Two Takes on Fortune

Euripides. Trojan Women. 101-112.

Hecuba:
Fortune changes; endure it.
Sail with the sea. Sail where fortune goes.
Don’t steer life’s prow towards the waves;
Let fortune do the sailing.

Ah me! Ah me!
What’s there for wretched me not to cry about
When my country’s gone, children and husband too?
Ancestors’ prestige, once great now shrunken,
Perhaps you were nothing.

What calls for silence? What does not?
What to lament?
I am not fortunate . . .

μεταβαλλομένου δαίμονος ἀνσχου.
πλεῖ κατὰ πορθμόν, πλεῖ κατὰ δαίμονα,
μηδὲ προσίστη πρῷραν βιότου
πρὸς κῦμα πλέουσα τύχαισιν.
αἰαῖ αἰαῖ.
τί γὰρ οὐ πάρα μοι μελέᾳ στενάχειν,
ᾗ πατρὶς ἔρρει καὶ τέκνα καὶ πόσις;
ὦ πολὺς ὄγκος συστελλόμενος
προγόνων, ὡς οὐδὲν ἄρʼ ἦσθα.
τί με χρὴ σιγᾶν; τί δὲ μὴ σιγᾶν;
τί δὲ θρηνῆσαι;
δύστηνος ἐγὼ . . .

John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.7.10.

Above all else, let the Christian heart be free of that foolish and miserable consolation of the pagans: namely, in order to strengthen their minds against adversity, they imputed adversity to fortune; then, they deemed it foolish to inveigh against fortune, for since fortune is indiscriminate, reckless, and blind, it naturally injures both those who deserve it and those who do not.

In contrast, this is the rule of piety: the hand of God is the sole arbiter and director of fortune, and it certainly does not act in haste with an unthinking carelessness. Rather, it dispenses good and ill to us with supreme justice.

Facessat imprimis a pectore Christiani hominis stulta illa et miserrima ethnicorum consolatio, qui ut animum contra res adversas confirmarent, eas fortunae imputabant: contra quam indignari stultum esse iudicabant, quod ἄσκοπος esset ac temeraria, quae caecis oculis merentes simul ac immerentes vulneraret. Haec enim e converso pietatis est regula, solam Dei manum utriusque fortunae arbitram esse et moderatricem: ac eam quidem ipsam non ruere inconsiderato impetu, sed ordinatissima iustitia nobis bona simul ac mala dispensare.

Bronze relief sculpture showing a partial face covered by overlapping hands
Kathe Kollwitz. Die Klage (Lament). 1938. Bronze. Private Collection.

Larry Benn 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.

A Many-Headed Song and Human Happiness

Pindar, Pythian 12.17-32

“Yet when the maiden [Athena] rescued that dear man [Perseus]
From his labors, she composed a song with every note of the pipes,
So she might recall the resounding wail elicited from *Euryale’s
Gasping cheeks with musical instruments.

The goddess created this, but she made it for mortal men to possess
And she named it the tune of many heads,
The well-famed reminder of the contests that attract people,
The sound that issues through fine bronze and reeds
That grow near to the city of beautiful dancing grounds,
The city of the Graces, in the precinct of Kephisos, trusty audiences for dancers.

If humankind has any happiness at all, it never shows up
Without hard work. But what is fated cannot be escaped–
A god will make it happen, maybe today, but
There will be a time that finds someone completely surprised
And give them one thing, but not yet another.”

… ἀλλ᾿ ἐπεὶ ἐκ τούτων φίλον ἄνδρα πόνων
ἐρρύσατο παρθένος αὐλῶν τεῦχε πάμφωνον μέλος,
ὄφρα τὸν εὐρυάλας ἐκ καρπαλιμᾶν γενύων
χριμφθέντα σὺν ἔντεσι μιμήσαιτ᾿ ἐρικλάγκταν γόον.
εὗρεν θεός· ἀλλά νιν εὑροῖσ᾿ ἀνδράσι θνατοῖς ἔχειν,
ὠνύμασεν κεφαλᾶν πολλᾶν νόμον,
εὐκλεᾶ λαοσσόων μναστῆρ᾿ ἀγώνων,

