Thursday, August 11, 2016


True Worth

Tyrtaeus, fragment 12 (tr. M.L. West):
I would not rate a man worth mention or account
    either for speed of foot or wrestling skill,
not even if he had a Cyclops' size and strength
    or could outrun the fierce north wind of Thrace;
I would not care if he surpassed Tithonus' looks,        5
    or Cinyras' or Midas' famous wealth,
or were more royal than Pelops son of Tantalus,
    or had Adrastus' smooth persuasive tongue,
or fame for everything save only valour: no,
    no man's of high regard in time of war        10
unless he can endure the sight of blood and death,
    and stand close to the enemy, and fight.

This is the highest worth, the finest human prize
    and fairest for a bold young man to win.
It benefits the whole community and state,        15
    when with a firm stance in the foremost rank
a man bides steadfast, with no thought of shameful flight,
    laying his life and stout heart on the line,
and standing by the next man speaks encouragement.
    This is the man of worth in time of war.        20
Soon he turns back the foemen's sharp-edged battle lines
    and strenuously stems the tide of arms;
his own dear life he loses, in the front line felled,
    his breast, his bossed shield pierced by many a wound,
and of his corselet all the front, but he has brought        25
    glory upon his father, army, town.

His death is mourned alike by young and old, the whole
    community feels the keen loss its own.
People point out his tomb, his children in the street,
    his children's children and posterity.        30
His name and glorious reputation never die;
    he is immortal even in his grave,
that man the furious War-god kills as he defends
    his soil and children with heroic stand.
Or if in winning his proud spear-vaunt he escapes        35
    the doom of death and grief's long shadow-cast,
then all men do him honour, young and old alike;
    much joy is his before he goes below.
He grows old in celebrity, and no one thinks
    to cheat him out of his due respect and rights,        40
but all men at the public seats make room for him,
    the young, the old, and those his own age.

This is the excellence whose heights one now must seek
    to scale, by not relenting in the fight.

οὔτ᾿ ἂν μνησαίμην οὔτ᾿ ἐν λόγῳ ἄνδρα τιθείμην
    οὔτε ποδῶν ἀρετῆς οὔτε παλαιμοσύνης,
οὐδ᾿ εἰ Κυκλώπων μὲν ἔχοι μέγεθός τε βίην τε,
    νικῴη δὲ θέων Θρηΐκιον Βορέην,
οὐδ᾿ εἰ Τιθωνοῖο φυὴν χαριέστερος εἴη,        5
    πλουτοίη δὲ Μίδεω καὶ Κινύρεω μάλιον,
οὐδ᾿ εἰ Τανταλίδεω Πέλοπος βασιλεύτερος εἴη,
    γλῶσσαν δ᾿ Ἀδρήστου μειλιχόγηρυν ἔχοι,
οὐδ᾿ εἰ πᾶσαν ἔχοι δόξαν πλὴν θούριδος ἀλκῆς·
    οὐ γὰρ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίνεται ἐν πολέμῳ        10
εἰ μὴ τετλαίη μὲν ὁρῶν φόνον αἱματόεντα,
    καὶ δηίων ὀρέγοιτ᾿ ἐγγύθεν ἱστάμενος.

ἥδ᾿ ἀρετή, τόδ᾿ ἄεθλον ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἄριστον
    κάλλιστόν τε φέρειν γίνεται ἀνδρὶ νέῳ.
ξυνὸν δ᾿ ἐσθλὸν τοῦτο πόληί τε παντί τε δήμῳ,        15
    ὅστις ἀνὴρ διαβὰς ἐν προμάχοισι μένῃ
νωλεμέως, αἰσχρῆς δὲ φυγῆς ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθηται,
    ψυχὴν καὶ θυμὸν τλήμονα παρθέμενος,
θαρσύνῃ δ᾿ ἔπεσιν τὸν πλησίον ἄνδρα παρεστώς·
    οὗτος ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίνεται ἐν πολέμῳ.        20
αἶψα δὲ δυσμενέων ἀνδρῶν ἔτρεψε φάλαγγας
    τρηχείας, σπουδῇ δ᾿ ἔσχεθε κῦμα μάχης.
αὐτὸς δ᾿ ἐν προμάχοισι πεσὼν φίλον ὤλεσε θυμόν,
    ἄστυ τε καὶ λαοὺς καὶ πατέρ᾿ εὐκλεΐσας,
πολλὰ διὰ στέρνοιο καὶ ἀσπίδος ὀμφαλοέσσης        25
    καὶ διὰ θώρηκος πρόσθεν ἐληλαμένος.

τὸν δ᾿ ὀλοφύρονται μὲν ὁμῶς νέοι ἠδὲ γέροντες,
    ἀργαλέῳ δὲ πόθῳ πᾶσα κέκηδε πόλις,
καὶ τύμβος καὶ παῖδες ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἀρίσημοι
    καὶ παίδων παῖδες καὶ γένος ἐξοπίσω·        30
οὐδέ ποτε κλέος ἐσθλὸν ἀπόλλυται οὐδ᾿ ὄνομ᾿ αὐτοῦ,
    ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ γῆς περ ἐὼν γίνεται ἀθάνατος,
ὅντιν᾿ ἀριστεύοντα μένοντά τε μαρνάμενόν τε
    γῆς πέρι καὶ παίδων θοῦρος Ἄρης ὀλέσῃ.
εἰ δὲ φύγῃ μὲν κῆρα τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο,        35
    νικήσας δ᾿ αἰχμῆς ἀγλαὸν εὖχος ἕλῃ,
πάντες μιν τιμῶσιν, ὁμῶς νέοι ἠδὲ παλαιοί,
    πολλὰ δὲ τερπνὰ παθὼν ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην,
γηράσκων δ᾿ ἀστοῖσι μεταπρέπει, οὐδέ τις αὐτὸν
    βλάπτειν οὔτ᾿ αἰδοῦς οὔτε δίκης ἐθέλει,        40
πάντες δ᾿ ἐν θώκοισιν ὁμῶς νέοι οἵ τε κατ᾿ αὐτὸν
    εἴκουσ᾿ ἐκ χώρης οἵ τε παλαιότεροι.

