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THEOGNIS of Megara

Easy friends

Never engage with a poltroon or craven
Avoid him, Kurnus, as a treach'rous haven!
These friends and hearty comrades, as you think,
(Ready to join you, when you feast and drink),
These easy friends from difficulty shrink.

For a shrewd intellect, the best employ
Is to detect a soul of base alloy;
No task is harder nor imports so much;
Silver or gold, you prove it by the touch;
You separate the pure, discard the dross,
And disregard the labour and the loss:
But a friend's heart, base and adulterate
A friendly surface with a core of hate!
Of all the frauds with which the Fates have cursed
Our simple easy nature-is the worst:
Beyond the rest ruinous in effect;
And of all others hardest to detect:
For men's and women's hearts you cannot try
Beforehand, like the cattle that you buy.
Nor human wit nor reason, when you treat
For such a purpose, can escape deceit:
Fancy betrays us, and assists the cheat

Gaat het mij goed, talloos zijn mijn vrinden;

Overkomt mij onheil: waar zal ik ze vinden?

Bij een drinkgelag zijn ze allen daar;

Treft u onheil: zoek ze maar.

An Avenger For The State

Our state is pregnant; shortly to produce
A rude avenger of prolong'd abuse.
The commons hitherto seem sober-minded,
But their superiors are corrupt and blinded.
The rule of noble spirits, brave and high,
Never endanger'd peace and harmony.
The supercilious, arrogant pretence
Of feeble minds; weakness and insolence;
Justice and truth and law wrested aside
By crafty shifts of avarice and pride;
These are our ruins, Kurnus!-never dream
(Tranquil and undisturb'd as it may seem)
Of future peace or safety to the state;
Bloodshed and strife will follow soon or late.
Never imagine that a ruin'd land
Will trust her destiny to your command,
To be remodell'd by a single hand.

Angry Words

Rash, angry words, and spoken out of season,
When passion has usurp'd the throne of reason,
Have ruin'd many. Passion is unjust,
And for an idle, transitory gust
Of gratified revenge, dooms us to pay
With long repentence at a later day.

On Inborn Traits

To rear a child is easy, but to teach
Morals and manners is beyond our reach;
To make the foolish wise, the wicked good,
That science yet was never understood.
The sons of Esculapius, if their art
Could remedy a perverse and wicked heart,
Might earn enormous wages! But in fact
The mind is not compounded and compact
Of precept and example; human art
In human nature has no share or part.
Hatred of vice, the fear of shame and sin,
Are things of native growth, not grafted in:
Else wives and worthy parents might correct
In children's hearts each error and defect:
Whereas we see them disappointed still,
No scheme nor artifice of human skill
Can rectify the passions or the will.


No costly sacrifice nor offerings given
Can change the purpose of the powers of Heaven;
Whatever Fate ordains, danger or hurt,
Or death predestined, nothing can avert.

We struggle onward, ignorant and blind,

For a result unknown and undesign’d;

Avoiding seeming ills, misunderstood

Embracing evil as a seeming good.

Translation : J. BANKS

To all to whom there is pleasure in song and to people yet unborn

You also will be a song, while the earth and sun remain,

Yet I am treated by you without even the least mark of respect

And, as if I were a child, you have deceived me with words.

Best of all for mortal beings is never to have been born at all

Nor ever to have set eyes on the bright light of the sun

But, since he is born, a man should make utmost haste through the gates of Death

And then repose, the earth piled into a mound round himself.

Het beste lot voor ’t mensenkind

is nooit te zijn geboren

en nooit het zonnelicht te zien.

Maar is men toch op aard, dan is het best

vlug door Hades’ poort te gaan

en eeuwig te rusten in de schoot der aarde

met heel veel grond belaân

Vertaling: H. VERBRUGGEN

I have given thee wings to fly with ease aloft the boundless sea and all the land. No meal or feast but thou'lt be there, couched 'twixt the lips of many a guest, and lovely youths shall sing thee clear and well in orderly wise to the clear-voiced flute. And when thou comest to go down to the lamentable house of Hades in the depths of the gloomy earth, never, albeit thou be dead, shalt thou lose thy fame, but men will think of thee as one of immortal name, Cyrnus, who rangeth the land of Greece and the isles thereof —crossing the fishy unharvestable deep not upon horseback mounted but sped of the glorious gifts of the violet-crownad Muses unto all that care to receive thee; and living as they thou shalt be a song unto posterity so long as Earth and Sun abide. Yet as for me, thou hast no respect for me, great or small, but deceivest me with words as if I were a little child.


Translation: J.M. EDMONDS

A Seaman’s Sorrow

I heard the sharp cry of the bird, O son of Polypas,

Who came to men with the message to plow

In good season, and it wounded my heart black

That others own my flowering lands,

And not for me are mules dragging the curved plow,

Now, in my exile, on the wretched sea

Translation : Willis BARNSTONE


Ik hoorde de scherpe kreet van de kraanvogels, zoon van Polypas,

die de landman riepen dat de zaaitijd kwam.

Droef en somber werd mij toen het hart,

want vreemden ploegen nu mijn land, dat zoveel bloemen biedt,

en de lastdieren, die nu het kromme ploeghout trekken door de voren, ken ik niet,

want ver over zee dreven mij mijn vijanden.

Vertaling : H. VERBRUGGEN