΄λεπτοῦ διανισόμενον χαλκοῦ θαμὰ καὶ δονάκων,
τοὶ παρὰ καλλίχορον ναίοισι πόλιν Χαρίτων
Καφισίδος ἐν τεμένει, πιστοὶ χορευτᾶν μάρτυρες.
εἰ δέ τις ὄλβος ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν, ἄνευ καμάτου
οὐ φαίνεται· ἐκ δὲ τελευτάσει νιν ἤτοι σάμερον
δαίμων—τὸ δὲ μόρσιμον οὐ παρφυκτόν—ἀλλ᾿ ἔσται χρόνος
οὗτος, ὃ καί τιν᾿ ἀελπτίᾳ βαλών
ἔμπαλιν γνώμας τὸ μὲν δώσει, τὸ δ᾿ οὔπω.

*One of Medusa’s sisters

Schol. In Pind. P 12. 39a

She invented an aulos melody and handed it over for humans and named it the “many headed song”. This is because there were many hissing heads of snakes around [Euryale’s] head.

Some people call this many-headed and explain that there were fifty men in the chose that performed the song as an aulete led them. Others claim that the heads are preludes. They claim that an ode is made up of many preludes and that Olympos was the first to invent them”

ἀλλά νιν εὑροῖσα: ἀλλ’ εὑροῦσα τὸ τοῦ αὐλοῦ μέλος μετέδωκε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἔχειν, καὶ ὠνόμασε τὸ μέλος πολυκέφαλον νόμον· ἐπεὶ καὶ αἱ τῶν δρακόντων πλείους ἦσαν κεφαλαὶ αἱ συρίξασαι· ὧν κατὰ μίμησιν συνέθηκε. τινὲς δὲ πολυκέφαλον, φασὶν, εἶπεν, ἐπειδὴ πεντήκοντα ἦσαν ἄνδρες, ἐξ ὧν ὁ χορὸς συνεστὼς προκαταρχομένου τοῦ αὐλητοῦ τὸ μέλος προεφέρετο. οἱ δὲ κεφαλὰς ἀκούουσι τὰ προοίμια. ᾠδὴ οὖν διὰ πολλῶν προοιμίων συνεστῶσα, ἣν λέγουσι τὸν ῎Ολυμπον πρῶτον εὑρηκέναι.

he frieze illustrates human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world in which one contends not only with external evil forces but also with internal weaknesses. The viewer follows this journey of discovery in a stunning visual and linear fashion. It begins gently with the floating female Genii searching the Earth but soon follows the dark, sinister-looking storm-wind giant, Typhoeus, his three Gorgon daughters and images representing sickness, madness, death, lust and wantonness above and to the right. Thence appears the knight in shining armour who offers hope due to his own ambition and sympathy for the pleading, suffering humans. The journey ends in the discovery of joy by means of the arts and contentment is represented in the close embrace of a kiss. Thus, the frieze expounds psychological human yearning, ultimately satisfied through individual and communal searching and the beauty of the arts coupled with love and companionship.
Gustav Klimt, “The Hostile Powers, the Titan Typhoeus, the Three Gorgons” 1901

The Mind Rules All (Or Fails…)

Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 1

“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.”

[1] 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.

BH- Zeus Olympia

 

The Gods Don’t Hate Those Who Suffer…

Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1. 45-46

“You can understand from the two popular lines which Epictetus wrote about himself that the gods do not completely hate those who suffer because of a range of miseries in this life, but that there are some secret causes which the curiosity of a few may be able to sense:

“I, Epictetus, was born a slave with a crippled body
both an Irus in poverty and dear to the gods.

You have, I believe, sufficient argument why the name “servant” should not be despised or taboo, since concern for a slave affected Jupiter and because it turns out that many of them are faithful, intelligent, brave, and even philosophers!”

45. cuius etiam de se scripti duo versus feruntur, ex quibus illud latenter intellegas, non omni modo dis exosos esse qui in hac vita cum aerumnarum varietate luctantur, sed esse arcanas causas ad quas paucorum potuit pervenire curiositas:

δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ᾿ ἀνάπηρος,
καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις.

