Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Born Bare, Buried Bare

Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.58, tr. W.R. Paton:
Naked I alighted on the earth and naked shall I go beneath it. Why do I toil in vain, seeing the end is nakedness?
Tr. William M. Hardinge:
Naked to earth was I brought—naked to earth I descend.
Why should I labour for nought, seeing how naked the end?
Tr. J.W. Burgon:
Naked I entered at my birth;
Naked I hie me back to earth:
Why then should I so anxious be?
Since naked still the end I see.
Tr. Tony Harrison:
Born naked. Buried naked. So why fuss?
All life leads to that first nakedness.
Latin translation by Samuel Johnson:
Terram adii nudus, de terra nudus abibo.
  Quid labor efficiet? non nisi nudus ero.
Greek original:
Γῆς ἐπέβην γυμνός, γυμνός θ' ὑπὸ γαῖαν ἄπειμι·
  καὶ τί μάτην μοχθῶ, γυμνὸν ὁρῶν τὸ τέλος;
Cf. Job 1.21:
Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither.
On nakedness at birth, see Pliny, Natural History 7.1.2 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
In the first place, she [nature] obliges him alone, of all animated beings, to clothe himself with the spoils of the others; while, to all the rest, she has given various kinds of coverings, such as shells, crusts, spines, hides, furs, bristles, hair, down, feathers, scales, and fleeces. The very trunks of the trees even, she has protected against the effects of heat and cold by a bark, which is, in some cases, twofold. Man alone, at the very moment of his birth cast naked upon the naked earth, does she abandon to cries, to lamentations, and, a thing that is the case with no other animal whatever, to tears: this, too, from the very moment that he enters upon existence. But as for laughter, why, by Hercules!—to laugh, if but for an instant only, has never been granted to man before the fortieth day from his birth, and then it is looked upon as a miracle of precocity.

ante omnia unum animantium cunctorum alienis velat opibus. ceteris sua varie tegimenta tribuit, testas, cortices, coria, spinas, villos, saetas, pilos, plumam, pinnas, squamas, vellera; truncos etiam arboresque cortice, interdum gemino, a frigoribus et calore tutata est: hominem tantum nudum et in nuda humo natali die abicit ad vagitus statim et ploratum, nullumque tot animalium aliud ad lacrimas, et has protinus vitae principio; at Hercule risus praecox ille et celerrimus ante XL diem nulli datur.
On nakedness at burial, see Propertius 3.5.13-14:
You won't carry any riches to the waters of Acheron: fool, you will ride naked in the hellish boat.

haud ullas portabis opes Acherontis ad undas:
  nudus in infera, stulte, vehere rate.

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