We Don’t Have Justice, But We Still have Hope

Theognis, Elegies 1135-1150

“Hope is the only noble god left among mortals:
The rest of have abandoned us to go to Olympos.
Trust, a great god, left; Prudence has left men.
The Graces, my friend, have surrendered the earth.

Oaths in a court of law can no longer be trusted;
And no one fears shame before the immortal gods
As the race of righteous men has disappeared.
People no longer recognize precedents or sacred duties.

But as long as someone lives and sees the light of the sun,
Let him foster Hope and act righteously before the gods.
Let him pray to the gods and, while burning shining thigh bones,
Sacrifice to Hope first and last.

And let each person always look out for the crooked word of unjust men:
Those men who do not fear the rage of the gods at all,
Who forever conspire in their thoughts against others’ property,
Men who make shameful agreements for future evil deeds.”

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν,
ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν<δ’> ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν·
ὤιχετο μὲν Πίστις, μεγάλη θεός, ὤιχετο δ’ ἀνδρῶν
Σωφροσύνη, Χάριτές τ’, ὦ φίλε, γῆν ἔλιπον·
ὅρκοι δ’ οὐκέτι πιστοὶ ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιοι,
οὐδὲ θεοὺς οὐδεὶς ἅζεται ἀθανάτους.
εὐσεβέων δ’ ἀνδρῶν γένος ἔφθιτο, οὐδὲ θέμιστας
οὐκέτι γινώσκουσ’ οὐδὲ μὲν εὐσεβίας.
ἀλλ’ ὄφρα τις ζώει καὶ ὁρᾶι φῶς ἠελίοιο,
εὐσεβέων περὶ θεοὺς ᾿Ελπίδα προσμενέτω·
εὐχέσθω δὲ θεοῖσι, καὶ ἀγλαὰ μηρία καίων
᾿Ελπίδι τε πρώτηι καὶ πυμάτηι θυέτω.
φραζέσθω δ’ ἀδίκων ἀνδρῶν σκολιὸν λόγον αἰεί,
οἳ θεῶν ἀθανάτων οὐδὲν ὀπιζόμενοι
αἰὲν ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κτεάνοισ’ ἐπέχουσι νόημα,
αἰσχρὰ κακοῖσ’ ἔργοις σύμβολα θηκάμενοι.

 

The Unlikely Way: Our Kind of Story

Euripides, Bacchae 1388-1392

Many are the forms of divine powers
Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make.
The very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
This turned out to be that kind of story.

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί·
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τῶν δ᾿ ἀδοκήτων πόρον ηὗρε θεός.
τοιόνδ᾿ ἀπέβη τόδε πρᾶγμα.

[but also at the end of AlcestisMedeaAndromache, Helen]

Lucian in The Symposium 48

“That, my dear Philo, was the end of that party. But it is better to intone that tragic phrase: ‘Many are the forms of divine powers / Many are the acts the gods unexpectedly make. / The very things which seemed likely did not happen’

For all these things too turned out to be unexpected. I have still learned this much now: it is not safe for a man who is unaccomplished to share a meal with clever men like this.”

Τοῦτό σοι τέλος, ὦ καλὲ Φίλων, ἐγένετο τοῦσυμποσίου, ἢ ἄμεινον τὸ τραγικὸν ἐκεῖνο ἐπειπεῖν,

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν δαιμονίων,
πολλὰ δ᾿ ἀέλπτως κραίνουσι θεοί,
καὶ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη·

ἀπροσδόκητα γὰρ ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀπέβη καὶ ταῦτα. ἐκεῖνό γε μὴν1 μεμάθηκα ἤδη, ὡς οὐκ ἀσφαλὲς ἄπρακτον ὄντα συνεστιᾶσθαι τοιούτοις σοφοῖς.

Lucian, Gout, a Tragedy 325-334

“Many are the forms of the unlucky
but let the care and habit of pains
bring some comfort to men with gout.
This is how, my fellow sufferers,
you will forget our toils,
if the very things which seemed likely did not happen
but for the unlikely, some god found a way.
Let every person who suffers endure
being taunted and being mocked.
For this affair is that kind of thing.”

πολλαὶ μορφαὶ τῶν ἀτυχούντων,
μελέται δὲ πόνων καὶ τὸ σύνηθες
τοὺς ποδαγρῶντας παραμυθείσθω.
ὅθεν εὐθύμως, ὦ σύγκληροι,
λήσεσθε πόνων,
εἰ τὰ δοκηθέντ᾿ οὐκ ἐτελέσθη,
τοῖς δ᾿ ἀδοκήτοις πόρον εὗρε θεός.
πᾶς δ᾿ ἀνεχέσθω τῶν πασχόντων
ἐμπαιζόμενος καὶ σκωπτόμενος·
τοῖον γὰρ ἔφυ τόδε πρᾶγμα.

