Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Decline and Fall

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Alaric claimed that a "demon" drove him against Rome. Every exhausted civilization awaits its barbarian, and every barbarian awaits his demon.

Alaric disait qu'un «démon» le poussait contre Rome. Toute civilisation exténuée attend son barbare, et tout barbare attend son démon.
Socrates, Ecclesiastical History 7.10 (tr. A.C. Zenos):
It is said that as he was advancing towards Rome, a pious monk exhorted him not to delight in the perpetuation of such atrocities, and no longer to rejoice in slaughter and blood. To whom Alaric replied, "I am not going on in this course of my own will; but there is a something that irresistibly impels me daily, saying, 'Proceed to Rome, and desolate that city.'"

λέγεται δὲ ὡς ἀπιόντι αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τὴν Ῥώμην εὐλαβής τις ἀνὴρ, μοναχὸς τὸν βίον, παρῄνει, "μὴ ἐπιχαίρειν ἐν τηλικούτοις κακοῖς, μηδὲ χαίρειν φόνοις καὶ αἵμασιν." ὁ δὲ, "οὐκ ἐγὼ," ἔφη, "ἐθελοντὴς ἐπὶ τὰ ἐκεῖ πορεύομαι· ἀλλά τις καθ' ἑκάστην ὀχλεῖ μοι βασανίζων, καὶ λέγων, ἄπιθι, τὴν Ῥωμαίων πόρθησον πόλιν."


A Constitutional Right

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VIII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
The right to suppress everyone that bothers us should rank first in the constitution of the ideal State.

Le droit de supprimer tous ceux qui nous agacent devrait figurer en première place dans la constitution de la Cité idéale.


Odium Philosophicum

Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 1.8.27 (tr. H. Rackham):
Insult and abuse, or ill-tempered wrangling and bitter, obstinate controversy are beneath the dignity of philosophy.

maledicta, contumeliae, tum iracundae contentiones concertationesque in disputando pertinaces indignae philosophia mihi videri solent.


The Bibliotheca Latrina

James Duff Brown (1862-1914), The Small Library: A Guide to the Collection and Care of Books (London: George Routledge & Sons Limited, 1907), pp. 44-45:
[T]he Bibliotheca Latrina, as this department of the Household Library may be called, has a considerable claim to attention, and its furnishing with books should be undertaken along with the rest of the house. Considering the peculiar characteristics of the apartment in question, and the large amount of desultory reading which takes place in it, the books procured must necessarily be of a slight and unsustained kind. A capital class of book, eminently suitable for the purpose, will be found in small collections of anecdotes like Joe Miller, Chambers, Seton, Laird of Logan, and dozens of others which need not be named. Books of aphorisms, like MacNish or Smith's Tin Trumpet; short moral reflections, like those of La Rochefoucauld; or amusing works, like Beresford's Miseries of Human Life, (an admirable book which ought to be reprinted at once); and all short and pithy collections, such as proverbs, epigrams, etc., might with perfect propriety find a place in the Bibliotheca Latrina. In this, as in other departments of the Household Library, ultimate selection of books must be left to the individual tastes and preferences of householders; but the object of this paragraph will be gained if it succeeds in preventing the claims of the Bibliotheca Latrina from being entirely overlooked.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


A Dedication to Artemis

Dedication to Artemis Proseoia (dawn-facing Artemis), in the Artemisium district of Euboea, preserved by Plutarch, Life of Themistocles 8.3 (my translation):
Sons of the Athenians, having once in this part of the sea overpowered in a battle of ships races of all sorts of men from the country of Asia, set up these tokens for Maid Artemis after the host of the Medes perished.

παντοδαπῶν ἀνδρῶν γενεὰς Ἀσίας ἀπὸ χώρας
    παῖδες Ἀθηναίων τῷδέ ποτ᾿ ἐν πελάγει
ναυμαχίῃ δαμάσαντες, ἐπεὶ στρατὸς ὤλετο Μήδων
    σήματα ταῦτ᾿ ἔθεσαν παρθένῳ Ἀρτέμιδι.
Commentary in D.L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 236-238, who remarks (at 236-237):
The contents are remarkable. The Athenian fleet at Artemisium was indeed almost as large as that of all the other allies together (Hdt. 8.1; 127 ships out of 267), and the Athenians greatly distinguished themselves both in the first battle (Hdt. 8.11.2, an Athenian won the prize of valour, τὸ ἀριστήιον) and in the second (8.17, the Athenians ἠρίστευσαν); but it is remarkable that they should have claimed all the credit, to the exclusion of nine allied states, in a public inscription in an Euboean temple. Moreover the phrase ναυμαχίαι exaggerates greatly. The outcome of the two sea-battles at Artemisium was indecisive (Hdt. 8.11 and 16), and though it is understandable that the Greeks should claim to have had the better of either or both, the verb is much too strong, even if it takes account of the fortuitous destruction of two hundred Persian ships in a storm off south-west Euboea (Hdt. 8.13-14), remote from the fighting.

