The Fruitless Toil of Worry: Two Passages on Happiness

Horace, Odes 2.16 25-32

“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.

A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”

laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
parte beatum.

abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
porriget hora.

Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

Image result for medieval manuscript happiness
BLMedieval Sloane MS 278, 1280-1300

“Dying is the Sweetest Thing”: The Gods Love Those Who Give The Most

This poem moves from praising the victory of Hiero’s horses at Olympos to the tale of Croesus’ reaction to the sacking of Sardis. In this version of the tale, he prepares to sacrifice his family on a pyre. The story is, well, a bit horrifying.

Bacchylides, Victory Odes 3.1-60

Kleio, sweetness-giver, sing of Demeter
Who rules rich-grained Sicily, and also
Her purple-crowned daughter, and the swift
Olympic-racing horses of Hiero.

For they rushed with overwhelming Victory
And Glory alongside the broad-eddying
Alpheos where they made the blessed son of Deinomenes
A master of the crowns.

And the people shouted out:
“Oh, thrice-blessed man
Who obtained from Zeus
The widest-ruling power of all the Greeks
And knows not to hide his towered health
With black-cloaked shadow.

The temples overflow with sacrificial feasts
And the streets overflow with hospitality.
And god shines too in glancing light
From the tall-wrought tripods which were set up

In front of the temple where the Delphians
Take care of the greatest grove of Apollo
Alongside the waters of Kastalia—let someone
Glory in god, in god—this is the best of the blessings.

For once there was a time when
Even though the Sardians were sacked by the Persian army
Because Zeus had brought to an end
The judgment which was fated,
The leader of the horse-taming
Lydians, Kroisos, golden-sworded

Apollo protected. For Kroisos,
When he had come to that lamentable, unhoped for day
Was not about to wait for slavery any more. But he
Had a pyre built up in front of his bronze-walled yard.

There he climbed up with his dear wife
And his well-tressed daughters who were
Mourning uncontrollably. Then he raised his hands
Up to the high sky above

And he shouted: “Powerful god
Where is divine gratitude now?
Where is Leto’s son the lord?
Alyattes’ halls are falling down.
[what of the] myriad [gifts I gave you?]
[What trust can mortals give to gods?]

[Look now, the enemy has sacked my] city,
And the gold-eddying Paktôlos runs red
With blood and women are shamefully dragged away
From the well-built halls.

What was hated before is now dear. Dying is the sweetest thing.”
So much he said, and he ordered his light-stepping attendant
To Set fire to the wooden home. Then the girls were crying out
And they were throwing their hands to their

Mother. For mortals most hateful death
Is the one we see coming.
But as the shining strength
Of the terrible fire was leaping forth
Zeus sent over a dark-covering cloud
To extinguish the yellow flame.

Nothing is unbelievable when divine care
Makes it. Then Delian-born Apollo
Carried the old man to the Hyperboreans
And settled him there with his thin-ankled daughters

Because of his piety, because he sent to sacred Pytho
Gifts greatest of all the mortals.

᾿Αριστο[κ]άρπου Σικελίας κρέουσαν
Δ[ά]ματρα ἰοστέφανόν τε Κούραν
ὕμνει, γλυκύδωρε Κλεοῖ, θοάς τ’ ᾿Ο-
[λυμ]πιοδρόμους ῾Ιέρωνος ἵππ[ο]υς.

[Σεύον]το γὰρ σὺν ὑπερόχῳ τε Νίκᾳ
[σὺν ᾿Αγ]λαΐᾳ τε παρ’ εὐρυδίναν
[᾿Αλφεόν, τόθι] Δεινομένεος ἔθηκαν
ὄλβιον τ[έκος στεφάνω]ν κυρῆσαι·

θρόησε δὲ λ[αὸς ]
[] ἆ τρισευδαίμ[ων ἀνὴρ]
ὃς παρὰ Ζηνὸς λαχὼν πλείστ-
αρχον ῾Ελλάνων γέρας
οἶδε πυργωθέντα πλοῦτον μὴ μελαμ-
φαρέϊ κρύπτειν σκότῳ.

