Sweetness and the Joy of Life

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers: Epicurus 125-6

“Just as people choose not just the greater amount of food but the better quality, so too they enjoy the amount of time not for being the longest but for its sweetness. The person who orders the young to live happily and the old to make a good end of it is simple-minded not just because of the joy life brings but also because the same worry should teach one to live well and die well.

Even worse is someone [like Theognis] who says that it is good not to be born and “if born to cross Hades’ threshold as fast as possible” [425/427]. If he says what he believes, why doesn’t he stop living? There are methods at the ready for him, if he is so firm in his conviction. If he speaks in jest, he speaks pointlessly for those who do not trust him.”

ὥσπερ δὲ τὸ σιτίον οὐ τὸ πλεῖον πάντως ἀλλὰ τὸ ἥδιστον αἱρεῖται, οὕτω καὶ χρόνον οὐ τὸν μήκιστον ἀλλὰ τὸν ἥδιστον καρπίζεται. ὁ δὲ παραγγέλλων τὸν μὲν νέον καλῶς ζῆν, τὸν δὲ γέροντα καλῶς καταστρέφειν εὐήθης ἐστὶν οὐ μόνον διὰ τὸ τῆς ζωῆς ἀσπαστόν, ἀλλὰ καὶ διὰ τὸ τὴν αὐτὴν εἶναι μελέτην τοῦ καλῶς ζῆν καὶ τοῦ καλῶς ἀποθνήσκειν. πολὺ δὲ χεῖρον καὶ ὁ λέγων, καλὸν μὲν μὴ φῦναι, “φύντα δ᾿ ὅπως ὤκιστα πύλας Ἀΐδαο περῆσαι”
εἰ μὲν γὰρ πεποιθὼς τοῦτό φησι, πῶς οὐκ ἀπέρχεται τοῦ ζῆν; ἐν ἑτοίμῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν, εἴπερ ἦν βεβουλευμένον αὐτῷ βεβαίως· εἰ δὲ μωκώμενος, μάταιος ἐν τοῖς οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένοις.

Our man with a plan

Untroubled as Day Passes to Night?

Euripides, Herakles Mainomenos 502-507

“I guess it is necessary that we die.
Old men—the matters of life are brief,
So complete this course as sweetly as you can,
Going untroubled as the days pass to night.

Time has no idea how to keep hope alive;
No, it hurries on for itself and flits away.

Just look at me: I was once something special to look at,
Famous for my deeds, but luck stole me away
In a single day, just like a feather on the wind.”

θανεῖν γάρ, ὡς ἔοικ’, ἀναγκαίως ἔχει.
ἀλλ’, ὦ γέροντες, σμικρὰ μὲν τὰ τοῦ βίου,
τοῦτον δ’ ὅπως ἥδιστα διαπεράσατε
ἐξ ἡμέρας ἐς νύκτα μὴ λυπούμενοι.
ὡς ἐλπίδας μὲν ὁ χρόνος οὐκ ἐπίσταται
σώιζειν, τὸ δ’ αὑτοῦ σπουδάσας διέπτατο.
ὁρᾶτ’ ἔμ’ ὅσπερ ἦ περίβλεπτος βροτοῖς
ὀνομαστὰ πράσσων, καί μ’ ἀφείλεθ’ ἡ τύχη
ὥσπερ πτερὸν πρὸς αἰθέρ’ ἡμέραι μιᾶι.

Hercules and the Hesperides, by G. A. Pellegrini

The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

The Original Virgin Suicides

Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. CW: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.

Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10

“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.

When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”

Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.

Suicides of public figures cause disbelief because of our cultural misconceptions about depression and about the importance of material wealth and fame to our well-being. While some clusters of suicide can be understood as a reflex of the “threshold problem”, we fail to see the whole picture if we do not also see that human well-being is connected to a sense of agency and belonging. Galen, in writing about depression, notes that melancholy can make us desire that which we fear.

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν.

In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.

Related image
Picture found here

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

“Nothing Wakes the Dead”: Your Weekly Reminder that Life is Short

IG IX,2 640 from Thessaly, c. ? from PHI

“They say either the Fates’ thread or some god’s rage
raged terribly at me, Parmonis, and violently
Rushed me out of bed unwillingly
when I was longing for my sweet husband Epitunkhanos.

If there is any memory for the dead, well, I led a blameless life—
Abandoning only my husband, a man I beg to stop
Torturing his heart with terrible grief and the terrible struggle.

For this is nothing more—since nothing wakes the dead—
Than wearing down the soul of those who still live. For there is nothing else.”