The editors appear to impute a vastly greater exaggeration by putting a comma after ἐπεὶ στρατὸς ὤλετο Μήδων, as if this clause referred backwards; but to say that 'the Persian host perished' at Artemisium would be a ridiculous untruth, hollow gasconade of a type alien to early inscriptions. The clause looks forward, 'they made these dedications after the destruction of the Persian army', i.e. after the final expulsion of the Persians from Hellas.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Unmanly versus Manly Complexions

Lucian, Anacharsis 25 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
You can imagine, I suppose, the consequence—what they are likely to be with arms in hand when even unarmed they would implant fear in the enemy. They show no white and ineffective corpulence or pallid leanness, as if they were women's bodies bleached out in the shade, quivering and streaming with profuse sweat at once and panting beneath the helmet, especially if the sun, as at present, blazes with the heat of noon. What use could one make of men like that, who get thirsty, who cannot stand dust, who break ranks the moment they catch sight of blood, who lie down and die before they get within a spear's cast and come to grips with the enemy?

But these young men of ours have a ruddy skin, coloured darker by the sun, and manly faces; they reveal great vitality, fire, and courage; they are aglow with such splendid condition; they are neither lean and emaciated nor so full-bodied as to be heavy, but symmetrical in their lines; they have sweated away the useless and superfluous part of their tissues, but what made for strength and elasticity is left upon them uncontaminated by what is worthless, and they maintain it vigorously.

Ἐννοεῖς γάρ, οἶμαι, τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο, οἵους εἰκὸς σὺν ὅπλοις ἔσεσθαι τοὺς καὶ γυμνοὺς ἂν φόβον τοῖς δυσμενέσιν ἐμποιήσαντας, οὐ πολυσαρκίαν ἀργὸν καὶ λευκὴν ἢ ἀσαρκίαν μετὰ ὠχρότητος ἐπιδεικνυμένους οἷα γυναικῶν σώματα ὑπὸ σκιᾷ μεμαρασμένα, τρέμοντα ἱδρῶτί τε πολλῷ εὐθὺς ῥεόμενα καὶ ἀσθμαίνοντα ὑπὸ τῷ κράνει, καὶ μάλιστα ἢν καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ὥσπερ νῦν τὸ μεσημβρινὸν ἐπιφλέγῃ. οἷς τί ἄν τις χρήσαιτο διψῶσι καὶ τὸν κονιορτὸν οὐκ ἀνεχομένοις καὶ εἰ αἷμα ἴδοιεν, εὐθὺς ταραττομένοις καὶ προαποθνήσκουσι πρὶν ἐντὸς βέλους γενέσθαι καὶ εἰς χεῖρας ἐλθεῖν τοῖς πολεμίοις;

Οὗτοι δὲ ἡμῖν ὑπέρυθροι εἰς τὸ μελάντερον ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου κεχρωσμένοι καὶ ἀρρενωποί, πολὺ τὸ ἔμψυχον καὶ θερμὸν καὶ ἀνδρῶδες ἐπιφαίνοντες, τοσαύτης εὐεξίας ἀπολάμποντες, οὔτε ῥικνοὶ καὶ κατεσκληκοτες οὔτε περιπληθεῖς εἰς βάρος, ἀλλὰ εἰς τὸ σύμμετρον περιγεγραμμένοι, τὸ μὲν ἀχρεῖον τῶν σαρκῶν καὶ περιττὸν τοῖς ἱδρῶσιν ἐξαναλωκότες, ὃ δὲ ἰσχὺν καὶ τόνον παρεῖχεν ἀμιγὲς τοῦ φαύλου περιλελειμμένον ἐρρωμένως φυλάττοντες.
Id. 29:
I should like to put side by side one of those white-skinned fellows who have lived in the shade and any one you might select of the athletes in the Lyceum, after I had washed off the mud and the dust, and to ask you which of the two you would pray to be like. I know that even without testing each to see what he could do, you would immediately choose on first sight to be firm and hard rather than delicate and mushy and white because your blood is scanty and withdraws to the interior of the body.

