The Road to Happiness

Bacchylides, frr. 11, 12, 13 [Stob. 4. 44. 16 + 46 +Stob. 4. 34. 24]

“There’s one border, one road for mortals to happiness:
If someone can make it to the end of life
With a spirit unburdened by grief.

But someone who tends to countless worries in their mind,
Plucking at their heart day and night,
Always over future things,
Has toil without fruit.

What’s the point in disturbing your thoughts any more
with tears that come to nothing?”

[fr. 13]
Well, god assigned labors to all mortals
Different ones, for different people.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

τί γὰρ ἐλαφρὸν ἔτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἄπρακτ᾿
ὀδυρόμενον δονεῖν
καρδίαν;

Fr. 13
πάντεσσι <γὰρ> θνατοῖσι δαιμων
ἐπέταξε πόνους ἄλλοισιν ἄλλους.

Color photograph of oil painting. Woman in boat with other figures, including a baby and a winged cupid
Constance Mayer, “the Dream of Happiness” 1819 from Wikimedia Commons

The Importance of Luck and Good Timing

Bacchylides 14.1-18

“The best thing for humans is
To have good luck from god.

See: a heavy-enduring suffering,
Debases even a good person when it comes,
While the elevated path,
Straightens out even a wicked one.

People have different kinds of honor
And their excellence is beyond counting–
Yet one thing looms above the rest:
When someone directs the work in front of them
With just thoughts.

The lyre’s tone
And the clear-voiced choruses
Are dissonant in battles weighed down by grief,
Just as the clash of bronze sounds off at feasts.
For every human act
The right time is the most important thing:
God straightens out the one who starts well.”

εὖ μὲν εἱμάρθαι παρὰ δαίμ[ονος ἀνθρώποις
ἄριστον·
σ]υμφορὰ δ᾿ ἐσθλόν <τ᾿> ἀμαλδύνει
β]αρύτλ[α]ος μολοῦσα
καὶ τ]ὸν κα[ὸν] ὑψιφανῆ τεύχει
κ]ατορθωθεῖσα· τιμὰν
δ᾿ ἄλ]λος ἀλλοίαν ἔχει·
μυρί]αι δ᾿ ἀνδρῶν ἀρε[αί,] μία δ᾿ ἐ[κ
πασᾶ]ν πρόκειται,
ὃς τὰ] πὰρ χειρὸς κυβέρνασεν
δι]καίαισι φρένεσσιν.
μυρί]αι δ᾿ ἀνδρῶν ἀρε[αί,] μία δ᾿ ἐ[κ
πασᾶ]ν πρόκειται,
ὃς τὰ] πὰρ χειρὸς κυβέρνασεν
δι]καίαισι φρένεσσιν.
οὔτ᾿ ἐ]ν βαρυπενθέσιν ἁρμόζει
μ]χαις φόρμιγγος ὀμφὰ
καὶ λι]γυκλαγγεῖς χοροί,
οὔτ᾿ ἐ]ν θαλίαις καναχά
χαλκ]όκτυπος· ἀλλ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἑκάστωι
καιρὸς] ἀνδρῶν ἔργματι κάλλιστος·
[ε]ὖ ἔρδοντα δὲ καὶ θεὸς ὀ[ρθοῖ.

Image of a figure on a red figure vase. Figure is a nude, beardless youth, holding a long butchering knife in his right hand and the head of a pig with his left on a three-legged table
After the sacrifice: a youth prepares the head of a pig in front of a temple (see the column on the right). Apulian red-figure bell-krater.

I Feel Bad For You, Let Me Marry Your Sister

In this Ode, Herakles encounters Meleager in the underworld and hears the story of how the Calydonian hero started to lose strength and fail during battle because his mother had thrown a magic log whose safety ensured his life onto a fire. Herakles is moved by the story and has a somewhat surprising response.

Bacchylides, 4. 156-176

“Then the only son of Amphitryon
Wept, pitying the fate of the long-suffering man
As he answered him saying this:

“The best thing for mortals is not to be born
Nor to see the light of the sun.
Ah, but since weeping over these things
Does no good
We must speak of what will be done.
Is there, in the halls of war-loving Oeneus
An unwed daughter,
Similar to you in appearance?
I am willing to make her
My glorious wife.”

