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.

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.

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.

“No Help For the Man Who Grieves over What he Cannot Change” Bacchylides, Processions 1

“Men have one milestone, a single path for fortune:
To make it to life’s end with an unaggrieved heart.
And whoever harbors countless concerns in his thoughts
and wears down his spirit night and day over what’s to come
has a toil that bears no fruit.
What help is there for a man who drowns his heart
By grieving over the things he cannot change?”

 

Εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυ-
ρία μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ’ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον
τί γὰρ ἐλαφρὸν ἔτ’ ἐστὶν ἄ-
πρακτ’ ὀδυρόμενον δονεῖν
καρδίαν;

The Nature of Human Stories: Pindar Olympian 1.28-29

“The wonders of the world are many, but somehow
mortal rumor turns around the true tale—
Stories deceive us
When decorated with the finest lies.”

ἦ θαύματα πολλά, καί πού τι καὶ βροτῶν
φάτις ὑπὲρ τὸν ἀλαθῆ λόγον
δεδαιδαλμένοι ψεύδεσι ποικίλοις
ἐξαπατῶντι μῦθοι.

Pindar, Olympian 7. 94-5

 

“In one small bit of time, the winds whirl this way and that.”

 

ἐν δὲ μιᾷ μοίρᾳ χρόνου

ἄλλοτ’ ἀλλοῖαι διαιθύσσοισιν αὖραι.

 

(I know, I know: ἄλλοτ’ ἀλλοῖαι διαιθύσσοισιν αὖραι is probably more literally construed as “some winds go one way and other winds go other ways” or “different winds go in different directions” but I went for the simple way…)

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