Pindar: When Men Shine

Pindar. Pythian Odes. 8. 88-97.

A man fresh from some handsome win
In a time of plenty,
Takes flight, hope-propelled,
On wings of manly accomplishment.
He’s intent on more than riches.

Men’s joy swells fast, and fast it falls to earth
Disturbed by an adverse pronouncement.

Beings for a day. What is anyone?
What is someone not? A shadow’s dreaming,
That’s man. Yet, when the light of Zeus issues,
Men shine radiant and life is kind.

ὁ δὲ καλόν τι νέον λαχὼν
ἁβρότατος ἔπι μεγάλας
ἐξ ἐλπίδος πέταται
ὑποπτέροις ἀνορέαις, ἔχων
κρέσσονα πλούτου μέριμναν. ἐν δ᾽ ὀλίγῳ βροτῶν
τὸ τερπνὸν αὔξεται: οὕτω δὲ καὶ πίτνει χαμαί,
ἀποτρόπῳ γνώμᾳ σεσεισμένον.

ἐπάμεροι: τί δέ τις; τί δ᾽ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ
ἄνθρωπος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν αἴγλα διόσδοτος ἔλθῃ,
λαμπρὸν φέγγος ἔπεστιν ἀνδρῶν καὶ μείλιχος αἰών.

Black vase with a white square for the painting. An Athlete in simple lines carries a tripod on his head
Greek terracotta amphora depicting an athlete
carrying off his prize (a tripod).
c.550 B.C.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

I Am Dedicating My Life to Philosophy. Please Send Me Some Gossip From Rome

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (25; II.5)

“I am waiting for your letters on those events [in Rome]: what is Arrius saying and what is is opinion about being overthrown. Which consuls are being prepared—is it Pompey and Crassus as people claim or, as was just written to me, is it Servius Sulpicius with Gabinius. Are there new laws? Is there anything worthy of news at all? Or, who, since Nepos has left, is going to be nominated as Augur? (and this is the one thing I might be captured with by those people—look at how easy I am!)

Why do I ask these things when I want to put them aside and pursue philosophy with all my focus? This, I say, is what is in my mind. I wish I had pursued this from the start. But now when I have learned that everything which I thought was precious is empty, I am planning to dedicate myself to all the Muses.

Nevertheless, please do tell me in your reply about ?Tutius? and whether they have readied someone for his place and also what has become of Publius Clodius. Write me about everything, as you promised, at leisure. And also tell me on what day you think you will leave Rome so that I may tell you more certainly where I will be then? Please send me a letter right away on the things I have written you about. I am deeply awaiting your letter.”

De istis rebus exspecto tuas litteras, quid Arrius narret, quo animo se destitutum ferat, et qui consules parentur, utrum, ut populi sermo, Pompeius et Crassus, an, ut mihi scribitur, cum Gabinio Ser. Sulpicius, et num quae novae leges et num quid novi omnino, et, quoniam Nepos proficiscitur, cuinam auguratus deferatur, quo quidem uno ego ab istis capi possum—vide levitatem meam! sed quid ego haec, quae cupio deponere et toto animo atque omni cura ϕιλοσοϕεῖν? sic, inquam, in animo est; vellem ab initio, nunc vero, quoniam quae putavi esse praeclara expertus sum quam essent inania, cum omnibus Musis rationem habere cogito.

3Tu tamen de †Tutio†1 ad me rescribe certius et num quis in eius locum paretur, et quid de P. Clodio fiat, et omnia, quem ad modum polliceris, ἐπὶ σχολῆς scribe. et quo die Roma te exiturum putes velim ad me scribas, ut certiorem te faciam quibus in locis futurus sim, epistulamque statim des de iis rebus de quibus ad te scripsi. valde enim exspecto tuas litteras.

Письменные принадлежности и аксессуары – 308 photos
Chroniques de Hainaut (vers 1470)

A Good Person and the Parade of Fools

Simonides fr. 542.11-40 (=Plat. Protag. 339a–346d)

“Pittacus’ saying doesn’t sound right
To me, even though spoken by a wise person.
He said it is hard to be good.

Only god can have that prize, it is impossible
For a human to not be bad,
When unalterable misfortune grips them.
When things are going well,
Anyone can be noble–
And anyone breaks bad in bad times.
And the people who are best?
They’re mostly the ones the gods favor.