καὶ ἔγωγε ἡδέως ἂν παραστησάμενος πλησίον τῶν τε λευκῶν τινα ἐκείνων καὶ ὑπὸ σκιᾷ δεδιῃτημένων καὶ ὃν ἂν ἕλῃ τῶν ἐν τῷ Λυκείῳ γυμναζομένων, ἀποπλύνας τὴν κόνιν καὶ τὸν πηλόν, ἐροίμην ἄν σε ποτέρῳ ἂν ὅμοιος εὔξαιο γενέσθαι· οἶδα γὰρ ὡς αὐτίκα ἕλοιο ἂν ἐκ πρώτης προσόψεως, εἰ καὶ μὴ ἐπὶ τῶν ἔργων πειραθείης ἑκατέρου, συνεστηκὼς καὶ συγκεκροτημένος εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ θρύπτεσθαι καὶ διαρρεῖν καὶ λευκὸς εἶναι ἀπορίᾳ καὶ φυγῇ εἰς τὰ εἴσω τοῦ αἵματος.
Related posts:



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part VII (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
In one medieval exorcism, all the parts of the body, even the smallest, are listed from which the demon is ordered to depart: a kind of lunatic anatomy treatise, fascinating for its hypertrophy of precision, its profusion of unexpected details. A scrupulous incantation. Leave the nails! Fanatic but not without poetic effect. For authentic poetry has nothing in common with "poetry."

Dans un exorcisme du Moyen Age, on énumère toutes les parties du corps, même les moindres, que le démon est invité à quitter: on dirait un traité d'anatomie fou, qui séduit par l'excès de précision, la profusion de détails et l'inattendu. Une incantation minutieuse. Sors des ongles! C'est insensé mais non exempt d'effet poétique. Car la vraie poésie n'a rien de commun avec la «poésie».
Cf. Girolamo Menghi (1529-1609), Fustis Daemonum Adiurationes Formidabiles, et potentissimas ad malignos spiritus effugandos de oppressis corporibus humanis, complectens (1621), pp. 162-163:
Expelle, Domine Deus omnipotens, ab hac creatura tua N. omnia maleficia diaboli, omnesque incantationes, ligaturas, signaturas, facturas, & omne opus Satanae, & ministrorum eius, a capite, a capillis, a vertice, a cerebro, a paniculis cerebri, a fronte, ab oculis, a lingua, a sublingua, de auribus, de naribus, de collo, de maxillis, de dentibus, de gutture, de gingiuis, de ore, de palato, de ciliis, de superciliis, de pilis, de pedibus, de tibiis, de genibus, de cruribus, de partibus verecundis, de renibus, de lateribus, de intestinis superioribus, & inferioribus, de femore, de ventre, de stomacho, de corde, de spatulis, de humeris, de pectore, de vberibus, de brachiis, de manibus, de vnguibus, de ossibus, de neruis, de venis, de medullis, de pulmone, de compaginibus membrorum suorum, de omnibus iuncturis, de toto corpore suo intus, & extra, de quinque sensibus corporis, & animae: nullumque locum ipsa habeant intus, & foris amplius, vt sana & salua fiat per inuocationem sanctissimi nominis tui, & per inuocationem Spiritus sancti paraclyti.


Buying Books on a Modest Scale

A.N.L. Munby (1913-1974), Essays and Papers, ed. Nicolas Barker (London: The Scolar Press, 1977), p. 39:
Even if one buys on a modest scale — say, one book a day on an average — they fill room after room with the inevitability of the rising tide. I once visited a house in Blackheath after its owner had died. It was solid books. Shelves had been abandoned years before; in every room narrow lanes ran between books stacked from floor to ceiling, ninety per cent of them utterly inaccessible. In one of the bedrooms there was a narrow space two feet wide round the bed, and there the owner had died, almost entombed in print.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Men Unlike Us

Lucien Febvre (1878-1956), Life in Renaissance France, tr. Marian Rothstein (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 2 (footnote omitted):
Renaissance, Humanism, Reformation are not mere abstractions, personifications wandering over the heavens where the Chimera chases Transcendent Ideals. To understand these great changes we must recreate for ourselves the habits of mind of the people who brought them about.

