Fortunate Is the One Who Is Happy Today

Euripides Bacchae, Fourth Chorus (862-912)

“Will I ever lift my white foot
As I dance along
In the all night chorus—
Shaking my head at the dewy sky
Like the fawn who plays
In a meadow’s pale pleasures
When she has fled the frightful hunt
Beyond the well-woven nets of the guard—
With a holler, the hunter
Recalls the rush of his hounds
And she leaps
With the swift-raced lust of the winds
Across the riverbounded plain,
Taking pleasure in the places free
Of mortals and in the tender shoots
Of the shadow grove?

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Scarcely, but still surely,
The divine moves its strength
It brings mortals low
When they honor foolishness
And do not worship the gods
Because of some insane belief
They skillfully hide
The long step of time
As they hunt down the irreverent.
For it is never right
To think or practice stronger
Than the laws.
For it is a light price
To believe that these have strength—
Whatever the divine force truly is
And whatever has been customary for so long,
This will always be, by nature.

What’s cleverness for? Is there any nobler prize
Mortals can receive from the gods
Than to hold your hand over the heads
Of your enemies?
Whatever is noble is always dear.

Fortunate is the one who flees
The swell of the sea and returns to harbor.
Fortunate is the one who survives through troubles
One is greater than another in different things,
He surpasses in fortune and power—
But in numberless hearts still
Are numberless hopes: some result
In good fortune, but other mortal dreams
Just disappear.

Whoever has a happy life to-day,
I consider fortunate.

Χο. ἆρ’ ἐν παννυχίοις χοροῖς
θήσω ποτὲ λευκὸν
πόδ’ ἀναβακχεύουσα, δέραν
αἰθέρ’ ἐς δροσερὸν ῥίπτουσ’,
ὡς νεβρὸς χλοεραῖς ἐμπαί-
ζουσα λείμακος ἡδοναῖς,
ἁνίκ’ ἂν φοβερὰν φύγηι
θήραν ἔξω φυλακᾶς
εὐπλέκτων ὑπὲρ ἀρκύων,
θωύσσων δὲ κυναγέτας
συντείνηι δράμημα κυνῶν,
μόχθοις δ’ ὠκυδρόμοις ἀελ-
λὰς θρώισκηι πεδίον
παραποτάμιον, ἡδομένα
βροτῶν ἐρημίαις σκιαρο-
κόμοιό τ’ ἔρνεσιν ὕλας;
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
ὁρμᾶται μόλις, ἀλλ’ ὅμως
πιστόν <τι> τὸ θεῖον
σθένος· ἀπευθύνει δὲ βροτῶν
τούς τ’ ἀγνωμοσύναν τιμῶν-
τας καὶ μὴ τὰ θεῶν αὔξον-
τας σὺν μαινομέναι δόξαι.
κρυπτεύουσι δὲ ποικίλως
δαρὸν χρόνου πόδα καὶ
θηρῶσιν τὸν ἄσεπτον· οὐ
γὰρ κρεῖσσόν ποτε τῶν νόμων
γιγνώσκειν χρὴ καὶ μελετᾶν.
κούφα γὰρ δαπάνα νομί-
ζειν ἰσχὺν τόδ’ ἔχειν,
ὅτι ποτ’ ἄρα τὸ δαιμόνιον,
τό τ’ ἐν χρόνωι μακρῶι νόμιμον
ἀεὶ φύσει τε πεφυκός.
†τί τὸ σοφόν, ἢ τί τὸ κάλλιον†
παρὰ θεῶν γέρας ἐν βροτοῖς
ἢ χεῖρ’ ὑπὲρ κορυφᾶς
τῶν ἐχθρῶν κρείσσω κατέχειν;
ὅτι καλὸν φίλον αἰεί.
εὐδαίμων μὲν ὃς ἐκ θαλάσσας
ἔφυγε χεῖμα, λιμένα δ’ ἔκιχεν·
εὐδαίμων δ’ ὃς ὕπερθε μόχθων
ἐγένεθ’· ἕτερα δ’ ἕτερος ἕτερον
ὄλβωι καὶ δυνάμει παρῆλθεν.
μυρίαι δ’ ἔτι μυρίοις
εἰσὶν ἐλπίδες· αἱ μὲν
τελευτῶσιν ἐν ὄλβωι
βροτοῖς, αἱ δ’ ἀπέβασαν·
τὸ δὲ κατ’ ἦμαρ ὅτωι βίοτος
εὐδαίμων, μακαρίζω.