1 ἢ μίτος ὥς φασιν Μοιρῶν ἢ δαίμονος ὀργή,
ἥτις ἐμοὶ δεινῶς ἐχολώσατο καί με βιαίως
ἐξ εὐνῆς ποθέουσαν ἐμῆς ἀνδρὸς γλυκεροῖο
Παρμονὶν ἐξεδίωξε Ἐπιτυνχάνου οὐκ ἐθέλουσα[ν].

5 εἴ γέ τις οὖν μνήμη θνητοῖς, βίον ἔσχον ἄ[μ]εμπτον,
ἄνδρα μόνον στέρξασα, ὃν εἰσέτι θυμὸν ἀνώγω
παύσασθαι δεινοῦ πένθους δεινοῦ τε κυδοιμοῦ.
οὐδὲν γὰρ πλέον ἐστί —— θανόντα γὰρ οὐδὲν ἐγείρει ——
ἢ τείρει ψυχὴν ζώντων μόνον· ἄλλο γὰρ οὐδέν.
10 {²duae rosae partim deletae}²

Not quite sure about Παρμονὶν here, but I think it is her name…

Related image
A different Epitaph from the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

 

The Original Virgin Suicides

Here’s an anecdote that is chilling and a bit upsetting. Warning: it contains misogyny as well as reference to suicide clusters. In general, this reminded me of the suicide clusters in Silicon Valley discussed widely a few years ago. But–and I think this is more important–it also points to groups of suicide as an attempt to wrest agency in response to desperation, a lack of agency, and marginalization.

Aulus Gellius, Varia Historia 15.10

“In his first of the books On the Soul, Plutarch included the following tale when he was commenting on maladies which afflict human minds. He said that there were maiden girls of Milesian families who at a certain time suddenly and without almost any clear reason made a plan to die and that many killed themselves by hanging.

When this became more common in following days and there was no treatment to be found for the spirits of those who were dedicated to dying, The Milesians decreed that all maidens who would die by hanging their bodies would be taken out to burial completely naked except for the rope by which they were hanged. After this was decreed, the maidens did not seek suicide only because they were frightened by the thought of so shameful a funeral.”

Plutarchus in librorum quos περὶ ψυχῆς inscripsit primo cum de morbis dissereret in animos hominum incidentibus, virgines dixit Milesii nominis, fere quot tum in ea civitate erant, repente sine ulla evidenti causa voluntatem cepisse obeundae mortis ac deinde plurimas vitam suspendio amississe. id cum accideret in dies crebrius neque animis earum mori perseverantium medicina adhiberi quiret, decrevisse Milesios ut virgines, quae corporibus suspensis demortuae forent, ut hae omnes nudae cum eodem laqueo quo essent praevinctae efferrentur. post id decretum virgines voluntariam mortem non petisse pudore solo deterritas tam inhonesti funeris.

Suicides of public figures cause disbelief because of our cultural misconceptions about depression and about the importance of material wealth and fame to our well-being. While some clusters of suicide can be understood as a reflex of the “threshold problem”, we fail to see the whole picture if we do not also see that human well-being is connected to a sense of agency and belonging. Galen, in writing about depression, notes that melancholy can make us desire that which we fear.

Galen, De Locis Affectis 8.190-191

“But there are ten thousand other fantasies. The melancholic differ from one another, but even though they all exhibit fear, despair, blaming of life and hatred for people, they do not all want to die. For some, fear of death is the principle source of their depression. Some will seem paradoxical to you because they fear death and desire death at the same time.”

ἄλλα τε μυρία τοιαῦτα φαντασιοῦνται. διαφέρονται δὲ ἀλλήλων οἱ μελαγχολικοὶ, τὸ μὲν φοβεῖσθαι καὶ δυσθυμεῖν καὶ μέμφεσθαι τῇ ζωῇ καὶ μισεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντες ἔχοντες, ἀποθανεῖν δ’ ἐπιθυμοῦντες οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ’ ἔστιν ἐνίοις αὐτῶν αὐτὸ δὴ τοῦτο κεφάλαιον τῆς μελαγχολίας, τὸ περὶ τοῦ θανάτου δέος· ἔνιοι δὲ ἀλλόκοτοί σοι δόξουσιν, ἅμα τε καὶ δεδιέναι τὸν θάνατον καὶ θανατᾷν.

In thinking about the impact of agency and belonging on our sense of well-being and relationship to death, I have been significantly influence by this book:

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life. London: Allen Lane, 2015.

