Saturday, July 11, 2020


Creatures of a Day

Pindar, Pythian Odes 8.95-97 (tr. Anthony Verity):
Creatures of a day! What is man? What is he not?
He is the dream of a shadow; yet when Zeus-sent brightness comes
a brilliant light shines upon mankind and their life is serene.

ἐπάμεροι· τί δέ τις; τί δ᾿ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ
ἄνθρωπος. ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν αἴγλα διόσδοτος ἔλθῃ,
λαμπρὸν φέγγος ἔπεστιν ἀνδρῶν καὶ μείλιχος αἰών.

96 ἄνθρωπος (e schol. ad Nem. 6.4) Boeckh: ἄνθρωποι codd.
97 φέγγος ἔπεστιν Heyne: ἔπεστι φέγγος codd.
August Boeckh's Latin translation:
Diem unum viventes! quid tandem est quis? quid non quis? Umbrae somnium homo. Sed quando splendor ab Iove datus venit, fulgens lumen adest hominibus et suavis vita.
C.M. Bowra, Pindar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954), p. 98:
This αἴγλα διόσδοτος is the highest point in human experience. It can be found in action and in song, in glory and in friendship, in the warmth of generosity and the confidence of controlled power. Men are indeed at the mercy of the gods, but they are often enough merciful, and when they send something of their own radiance to men, then life is transfigured and breaks away from its narrow, temporal limitations. This is the conclusion to which Pindar's long meditations on the relations of gods and men led him, and it is his final answer to his misgivings about the uncertainty and the brevity of the human state.
Hermann Fränkel, Early Greek Poetry and Philosophy, tr. Moses Hadas and James Willis (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), p. 500:
The epode begins abruptly with the word which contains the essence of that view of human nature: 'creatures of the day'. As the day changes, so do we change; we are not really anything, since there is nothing into which we cannot at some time be changed: 'What is man, and what is he not?' Since we have no firm and enduring substance, we are dreaming shadows in a dreamer's mind.16 This is expressed by Pindar in a verse which for weight and brevity has no rival even in his poetry. He then comforts his hearers again by swinging back to the brilliant fortune and delightful existence which a favorable day sent by the gods can bring to us—such a day as that which has now dawned for the young Aristomenes and the people of Aegina.17

16 The conclusion that anything liable to change was unreal was developed to its ultimate consequences by Pindar's contemporary Panncnides. In his philosophy phenomena (and men along with them) are no more than phantoms (see above p. 353ff.).

17 Pindar will not bear of any other consolation for the basic nothingness of man except that pride and rejoicing are very pleasant while they last. He does not seek to interfere with extremities of joy and sorrow, unlike Archilochus, who in the fragment cited above (n. 13) urges that they should be moderated (fr. 67): 'Do not rejoice nor be cast down too much.'
Fränkel understood ἐπάμεροι (i.e. ἐφήμεροι) to mean "subject to the (changing) day, variable." See also his article "Man's 'Ephemeros' Nature According to Pindar and Others," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 77 (1946) 131-145. For a defence of the traditional meaning "short-lived," see Matthew W. Dickie, "On the Meaning of ἐφήμερος," Illinois Classical Studies 1 (1976) 7-14.

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