Saturday, July 25, 2009


The Mean Is Best

Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.51, tr. W.R. Paton:
Envy, says Pindar, is better than pity. Those who are envied lead a splendid life, while our pity is for the excessively unfortunate. I would be neither too fortunate nor too badly off; for the mean is best, since the height of fortune is apt to bring danger, while the depth of misery exposes to insult.
The same, tr. William Cowper:
Pity, says the Theban bard,
From my wishes I discard;
Envy, let me rather be,
Rather far, a theme for thee!
Pity to distress is shown,
Envy to the great alone.
So the Theban: but to shine
Less conspicuous be mine!
I prefer the golden mean,
Pomp and penury between;
For alarm and peril wait
Ever on the loftiest state,
And the lowest,, to the end,
Obloquy and scorn attend.
The original Greek:
Ὁ φθόνος οἰκτιρμοῦ, κατὰ Πίνδαρον, ἐστὶν ἀμείνων·
  οἱ βασκαινόμενοι λαμπρὸν ἔχουσι βίον·
τοὺς δὲ λίαν ἀτυχεῖς οἰκτείρομεν. ἀλλά τις εἴην
  μήτ' ἄγαν εὐδαίμων, μήτ' ἐλεεινὸς ἐγώ.
ἡ μεσότης γὰρ ἄριστον, ἐπεὶ τὰ μὲν ἄκρα πέφυκεν
  κινδύνους ἐπάγειν, ἔσχατα δ' ὕβριν ἔχει.
The reference to Pindar is to Pythian Odes 1.85-86 (tr. William H. Race): "But nevertheless, since envy is better than pity, / do not pass over any noble things." (ἀλλ' ὅμως, κρέσσων γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος / μὴ παρίει καλά.)

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