When Spirits Sin

Empedocles: Fragment 115 (Diels-Kranz)

There is a matter of Necessity, a decree of the gods,
Ancient, eternal, and sealed with broad oaths:
When someone commits the sin of murder
He pollutes his dear limbs, breaching his oath.

But since spirits are allotted long lives,
He’s to wander thirty-thousand years
Separated from the blessed ones,
Coming into being throughout time
As every kind of mortal thing,
This then that painful way of being.

Aether’s might pursues him into in the sea,
Then sea spits him out onto the earth’s floor;
Earth pelts him into the shining sun’s rays,
And that last throws him into aether’s whirls.
One then another, and all despise him.

I’m one of them myself–an exile from god and a wanderer,
Because I put my trust in frenzied Strife.

ἔστιν Ἀνάγκης χρῆμα, θεῶν ψήφισμα παλαιόν,
ἀίδιον, πλατέεσσι κατεσφρηγισμένον ὅρκοις·
εὖτέ τις ἀμπλακίῃσι φόνῳ φίλα γυῖα μιήνῃ
ὅς κεν ἐπίορκον ἁμαρτήσας ἐπομόσσῃ,
δαίμονες οἵτε μακραίωνος λελάχασι βίοιο,
τρίς μιν μυρίας ὧρας ἀπὸ μακάρων ἀλάλησθαι,
φυομένον παντοῖα διὰ χρόνου εἴδεα θνητῶν
ἀργαλέας βιότοιο μεταλλάσσοντα κελεύθους.
αἰθέριον μὲν γάρ σφε μένος πόντονδε διώκει,
πόντος δ’ ἐς χθονὸς οὖδας ἀπέπτυσε, γαῖα δ’ ἐς αὐγάς
ἠελίου φαέθοντος, ὁ δ’ αἰθέρος ἔμβαλε δίναις·
ἄλλος δ’ ἐξ ἄλλου δέχεται, στυγέουσι δὲ πάντες.
τῶν καὶ ἐγὼ νῦν εἰμι, φυγὰς θεόθεν καὶ ἀλήτης,
Νείκεϊ μαινομένῳ πίσυνος.

Detail from William Blake’s Cain Fleeing From the Wrath of God

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.