Βρύει μὲν ἱερὰ βουθύτοις ἑορταῖς,
βρύουσι φιλοξενίας ἀγυιαί·
λάμπει δ’ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς ὁ χρυσός,
ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων σταθέντων

πάροιθε ναοῦ, τόθι μέγι[στ]ον ἄλσος
Φοίβου παρὰ Κασταλίας [ῥ]εέθροις
Δελφοὶ διέπουσι. Θεόν, θ[εό]ν τις
ἀγλαϊζέθὠ γὰρ ἄριστος [ὄ]λβων·

ἐπεί ποτε καὶ δαμασίπ-
[π]ου Λυδίας ἀρχαγέταν,
εὖτε τὰν πεπ[ρωμέναν] Ζη-
νὸς τελέ[σσαντος κρί]σιν
Σάρδιες Περσᾶ[ν ἁλίσκοντο στρ]ατῷ,
Κροῖσον ὁ χρυσά[ορος]

φύλαξ’ ᾿Απόλλων. [῾Ο δ’ ἐς] ἄελπτον ἆμαρ
μ[ο]λὼν πολυδ[άκρυο]ν οὐκ ἔμελλε
μίμνειν ἔτι δ[ουλοσύ]ναν, πυρὰν δὲ
χαλκ[ο]τειχέος π[ροπάροι]θεν αὐ[λᾶς]
ναήσατ’, ἔνθα σὺ[ν ἀλόχῳ] τε κεδ[νᾷ]
σὺν εὐπλοκάμοι[ς τ’] ἐπέβαιν’ ἄλα[στον]
[θ]υ[γ]ατράσι δυρομέναις· χέρας δ’ [ἐς]
[αἰ]πὺν αἰθέρα σ[φ]ετέρας ἀείρας

[γέ]γ[ω]νεν· «῾Υπέρ[βι]ε δαῖ-
μον, [πο]ῦ θεῶν ἐστι[ν] χάρις;
[πο]ῦ δὲ Λατοίδ[ας] ἄναξ; [ἔρ-]
[ρουσ]ιν ᾿Αλυά[τ]τα δόμοι

[] μυρίων
[]ν.
[]ν ἄστυ,
[ἐρεύθεται αἵματι χρυσο]δίνας
Πακτωλός, ἀ[ε]ικελίως γυνα[ῖ]κες
ἐξ ἐϋκτίτων μεγάρων ἄγονται·

τὰ πρόσθεν [ἐχ]θρὰ φίλα· θανεῖν γλύκιστον.»
Τόσ’ εἶπε, καὶ ἁβ[ρο]βάταν κ[έλε]υσεν
ἅπτειν ξύλινον δόμον. ῎Εκ[λα]γον δὲ
παρθένοι, φίλας τ’ ἀνὰ ματρὶ χεῖρας

ἔβαλλον· ὁ γὰρ προφανὴς
θνατοῖσιν ἔχθιστος φόνων·
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ δεινο[ῦ π]υρὸς λαμ-
πρὸν διάϊ[σσεν μέ]νος,
Ζεὺς ἐπιστάσας [μελαγκευ]θὲς νέφος
σβέννυεν ξανθὰ[ν φλόγα.]

῎Απιστον οὐδὲν ὅ τι θ[εῶν μέ]ριμνα
τεύχει· τότε Δαλογενὴ[ς ᾿Από]λλων
φέρων ἐς ῾Υπερβορέο[υς γ]έροντα
σὺν τανισφύροις κατ[έν]ασσε κούραις

δι’ εὐσέβειαν, ὅτι μέ[γιστα] θνατῶν
ἐς ἀγαθέαν <ἀν>έπεμψε Π[υθ]ώ.

Image result for Croesus king of lydia

 

The Nature of a Kind

Pindar, Olympian 11: For Hagêsidamos, Winner of Boy’s Boxing, 476BCE

“There is a season when people have the greatest need
For winds and there is a season for water from the sky,
The pouring offspring of clouds.
But if someone should ever find success through toil,
Then honey-sweet hymns form the foundation
For future tales and offer certain promise for great accomplishments.

The praise for Olympic victors is not limited
By envy. My tongue is ready to shepherd
These words. A man similarly prospers through wise thoughts
thanks to divine assistance.
Know this now, son of Arkhestratos,
Hagêsidamos: thanks to your boxing
I will sing a sweet-songed adornment
For your crown of golden olive,
Without neglecting the race of Western Lokrians.

Join us in the revel there—Muses, I pledge
That you will visit no country who rejects a guest
a people who are ignorant of noble things,
But you will find wise spearmen there.
For not even the fire-red fox nor the roaring lions
Could change the nature of their kind.”

Ἔστιν ἀνθρώποις ἀνέμων ὅτε πλείστα
χρῆσις· ἔστιν δ᾿ οὐρανίων ὑδάτων,
ὀμβρίων παίδων νεφέλας·
εἰ δὲ σὺν πόνῳ τις εὖ πράσσοι,
μελιγάρυες ὕμνοι
ὑστέρων ἀρχὰ λόγων
τέλλεται καὶ πιστὸν ὅρκιον μεγάλαις ἀρεταῖς.

