Monday, November 16, 2009


Hapless Mortals

Vergil, Georgics 3.66-68 (tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
Life's fairest days are ever the first to flee for hapless mortals; on creep diseases, and sad age, and suffering; and stern death's ruthlessness sweeps away its prey.

optima quaeque dies miseris mortalibus aevi
prima fugit; subeunt morbi tristisque senectus
et labor, et durae rapit inclementia mortis.
Samuel Johnson used to quote these lines of Vergil "with great pathos." William Wordsworth cited them in a note to Descriptive Sketches in Verse, Taken During a Pedestrian Tour in the Italian, Grison, Swiss, and Savoyard Alps, lines 636-643:
Soon flies the little joy to man allow'd,
And tears before him travel like a cloud.
For come Diseases on, and Penury's rage,
Labour, and Pain, and Grief, and joyless Age,
And Conscience dogging close his bleeding way
Cries out, and leads her Spectres to their prey,
'Till Hope-deserted, long in vain his breath
Implores the dreadful untried sleep of Death.

Juan de Valdés Leal, In Ictu Oculi (Hospital de la Caridad, Seville)

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