Thursday, April 11, 2024


The Worst Life Is Better Than Death

Homer, Odyssey 11.488-491 (Achilles speaking; tr. Richmond Lattimore):
O shining Odysseus, never try to console me for dying.
I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another
man, one with no land allotted him and not much to live on,
than be a king over all the perished dead.

μὴ δή μοι θάνατόν γε παραύδα, φαίδιμ᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ.
βουλοίμην κ᾽ ἐπάρουρος ἐὼν θητευέμεν ἄλλῳ,
ἀνδρὶ παρ᾽ ἀκλήρῳ, ᾧ μὴ βίοτος πολὺς εἴη,        490
ἢ πᾶσιν νεκύεσσι καταφθιμένοισιν ἀνάσσειν.
W.B. Stanford ad loc.:
The θῆτες (cp. 4, 644), though they had personal freedom, often lived less comfortably, and always more precariously, than the δμῶες who were fed and housed by their masters. A θής on a poor estate was particularly hard-worked and pitiable, being often cheated by the land-owner (cp. Il. 21, 444 ff.; Keller, H.S. pp. 84-5 ; Nilsson, H.M. p. 244). Hesiod (Works 602) recommends farmers to drive them out as soon as the harvest is over. Note in this passage the typical early Greeks' attitude to existence after death. Its shadowy impotence appalled them, for they loved vigour, action, personality and the sunshine. Contrast Milton's Satan — 'Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven'. The recurrent melancholy of all Greek literature is mainly due to this abhorrence of losing one's vital physical powers after death. The Mystery Religions and some philosophies tried to dispel it. But it met no decisive challenge till St. Paul on the Areopagus proclaimed the Resurrection of the Body (Acts 17, 32). In 489 ἐπάρουρος is ἅπαξ εἰρημένον and is best taken = ἐπὶ γῆς = 'on earth' (cp. ἄχθος ἀρούρης) as distinct from νέρθεν γῆς in 302; but L.-S.-J. and others render it as 'attached to the soil, as a serf '.
Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos s.v. ἐπάρουρος:

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