ἀφθόνητος δ᾿ αἶνος Ὀλυμπιονίκαις
οὗτος ἄγκειται. τὰ μὲν ἁμετέρα
γλῶσσα ποιμαίνειν ἐθέλει,
ἐκ θεοῦ δ᾿ ἀνὴρ σοφαῖς ἀνθεῖ
πραπίδεσσιν ὁμοίως.
ἵσθι νῦν, Ἀρχεστράτου
παῖ, τεᾶς, Ἁγησίδαμε, πυγμαχίας ἕνεκεν
κόσμον ἐπὶ στεφάνῳ χρυσέας ἐλαίας
ἁδυμελῆ κελαδήσω,
Ζεφυρίων Λοκρῶν γενεὰν ἀλέγων.
ἔνθα συγκωμάξατ᾿· ἐγγυάσομαι
μή μιν, ὦ Μοῖσαι, φυγόξεινον στρατόν
μηδ᾿ ἀπείρατον καλῶν
ἀκρόσοφόν τε καὶ αἰχματὰν ἀφίξε-
σθαι. τὸ γὰρ ἐμφυὲς οὔτ᾿ αἴθων ἀλώπηξ
οὔτ᾿ ἐρίβρομοι λέοντες διαλλάξαιντο ἦθος.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, Folio 50v

The Fruitless Toil of Worry: Two Passages on Happiness

Horace, Odes 2.16 25-32

“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.

A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”

laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
parte beatum.

abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
porriget hora.

Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

Image result for medieval manuscript happiness
BLMedieval Sloane MS 278, 1280-1300

Blessed Weddings and Cursed Children: Pindar on Peleus and Cadmus

Pindar, Pythian 3.86–115

“Neither Aiakos’s son Peleus
Nor godlike Kadmos had a secure life
For of all mortals they are said to have
Have received the highest blessing of mortals
Since they listened to the Muses with golden-headbands
Singing on the mountain and in seven-gated Thebes
When one married ox-eyed Harmonia
And the other married Thetis, the famous child of wise-counseled Nereus.
The gods feasted with both of them
And they say the kingly sons of Kronos
On golden seats, and accepted from theme
Bride-gifts. Thanks to Zeus,
They made their hearts straight again
From their previous suffering.

In time, however, [Kadmos’] three daughters
Stripped him of his share of joy
with piercing pains—
even though father Zeus went to the desirable bed
of white-armed Thuonê.

And Peleus’s child, the only one immortal Thetis
Bore in Phthia, raised the mourning cry
From the Danaans as he was burned
On the pyre, after he lost his life
To war’s arrows.

If any mortal keeps
The road of truth in mind
He must suffer and obtain well
From the gods. But from the high winds
Different breaths blow different ways.

Human happiness does not last long
safe, when it turns after bringing great abundance.
I will be small in small times and then great
In great ones. I will work out the fate
That comes to me always in my thoughts, ministering to it with my own devices.
But if god were to grant me great wealth,
I have hope that I would find the highest fame afterwards.
Nestor and Lycian Sarpedon, we know from the stories of men
From honeyed words which skilled artisans
Fit together. Virtue grows eternal through famous songs.
But few find this easy to do.”

