Saturday, July 19, 2014


An Apostle of Gloom

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "How the Days Draw In," Complete Essays, Vol. I: 1920-1925 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 86-90 (at 87):
Some day I shall compile an Oxford Book of Depressing Verse, which shall contain nothing but the most magnificent expressions of melancholy and despair. All the obvious people will be in it and as many of the obscure apostles of gloom as vague and miscellaneous reading shall have made known to me.
Huxley never compiled such a book, unfortunately. One apostle of gloom who might have merited inclusion in it is Leonidas of Tarentum. Here is one of his darker poems (Greek Anthology 7.472, tr. W.R. Paton):
Man, infinite was the time ere thou camest to the light, and infinite will be the time to come in Hades. What is the portion of life that remains to thee, but a pin-prick, or if there be aught tinier than a pin-prick? [5] A little life and a sorrowful is thine; for even that little is not sweet, but more odious than death the enemy. Men built as ye are, of such a frame of bones, do ye lift yourselves up to the air and the clouds? See, man, how little use it is; for at the end of the thread [10] a worm seated on the loosely woven vesture reduces it to a thing like a skeleton leaf, a thing more loathly than a cobweb. Enquire of thyself at the dawn of every day, O man, what thy strength is and learn to lie low, content with a simple life; [15] ever remembering in thy heart, as long as thou dwellest among the living, from what stalks of straw thou art pieced together.
The Greek, from A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, Vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 132 (Leonidas, no. LXXVII):
Μυρίος ἦν, ὤνθρωπε, χρόνος πρὸ τοῦ ἄχρι πρὸς ἠῶ
    ἦλθες, χὠ λοιπὸς μυρίος εἰν Ἀίδῃ.
τίς μοῖρα ζωῆς ὑπολείπεται ἢ ὅσον ὅσσον
    στιγμὴ καὶ στιγμῆς εἴ τι χαμηλότερον;
μικρή σευ ζωὴ τεθλιμμένη, οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτή        5
    ἡδεῖ᾽ ἀλλ᾽ ἐχθροῦ στυγνοτέρη θανάτου.
ἐκ τοίης ὥνθρωποι ἀπηκριβωμένοι ὀστῶν
    ἁρμονίης †ὕψος τ᾽† ἠέρα καὶ νεφέλας.
ὦνερ, ἴδ᾽ ὡς ἀχρεῖον, ἐπεὶ περὶ νήματος ἄκρον
    εὐλὴ ἀκέρκιστον λῶπος ἐφεζομένη        10
†οἷον τὸ ψαλάθριον ἀπεψιλωμένον οἷον†
    πολλῷ ἀραχναίου στυγνότερον σκελετοῦ.
ἠοῦν ἐξ ἠοῦς ὅσσον σθένος, ὦνερ, ἐρευνῶν
    εἴης ἐν λιτῇ κεκλιμένος βιοτῇ
αἰὲν τοῦτο νόῳ μεμνημένος ἄχρις ὁμιλῇς        15
    ζωοῖς ἐξ οἵης ἡρμόνισαι καλάμης.
Another translation, by Peter Green, in Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 175-176:
Endless, O man, the time that elapsed before you
    Came to the light, and endless time there'll be
In Hades: what share of life remains but a pinprick, or whatever's
    Less than a pinprick? A brief spell
Of affliction is yours, and even that lacks sweetness,
    Is more hateful a foe than death.
Compacted from such a framework of bones, O man, can you, do you
    Still reach out to air and sky? See, man,
How useless your striving: by the half-woven fabric
    A worm sits over the threads, till all
Wears thin as a skeletal leaf, is more abhorrent
    By far than the spider's web.
Search out your strength, O man, at each day's dawning,
    Bow low, be content with a frugal life, in your heart
Always remember, so long as you mingle with the living,
    From what jackstraw you're made.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?