Were those minds like our minds? I know that man's essential nature is unchanging through time and space. I know that old tune. But that is an assumption, and I might add, a worthless assumption for a historian. For him, as for the geographer, as we have had occasion to remark earlier, man does not exist, only men. His efforts are directed toward discerning the particular originality, the distinguishing marks, all that in which and by which those men differed from us, men who did not live or feel or behave as we do.
Id., p. 20:
Was man in the abstract the same? Possibly. I know nothing about him. He and the historian have little contact, for the historian is concerned with reality rather than abstractions. Concrete man, living man, man in flesh and blood living in the sixteenth century and modern man do not much resemble each other. He was a country man, a nomad, a rustic, and in all these we are far from him.
Id., p. 23:
These are the things we should try to remember when we wish to understand the "things of the sixteenth century." We must remember that we are all, like it or not, hothouse products; the man of the sixteenth century grew in the open air.
Id., p. 48:
Obviously the projection of the present, which has no special claim to eternity, into the past is not acceptable.
Id., p. 73:
We must banish the France of today from our minds.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


A Baneful Notion

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), "The Literary Influence of Academies" (discussing vagaries in spelling):
Some people will say these are little things; they are not; they are of bad example. They tend to spread the baneful notion that there is no such thing as a high, "correct" standard in intellectual matters; that every one may as well take his own way; they are at variance with the severe discipline necessary for all real culture; they confirm us in habits of wilfulness and eccentricity, which hurt our minds, and damage our credit with serious people.


Protest of the Month Club

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), "Protest of the Month Club," San Francisco Examiner (April 17, 1963):
Larry and Chris Handelin of San Francisco have launched a unique experiment — Protest of the Month. "Once each month," says their leaflet, "you'll be notified of a protest." They suggest that each following monthly protest be decided on the picket line of the ongoing protest, with notices sent out to all interested in joining the Protest of the Month Club.

What a splendid idea! Nuclear submarines, Cuban invasions, Jackie's taste in lipstick or cultural advisers, Jack's hairdo, Mac's Common Market, Charley's Common Market, Sedar-Senghor's Negritude, Nasser's Anti-Semitism, Ben Gurion's Semitism, Barry's Democracy, Gus Hall's Democracy, Senator Eastland's Democracy, Martin Luther King's Satyagraha, Malcolm X's Soul Force ... take a position ... grab a placard ... march up and down.

How do you feel about Birth Control? Women's Suffrage? Evolution? Edward Teller? Bishop Pike? Make your opinions known on the picket line. You haven't got any opinions? Fine! Join the picket line, any picket line. Placards free, tattered jeans, holey sneakers and false whiskers at a slight charge.

Whither are we drifting? Certainly past the point of diminishing returns.


Talking to Plants and Tree-Hugging

Dear Mike,

Talking to plants and tree-hugging in Aristophanes' Peace:

ὦ ποθεινὴ τοῖς δικαίοις καὶ γεωργοῖς ἡμέρα,
ἄσμενός σ᾽ ἰδὼν προσειπεῖν βούλομαι τὰς ἀμπέλους,
τάς τε συκᾶς, ἃς ἐγὼ 'φύτευον ὢν νεώτερος,
ἀσπάσασθαι θυμὸς ἡμῖν ἐστι πολλοστῷ χρόνῳ.

O day that gladdens the wishes of the just and of the husbandmen, how I delight to behold you, and long to salute the vines! and after the lapse of so long a time, I am impatient to embrace the fig-trees I planted in the days of my youth. (Sir Edwin Arnold, 1840)

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

Friday, February 17, 2017


Necessary Evils

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), Preface to Shakespeare:
Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the powers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the highest pleasure that the drama can give, read every play from the first scene to the last, with utter negligence of all his commentators. When his fancy is once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and obscurity, through integrity and corruption; let him preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and read the commentators.

Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the general effect of the work is weakened. The mind is refrigerated by interruption; the thoughts are diverted from the principal subject; the reader is weary, he suspects not why; and at last throws away the book, which he has too diligently studied.


Only Good News, Please

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), Decameron, introduction to the 1st day (Pampinea's instructions to the servants; tr. John Payne, rev. Charles S. Singleton):
And it is our will and command that all and several, as they hold our favor dear, take care that, whithersoever they go or whencesoever they return and whatsoever they hear or see, they bring us from without no news other than joyous.

E ciascun generalmente, per quanto egli avrà cara la nostra grazia, vogliamo e comandiamo che si guardi, dove che egli vada, onde che egli torni, che che egli oda o vegga, niuna novella altra che lieta ci rechi di fuori.



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), De l'inconvénient d'être né, part III (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Anything in folklore that remains alive comes from before Christianity. — The same is true of whatever is alive in each of us.