Related image
Picture found here

If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy New Year. Don’t Forget That Life is Short!

We have a small group of fragments attributed to the Hellenistic poet Bion. Here are a few.

Bion, fr. 3 [- Stobaeus 1.9.3]

“Let love call the Muses; let the Muses carry love.
May the Muses always give me a song in my longing,
A sweet song—no treatment is more pleasing than this.”

Μοίσας Ἔρως καλέοι, Μοῖσαι τὸν Ἔρωτα φέροιεν.
μολπὰν ταὶ Μοῖσαί μοι ἀεὶ ποθέοντι διδοῖεν,
τὰν γλυκερὰν μολπάν, τᾶς φάρμακον ἅδιον οὐδέν.

Bion fr. 7 [=Stobaeus 4.16.14]

“I don’t know and it does not seem right to labor over things we haven’t learned”

Οὐκ οἶδ’, οὐδ’ ἐπέοικεν ἃ μὴ μάθομες πονέεσθαι.

Bion fr. 8 [=Stobaeus 4.16.15]

“If my songs are good, then these few
Fate has granted as a safeguard for what I have done.
If they are not pleasing, why should I toil any longer?
If Kronos’ son or devious Fate had granted to us
Two lifetimes, so that we could dedicate
The first to happiness and pleasure and the second to work,
Then it would be right to work first and sample happiness later.
But since the gods have decreed that one time come
For human life and that this is brief and minor too,
How long, wretches, should we toil tirelessly at work.
How long will we throw our soul and hearts into
Profit and skill, longing always for more and greater wealth?
Truly, have we all forgotten that we are mortal?
Have we all forgotten our lifetime is brief?”

Εἴ μευ καλὰ πέλει τὰ μελύδρια, καὶ τάδε μῶνα
κῦδος ἐμοὶ θήσοντι τά μοι πάρος ὤπασε Μοῖσα·
εἰ δ’ οὐχ ἁδέα ταῦτα, τί μοι πολὺ πλείονα μοχθεῖν;
εἰ μὲν γὰρ βιότω διπλόον χρόνον ἄμμιν ἔδωκεν
ἢ Κρονίδας ἢ Μοῖρα πολύτροπος, ὥστ’ ἀνύεσθαι
τὸν μὲν ἐς εὐφροσύναν καὶ χάρματα τὸν δ’ ἐπὶ μόχθῳ,
ἦν τάχα μοχθήσαντι ποθ’ ὕστερον ἐσθλὰ δέχεσθαι.
εἰ δὲ θεοὶ κατένευσαν ἕνα χρόνον ἐς βίον ἐλθεῖν
ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τόνδε βραχὺν καὶ μείονα πάντων,
ἐς πόσον, ἆ δειλοί, καμάτως κεἰς ἔργα πονεῦμες,
ψυχὰν δ’ ἄχρι τίνος ποτὶ κέρδεα καὶ ποτὶ τέχνας
βάλλομες ἱμείροντες ἀεὶ πολὺ πλείονος ὄλβω;
λαθόμεθ’ ἦ ἄρα πάντες ὅτι θνατοὶ γενόμεσθα,
χὠς βραχὺν ἐκ Μοίρας λάχομες χρόνον;

Bion, fr. 16 [=4.46.17]

“But I will take my own path down the hill
Toward the sandy shore, murmuring my song to
plead with harsh Galatea. I will not give up sweet hope
Even at the last steps of old age.”

Αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν βασεῦμαι ἐμὰν ὁδὸν ἐς τὸ κάταντες
τῆνο ποτὶ ψάμαθόν τε καὶ ἀιόνα ψιθυρίσδων,
λισσόμενος Γαλάτειαν ἀπηνέα· τὰς δὲ γλυκείας
ἐλπίδας ὑστατίω μέχρι γήραος οὐκ ἀπολειψῶ.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Eros vase

Happy Monday! How Much Of Life Is Really Lived?