Image result for medieval manuscript gout

James Gillray, The Gout, 1799.

The Shoot That Rises from the Fire: Some Herodotus and Homer for the Fires in Greece

Herodotus, Persian Wars Book 8.55

“I will now explain why I have told this story. There is in the Akropolis  an olive tree and a little salt pond inside the shrine of the one called the Earth-born Erekhtheus. The story among the Athenians is that after Poseidon and Athena struggled for the land they put these there as commemoration.

That olive tree was burned along with the temple by the barbarians. Yet, on the day after it burned, when some of the Athenians who were ordered to go there to sacrifice arrived at the temple, they saw a new shoot about as long as a cubit already growing from the trunk. They then told this story.”

 Τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω. ἔστι ἐν τῇ ἀκροπόλι ταύτῃ Ἐρεχθέος τοῦ γηγενέος λεγομένου εἶναι νηός, ἐν τῷ ἐλαίη τε καὶ θάλασσα ἔνι, τὰ λόγος παρὰ Ἀθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε καὶ Ἀθηναίην ἐρίσαντας περὶ τῆς χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ὦν τὴν ἐλαίην ἅμα τῷ ἄλλῳ ἱρῷ κατέλαβε ἐμπρησθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων· δευτέρῃ δὲ ἡμέρῃ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐμπρήσιος Ἀθηναίων οἱ θύειν ὑπὸ βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ὡς ἀνέβησαν ἐς τὸ ἱρόν, ὥρων βλαστὸν ἐκ τοῦ στελέχεος ὅσον τε πηχυαῖον ἀναδεδραμηκότα. οὗτοι μέν νυν ταῦτα ἔφρασαν.

There are terrible wildfires in Attica, as many news outlets have reported (although in the US the events are incredibly under-reported). Our hearts are with our friends, colleagues, and everyone else affected by this. I will add to this post any suggestions for responsible charities to help with the suffering and the recovery. Words can do no justice to the suffering and loss in Attica this week.

As Harper’s Magazine reports, severe fires are likely to be the rule rather than the exception thanks to our use of resources, lack of preparedness and global warming. We can donate to help those affected, but in the long term we need to act to elect leaders who will acknowledge that we are hastening our own doom and we must hold accountable corporations that put short-term profit ahead of all else.

The passage above is from the part of Herodotus’ Histories after the Athenians have abandoned the city and retreated to Salamis to wage the war from the sea. This move is one of the most critical decisions of the Persian Wars, one that, arguably, is far more radical and important that the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. There is a simple beauty in the shoot growing from the burnt tree. But it is a beauty available only in hindsight and not to those who lost their lives before the story was told. The promise of new growth offers little solace to the dead and bereaved families.

The promise of new life from destruction is central to one of my favorite similes from Homer as well.

Homer, Odyssey 5.488-493

“Just as when someone hides a firebrand in black ash
On the farthest edge of the wilderness where there are no neighbors
And saves the seed of fire when there is no other way to kindle it,
Just so Odysseus covered himself in leaves. Then Athena
Poured sleep over his eyes so he might immediately rest
From his exhausting toil, once she closed his dear lashes.”

ὡς δ’ ὅτε τις δαλὸν σποδιῇ ἐνέκρυψε μελαίνῃ
ἀγροῦ ἐπ’ ἐσχατιῆς, ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι,
σπέρμα πυρὸς σῴζων, ἵνα μή ποθεν ἄλλοθεν αὕοι,
ὣς ᾿Οδυσεὺς φύλλοισι καλύψατο. τῷ δ’ ἄρ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ὕπνον ἐπ’ ὄμμασι χεῦ’, ἵνα μιν παύσειε τάχιστα
δυσπονέος καμάτοιο, φίλα βλέφαρ’ ἀμφικαλύψας.

For those who are able, let’s be the good neighbors the Greeks need right now. For the rest of us, let’s remember that the promise of life and regrowth is contingent on the conditions that give life to begin with. We have the ability to make our lives together better or worse. We will never rid ourselves of all risk and disaster, but we can make the decision not to rush headlong into it.