Tout ce qui est encore vivant dans le folklore vient d'avant le christianisme. Il en est de même de tout ce qui est vivant en chacun de nous.


A Moral Duty

A.N.L. Munby (1913-1974), Essays and Papers, ed. Nicolas Barker (London: The Scolar Press, 1977), p. 17:
I must confess to having had in the past slight qualms of conscience before spending a month's income on a book — now it becomes almost a moral duty, an act of selfless devotion.


A Scholar's Fantasy

London, British Museum Add. 12195, fol. 64v (15th century; tr. Peter Dronke):
Once there was a lady,
very rich and famous,

and she loved a lad,
a very handsome lad.

And he went into the chamber,
kissing his lady-love.

'Scholar, scholar, do you know—
what you must do now?

You've got to take me now
three times, in any way you like!'

When he had done his mistress' will,
the clerc began to weep.

'Quiet, quiet now, my clerc—
I want to pay you now.

I'll give you lots of daytime clothes,
some woollies and some shirts.'

The scholar became quiet at last,
because he liked this well.
The Latin:
Erat quedam domina
Valde dives et clara,

Et dilexit puerum,
Iuvenum pulcherimum,

Et intravit cameram
Osculando dominam—

'Scis tu, scis tu, clerice,
Quid tu debes facere?

Debes me supponere
Velud vis ter opere.'

Quando factum fuerat
Clericus ploraverat.

'Tace, tace, clerice,
Volo tibi solvere;

Dabo tibi tunicas,
Tractas et camisias.'

Clericus tunc tacuit,
Quia sibi placuit.
I think this is also in Bryan Gillingham, Secular Medieval Latin Song: An Anthology (Ottawa: The Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1993 = Musicological Studies 60/1), but the book is unavailable to me.

I tried to find an image of the manuscript page here, but there wasn't one.

Thursday, February 16, 2017



Wang An-Shih (1021-1086), "Reading History" (tr. David Hinton):
Renowned achievement's been bitter business from the beginning.
Who can you trust to tell the story of all you've done and not done?

Whatever happens is already murky enough, and full of distortion,
then small minds muddle the truth further and it's utter confusion:

they only hand down dregs. Their azure-green and cinnabar inks
can't capture the fresh kernel of things, the quintessential spirit,

and how could they fathom a lofty sage's thoughts, those mindless
sentinels guarding thousand-autumn dust on their pages of paper?



Herodotus 7.135 (on the Spartans Sperthias and Bulis; tr. A.D. Godley):
Worthy of all admiration was these men's deed of daring, and so also were their sayings which I here record. As they journeyed to Susa, they came to Hydarnes, a Persian, who was general of the sea-coast of Asia; he entertained and feasted them as guests, and as they sat at his board, "Lacedaemonians," he questioned them, "why do you shun the king's friendship? You can judge from what you see of me and my condition how well the king can honour men of worth. So might it be with you; would you but put yourselves in the king's hands, being as you are of proven worth in his eyes, every one of you might by his commission be a ruler of Hellas." To this the Spartans answered: "Your counsels to us, Hydarnes, are ill assorted; one half of them rests on knowledge, but the other on ignorance; you know well how to be a slave, but you have never tasted of freedom, to know whether it be sweet or not. Were you to taste of it, not with spears you would counsel us to fight for it, no, but with axes."

Αὕτη τε ἡ τόλμα τούτων τῶν ἀνδρῶν θώματος ἀξίη καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι τὰ ἔπεα. πορευόμενοι γὰρ ἐς Σοῦσα ἀπικνέονται παρὰ Ὑδάρνεα· ὁ δὲ Ὑδάρνης ἦν μὲν γένος Πέρσης, στρατηγὸς δὲ τῶν παραθαλασσίων ἀνθρώπων τῶν ἐν τῇ Ἀσίῃ· ὅς σφεας ξείνια προθέμενος ἱστία, ξεινίζων δὲ εἴρετο τάδε. "Ἄνδρες Λακεδαιμόνιοι, τί δὴ φεύγετε βασιλέι φίλοι γενέσθαι; ὁρᾶτε γὰρ ὡς ἐπίσταται βασιλεὺς ἄνδρας ἀγαθοὺς τιμᾶν, ἐς ἐμέ τε καὶ τὰ ἐμὰ πρήγματα ἀποβλέποντες. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ὑμεῖς εἰ δοίητε ὑμέας αὐτοὺς βασιλέι, δεδόξωσθε γὰρ πρὸς αὐτοῦ ἄνδρες εἶναι ἀγαθοί, ἕκαστος ἂν ὑμέων ἄρχοι γῆς Ἑλλάδος δόντος βασιλέος." πρὸς ταῦτα ὑπεκρίναντο τάδε. "Ὕδαρνες, οὐκ ἐξ ἴσου γίνεται ἡ συμβουλίη ἡ ἐς ἡμέας τείνουσα. τοῦ μὲν γὰρ πεπειρημένος συμβουλεύεις, τοῦ δὲ ἄπειρος ἐών· τὸ μὲν γὰρ δοῦλος εἶναι ἐξεπίστεαι, ἐλευθερίης δὲ οὔκω ἐπειρήθης, οὔτ᾿ εἰ ἔστι γλυκὺ οὔτ᾿ εἰ μή. εἰ γὰρ αὐτῆς πειρήσαιο, οὐκ ἂν δόρασι συμβουλεύοις ἡμῖν περὶ αὐτῆς μάχεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ πελέκεσι."