…. αἰὼν δ’ ἀσφαλής
οὐκ ἔγεντ’ οὔτ’ Αἰακίδᾳ παρὰ Πηλεῖ
οὔτε παρ’ ἀντιθέῳ Κάδμῳ· λέγονται γε μὰν βροτῶν
ὄλβον ὑπέρτατον οἳ σχεῖν, οἵτε καὶ χρυσαμπύκων
μελπομενᾶν ἐν ὄρει Μοισᾶν καὶ ἐν ἑπταπύλοις
ἄϊον Θήβαις, ὁπόθ’ ῾Αρμονίαν γᾶμεν βοῶπιν,
ὁ δὲ Νηρέος εὐβούλου Θέτιν παῖδα κλυτάν,
Ε′ καὶ θεοὶ δαίσαντο παρ’ ἀμφοτέροις,
καὶ Κρόνου παῖδας βασιλῆας ἴδον χρυ-
σέαις ἐν ἕδραις, ἕδνα τε
δέξαντο· Διὸς δὲ χάριν
ἐκ προτέρων μεταμειψάμενοι καμάτων
ἔστασαν ὀρθὰν καρδίαν. ἐν δ’ αὖτε χρόνῳ
τὸν μὲν ὀξείαισι θύγατρες ἐρήμωσαν πάθαις
εὐφροσύνας μέρος αἱ
τρεῖς· ἀτὰρ λευκωλένῳ γε Ζεὺς πατήρ
ἤλυθεν ἐς λέχος ἱμερτὸν Θυώνᾳ.
τοῦ δὲ παῖς, ὅνπερ μόνον ἀθανάτα
τίκτεν ἐν Φθίᾳ Θέτις, ἐν πολέμῳ τό-
ξοις ἀπὸ ψυχὰν λιπών
ὦρσεν πυρὶ καιόμενος
ἐκ Δαναῶν γόον. εἰ δὲ νόῳ τις ἔχει
θνατῶν ἀλαθείας ὁδόν, χρὴ πρὸς μακάρων
τυγχάνοντ’ εὖ πασχέμεν. ἄλλοτε δ’ ἀλλοῖαι πνοαί
ὑψιπετᾶν ἀνέμων.
ὄλβος δ’ οὐκ ἐς μακρὸν ἀνδρῶν ἔρχεται
σάος, πολὺς εὖτ’ ἂν ἐπιβρίσαις ἕπηται.
σμικρὸς ἐν σμικροῖς, μέγας ἐν μεγάλοις
ἔσσομαι, τὸν δ’ ἀμφέποντ’ αἰεὶ φρασίν
δαίμον’ ἀσκήσω κατ’ ἐμὰν θεραπεύων μαχανάν.
εἰ δέ μοι πλοῦτον θεὸς ἁβρὸν ὀρέξαι,
ἐλπίδ’ ἔχω κλέος εὑρέσθαι κεν ὑψηλὸν πρόσω.
Νέστορα καὶ Λύκιον Σαρπηδόν’, ἀνθρώπων φάτις,
ἐξ ἐπέων κελαδεννῶν, τέκτονες οἷα σοφοί
ἅρμοσαν, γινώσκομεν· ἁ δ’ ἀρετὰ κλειναῖς ἀοιδαῖς
χρονία τελέθει· παύροις δὲ πράξασθ’ εὐμαρές.

 

A Lyric Take on the Death of Agamemnon

Pind. Pyth. 11.17-37

“The nurse Arsinoe took [Orestes]
from his father murdered
by the strong hands of Klytemnestra
by the grievous trick
when she sent the Dardanian girl, Kassandra,
with Agamemnon’s soul by means of grey bronze
to the dusty banks of Acheron,
the pitiless woman.

Was it Iphigenia, slaughtered
far away from her home near the Euripos
that moved her to heavy-handed rage?
Or was she overwhelmed by another bed,
made crazy by their nightly ‘sharing’?
This is the most hateful mistake
of young brides
and it is impossible to keep from other people’s tongues.
Citizens are vile-gossips.

Prosperity brings with it an equal-sized envy;
while the man who breathes close to the ground moves by unseen.
The hero son of Atreus himself died
when he came after a long time to famous Amyklai.
And he destroyed the prophetic girl too
after he despoiled the homes of the Trojans, burned for Helen.”

agdeath

Β′ τὸν δὴ φονευομένου πατρὸς ᾿Αρσινόα Κλυταιμήστρας
χειρῶν ὕπο κρατερᾶν
ἐκ δόλου τροφὸς ἄνελε δυσπενθέος,
ὁπότε Δαρδανίδα κόραν Πριάμου
Κασσάνδραν πολιῷ χαλκῷ σὺν ᾿Αγαμεμνονίᾳ
ψυχᾷ πόρευ’ ᾿Αχέροντος ἀκτὰν παρ’ εὔσκιον
νηλὴς γυνά. πότερόν νιν ἄρ’ ᾿Ιφιγένει’ ἐπ’ Εὐρίπῳ
σφαχθεῖσα τῆλε πάτρας
ἔκνισεν βαρυπάλαμον ὄρσαι χόλον;
ἢ ἑτέρῳ λέχεϊ δαμαζομέναν
ἔννυχοι πάραγον κοῖται; τὸ δὲ νέαις ἀλόχοις
ἔχθιστον ἀμπλάκιον καλύψαι τ’ ἀμάχανον
ἀλλοτρίαισι γλώσσαις·
κακολόγοι δὲ πολῖται.
ἴσχει τε γὰρ ὄλβος οὐ μείονα φθόνον·
ὁ δὲ χαμηλὰ πνέων ἄφαντον βρέμει.
θάνεν μὲν αὐτὸς ἥρως ᾿Ατρεΐδας
ἵκων χρόνῳ κλυταῖς ἐν ᾿Αμύκλαις,
Γ′ μάντιν τ’ ὄλεσσε κόραν, ἐπεὶ ἀμφ’ ῾Ελένᾳ πυρωθέντας
Τρώων ἔλυσε δόμους.

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.