the vanity oh human wishes

My child, Zeus the deep-thundering holds the ends of all
actions in his own hands, disposes as he will
of everything. We who are human have no minds,
but live, from day to day, like beasts and nothing know
of what God plans to make happen to each of us.
But hope and self-persuasion keep us all alive
in our unprofitable desires. Some watch the day
for what it brings, and some the turn of years, and none
so downcast he will not believe that time to come
will make him virtuous, rich, all his heart’s desire.
But other things begin to happen first; old age,
which no one wants, gets one before he makes his goal.
Painful diseases wear down some; others are killed in battle,
and death takes them under the dark earth.
Some, battered in the sudden hurricane on the sea,
where waves crowd big across the blue salt water, drown
and die, when all they looked for was some way to live.
Some loop (a dismal way to die) the noose around
their necks and go self-murdered from the sunlight. Thus
no evil thing is missing. In their thousands stand
bad spirits, and innumerable griefs, and pains
about our life. If men would take advice from me,
we should not long for what is really bad, nor buy
our heart’s own torment for our hard work done in vain.

Semonides

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on friends lost at sea

Blaming the bitterness of this sorrow, Perikles, no man
in all our city can take pleasure in festivities:
Such were the men the surf of the roaring sea washed under,
all of us go with hearts aching against our ribs
for misery. Yet against such grief that is past recovery
the gods, dear friend, have given us strong endurance to be our medicine.
Such sorrows are variable. They beat now
against ourselves, and we take the hurt of the bleeding sore.
Tomorrow it will be others who grieve, not we. From now on
act like a man, and put away these feminine tears.

Archilochus

eugenics

Kyrnos, when we are breeding stock,
we look for the best in horses, donkeys, or rams for stud,
to get a good strain; yet even the finest man
is willing to marry a rascal’s rascally daughter,
if only she brings him money enough.

Theognis

Charon the Smith

Nothing to me the life of Gyges and his glut
of gold. I neither envy nor admire him, as
I watch his life and what he does. I want no pride
of tyranny; it lies far off from where I look.

Archilochus

the ten ages of man

A child in his infancy grows his first set of teeth and loses them
within seven years. For so long he counts as only a child.
When God has brought to accomplishment the next seven-year period,
one shows upon his body the signs of maturing youth.
In the third period he is still getting his growth, while on his chin
the beard comes, to show he is turning from youth to a man.
The fourth seven years are the time when every man reaches his highest
point of physical strength where men look for prowess achieved.
In the fifth period the time is ripe for a young man
to think of marriage and children, a family to be raised.
The mind of a man comes to full maturity in the sixth period,
but he cannot now do as much, nor does he wish that he could.
In the seventh period of seven years and in the eighth also
for fourteen years in all, his speech is best in his life.
He can still do much in his ninth period, but there is a weakening
seen in his ability both to think and to speak.
But if he completes ten ages of seven years each, full measure,
death, when it comes, can no longer be said to come too soon.

Solon

flowers for heliodora

White, white violets
with myrtle and tender narcissus;
I shall weave laughing lilies
and soft crocus and purple hyacinths
with roses, flowers of lovers.
I shall come to decorate her brow
and brighten her perfumed hair
in a fine rain of flowers.

Meleagros

like an old champion

Even now Eros looks at me with tenderness
from under dark eyelids, and casts me spellbound
into Aphrodite’s nets where I lie caught
inextricably,

for I swear his mere approach makes me tremble
like an old champion chariot horse, as he
draws a swift cart unwillingly to the race.

Ibykos