Meleager’s battle-hardened soul said:

“I left in my home
Pale-limbed Deineira,
Still unfamiliar with
Golden Aphrodite, enchanter of mortals.”

Ἀμφιτρύωνος παῖδα μοῦνον δὴ τότε
τέγξαι βλέφαρον, ταλαπενθέος
πότμον οἰκτίροντα φωτός·
καί νιν ἀμειβόμενος
τᾶδ᾿ ἔφα·  ‘θνατοῖσι μὴ φῦναι φέριστον
μηδ᾿ ἀελίου προσιδεῖν
φέγγος· ἀλλ᾿ οὐ γάρ τίς ἐστιν
πρᾶξις τάδε μυρομένοις,
χρὴ κεῖνο λέγειν ὅτι καὶ μέλλει τελεῖν.

ἦρά τις ἐν μεγάροις
Οἰνῆος ἀρηϊφίλου
ἔστιν ἀδμήτα θυγάτρων,
σοὶ φυὰν ἀλιγκία;
τάν κεν λιπαρὰν <ἐ>θέλων θείμαν ἄκοιτιν.’
τὸν δὲ μενεπτολέμου

ψυχὰ προσέφα Μελεάγρου·

‘λίπον χλωραύχενα
ἐν δώμασι Δαϊάνειραν,
νῆϊν ἔτι χρυσέας
Κύπριδος θελξιμβρότου.’

Line drawing of the centaur Nessus trying to abduct Deianeira from Herakles.
Francesco Bartolozzi, “Hercules, Deianeira and Nessus ” Yale Center for British Art via Wikimedia Commons

The Two Thoughts All Mortals Must Have

Bacchylides, 3. 77-92

“Since you are mortal, you need to cultivate
Two concepts: that tomorrow is the only day
You will see the light of the sun
yet also that you will live fifty more years with overwhelming riches.

Bring joy to your heart by doing good deeds,
For this is the highest of profits.
If you know, you know what I am saying.

The heights of heaven are unpolluted
And sea’s water does not rot.
Gold can delight but
It is not permitted for a man
To put down his grey hair and
Return his flourishing youth.

The story of someone’s accomplishments,
Does not wither with the body–
No, the Muse helps it grow.”

‘θνατὸν εὖντα χρὴ διδύμους ἀέξειν
γνώμας, ὅτι τ᾿ αὔριον ὄψεαι
μοῦνον ἁλίου φάος,
χὤτι πεντήκοντ᾿ ἔτεα
ζωὰν βαθύπλουτον τελεῖς.
ὅσια δρῶν εὔφραινε θυμόν· τοῦτο γὰρ
κερδέων ὑπέρτατον.’
φρονέοντι συνετὰ γαρύω· βαθὺς μὲν
αἰθὴρ ἀμίαντος· ὕδωρ δὲ πόντου
οὐ σάπεται· εὐφροσύνα δ᾿ ὁ χρυσός·
ἀνδρὶ δ᾿ ο θέμις, πολιὸν [αρ]έντα
γῆρας, θάλ[εια]ν αὖτις ἀγκομίσσαι
ἥβαν. ἀρετᾶ[ς γε μ]ὲν οὐ μινύθει
βροτῶν ἅμα σ[ώμ]τι φέγγος, ἀλλὰ
Μοῦσά νιν τρ[έφει.]

Detail of Death and Life by Gustav Klimt, Nude mother holds nude child in the middle of two other stylized female figures. Her eyes are closed and cheeks are rosy

Never Met an Adjective He Didn’t Like

Bacchylides, 2

“Rush, holy-giver, Fame,
To sacred Keos and
Take the graceful-named message
That Argeios seized
Victory in the bold-handed battle.

He reminds us of all the noble deeds
We have shown at the
Isthmus’ famous neck
After we left Euksantius,
The sacred island,
With seventy prizes

The native Muse
Calls out the pipes’ sweet echo
As she uses epinicians to praise
Pantheus’ beloved son.”