Seneca, Moral Epistles 99.10-12

“Consider the vastness of time’s expanse; include the universe too; and then compare what we call human life with this endlessness. You will see how small what we desire to lengthen is. How most of this time weeping and anxiety occupy! How much we pray for death, strength, fear before death comes! How much of life is spent ignorant or inexperienced! Half of it is spent in sleep. Add to this our work, grief, dangers and then you will know that even in the longest life the part that is truly lived is the least. But who would concede for himself that a man does not do better who is permitted to return quickly, who completes his journey before he is tired? Life is neither good nor bad, but it is where good and evil happen”

Propone temporis profundi vastitatem et universum complectere, deinde hoc, quod aetatem vocamus humanam, conpara immenso; videbis, quam exiguum sit, quod optamus, quod extendimus. Ex hoc quantum lacrimae, quantum sollicitudines occupant! Quantum mors, antequam veniat, optata, quantum valitudo, quantum timor! Quantum tenent aut rudes aut inutiles anni! Dimidium ex hoc edormitur. Adice labores, luctus, pericula, et intelleges etiam in longissima vita minimum esse, quod vivitur. Sed quis tibi concedet non melius se habere eum, cui cito reverti licet, cui ante lassitudinem peractum est iter? Vita nec bonum nec malum est; boni ac mali locus est.

 

Image result for Ancient Roman Sleeping

Who Is the Most Beautiful Under the Earth?

Nireus is famed as the second most beautiful of the Greeks at Troy; Thersites is claimed as the ugliest. Lucian puts them together in the underworld.

Lucian, Dialogue of the Dead 30

Nireus: Look here, Menippos, this one will teach which one is better looking. Tell me, Menippos, don’t I look prettier to you?

Menippus: Who are you two? I think I need to know that first.

Nireus: Nireus and Thersites

Menippos: Which of you is Nireus and which is Thersites? This is not at all clear to me.

Thersites: I have this one thing already, that I am similar to you and you are not at all different now than when Homer that blind guy praised you as the most beautiful of all when he addressed you, but he said that I am a cone-headed hunchback no worse for a beating. But, Menippos, examine which ever one you think is better looking.

Nireus: Be he said that I am “the son of Aglaia and Kharops, the most beautiful man who came to Troy.”

Menippos: Eh, you did not come as the most beautiful under the earth, I think: but the bones are the same and your head can only be distinguished from Thersites’ head by that little bit, that yours is a bit better shaped. For you do not have the same peak and you are not as manly.

Nireus: Ask Homer what sort I was when I joined the expedition to Troy!

Thersites: That’s good enough for me.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
᾿Ιδοὺ δή, Μένιππος οὑτοσὶ δικάσει, πότερος εὐμορφότερός ἐστιν. εἰπέ, ὦ Μένιππε, οὐ καλλίων σοι δοκῶ;

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Τίνες δὲ καὶ ἔστε; πρότερον, οἶμαι, χρὴ γὰρ τοῦτο εἰδέναι.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Νιρεὺς καὶ Θερσίτης.

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Πότερος οὖν ὁ Νιρεὺς καὶ πότερος ὁ Θερσίτης; οὐδέπω γὰρ τοῦτο δῆλον.

ΘΕΡΣΙΤΗΣ
῝Εν μὲν ἤδη τοῦτο ἔχω, ὅτι ὅμοιός εἰμί σοι καὶ οὐδὲν τηλικοῦτον διαφέρεις ἡλίκον σε ῞Ομηρος ἐκεῖνος ὁ τυφλὸς ἐπῄνεσεν ἁπάντων εὐμορφότερον προσειπών, ἀλλ’ ὁ φοξὸς ἐγὼ καὶ ψεδνὸς οὐδὲν χείρων ἐφάνην τῷ δικαστῇ. ὅρα δὲ σύ, ὦ Μένιππε, ὅντινα καὶ εὐμορφότερον ἡγῇ.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
᾿Εμέ γε τὸν ᾿Αγλαΐας καὶ Χάροπος, “ὃς κάλλιστος ἀνὴρ ὑπὸ ῎Ιλιον ἦλθον.”

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
᾿Αλλ’ οὐχὶ καὶ ὑπὸ γῆν, ὡς οἶμαι, κάλλιστος ἦλθες, ἀλλὰ τὰ μὲν ὀστᾶ ὅμοια, τὸ δὲ κρανίον ταύτῃ μόνον ἄρα διακρίνοιτο ἀπὸ τοῦ Θερσίτου κρανίου, ὅτι εὔθρυπτον τὸ σόν· ἀλαπαδνὸν γὰρ αὐτὸ καὶ οὐκ ἀνδρῶδες ἔχεις.
ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Καὶ μὴν ἐροῦ ῞Ομηρον, ὁποῖος ἦν, ὁπότε συνεστράτευον τοῖς ᾿Αχαιοῖς.

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
᾿Ονείρατά μοι λέγεις· ἐγὼ δὲ ἃ βλέπω καὶ νῦν ἔχεις, ἐκεῖνα δέ οἱ τότε ἴσασιν.

