Thursday, January 02, 2020


The Envy of the Gods

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), Zibaldone, tr. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), p. 257 (Z 453-455):
The idea that the ancients had about the happiness (and therefore the unhappiness) of man in this life, about his glory, his exploits, and the way in which all seemed solid and real to him, [454] can also be inferred from the following: that they believed the Gods themselves envied man's great happiness and exploits, and they therefore feared their envy, and it was their task in such cases "deprecari" [to avert] divine envy, so that a small harm was deemed good fortune, and they even sought it out themselves (if I remember right) in order to appease the Gods, and mitigate their envy. "Deos immortales precatus est, ut, si quis eorum invideret operibus ac fortunae suae, in ipsum potius saevirent, quam in remp." ["He prayed to the immortal gods that, if any of them should envy his achievements and his fortune, they should rather vent their rage against himself than against the state"]. Velleius, bk. 1, ch. 10, in relation to Aemilius Paullus. And this is what happened, as two of his sons died, one four days before his triumph and the other three days afterward. And see here the Variorum notes. See also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, bk. 12, chs. 20 and 23, Milan ed., and the note by Mai in ch. 20. See as well these thoughts p. 197, end. Indeed, the ancients regarded the affairs of this world as being so important that they attributed no other motives than our own to the desires or the actions of the Gods, they regarded the Gods as being in communion with our life and our goods, and therefore thought they were jealous of our happiness and our exploits, just like our fellow humans, [455] not doubting themselves to be worthy of the envy of the immortals. (23 Dec. 1820.)

Quale idea avessero gli antichi della felicità (e quindi dell'infelicità) dell'uomo in questa vita, della sua gloria, delle sue imprese; e come tutto ciò paresse loro solido e reale, [454] si può arguire anche da questo, che delle grandi felicità ed imprese umane, ne credevano invidiosi gli stessi Dei, e temevano perciò l'invidia loro, ed era lor cura in tali casi deprecari la divina invidia, in maniera che stimavano anche fortuna, e (se ben mi ricordo) si proccuravano espressamente qualche leggero male, per dare soddisfazione agli Dei, e mitigare l'invidia loro. Deos immortales precatus est, ut, si quis eorum invideret OPERIBUS ac fortunae suae, in ipsum potius saevirent, quam in remp. Velleio l. I. c.10, di Paolo Emilio. E così avvenne essendogli morti due figli, l'uno 4 giorni avanti il suo trionfo, e l'altro 3 giorni dopo esso trionfo. E v. quivi le note Variorum. Vedi pure Dionigi Alicarnasseo l. 12 c. 20. e 23. ediz. di Milano, e la nota del Mai al c. 20. V. ancora questi pensieri p. 197. fine. Così importanti stimavano gli antichi le cose nostre, che non davano ai desideri divini, o alle divine operazioni altri fini che i nostri, mettevano i Dei in comunione della nostra vita e de' nostri beni, e quindi gli stimavano gelosi delle nostre felicità ed imprese, come i nostri simili, [455] non dubitando ch'elle non fossero degne della invidia degl'immortali. (23. Dic. 1820.).

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