That’s why I am not going to throw my life away
Searching out the impossible, an impractical
Empty hope–a person free of all fault,
Not a one of all those who eat the harvest of the broad earth

But if I find one, I will let you know.
For now, I praise all people who
Do nothing shameful willingly.
Not even the gods battle necessity.

I don’t love blame–it seems enough to me
For someone not to be evil, and not too untrustworthy
And to know something of the justice that keeps a city safe.

That’s a safe man–I will not fault
Him, since there’s no limit
To the parade of fools.
All things not completely mixed with shame,
Are fine indeed.”

οὐδέ μοι ἐμμελέως τὸ Πιττάκειον
νέμεται, καίτοι σοφοῦ παρὰ φωτὸς εἰρημένον·
χαλεπὸν φάτ᾿ ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι.
θεὸς ἂν μόνος τοῦτ᾿ ἔχοι γέρας, ἄνδρα δ᾿ οὐκ
ἔστι μὴ οὐ κακὸν ἔμμεναι,
ὃν ἀμήχανος συμφορὰ καθέλῃ·
πράξας γὰρ εὖ πᾶς ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός,
κακὸς δ᾿ εἰ κακῶς [
[ἐπὶ πλεῖστον δὲ καὶ ἄριστοί εἰσιν
[οὓς ἂν οἱ θεοὶ φιλῶσιν.]
τοὔνεκεν οὔ ποτ᾿ ἐγὼ τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι
δυνατὸν διζήμενος κενεὰν ἐς ἄπρακτον
ἐλπίδα μοῖραν αἰῶνος βαλέω,
πανάμωμον ἄνθρωπον, εὐρυεδέος ὅσοι
καρπὸν αἰνύμεθα χθονός·
ἐπὶ δ᾿ ὑμὶν εὑρὼν ἀπαγγελέω.
πάντας δ᾿ ἐπαίνημι καὶ φιλέω,

ἑκὼν ὅστις ἔρδῃ
μηδὲν αἰσχρόν· ἀνάγκᾳ
δ᾿ οὐδὲ θεοὶ μάχονται.

[
[
[οὐκ εἰμὶ φιλόψογος, ἐπεὶ ἔμοιγε ἐξαρκεῖ
ὃς ἂν μὴ κακὸς ᾖ] μηδ᾿ ἄγαν ἀπάλαμνος εἰδώς
γ᾿ ὀνησίπολιν δίκαν,
ὑγιὴς ἀνήρ· οὐδὲ μή μιν ἐγὼ
μωμήσομαι· τῶν γὰρ ἠλιθίων
ἀπείρων γενέθλα.
πάντα τοι καλά, τοῖσίν
τ᾿ αἰσχρὰ μὴ μέμεικται.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), “Landscape with the Parable of the good Samaritan”

Philosophers Need Life-Coaches

Cicero, Letter Fragments. Nepos to Cicero IIa

Nepos Cornelius also writes to the same Cicero thus: it is so far away from me thinking that philosophy is a teacher of life and the guardian of a happy life, that I do not believe that anyone needs teachers of living more than the many men who are dedicated to philosophical debate. I certainly see that a great number of those who rush into speeches about restraint and discipline in the classroom live amidst the desire for every kind of vice.”

Nepos quoque Cornelius ad eundem Ciceronem ita scribit: tantum abest ut ego magistram putem esse vitae philosophiam beataeque vitae perfectricem ut nullis magis existimem opus esse magistros vivendi quam plerisque qui in ea disputanda versantur. video enim magnam partem eorum qui in schola de pudore <et> continentia praecipiant argutissime eosdem in omnium libidinum cupiditatibus vivere. (Lactant. Div. inst. 3.5.10)

Image result for Cornelius Nepos

Death Takes No Bribes

Anacreonta 36

“If wealth could give mortals life
in exchange for gold,
I would work hard on saving it,
So when Death came for me,
It could take payment and move on.

But if it is impossible for mortals
To purchase any more of life,
Why do I groan pointlessly?
And why do I mourn out loud?

Since death cannot be bought,
What use is gold to me?

I want to drink,
To drink sweet wine,
To spend time with my friends
And to honor Aphrodite
On downy beds.”