46. habes, ut opinor, adsertum non esse fastidio despiciendum servile nomen, cum et Iovem tetigerit cura de servo et multos ex his fideles providos fortes, philosophos etiam extitisse constiterit.

Image result for epictetus

Such Unexpected Pain

Aeschylus Persians, 93-100

“What mortal person will escape
A god’s crooked deception?
Who steps with a light enough foot
To leap away through the air?

For destruction seems at first friendly, even fawning
As it draws someone aside into a trap
From which it is impossible for any mortal to escape
Or even avoid.”

δολόμητιν δ᾿ ἀπάταν θεοῦ
τίς ἀνὴρ θνατὸς ἀλύξει;
τίς ὁ κραιπνῷ ποδὶ πηδή-
ματος εὐπετέος ἀνάσσων;
φιλόφρων γὰρ ποτισαίνουσα τὸ πρῶτον παράγει
βροτὸν εἰς ἀρκύστατ᾿ Ἄτα,
τόθεν οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπὲκ θνατὸν ἀλύξαντα φυγεῖν.

167-166

“Light does not shine on the poor no matter how strong they are
Nor do the masses honor undefended wealth.”

μήτ᾿ ἀχρημάτοισι λάμπειν φῶς, ὅσον σθένος πάρα,
μήτε χρημάτων ἀνάνδρων πλῆθος ἐν τιμῇ σέβειν

290-295

“I have been silent for a while, struck with pains
By these evils. The disaster runs over all bounds
of speaking or asking about its suffering.
Still, necessity forces mortals to endure the pains
The gods send us. Pull yourself together,
Tell us everything that happened…”

σιγῶ πάλαι δύστηνος ἐκπεπληγμένη
κακοῖς· ὑπερβάλλει γὰρ ἥδε συμφορά,
τὸ μήτε λέξαι μήτ᾿ ἐρωτῆσαι πάθη.
ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνάγκη πημονὰς βροτοῖς φέρειν
θεῶν διδόντων· πᾶν δ᾿ ἀναπτύξας πάθος
λέξον καταστάς, κεἰ στένεις κακοῖς ὅμως·

262-264

“This old life has seemed
to have run too long,
To witness such unexpected pain.”

ἦ μακροβίοτος ὅδε γέ τις αἰ-
ὼν ἐφάνθη γεραιοῖς, ἀκού-
ειν τόδε πῆμ᾿ ἄελπτον.

588-603

“Friends, whoever gains some practice in troubles
Understands that when a wave of troubles come
We mortals tend to fear everything.
But when a god makes things easy, you think
You’ll always sail under the same favorable wind.”

φίλοι, κακῶν μὲν ὅστις ἔμπειρος κυρεῖ,
ἐπίσταται βροτοῖσιν ὡς ὅταν κλύδων
κακῶν ἐπέλθῃ, πάντα δειμαίνειν φιλεῖ,
ὅταν δ᾿ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, πεποιθέναι
τὸν αὐτὸν αἰὲν ἄνεμον οὐριεῖν τύχης.\

TOMB OF XERXES;KING;NAGSH-E-ROSTAM;nima boroumand; نيما برومند

The Donkey Who Wanted to be A Dog

Babrius 129

“Someone once was raising a donkey and a cute little dog.
The dog loved playing by jumping rhythmically
Around his master in clever ways.
But the donkey would wear itself out working
Grinding wheat, dear Demeter’s gift, in the evening
After spending the day dragging wood from the hills
And from the field anything else they needed.
Even when standing to eat in the courtyard
At his barley, he was like a criminal in bonds.

Heart-bitten and groaning about his fate
He watched the pup in all his luxury
And just broke his ropes and ran from the feed-trough
Straight into the middle of the yard, kicking randomly.
He was trying to fawn and wanted to leap around like the dog.

He burst into the house and broke the table
And all the furniture and he went to his dining master
Trying to kiss him and he began to climb into his lap.
When the human servants saw him in the greatest dangers,
They went to save him from the donkey’s very jaws.
They attacked him from every angle with clubs,
Assailing him and beating him without pity.