Mother Nature

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837), "Sopra in basso relievo antico sepocrale," lines 44-64 (tr. Jonathan Galassi):
Nature, mother feared and wept for
since the human family was born,        45
marvel that cannot be praised,
that bears and nurtures only to destroy,
if dying young brings mortals pain,
why let it come down
on these blameless heads?        50
And if good, then why is it unhappy,
why make this leaving inconsolable,
worse than any other woe,
for those who live, as well as those who go?

Unhappy everywhere they look,        55
wretched where they turn or run,
is this feeling race.
You chose that life should disappoint
the hope of youth,
that the wave of years be full of pain,        60
with death our only
shield from suffering;
and this inevitable end, this changeless law,
you established for the human journey.

Madre temuta e pianta
Dal nascer già dell'animal famiglia,        45
Natura, illaudabil maraviglia,
Che per uccider partorisci e nutri,
Se danno è del mortale
Immaturo perir, come il consenti
In quei capi innocenti?        50
Se ben, perchè funesta,
Perchè sovra ogni male,
A chi si parte, a chi rimane in vita,
Inconsolabil fai tal dipartita?

Misera ovunque miri,        55
Misera onde si volga, ove ricorra,
Questa sensibil prole!
Piacqueti che delusa
Fosse ancor dalla vita
La speme giovanil; piena d'affanni        60
L'onda degli anni; ai mali unico schermo
La morte; e questa inevitabil segno,
Questa, immutata legge
Ponesti all'uman corso.
The same (tr. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth):
Mother, bewailed and feared
Since first thy creature-kind was born till now,        45
Nature, uncommendable monster, thou
Who bringest forth and nurturest but to kill,
If evil it be to die
Untimely, wherefore should these innocent
So perish, and thou consent?        50
If good, why makest thou
So lamentable, why
So far beyond all comfort such a death
Both to the dying and those who still draw breath?

Wretched in all its aims,        55
Wretched in all it seeks, in all it shuns,
Is this quick-feeling race!
It pleased thee that the hope
Man cherishes in youth
Should be belied by age; that brimmed with woe        60
His years should flow; from ills his only shield
Be death; ay, this the inevitable end,
This the unchanging law
Imposed on his career.
The same (tr. R.C. Trevelyan):
Mother, feared and bewailed
Since we thy offspring first to life were born,        45
Nature, thou wondrous power whom none can praise,
Who engenderest and nurturest but to kill,
If evil it be for mortals
To die untimely, why on these innocent heads
Suffer this woe to fall?        50
If it be good, why make
This parting such a sorrow,
So unconsolable beyond all evils
To those who depart from life and those who stay?

Wretched where'er it gazes,        55
Wretched where'er it turns or seeks for refuge,
Is man's too sensitive race.
It has pleased thee that youth's
Fond hopes should be deceived
By life's experience; that filled with miseries        60
Our years should flow; our one defence from evils
Should be death: this the inevitable limit,
The unalterable law
Thou hast ordained for man's career.
Id., lines 107-109 (tr. Galassi):
But Nature in her actions is concerned
with something else besides our pain or joy.

                           Ma da natura
Altro negli atti suoi
Che nostro male o nostro ben si cura.
The same (tr. Bickersteth):
                           But for our woe
Or for our weal no care
Hath Nature, bent on ends that none can know.
The same (tr. Trevelyan):
                           But in her works
Nature is ever busied
With cares far other than for our weal or woe.


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