ὁ Πλοῦτος εἴ γε χρυσοῦ
τὸ ζῆν παρεῖχε θνητοῖς,
ἐκαρτέρουν φυλάττων,
ἵν᾿, ἂν Θάνατος ἐπέλθῃ,
λάβῃ τι καὶ παρέλθῃ.
εἰ δ᾿ οὖν μὴ τὸ πρίασθαι
τὸ ζῆν ἔνεστι θνητοῖς,
τί καὶ μάτην στενάζω;
τί καὶ γόους προπέμπω;
θανεῖν γὰρ εἰ πέπρωται,
τί χρυσὸς ὠφελεῖ με;
ἐμοὶ γένοιτο πίνειν,
πιόντι δ᾿ οἶνον ἡδὺν
ἐμοῖς φίλοις συνεῖναι,
ἐν δ᾿ ἁπαλαῖσι κοίταις
τελεῖν τὰν Ἀφροδίταν.

A still life oil painting. There is a skull prominently in the center, on top of money bags with documents protuding from below. on the left is a violin
N. L. Peschier, “Skull, Money Bags, and Documents” 1661

The Last Infirmity

Here are two lyric expressions (Sappho and Callimachus) of the Greek idea that poetry in some fashion bestows immortality, or at least compensates for the ineluctable fact of mortality.

(Milton, for all his attachment to Greek things, dismissed the desire for poetic fame as “that last infirmity of noble mind.”)

Sappho Fr. 55.

Once you die, there you will lie, forgotten.
There will be no lasting longing for you.
The Pierian roses were not your thing;
So, as a no-body in Hades’ demesne
You will move among the obscure dead–
Once, as I say, you have flown away.

κατθάνοισα δὲ κείσῃ οὐδέ ποτα μναμοσύνα σέθεν
ἔσσετ’ οὐδὲ πόθα εἰς ὔστερον· οὐ γὰρ πεδέχῃς βρόδων
τὼν ἐκ Πιερίας, ἀλλ’ ἀφάνης κἀν Ἀίδα δόμῳ
φοιτάσῃς πεδ’ ἀμαύρων νεκύων ἐκπεποταμένα.

Callimachus 2. (Gow-Page 34)

Heraclitus, someone spoke of your death.
It made me cry to recall all the times
Our tête-à-têtes brought on sunset.
O my Halicarnassian friend,
You have been ashes a long long while,
But your nightingales still live!
Hades (Universal Thief) will not touch them.

εἶπέ τις, Ἡράκλειτε, τεὸν μόρον, ἐς δέ με δάκρυ
ἤγαγεν, ἐμνήσθην δ᾽ ὁσσάκις ἀμφότεροι
ἥλιον ἐν λέσχῃ κατεδύσαμεν: ἀλλὰ σὺ μέν που,
ξεῖν᾽ Ἁλικαρνησεῦ, τετράπαλαι σποδιή:
αἱ δὲ τεαὶ ζώουσιν ἀηδόνες, ᾗσιν ὁ πάντων
ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.

“Remember my name!
Fame!
I’m going to live forever!
I’m going to learn how to fly!”

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.

Drink, Don’t Think About Tomorrow!

Anacreonta 8

“I don’t care about Gyges’ riches,
That Lord of Sardis–
Envy has never overtaken me
And I’m not jealous of tyrants.

I do care about
perfuming my hair
And weaving rose
Garlands to wear.

I care about today.
Who knows tomorrow?

So while the weather’s still good
Drink and dice and
Pour out some Luaios.
Before some disease comes to say
You can’t drink any longer.”

οὔ μοι μέλει τὰ Γύγεω,
τοῦ Σάρδεων ἄνακτος·
οὐδ᾿ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος,
οὐδὲ φθονῶ τυράννοις.

ἐμοὶ μέλει μύροισιν
καταβρέχειν ὑπήνην,
ἐμοὶ μέλει ῥόδοισιν
καταστέφειν κάρηνα·

τὸ σήμερον μέλει μοι,
τὸ δ᾿ αὔριον τίς οἶδεν;

ὡς οὖν ἔτ᾿ εὔδι᾿ ἔστιν,
καὶ πῖνε καὶ κύβευε
καὶ σπένδε τῷ Λυαίῳ,
μὴ νοῦσος, ἤν τις ἔλθῃ,
λέγῃ, ‘σὲ μὴ δεῖ πίνειν.


“Is that all there is ?” , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas

Put Those Cares to Sleep!