ἄ[ϊξον, ὦ] σεμνοδότειρα Φήμα,
ἐς Κ[έον ἱ]εράν, χαριτώνυμ[ον]
φέρουσ᾿ ἀγγελίαν,
ὅτι μ[ά]χας θρασύχειρ<ος> Ἀργεῖο[ς

ἄ]ρατο νίκαν,
καλῶν δ᾿ ἀνέμνασεν, ὅσ᾿ ἐν κλ[εν]νῶι
αὐχένι Ἰσθμοῦ ζαθέαν
λιπόντες Εὐξαντίδα νᾶσον
ἐπεδείξαμεν ἑβδομήκοντα
[σὺ]ν στεφάνοισιν.
καλεῖ δὲ Μοῦσ᾿ αὐθιγενής
γλυκεῖαν αὐλῶν καναχάν,
γεραίρουσ᾿ ἐπινικίοις
Πανθείδα φίλον υἱόν.

Painting in the style of a frieze. A musician plays a lyre on the left and two women lean together listening on the right

Albert Joseph Moore, “A Musician”

The Human Nature of Desire

Bacchylides, 1.159-175

“I claim and I will claim that
The greatest glory is virtue.

Wealth attends worthless people too
And longs to inflate any man’s thoughts.

But someone who does well by the gods
Lightens their heart with nobler hope.
Sure, they may be mortal but
If they have health and can live
On their own possessions,
They rival the most prominent.

Joy comes to any human life
that’s free of diseases and overwhelming poverty.

The desire of the rich for big things
And the poor for smaller things is
The same but there’s nothing sweet
In having access to everything.

Humans are always trying to catch
The things that escape them.”

φαμὶ καὶ φάσω μέγιστον
κῦδος ἔχειν ἀρετάν· πλοῦ-
τος δὲ καὶ δειλοῖσιν ἀνθρώπων ὁμιλεῖ,
ἐθέλει δ᾿ αὔξειν φρένας ἀνδρός·
ὁ δ᾿ εὖ ἔρδων θεούς
ἐλπίδι κυδροτέραι
σαίνει κέαρ. εἰ δ᾿ ὑγιείας
θνατὸς ἐὼν ἔλαχεν.
ζώειν τ᾿ ἀπ᾿ οἰκείων ἔχει,
πρώτοις ἐρίζει· παντί τοι
τέρψις ἀνθρώπων βίωι
ἕπεται νόσφιν γε νόσων
πενίας τ᾿ ἀμαχάνου.
ἶσον ὅ τ᾿ ἀφνεὸς ἱμείρει
μεγάλων ὅ τε μείων
παυροτέρων· τὸ δὲ πάντων
εὐμαρεῖν οὐδὲν γλυκύ
θνατοῖσιν, ἀλλ᾿ αἰεὶ τὰ φεύγοντα
δίζηνται κιχεῖν.

Black and white still photograph of a scene from a movie: a woman holds a child in a hospital bed
Still from the American drama film Wealth (1921) with Ethel Clayton, on page 57 of the September 1921 Photoplay. from Wikimedia Commons

Boasts, Denials, and Unattainable Desire

Pindar, Nemean 11.29-31; 43-47

“But empty-headed boasts toss some mortals
From good ends ,while a heart that is overly cautious
Holds others back by the hand, making them deny their own strength,
And keeping them from their natural wins.”

ἀλλὰ βροτῶν τὸν μὲν κενεόφρονες αὖχαι
ἐξ ἀγαθῶν ἔβαλον· τὸν δ᾿ αὖ καταμεμφθέντ᾿ ἄγαν
ἰσχὺν οἰκείων παρέσφαλεν καλῶν
χειρὸς ἕλκων ὀπίσσω θυμὸς ἄτολμος ἐών.

“Yet anything from Zeus has no clear sign for mortals.
Nevertheless, we still make a start on massive projects
Because we desire many accomplishments.

Our limbs are devoted to shameless hope,
while rivers of forethought flow far away.
We need to hunt for some limit to profits,
Obsession with unattainable desires is too sharp.”