ΝΙΡΕΥΣ
Οὔκουν ἐγὼ ἐνταῦθα εὐμορφότερός εἰμι, ὦ Μένιππε;

ΜΕΝΙΠΠΟΣ
Οὔτε σὺ οὔτε ἄλλος εὔμορφος· ἰσοτιμία γὰρ ἐν ᾅδου καὶ ὅμοιοι ἅπαντες.

ΘΕΡΣΙΤΗΣ
᾿Εμοὶ μὲν καὶ τοῦτο ἱκανόν.

Santo Spirito, Florence. c.1475-1485. Cambrai – BM – ms. 0422, f. 095v. Apocalypsis figurata. Louvain (?), c. 1260. Bibliothque nationale de France,…

Have We All Forgotten that Life is Short?

We have a small group of fragments attributed to the Hellenistic poet Bion. Here are a few.

Bion, fr. 3 [- Stobaeus 1.9.3]

“Let love call the Muses; let the Muses carry love.
May the Muses always give me a song in my longing,
A sweet song—no treatment is more pleasing than this.”

Μοίσας Ἔρως καλέοι, Μοῖσαι τὸν Ἔρωτα φέροιεν.
μολπὰν ταὶ Μοῖσαί μοι ἀεὶ ποθέοντι διδοῖεν,
τὰν γλυκερὰν μολπάν, τᾶς φάρμακον ἅδιον οὐδέν.

Bion fr. 7 [=Stobaeus 4.16.14]

“I don’t know and it does not seem right to labor over things we haven’t learned”

Οὐκ οἶδ’, οὐδ’ ἐπέοικεν ἃ μὴ μάθομες πονέεσθαι.

Bion fr. 8 [=Stobaeus 4.16.15]

“If my songs are good, then these few
Fate has granted as a safeguard for what I have done.
If they are not pleasing, why should I toil any longer?
If Kronos’ son or devious Fate had granted to us
Two lifetimes, so that we could dedicate
The first to happiness and pleasure and the second to work,
Then it would be right to work first and sample happiness later.
But since the gods have decreed that one time come
For human life and that this is brief and minor too,
How long, wretches, should we toil tirelessly at work.
How long will we throw our soul and hearts into
Profit and skill, longing always for more and greater wealth?
Truly, have we all forgotten that we are mortal?
Have we all forgotten our lifetime is brief?”

Εἴ μευ καλὰ πέλει τὰ μελύδρια, καὶ τάδε μῶνα
κῦδος ἐμοὶ θήσοντι τά μοι πάρος ὤπασε Μοῖσα·
εἰ δ’ οὐχ ἁδέα ταῦτα, τί μοι πολὺ πλείονα μοχθεῖν;
εἰ μὲν γὰρ βιότω διπλόον χρόνον ἄμμιν ἔδωκεν
ἢ Κρονίδας ἢ Μοῖρα πολύτροπος, ὥστ’ ἀνύεσθαι
τὸν μὲν ἐς εὐφροσύναν καὶ χάρματα τὸν δ’ ἐπὶ μόχθῳ,
ἦν τάχα μοχθήσαντι ποθ’ ὕστερον ἐσθλὰ δέχεσθαι.
εἰ δὲ θεοὶ κατένευσαν ἕνα χρόνον ἐς βίον ἐλθεῖν
ἀνθρώποις, καὶ τόνδε βραχὺν καὶ μείονα πάντων,
ἐς πόσον, ἆ δειλοί, καμάτως κεἰς ἔργα πονεῦμες,
ψυχὰν δ’ ἄχρι τίνος ποτὶ κέρδεα καὶ ποτὶ τέχνας
βάλλομες ἱμείροντες ἀεὶ πολὺ πλείονος ὄλβω;
λαθόμεθ’ ἦ ἄρα πάντες ὅτι θνατοὶ γενόμεσθα,
χὠς βραχὺν ἐκ Μοίρας λάχομες χρόνον;

Bion, fr. 16 [=4.46.17]

“But I will take my own path down the hill
Toward the sandy shore, murmuring my song to
plead with harsh Galatea. I will not give up sweet hope
Even at the last steps of old age.”

Αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν βασεῦμαι ἐμὰν ὁδὸν ἐς τὸ κάταντες
τῆνο ποτὶ ψάμαθόν τε καὶ ἀιόνα ψιθυρίσδων,
λισσόμενος Γαλάτειαν ἀπηνέα· τὰς δὲ γλυκείας
ἐλπίδας ὑστατίω μέχρι γήραος οὐκ ἀπολειψῶ.

 

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