Anacreonta, 45

“When I drink wine,
My worries go to sleep.
Why care about work?
Why care about grief?
What do my anxieties matter to me?

I have to die, even if I don’t want to.
Why do I go back and forth over life?

Let’s drink the wine
Fine Lyaeus’ wine.
When we drink together
Our worries all go to sleep.”

ὅταν πίνω τὸν οἶνον,
εὕδουσιν αἱ μέριμναι.
τί μοι πόνων, τί μοι γόων,
τί μοι μέλει μεριμνῶν;
θανεῖν με δεῖ, κἂν μὴ θέλω·
τί τὸν βίον πλανῶμαι;
πίωμεν οὖν τὸν οἶνον
τὸν τοῦ καλοῦ Λυαίου·
σὺν τῷ δὲ πίνειν ἡμᾶς
εὕδουσιν αἱ μέριμναι.

Karel van Mander III, “Man drinking beer from a tankard” c. 1635

Carpe Diem is Too Late

Seneca, Consolation ad Marciam 10.5

“The spirit must be warned that it loves things which will one day leave—no, they are already leaving. Whatever is granted to you by fortune, take it as if it has no guaranty. Seize up the pleasures of your children and allow your children to enjoy you in turn. And drink down every bit of joy without stopping.

Nothing is promised to you for this evening—I have granted too much a pledge—nothing is promised for this hour. You must hurry, we are being chased from behind. Soon this friend will be elsewhere, soon these friendships will be lost lost when the battle’s cry is raised. In truth, everything is stolen away. Poor are you fools who do not know how to live in flight.”

Saepe admonendus est animus, amet ut recessura, immo tamquam recedentia. Quicquid a fortuna datum est, tamquam exempto auctore possideas. Rapite ex liberis voluptates, fruendos vos in vicem liberis date et sine dilatione omne gaudium haurite; nihil de hodierna nocte promittitur—nimis magnam advocationem dedi—, nihil de hac hora. Festinandum est, instatur a tergo. Iam disicietur iste comitatus, iam contubernia ista sublato clamore solventur. Rapina verum omnium est; miseri nescitis in fuga vivere!

It's #MorbidMonday and here comes death riding a skeletal horse @BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137
@BLMedieval Yates Thompson 6 f. 137

“When Will This Year Be Over”? Seneca on Speeding Life Along

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“The man who has hoped for the fasces longs to put them down once he gets them and says constantly, “When will this year be over?” This man sponsors games which he once valued as a great opportunity for him, yet he says “When can I get away from them?” A lawyer is raised up by the whole forum and with full crowd beyond where he can be heard, but he complains “When will we have a break?” Everyone speeds their own life along and suffers for a desire for the future and boredom with the present.

But the person who portions out every moment to his own use, who schedules out every day like it is the last, neither hopes for nor fears tomorrows. For what kind of new pleasure is any hour alone capable of bringing? Everything is known and has been enjoyed fully. Fortune may by chance bring out something else, but life is already safe. Something can be added; nothing can be subtracted, and they will accept anything which is added like someone who is already satisfied and full will take some food they do not desire.

Therefore, it is not right to think that anyone has lived long because of grey hair or wrinkles. They have not lived a while, but they have existed for a time. Certainly, what if you thought that the person had traveled far whom a terrible storm grabbed in the harbor and dragged here and there in turns of winds raging from different directions  over the same space in a circle? They did not travel far, but were tossed around a lot.”

Adsecutus ille quos optaverat fasces cupit ponere et subinde dicit: “Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio.

At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet. Quid enim est, quod iam ulla hora novae voluptatis possit adferre? Omnia nota, omnia ad satietatem percepta sunt. De cetero fors fortuna, ut volet, ordinet; vita iam in tuto est. Huic adici potest, detrahi nihil, et adici sic, quemadmodum saturo iam ac pleno aliquid cibi, quod nec desiderat et capit.

Non est itaque quod quemquam propter canos aut rugas putes diu vixisse; non ille diu vixit, sed diu fuit. Quid enim si illum multum putes navigasse, quem saeva tempestas a portu exceptum huc et illuc tulit ac vicibus ventorum ex diverso furentium per eadem spatia in orbem egit? Non ille multum navigavit, sed multum iactatus est.

Image result for medieval manuscript calendar
Johannes von Gmunden: Calendar, [Nuremberg], 1496