Theognis



Elegies

I donít please all the men of Megara So what; not even Zeus is praised by all, Whether he holds his rain or lets it fall.

These things I tell you, Kurnos, for your good: I learned them, as a boy, from gentlemen; Rule one: no honor, prize, or cash reward Can justify a base or crooked act. The second rule: avoid Ďlowí company, Mix only with the better sort of men. Drink with these men, and eat, and sit with them, And court them, for their power is great; from them You will learn goodness. Men of little worth Will spoil the natural virtue of your birth. Do this and youíll acknowledge, in the end, Theognis gave good counsel to his friend.

Gentlemen never yet destroyed a town; But when the scum resort to violence, Seduce the masses and corrupt the courts To line their pockets and increase their power, Then, Kurnos, you may know this tranquil town Cannot remain unshaken very long. When wicked men rejoice in public graft Then public evils follow; factions rise, Then bloody civil war, until the state Welcomes a Tsar. God save us from that fate!

Donít even share your thoughts with all your friends; Of all their number, few deserve your trust.

To save yourself much pain: the bigger your plans The smaller the group of friends should share in them.

In troubled times a faithful man is worth his weight in silver, and in gold.

Polypaides, few of those friends of yours Will still be friends of yours if hard times come. And blessed few have guts enough to share Your poverty as now they share your wealth.

Ransack mankind, my friend, and find all those With honor Ė the sense of shame Ė still in their eyes And on their tongues, who never could be bought For any price: one boat would hold the lot. Donít ever choose a rascal for a friend, Kurnos. What use is friendship with the low? If youíre in trouble, failing, he wonít help And if he prospers, he wonít share with you.

Only a fool does favors for the base; Youíd do as well to sow the gray salt sea. No crop of corn would come up from the deep, No gratitude, no favors from the base. The scum are never sated. If you slip, Just once, their former friendship melts away. But put a gentleman once in your debt, You have a friend for life; he wonít forget.

Smart men arenít often fooled by phony coins And when they are, the loss is bearable; But, Kurnos, when a man deceives his friend And carries in his breast a cunning heart, That is the basest thing that God has made, The hardest counterfeit to recognize. The mind of a man or woman canít be known Until itís seen in harness, like a horse; You cannot guess the value of the goods By close examination: looks deceive.

Donít pray for outstanding wealth or excellence; the one great thing for man is luck.

There is no man who knows at heart If in the end he works for good or bad. Often he thinks heíll fail, and then he wins, Often expects to win Ė and then he fails. No one gets all he wants; all men stop short, Checked by the boundaries of the possible. We think our thoughts in vain, all ignorant, The gods do everything just as they want.

Zeus tilts his balance this way, then that one moment youíre a rich man, the next youíre not

Donít talk too big in public, Kurnos; who knows what the coming night or day might bring?

Many a stupid man has striking luck And turns apparent failure to success; Many a brilliant man, whose luck is bad, Labours through all his life with no reward.

The lucky man is honored by the gods And by his critics with their envious blame, But earnest striving wins no praise at all.

For each new situation, change your style, Adjust your patter, modify your smile: Consistencyís inferior to guile.

Whoever thinks his neighbor does not know Anything, and that he himself alone Plans subtly, is a fool and his good brain Is sick. We can all think of crafty plans, But this man will not stoop to crookedness, While that one loves duplicity and guile.

A man who is acropolis and tower To an empty-headed crowd wins little fame Or honor for his excellence.

We must not act as men who have escaped Disaster, but as men who know Their city certainly will be destroyed.

The loveliest thing is justice, and the best is health; the happiest thing: to win oneís love.

For the base man The easiest wayís to snatch whatís close at hand And to imagine all will turn out well.

The lion does not always dine on meat, sometimes, strong as he is, he finds no prey.

Now ways thought bad by good men have become Excellent ways to these bad men who rule With novel laws which wander from the road; The sense of shame has died, and violence And wrong have conquered right, and rule the world.

Be sweet, then bitter, kind, then harsh to slaves, to servants, and to neighbors at your door.

Match your mood to those you meet.

Bad men are often rich, and good men poor. But we would not exchange our virtue for Their wealth. Our virtue always secure, While money goes to this one, then to that.

A good man keeps his character In bad times and in good; but if the God Gives money and good life to a bad man The fool cannot hold back his evilness.

Not too much zeal! The middle way is best; there, Kurnos, youíll find good, so hard to get.

Have courage now in bad times, as you had delight when fortune favored you.

Too much display of misery will bring few comforters.

I cannot understand these citizens: I cannot please them, whether I do good or harm.