And so the donkey spoke with his final breath
I have suffered what I earned in my bad luck
Why didn’t I stay to my kind with the asses
Instead of pursuing my ruin like a little pup?”

Ὄνον τις ἔτρεφε καὶ κυνίδιον ὡραῖον,
τὸ κυνίδιον δ᾿ ἔχαιρε παῖζον εὐρύθμως,
τὸν δεσπότην τε ποικίλως περισκαῖρον·
κἀκεῖνος <αὖ> κατεῖχεν αὐτὸ τοῖς κόλποις.
ὁ δ᾿ ὄνος γ᾿ ἔκαμνεν ἑσπέρης ἀλετρεύων
πυρὸν φίλης Δήμητρος, Ἡμέρης δ᾿ ὕλην
κατῆγ᾿ ἀφ᾿ ὕψους, ἐξ ἀγροῦ θ᾿ ὅσων χρείη·
καὶ μὴν ἐν αὐλῇ παρὰ φάτναισι δεσμώτης
ἔτρωγε κριθὰς χόρτον, ὥσπερ εἰώθει.
δηχθεὶς δὲ θυμῷ καὶ περισσὸν οἰμώξας,
σκύμνον θεωρῶν ἁβρότητι σὺν πάσῃ,
φάτνης ὀνείης δεσμὰ καὶ κάλους ῥήξας
ἐς μέσσον αὐλῆς ἦλθ᾿ ἄμετρα λακτίζων.
σαίνων δ᾿ ὁποῖα καὶ θέλων περισκαίρειν,
τὴν μὲν τράπεζαν ἔθλασ᾿ ἐς μέσον βάλλων
ἅπαντα δ᾿ εὐθὺς ἠλόησε τὰ σκεύη·
δειπνοῦντα δ᾿ ἰθὺς ἦλθε δεσπότην κύσσων,
νώτοις ἐπεμβάς· ἐσχάτου δὲ κινδύνου
θεράποντες ἐν μέσοισιν ὡς <τὸν ἄνδρ᾿> εἶδον,
ἐσάωσαν <αὐτὸν ἐξ ὄνου γνάθων ὄντως>·
κρανέης δὲ κορύναις ἄλλος ἄλλοθεν κρούων
ἔθεινον, ὥστε καὐτὸς ὕστατ᾿ ἐκπνείων
“ἔτλην” ἔλεξεν “οἷα χρή με, δυσδαίμων·
τί γὰρ παρ᾿ οὐρήεσσιν οὐκ ἐπωλεύμην,
βαιῷ δ᾿ ὁ μέλεος κυνιδίῳ παρισούμην;”

Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, “Donkeys on a moorland track”, 1865

The Mind Rules All (Or Fails…)

Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 1

“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.”

[1] 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.

BH- Zeus Olympia

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….

Judging the Days of the Week

Hesiod, Works and Days 822-828

“Some days bring great advantage to mortals on the earth,
But others are unpredictable, aimless, providing nothing.
One person praises one, another praises a different one,
But few know at all. One day’s a mother, another a stepmother.

Lucky and blessed is someone who knows all these things
And does all their work without angering the gods,
Judging all the bird signs and avoiding excesses.”

αἵδε μὲν ἡμέραι εἰσὶν ἐπιχθονίοις μέγ᾽ ὄνειαρ·
αἱ δ᾽ ἄλλαι μετάδουποι, ἀκήριοι, οὔ τι φέρουσαι,
ἄλλος δ᾽ ἀλλοίην αἰνεῖ, παῦροι δέ τ᾽ ἴσασιν·
ἄλλοτε μητρυιὴ πέλει ἡμέρη, ἄλλοτε μήτηρ
τάων. εὐδαίμων τε καὶ ὄλβιος, ὃς τάδε πάντα
εἰδὼς ἐργάζηται ἀναίτιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ὄρνιθας κρίνων καὶ ὑπερβασίας ἀλεείνων.

