Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The Best Season

A friend of mine once won the Moomaw Oratorical Contest with a speech in which he argued that fall is the best season of the year. The debate is an old one. See Bion of Smyrna, fragment 3 (tr. J.M. Edmonds):
Which will you have is sweetest, Myrson, spring, winter, autumn, or summer? which are you fainest should come? Summer, when all our labours are fulfilled, or sweet autumn when our hunger is least and lightest, or the winter when no man can work—for winter also hath delights for many with her warm firesides and leisure hours—or doth the pretty spring-time please you best? Say, where is the choice of your heart? To be sure, we have time and to spare for talking.

'Tis unseemly for mortal men to judge of the works of Heaven, and all these four are sacred, and every one of them sweet. But since you ask me, Cleodamus, I will tell you which I hold to be sweeter than the rest. I will not have your summer, for then the sun burns me; I will not have your autumn, neither, for that time o' year breeds disease; and as for your winter, he is intolerable; I cannot away with frost and snow. For my part, give me all the year round the dear delightful spring, when cold doth not chill nor sun burn. In the spring the world's a-breeding, in the spring the world’s all sweet buds, and our days are as long as our nights and our nights as our days...

Εἴαρος ὦ Μύρσων ἢ χείματος ἢ φθινοπώρω
ἢ θέρεος τί τοι ἁδύ; τί δὲ πλέον εὔχεαι ἐλθεῖν;
ἢ θέρος, ἁνίκα πάντα τελείεται ὅσσα μογεῦμες;
ἢ γλυκερὸν φθινόπωρον, ὅτ' ἀνδράσι λιμὸς ἐλαφρά;
ἢ καὶ χεῖμα δύσεργον; ἐπεὶ καὶ χείματι πολλοὶ
θαλπόμενοι θέλγονται ἀεργείᾳ τε καὶ ὄκνῳ·
ἤ τοι καλὸν ἔαρ πλέον εὔαδεν; εἰπέ, τί τοι φρήν
αἱρεῖται; λαλέειν γὰρ ἐπέτραπεν ἁ σχολὰ ἄμμιν.

κρίνειν οὐκ ἐπέοικε θεήια ἔργα βροτοῖσι·
πάντα γὰρ ἱερὰ ταῦτα καὶ ἁδέα· σεῦ δὲ ἕκατι
ἐξερέω Κλεόδαμε, τό μοι πέλεν ἅδιον ἄλλων.
οὐκ ἐθέλω θέρος ἦμεν, ἐπεὶ τόκα μ' ἅλιος ὀπτῇ.
οὐκ ἐθέλω φθινόπωρον, ἐπεὶ νόσον ὥρια τίκτει.
οὖλον χεῖμα φέρειν· νιφετὸν κρυμώς τε φοβεῦμαι.
εἶαρ ἐμοὶ τριπόθητον ὅλῳ λυκάβαντι παρείη,
ἁνίκα μήτε κρύος μήθ' ἅλιος ἄμμε βαρύνει.
εἴαρι πάντα κύει, πάντ' εἴαρος ἁδέα βλαστεῖ,
χἀ νὺξ ἀνθρώποισιν ἴσα καὶ ὁμοίιος ἀώς...
On this theme see H. Walther, Das Streitgedicht in der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters (1920), pp. 34-46 (Sommer und Winter), and M.L. West, "Near Eastern Material in Hellenistic and Roman Literature," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 73 (1969) 113-134 (at 120).

Karl Maurer writes: "[I]f this were a contest, my own vote for the best comparison of the seasons would go to Pushkin's 'Autumn'; there's a quiet beautiful translation of it by Peter France at http://www.stosvet.net/12/france/index2.html."

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