Image result for ancient greek good fortune
Cornucopia

Seneca on the Treatment of Slaves

Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.10-12

“Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!

I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. Your age is still good. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croeseus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?”

Vis tu cogitare istum, quem servum tuum vocas, ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum. Mariana clade multos splendidissime natos, senatorium per militiam auspicantes gradum, fortuna depressit, alium ex illis pastorem, alium custodem casae fecit; contemne nunc eius fortunae hominem, in quam transire, dum contemnis, potes.

Nolo in ingentem me locum inmittere et de usu servorum disputare, in quos superbissimi, crudelissimi, contumeliosissimi sumus. Haec tamen praecepti mei summa est: sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere. Quotiens in mentem venerit, quantum tibi in servum liceat, veniat in mentem tantundem in te domino tuo licere. “At ego,” inquis, “nullum habeo dominum.” Bona aetas est; forsitan habebis. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Platon, qua Diogenes?

Seneca seems to be channeling a rather ancient Greco-Roman idea that slavery is an aspect of chance rather than culture and social structure. But there is a more insidious side to this (or several hundred more insidious sides). One that has been disturbing me lately is Odysseus’ response to Eumaios’ life story. After Eumaios has described how he was kidnapped as a small child and sold to Laertes, Odysseus tries to tell him it could be worse! I suspect that the disgust I feel at Odysseus’ closing remark that he has suffered more is not universal…

Homer, Od. 15.494–485

“Then god-born Odysseus responded to him with a speech:
“Eumaios, you have really raised the spirit in my thoughts
By saying each of these things, how much you suffered grief in your heart.
But Zeus has certainly added some good to your trouble
Since you came and have worked much in the home of a mild man,
Who provides food and drink rightly. You live a good life
But I have come here after wandering through many cities of men”

So they spoke saying these kinds of things
And they stayed awake not much more, only a little.”

τὸν δ’ αὖ διογενὴς ᾿Οδυσεὺς ἠμείβετο μύθῳ·
“Εὔμαι’, ἦ μάλα δή μοι ἐνὶ φρεσὶ θυμὸν ὄρινας
ταῦτα ἕκαστα λέγων, ὅσα δὴ πάθες ἄλγεα θυμῷ.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι σοὶ μὲν παρὰ καὶ κακῷ ἐσθλὸν ἔθηκε
Ζεύς, ἐπεὶ ἀνδρὸς δώματ’ ἀφίκεο πολλὰ μογήσας
ἠπίου, ὃς δή τοι παρέχει βρῶσίν τε πόσιν τε
ἐνδυκέως, ζώεις δ’ ἀγαθὸν βίον· αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γε
πολλὰ βροτῶν ἐπὶ ἄστε’ ἀλώμενος ἐνθάδ’ ἱκάνω.”
ὣς οἱ μὲν τοιαῦτα πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἀγόρευον,
καδδραθέτην δ’ οὐ πολλὸν ἐπὶ χρόνον, ἀλλὰ μίνυνθα·

Schol. HQ ad Od. 15.488

Q. “But Zeus did not give you only evil, but good too.”
H. “He added some good to your misfortune.”

ἀλλ’ ἤτοι σοὶ] ἀλλὰ σοὶ μὲν ὁ Ζεὺς οὐ κακὸν μόνον παρέθηκεν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀγαθόν. Q. τῇ δυστυχίᾳ σου παρέθηκε τι ἀγαθόν. H.

A mosaic from Carthage

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.