τὸ δ᾿ ἐκ Διὸς ἀνθρώποις σαφὲς οὐχ ἕπεται
τέκμαρ· ἀλλ᾿ ἔμπαν μεγαλανορίαις ἐμβαίνομεν,
ἔργα τε πολλὰ μενοινῶντες· δέδεται γὰρ ἀναιδεῖ
ἐλπίδι γυῖα· προμαθείας δ᾿ ἀπόκεινται ῥοαί.
κερδέων δὲ χρὴ μέτρον θηρευέμεν·
ἀπροσίκτων δ᾿ ἐρώτων ὀξύτεραι μανίαι.

Color photo of a frieze. a Long painting of impressionistic images: mostly figures turned away from the viewer in a few clusters
Edvaed Munch, “Desire” 1907-7. Munch Museum. from Wikimedia Commons

Diomedes, The God

Pindar, Nemean 10.6-7

“And the fair-haired Grey-eyed goddess
Once made Diomedes an immortal god

Διομήδεα δ᾿ ἄμβροτον ξαν-
θά ποτε Γλαυκῶπις ἔθηκε θεόν·

Schol ad Pin. Nem 10.12a-12b

“And the fair-haired Grey-eyed goddess / Once made Diomedes an immortal god”: This is the Argive Diomedes who was immortalized because of his excellence. There is a sacred Island Diomedeia in the Adriatic where he is honored as a god. Ibykos records this.”

Διομήδεα δ’ ἄμβροτον ξανθά ποτε γλαυκῶπις ἔθηκε θεόν: καὶ οὗτος ᾿Αργεῖος, ὃς δι’ ἀρετὴν ἀπηθανατίσθη· καὶ ἔστι περὶ τὸν ᾿Αδρίαν Διομήδεια νῆσος ἱερὰ, ἐν ᾗ
τιμᾶται ὡς θεός. καὶ ῎Ιβυκος οὕτω (fr. 38)· ……..

“After marrying Hermione Diomedes was made a god with the Dioskouroi. For he shares their life. Polemon records this. Among the Argyrippoi he has a sacred place. And in Mentapontion as well he receives honor like a god. Among the Thourians as well, they put up statues of him as if he were a god.”

τὴν ῾Ερμιόνην γήμας ὁ Διομήδης ἀπηθανατίσθη σὺν τοῖς Διοσκούροις· καὶ γὰρ συνδιαιτᾶται αὐτοῖς. καὶ Πολέμων ἱστορεῖ (FHG III 122)· ἐν μὲν γὰρ ᾿Αργυρίπποις ἅγιόν ἐστιν αὐτοῦ ἱερόν· καὶ ἐν Μεταποντίῳ δὲ διὰ πολλῆς αὐτὸν αἴρεσθαι τιμῆς ὡς θεὸν, καὶ ἐν Θουρίοις εἰκόνας αὐτοῦ καθιδρύσθαι ὡς θεοῦ.

“Another explanation: Didn’t Athena also make Diomedes a god? For during the Theban War, Melanaippos, a Theban hero, wounded Tydeus. And Tydeus, enraged over the wound, sought Amphiaros to kill Melanippus and bring him his head. When the head was brought to him and his anger overcame his reason, he took a taste of the Melanippian meat, as Euripides writes in the Meleager: “he will arrive at man-eating pleasures / and tear into Melanippus’ head with blood-crusted jaws”

When Tydeus was wounded, Athena was planning on making him immortal, but she did not grant that gift because he ate human flesh. So, because he was not able to receive immortality, he thought it right for the goddess to transfer the gift to Diomedes. Diomedes is therefore honored as a god among the Thourians and Metapontians and there is no record of his death among the historians.”