Zeus, how can your mind Bear to see criminals and honest men Both thoughtful men whose minds are moderate, And sinful weaklings Ė share the selfsame fate?

The wicked men have carefree wealth, while they Who keep their hearts from evil, nonetheless Get poverty, the mother of impotence For all their love of justice. Poverty Leads many a man to crime; necessity Corrupts his thinking and he learns to bear, Unwillingly, much shame. He yields to want, The teacher of all evil, cheating, lies, And deadly quarrels; though the man resists, Unfitted for wrongdoing, still he yields: Thus poverty gives birth to impotence.

In poverty, when want is pressing hard The base man and his better can be known For what they are: the just man still is just, His upright mind unchanged; the otherís lost The power of choosing either good or bad.

Not too much zeal! Appropriateness is best In every human act. Often a man Pursuing wealth is eager to excel; And all the while his daimon leads him on Into a great confusion, so he thinks Whatís bad is good, and what is useful, bad.

You cannot leave a treasure to your sons More precious than the sense of shame Which comes as the companion of good men.

No man seems better for a friend, than one who has good sense and also power.

I perceive much that passes by, but keep silence; I must, knowing my lack of power.

(421) For man the best thing is never to be born, Never to look upon the hot sunís rays, Next best, to speed at once through Hadesí gates And lie beneath the piled-up heap of earth

Itís easier to get and to raise a child Than to put character in him. No one Has ever found a way to make a fool Wise or a bad man goodÖ.And if good sense Could be man-made and planted in a child, Good fathers, giving sensible advice, Would never have bad sons. I wish it could, But teaching cannot make a bad man good.

No one is lucky in all things; Good men endure bad luck without complaint, The common man cannot control himself In good times or in bad. All sorts of gifts Come to us mortals from the gods; we must Endure, whatever sorts of gifts they give.

A young wife is no prize for an old man. Sheís like a ship whose rudder does not work; Her anchors never hold. At night she breaks Her moorings, and drifts to another port.

Donít fix your mind on things that canít be done; donít long for that which never will be yours.

Spend time on excellence and love the right, and donít let shameful profit master you.

The past is finished, and canít be undone, care for the future should be our concern.

Itís easy to blame your neighbors and To praise yourself; the masses do a lot of this; Gossiping, slandering, they wonít shut up But gentlemen keep measure in all things.

Often the unplanned works of man succeed beyond all hope, while all their planning fails.

Good may come from bad, And bad from good. The pauper, suddenly, May become rich, and he who has great wealth May in one night lose everything he had. The wise man errs, and fame comes to the fool; And though heís worthless, honor is his fate.

Excess has ruined many a foolish man; when goods appear itís hard to be moderate.

He who has countless gold and silver, fields Of ocrn-land, mules and horses is no more Rich than the man who has just what he needs, Comforts of belly and chest and feet, delight From a boy or woman. When the time is right And youth brings fitting pleasures, that is wealth For mortals. No one takes his great estate Down to the house of Hades when he goes; No one can pay a ransom and escape Death, grim disease, or the sad approach of age. (not Theognis)

As things are, bad men escape, and others bear the brunt.

And this, king of the gods: how is it just That he who keeps himself from unjust acts And never violates a law or oath, This just man finds no justice from the gods?

What other mortal, looking on this man, Learns honor for the gods? How should he feel Seeing the wicked, reckless man who has No fear of god or man, glutted with gold Won violently, while honorable men Wear out their lives in wretched poverty?

Learn, teach, compose Ė what good is knowledge if just one man knows?

No one on earth can go uncritized, but donít be too much noticed; that is best.

No one has ever lived or yet will live to please all men he meets before he dies.

There is no escape at all from fate what is my fate to suffer, I do not fear.

The violence of men, vile greed and pride have thrown us from our good luck into bad.

There is no gratitude in common men.

If any friend of mine sees me distressed He turns his head away and doesnít see, But if I have a bit of rare good luck, Dozens of hugs and kisses fall on me.

Someone is better, someone worse in each pursuit; but no one is good at everything.

Lend to a low-born man and you will get two blows, the loss of money and no thanks.

Donít praise a man till you can clearly see The rhythm of his ways, his character. Many a cheat will put on a disguise, And have a pleasing manner for the day, But time will show the nature of the man.

A man must prove by action, that heís good.

[1029] Donít make your pain the worse by worrying about what canít be done.

[1217] Letís never laugh, enjoying our good luck, When we sit next to one who grieves.

Itís hard to fool an enemy but easy for a friend to cheat his friend.

[1367] Thereís gratitude in boys. A woman loves her current man; no loyaltyís in her.

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