Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Cracker-Barrel Philosophy

Euripides, Alcestis 779-802 (spoken by Heracles, tr. Moses Hadas and John McLean):
Come here and learn a thing or two. Do you understand the nature of mortality? I suppose you don't. How could you? But listen to me. All men have to pay the debt of death, and there is not a mortal who knows whether he is going to be alive on the morrow. The outcome of things that depend on fortune cannot be foreseen; they can neither be learnt nor discovered by any art. Hearken to this and learn of me, cheer up, drink, reckon the days yours as you live them; the rest belong to fortune. Pay honor too to Cypris, most sweetest of goddesses to men; she is a gracious deity. Let these other things go, and heed my words—if I seem to you to be talking sense; I think I am. Come away from the door there, bind your head with garlands, and drink with me. I know well that the splash of the wine in the cup will shift you from this dour, tight moodiness. We are only human, and our thought ought to be human. Life for all you sober and frowning folk, if you take my opinion, is not really life but a calamity.
This is one of my favorite passages in the plays of Euripides, so I was deflated to read this note, from L.P.E. Parker's commentary on Alcestis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 207:
Heracles seeks, with maudlin solemnity, to impress the butler with the transcendant originality of his cracker-barrel philosophy.
Eastman Johnson (1824-1906),
The Nantucket School of Philosophy

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