Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Ineffectual Prayers

Sophocles, Antigone 773-780 (tr. R.C. Jebb):
I will take her where the path is loneliest, and hide her, living, in rocky vault, with so much food set forth as piety prescribes, that the city may avoid a public stain. And there, praying to Hades, the only god whom she worships, perchance she will obtain release from death; or else will learn, at last, though late, that it is lost labour to revere the dead.
But it is well-known that you cannot obtain release from death, on your own behalf or on behalf of another, by prayer or sacrifice to Hades.

Aeschylus, fragment 161 (from the play Niobe):
For alone of gods Death does not love gifts, nor by sacrificing or by pouring libations could you accomplish anything. He has no altar and the paean is not sung to him; of the gods, from him alone Persuasion stands apart.
Sophocles, Electra 137-139 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
But you will never raise up your father from the lake of Hades, to which all must come, by weeping or by prayers.
Euripides, Alcestis 953-975 (ode to Necessity):
It is impossible to come to the altars and statues of that goddess alone, and she does not heed sacrifices.
Vergil, Georgics 2.491:
Fate which cannot be moved by entreaty (inexorabile fatum).
Horace, Odes 2.14.1-8:
Alas, Postumus, Postumus, the fleeting years are slipping by, and devotion will not delay wrinkles, the onslaught of old age, and unconquered death, not even, friend, if you try each day to please dry-eyed Pluto with three hundred bulls.
Propertius 4.11.1-8 (supposedly spoken by Cornelia, who died in 16 B.C. leaving her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus a widower):
Paullus, stop bothering my tomb with your tears: the black gate is not opened in response to any prayers; as soon as the dead have entered hell's dominions, the ways are fixed with adamantine which cannot be moved by entreaty. Although the god of the dark halls hears your voice as you pray, deaf shores will surely absorb your tears. Prayers impress the gods who live above: but when the ferryman has pocketed the fare, the pale gate bars the grassy funeral pyres.

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