσίαις πρὸ τῶν δείπνων καὶ σπονδῶν προκατεύχεσθαι πάντας.

Whether Life is Chance or Fate Rules All, Be Sudden (Lucan, 2.4-14)

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….

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1192-1200: Sometimes Women Don’t Fake It

“A woman doesn’t always gasp with counterfeit passion
when she joins her body in embrace with a man
and holds his lips with a drawn, moist kiss.
Often she acts from her spirit and as she seeks shared happiness,
she incites him to race through the course of his love.”

 

Nec mulier semper ficto suspirat amore,
quae conplexa viri corpus cum corpore iungit
et tenet adsuctis umectans oscula labris;
nam facit ex animo saepe et communia quaerens
gaudia sollicitat spatium decurrere amoris.