ἄλλως. οὐχὶ δὲ καὶ τὸν Διομήδην ἡ ᾿Αθηνᾶ θεὸν ἐποίησε; κατὰ γὰρ τὸν Θηβαϊκὸν πόλεμον Μελάνιππος, ἦν δὲ οὗτος ἥρως Θηβαῖος, ἔτρωσε τὸν Τυδέα· ὁ δὲ πρὸς τὴν πληγὴν θυμήνας καθικέτευσε τὸν ᾿Αμφιάραον ἀνελεῖν τὸν Μελάνιππον καὶ προσαγαγεῖν αὐτοῦ τὴν κεφαλήν. προσαχθείσης δὲ αὐτῷ τῆς κεφαλῆς καὶ τῆς ὀργῆς νικησάσης τὸν δέοντα λογισμὸν, ἀπεγεύσατο τῶν Μελανιππείων κρεῶν, ὡς
καὶ Εὐριπίδης ἐν τῷ Μελεάγρῳ φησίν (fr. 537)·

εἰς ἀνδροβρώτους ἡδονὰς ἀφίξεται
κάρηνα πυρσαῖς γένυσι Μελανίππου σπάσας.

τετρωμένῳ οὖν τῷ Τυδεῖ ἡ ᾿Αθηνᾶ τὴν ἀθανασίαν παρήγαγε, καὶ οὐκ ἀπήλαυσε τῆς δωρεᾶς ἔτι διὰ τὴν τῶν ἀνθρωπείων κρεῶν βρῶσιν· εἶτα ὡς αὐτὸς οὐκ ἠδυνήθη τῆς ἀθανασίας τυχεῖν, ἠξίωσε τὴν θεὸν ἐπὶ τὸν Διομήδην τὸ δῶρον μεταθεῖναι. τιμᾶται γοῦν καὶ παρὰ Θουρίοις καὶ Μεταποντίοις ὡς θεὸς Διομήδης, καὶ οὐκ ἔστι παρὰ τοῖς ἱστορικοῖς εὑρέσθαι αὐτοῦ τὸν θάνατον.

Highly stylized painting with Domedes on the left in front of white horses. He is mostly nude with a crested helmet on. To the right is Aphrodite'Venus, holding her hand out towards him. This is likely a reference to Iliad book 6 where Diomedes wounds Aphrodite in the hand
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Vénus blessée par Diomède (1800) Kunstmuseum Basel Suisse

Highways of Words and Rough Sailing

Pindar Nemean 6. 52-56

“Older poets found these subjects
To be an elevated highway;
I follow it even though I have concern–
The wave that is always turning
Right into the front of the ship
Is said to cause everyone’s heart
The most trouble.”

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν παλαιότεροι
ὁδὸν ἀμαξιτὸν εὗρον· ἕπο-
μαι δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ἔχων μελέταν·
τὸ δὲ πὰρ ποδὶ ναὸς ἑλισσόμενον αἰεὶ κυμάτων
λέγεται παντὶ μάλιστα δονεῖν

Color image close up of a Grek vase showing a ship with sail opened, men at oar rowing, and a prominent figure steering
On the internal surface, around the rim, four ships. Cemetery of Ancient Thera. 3rd quarter of the 6th cent. BC Archaeological Museum of Thera. [Wikimedia Commons]

Celebrations and Healing

Pindar, Nemean 4. 1-8

“A celebration is the best medicine
For labors completed well, and yet
Songs, those wise daughters of the Muses,
Bewitch our minds when they touch them.

Not even hot water makes the limbs as supple
As praise can when it’s partnered with a lyre.
For the word lives a longer life than deeds,
At least the one the tongue lures from the depths of thought
With the Graces’ good fortune.”

Ἄριστος εὐφροσύνα πόνων κεκριμένων
ἰατρός· αἱ δὲ σοφαί
Μοισᾶν θύγατρες ἀοιδαὶ θέλξαν νιν ἁπτόμεναι.
οὐδὲ θερμὸν ὕδωρ τόσον γε μαλθακὰ τεύχει
γυῖα, τόσσον εὐλογία φόρμιγγι συνάορος.
ῥῆμα δ᾿ ἐργμάτων χρονιώτερον βιοτεύει,
ὅ τι κε οὺν Χαρίτων τύχᾳ
γλῶσσα φρενὸς ἐξέλοι βαθείας.

Oil painting of a 18th century tavern scene. A man in the center plays a lite, there are drinkers and revelers all around. There are some dogs too
Luis Ricardo Falero, 1880, “A Day in a Tavern”