 

Bacchylides Epinicia, fr. 10.38-53: On Knowledge, Wealth and Fortune

“The knowledge of man has countless forms—
whether learned in some prophetic art
or allotted the Graces’ honor,
the wise man certainly flourishes with golden hope.
Another man aims his dabbled bow at boys.
Others fortify their hearts in the field
Or with herds of cattle.
But the future bears ends that make the path of fortune
unmeasurable.
This thing is best: to be a noble man
envied by many men.
I know something about wealth’s great power:
It makes even the most useless man useful.
But why do I pilot my great tongue so
and drive off the road?
When the moment of victory is appointed for mortals,
only then the wise man must…[ ]
With flutes [pay back the favor of the gods]
And mingle [among those who may envy]

… Μυρίαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται·
ἦ γὰρ σ[ο]φὸς ἢ Χαρίτων τιμὰν λελογχὼς
ἐλπίδι χρυσέᾳ τέθαλεν
ἤ τινα θευπροπίαν ἰ-
δώς· ἕτερος δ’ ἐπὶ παισὶ
ποικίλον τόξον τιταίνει·
οἱ δ’ ἐπ’ ἔργοισίν τε καὶ ἀμφὶ βοῶν ἀ[γ]έλαις
θυμὸν αὔξουσιν. Τὸ μέλλον
δ’ ἀκρίτους τίκτει τελευτάς,
πᾶ τύχα βρίσει. Τὸ μὲν κάλλιστον, ἐσθλὸν
ἄνδρα πολλῶν ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυζήλωτον εἶμεν·
οἶδα καὶ πλούτου μεγάλαν δύνασιν,
ἃ καὶ τ[ὸ]ν ἀχρεῖον τί[θησ]ι
χρηστόν. Τί μακρὰν γ̣[λ]ῶ[σ]σαν ἰθύσας ἐλαύνω
ἐκτὸς ὁδοῦ; Πέφαται θνατοῖσι νίκας
[ὕστε]ρον εὐφροσύνα,
αὐλῶν []
μειγν[υ]

χρή τιν[]

The last few lines of this poem are completely fragmentary. In italics I put in something just to complete the sentence. I think that the reference to flutes probably indicates some ritual celebration, but I also wanted the end to repeat the note of warning about the mutability of fortune. Any other suggestions?

Solon and Critias on Fortune, Fate and Good Sense

Solon, (fr. 11 1-4) seems to echo Zeus’ comments from the Odyssey (that men are always blaming the gods).

“If you have suffered grief through your own wickedness
Don’t blame the gods for this fate.”

εἰ δὲ πεπόνθατε λυγρὰ δι’ ὑμετέρην κακότητα,
μὴ θεοῖσιν τούτων μοῖραν ἐπαμφέρετε·

The later Presocratic Critias (fr. 10.3) is more explicit in his play Pirithous:

“Fortune is a friend to men of good sense.”

ὡς τοῖσιν εὖ φρονοῦσι συμμαχεῖ τύχη

This is no Terminator ethic (“no fate but what we make”) but it is a long way off from oracular predestination!

“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 Wheel Of Fortune (Ruota della Fortuna) and Four Classical Authors in Siena

The Late Medieval Duomo of Siena (Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta) is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles–it has an impressive façade and is full (inside and out) of impressive artwork including sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini.

1280px-Duomo_di_siena,_facciata_01

One of the floor mosaics that caught my attention as a classicist is the Ruota della Fortuna (“The Wheel of Fortune”) which communicates the mutability of fortune and is aimed at encouraging its viewers to turn to faith and work rather than relying on chance.

Wheel of Destiny

What is striking is that in the four corners of the mosaic are classical authors with short Latin quotations on the nature of fortune. The lines themselves are less interesting to me than the four authors who make the cut–none Christian, two Greek: Euripides, Seneca, Aristotle and Epictetus. Starting in the lower right-hand corner (if facing the altar), we find Euripides with a quote from the Elektra in Latin: Tibi dixi O Filii ut fortunam laboribus indages (“I have told you, son, to hunt fortune through labors”).

Euripides Duomo

Across from Euripides on the left, our old friend Seneca, Magna servitus est magna fortuna (“Great fortune is a great slavery”):

Seneca Duoma

On the top right, Aristotle is positioned above Euripides with a quote from the Politics (also in Latin) Fortuna prospera petulantes magis facit (“Good luck makes men more petulant”):

Aristotle Duomo

And facing Aristotle on the left is Epictetus whose quote is Non fortunae muneribus, sed animi bonis gloriandum (“We must glory not in the gifts of fortune but in the goods of the soul”):

Epictetus Duomo

The images and quotations themselves are interesting, but I am also intrigued by how these authors and their lines were selected to adorn this cathedral. Was there a collection of quotations about fortune? Were the artists educated in these classical authors? What would have Medieval viewers thought?