ταύτης νῦν τις ἀνὴρ ἀρετῆς εἰς ἄκρον ἱκέσθαι
    πειράσθω θυμῷ μὴ μεθιεὶς πολέμου.
Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, tr. Gilbert Highet, Vol. I (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1946), pp. 91-93 (notes omitted):
Tyrtaeus exalts true areté above the other goods which his contemporaries believed could give a man true worth and esteem. 'I would' not,' he says, 'mention or take account of a man for the prowess of his feet or for his wrestling, even if he had the stature and strength of the Cyclopes and outran the Thracian Boreas.' These are exaggerated instances of the athletic areté which had been admired, above all else by the aristocracy ever since Homer's day; during the previous century, because of the rise of the Olympic Games, it had come to be regarded even by the common people as the highest pinnacle of human achievement. Tyrtaeus now adds other virtues admired by the old nobility. 'And were he more beautiful in face and body than Tithonus, and richer than Midas and Cinyras, and more kingly than Tantalus' son Pelops, and sweeter of tongue than Adrastus, I would not honour him for these things, even if he had every glory except warlike valour. For no one is a good man in war, unless he can bear to see bloody slaughter and can press hard on the enemy, standing face to face. That is areté!' cries Tyrtaeus in a transport of emotion, 'that is the best and fairest prize which a young man can win among men. That is a good which is common to all—to the city and the whole people—when a man takes his stand and holds his ground relentlessly among the foremost fighters and casts away all thought of shameful flight.' We must not call this 'late rhetoric'. Solon speaks in the same way. The origins of rhetorical style go far back into history. Tyrtaeus' excited repetitions are prompted by the deep emotion with which he asks his central question—what is true areté? The usual answers to that question are one by one rejected, in the powerful negations of the first ten or twelve lines; all the lofty ideals of the old Greek aristocracy are removed to a lower plane, although not wholly denied or superseded; and then, when the poet has raised his audience to a high pitch of excitement, he proclaims the severe new ideal of citizenship. There is only one standard of true areté—the common good of the polis. Whatever helps the community is good, whatever injures it is bad.

From this, he passes naturally to eulogies of the reward which a man wins by sacrificing himself for his country, whether he falls in battle or returns home triumphant. 'But he who falls among the foremost fighters and loses his dear life in winning glory for his city and his fellow-citizens and his father—his breast and his bossed shield and his breastplate pierced with many wounds in front—he is lamented by young and old together, and the whole city mourns for him in sad grief; and his tomb and his children are honoured among men, and his children's children likewise and his whole race after him; never is his name and fair fame destroyed, but though he lies beneath the earth he becomes immortal.' The glory of a Homeric hero, however widely it is disseminated by the wandering bard, is nothing to the glory of a simple Spartan warrior, as Tyrtaeus describes it, laid up for ever deep in the hearts of his people. The close community of the city-state, which seemed at the beginning of the poem to be only an obligation, now appears as a privilege and an honour: it is the source of all ideal values. The first part states the heroic ideal of areté in terms of the city-state. The second restates, in the same terms, the heroic ideal of glory. Areté and glory are inseparable in the epic. Glory is now to be given, and areté to be exercised, by and in the city-state. The polis lives when the individual dies; and so it is a safe guardian of the 'name' and, with it, of the future life of a hero.

The early Greeks did not believe in the immortality of the soul. A man was dead when his body died. What Homer calls the psyché is a reflection or wraith of the physical body, a shadow living in Hades, a nothing. But if a man crossed the frontiers of ordinary human existence and reached a higher life by sacrificing himself for his country, then the polis could give him immortality by perpetuating his ideal personality, his 'name'. This political idea of heroism became dominant with the rise of the city-state, and remained so throughout Greek history. Man as a political being reaches perfection by the perpetuation of his memory in the community for which he lived or died. It was only when the value of the state, and indeed of all earthly life, began to be questioned, and the value of the individual soul to be exalted—a process which culminated in Christianity—that philosophers came to preach the duty of despising fame. Even in the political thought of Demosthenes and Cicero there is no trace of this change; while Tyrtaeus' elegies represent the first stage in the development of city-state morality. It is the polis which guards and immortalizes the dead hero, and it is the polis which exalts the victorious warrior who returns alive. 'He is honoured by all, young and old together; his life brings him much happiness, and no one will offer him insult or injury. As he grows old, he is respected among the citizens, and wherever he goes all make way for him, both the youth and the elders.' This is not merely rhetoric. The early Greek city-state was small, but it had something truly heroic and truly human in its nature. Greece, and in fact all the ancient world, held the hero to be the highest type of humanity.
See also Robert D. Luginbill, "Tyrtaeus 12 West: Come Join the Spartan Army," Classical Quarterly 52 (2002) 405-414.

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