From a Greek correspondent:

“Troy Fell, Let It Perish With Its Name”: Jupiter Decides the Fate of Refugees From the East

“When they make peace through joyful weddings,
(May it happen), when the laws and treaties have joined them,
Do not allow the Latins to change their ancient name
either in becoming Trojans or being called Teucrians.
Don’t let them change their language or their clothing,
may it be Latium, may there be Alban kings for generations;
may the Roman race be strong through Italian power.
It fell: let Troy perish with its name.”

Laughing, the master of man and creation responded:
“Truly you are the sister of Jove and Saturn’s other child:
Such waves of rage turn within your chest.
But come, put down your rage conceived in vain—
I grant what you want, and, overcome, I willingly give in.
The Ausonians will preserve their inherited tongue and customs,
The name will stay as it is—the Teucrians will fade into the land
Once they have shared their blood. I will provide their sacred rites
And will unite all the Latins in a single tongue.
You will see a race mixed with Ausonian blood rise up
And outpace all men, even the gods in devotion,
No other race will perform your honors the same.”

cum iam conubis pacem felicibus, esto,
component, cum iam leges et foedera iungent,
ne vetus indigenas nomen mutare Latinos
neu Troas fieri iubeas Teucrosque vocari
aut vocem mutare viros aut vertere vestem.
Sit Latium, sint Albani per saecula reges,
sit Romana potens Itala virtute propago:
occidit, occideritque sinas cum nomine Troia.”
Olli subridens hominum rerumque repertor
“Es germana Iovis Saturnique altera proles:
irarum tantos volvis sub pectore fluctus.
Verum age et inceptum frustra submitte furorem
do quod vis, et me victusque volensque remitto.
Sermonem Ausonii patrium moresque tenebunt,
utque est nomen erit; commixti corpore tantum
subsident Teucri. Morem ritusque sacrorum
adiciam faciamque omnis uno ore Latinos.
Hinc genus Ausonio mixtum quod sanguine surget,
supra homines, supra ire deos pietate videbis,
nec gens ulla tuos aeque celebrabit honores.”

Caveat Lector: Personal commentary follows…

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Sunday with Theognis: Overthrowing Tyranny, Hope, Drinking and Friendship

Saturday’s symposia wear you out? Here’s a little dose of Theognis for what ails you:

 

 

Theogonis, 1181-1182: On Overthrowing Tyrants

 

“Bring down a people-eating tyrant however you want

No criticism for this comes from the gods”

 

δημοφάγον δὲ τύραννον ὅπως ἐθέλεις κατακλῖναι

οὐ νέμεσις πρὸς θεῶν γίνεται οὐδεμία.

 

 

Theognis, 1135-6: On Hope

 

“Hope is the only good god present among men

The rest abandoned us and went to Olympos.”

 

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν,

ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν<δ’> ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν·

 

 

 

Theognis 989-990: On Concealing Your Feelings when Drinking

 

Drink whenever they drink but when you are heartsick, may no man learn you’re burdened [or drunk]

 

Πῖν’ ὁπόταν πίνωσιν· ὅταν δέ τι θυμὸν ἀσηθῆις,

μηδεὶς ἀνθρώπων γνῶι σε βαρυνόμενον.

 

 

 

Theogonis, 1181-1182

 

Bring down a people-eating tyrant however you desire

No criticism for this comes from the gods

 

δημοφάγον δὲ τύραννον ὅπως ἐθέλεις κατακλῖναι

οὐ νέμεσις πρὸς θεῶν γίνεται οὐδεμία.

 

 

Theognis, 1135-6

 

Hope is the only good god present among men

The rest abandoned us and went to Olympos

 

 

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν,

ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν<δ’> ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν·

 

 

 

Theognis 1079-80

 

I’ll fault no enemy when he is noble, nor will I praise a friend when he is wicked

 

Οὐδένα τῶν ἐχθρῶν μωμήσομαι ἐσθλὸν ἐόντα,

οὐδὲ μὲν αἰνήσω δειλὸν ἐόντα φίλον.

 

 

Theognis 989-990

 

Drink whenever they drink but when you are heartsick, may no man learn you’re burdened

 

Πῖν’ ὁπόταν πίνωσιν· ὅταν δέ τι θυμὸν ἀσηθῆις,

μηδεὶς ἀνθρώπων γνῶι σε βαρυνόμενον.

 

 

Theognis, 979-980: On Friendship

 

“May a man be friend not in speech but in deed too.”

 

‘Μή μοι ἀνὴρ εἴη γλώσσηι φίλος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔργωι.’

 

Theognis, 1135-6

 

“Hope is the only good god present among men

The rest abandoned us and went to Olympos”

 

 

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν

ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν

A Hope Tattoo?

Theognis, more a method than a man.

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