Terracotta jug Period: Cypro-Archaic I Date: ca. 750–600 B.C. ...
Cypriot Vase, c. 750-600 BCE, MET

 

Diary of a Towson CCA Worker – The Roar

Such Unexpected Pain

Aeschylus Persians, 93-100

“What mortal person will escape
A god’s crooked deception?
Who steps with a light enough foot
To leap away through the air?
For destruction is at first friendly, even fawning
As it draws someone aside into a trap
From which it is impossible for any mortal to escape
Or even avoid.”

δολόμητιν δ᾿ ἀπάταν θεοῦ
τίς ἀνὴρ θνατὸς ἀλύξει;
τίς ὁ κραιπνῷ ποδὶ πηδή-
ματος εὐπετέος ἀνάσσων;
φιλόφρων γὰρ ποτισαίνουσα τὸ πρῶτον παράγει
βροτὸν εἰς ἀρκύστατ᾿ Ἄτα,
τόθεν οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπὲκ θνατὸν ἀλύξαντα φυγεῖν.

167-166

“Light does not shine on the poor no matter how strong they are
Nor do the masses honor undefended wealth.”

μήτ᾿ ἀχρημάτοισι λάμπειν φῶς, ὅσον σθένος πάρα,
μήτε χρημάτων ἀνάνδρων πλῆθος ἐν τιμῇ σέβειν

290-295

“I have been silent for a while, struck with pains
By these evils. The disaster runs over all bounds
of speaking or asking about its suffering.
Still, necessity forces mortals to endure the pains
The gods send us. Pull yourself together,
Tell us everything that happened…”

σιγῶ πάλαι δύστηνος ἐκπεπληγμένη
κακοῖς· ὑπερβάλλει γὰρ ἥδε συμφορά,
τὸ μήτε λέξαι μήτ᾿ ἐρωτῆσαι πάθη.
ὅμως δ᾿ ἀνάγκη πημονὰς βροτοῖς φέρειν
θεῶν διδόντων· πᾶν δ᾿ ἀναπτύξας πάθος
λέξον καταστάς, κεἰ στένεις κακοῖς ὅμως·

262-264

“This old life has seemed
to have run too long,
To witness such unexpected pain.”

ἦ μακροβίοτος ὅδε γέ τις αἰ-
ὼν ἐφάνθη γεραιοῖς, ἀκού-
ειν τόδε πῆμ᾿ ἄελπτον.

588-603

“Friends, whoever gains some practice in troubles
Understands that when a wave of troubles come
We mortals tend to fear everything.
But when a god makes things easy, you think
You’ll always sail under the same favorable wind.”

φίλοι, κακῶν μὲν ὅστις ἔμπειρος κυρεῖ,
ἐπίσταται βροτοῖσιν ὡς ὅταν κλύδων
κακῶν ἐπέλθῃ, πάντα δειμαίνειν φιλεῖ,
ὅταν δ᾿ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, πεποιθέναι
τὸν αὐτὸν αἰὲν ἄνεμον οὐριεῖν τύχης.

Rock Relief of Xerxes

The Gods Don’t Hate Those Who Suffer…

Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1. 45-46

“You can understand from the two popular lines which Epictetus wrote about himself that the gods do not completely hate those who suffer because of a range of miseries in this life, but that there are some secret causes which the curiosity of a few may be able to sense:

“I, Epictetus, was born a slave with a crippled body
both an Irus in poverty and dear to the gods.

You have, I believe, sufficient argument why the name “servant” should not be despised or taboo, since concern for a slave affected Jupiter and because it turns out that many of them are faithful, intelligent, brave, and even philosophers!”

45. cuius etiam de se scripti duo versus feruntur, ex quibus illud latenter intellegas, non omni modo dis exosos esse qui in hac vita cum aerumnarum varietate luctantur, sed esse arcanas causas ad quas paucorum potuit pervenire curiositas:

δοῦλος Ἐπίκτητος γενόμην καὶ σῶμ᾿ ἀνάπηρος,
καὶ πενίην Ἶρος καὶ φίλος ἀθανάτοις.

46. habes, ut opinor, adsertum non esse fastidio despiciendum servile nomen, cum et Iovem tetigerit cura de servo et multos ex his fideles providos fortes, philosophos etiam extitisse constiterit.

Image result for epictetus