XXI. This tyrant, however, showed himself how happy he really was; for once, when Damocles, one of his flatterers, was dilating in conversation on his forces, his wealth, the greatness of his power, the plenty he enjoyed, the grandeur of his royal palaces, and maintaining that no one was ever happier, “Have you an inclination,” said he, “Damocles, as this kind of life pleases you, to have a taste of it yourself, and to make a trial of the good fortune that attends me?” And when he said that he should like it extremely, Dionysius ordered him to be laid on a bed of gold with the most beautiful covering, embroidered and wrought with the most exquisite work, and he dressed out a great many sideboards with silver and embossed gold. He then ordered some youths, distinguished for their handsome persons, to wait at his table, and to observe his nod, in order to serve him with what he wanted. There were ointments and garlands; perfumes were burned; tables provided with the most exquisite meats. Damocles thought himself very happy. In the midst of this apparatus, Dionysius ordered a bright sword to be let down from the ceiling, suspended by a single horse-hair, so as to hang over the head of that happy man. After which he neither cast his eye on those handsome waiters, nor on the well-wrought plate; nor touched any of the provisions: presently the garlands fell to pieces. At last he entreated the tyrant to give him leave to go, for that now he had no desire to be happy. Does not Dionysius, then, seem to have declared there can be no happiness for one who is under constant apprehensions? But it was not now in his power to return to justice, and restore his citizens their rights and privileges; for, by the indiscretion of youth, he had engaged in so many wrong steps and committed such extravagances, that, had he attempted to have returned to a right way of thinking, he must have endangered his life.

Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, Book V. Whether Virtue Alone Be Sufficient For a Happy Life, V.21. Translated by C. D. Yonge, 1877.

William Blake's 1794 "Holy Thursday". Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy F, object 38.

Holy Thursday

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak & bare,
And their ways are fill’d with thorns
It is eternal winter there.

For where-‘er the sun does shine,
And where-‘er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Oxford University Press, 1977.

O sun, you who heal all troubled sight,
you so content me by resolving doubts
it pleases me no less to question than to know.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XI 91-93. Translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. Random House, 2003.

 

O sol che sani ogne vista turbata,
tu mi contenti sì quando ti solvi,
che, non men che saver, dubbiar m’aggrata.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto XI 91-93.

Sanguk started to get nervous. “Perhaps this man has a statue hidden in his mind after all. What is he going to promise them and what is he going to demand from them?”

As he made his way to the patients’ area along with the rest of the staff at the appointed time for the patients’ gathering, Sanguk entertained endless doubts about the director’s sudden change in attitude. It was natural for a person to think at one time or another of having a statue.

Perhaps it is natural to have a statue hidden deep inside one’s head. Then it becomes a matter of how well one hides it. It’s a matter of how one resists the fantasy of a statue. More difficult is how one would go about tearing down this desire for a statue. The director couldn’t wait to deliver his inaugural speech but one couldn’t blame him for that. It didn’t matter what kind of promises he offered them. What was important was how closely his statue was related to what he intended to promise them and how wisely he would suppress his own impulses to reveal his wish to stand victoriously in front of the patients. What he wanted to promise should come after he was aware of his own ambitions. But Sanguk couldn’t trust him.

Yi Chong-jun, Your Paradise. Green Integer, 2004.

Trojans

Our efforts are those of men prone to disaster;
our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We just begin to get somewhere,
gain a little confidence,
grow almost bold and hopeful,

when something always comes up to stop us:
Achilles leaps out of the trench in front of us
and terrifies us with his violent shouting.

Our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We think we’ll change our luck
by being resolute and daring,
so we move outside ready to fight.

But when the great crisis comes,
our boldness and resolution vanish;
our spirit falters, paralyzed,
and we scurry around the walls
trying to save ourselves by running away.

Yet we’re sure to fail. Up there,
high on the walls, the dirge has already begun.
They’re mourning the memory, the aura of our days.
Priam and Hecuba mourn for us bitterly.

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.

 

Troianos

São nossos esforços, os dos infortunados;
são nossos esforços como os dos troianos.
conseguimos um pouco; um pouco
levantamos a cabeça; e começamos
a ter coragem e boas esperanças.

Mas sempre surge alguma coisa que nos pára.
Aquiles junto do fosso à nossa frente
surge e com grandes gritos assusta-nos. —

São nossos esforços como os dos troianos.
Cuidamos que mudaremos com resolução
e valor a contrariedade da sorte,
e estamos cá fora para lutar.

Mas quando vier o momento decisivo,
o nosso valor e a nossa resolução perdem-se;
a nossa alma fica alterada, paralisa;
e em redor das muralhas corremos
à procura de nos salvarmos pela fura.

Porém a nossa queda é certa. Em cima,
nas muralhas já começou o pranto.
Choram pelas memórias e os sentimentos dos nossos dias.
Amargamente choram por nós Príamo e Hécuba.

C.P. Cavafy, Poemas e Prosas. Tradução de Joaquim Manuel Magalhães e Nikos Pratsinis. Relógio de Água, 1994.

 

Τρώες

Είν’ η προσπάθειές μας, των συφοριασμένων·
είν’ η προσπάθειές μας σαν των Τρώων.
Κομμάτι κατορθώνουμε· κομμάτι
παίρνουμ’ επάνω μας· κι αρχίζουμε
νάχουμε θάρρος και καλές ελπίδες.

Μα πάντα κάτι βγαίνει και μας σταματά.
Ο Aχιλλεύς στην τάφρον εμπροστά μας
βγαίνει και με φωνές μεγάλες μάς τρομάζει.—

Είν’ η προσπάθειές μας σαν των Τρώων.
Θαρρούμε πως με απόφασι και τόλμη
θ’ αλλάξουμε της τύχης την καταφορά,
κ’ έξω στεκόμεθα ν’ αγωνισθούμε.

Aλλ’ όταν η μεγάλη κρίσις έλθει,
η τόλμη κι η απόφασίς μας χάνονται·
ταράττεται η ψυχή μας, παραλύει·
κι ολόγυρα απ’ τα τείχη τρέχουμε
ζητώντας να γλυτώσουμε με την φυγή.

Όμως η πτώσις μας είναι βεβαία. Επάνω,
στα τείχη, άρχισεν ήδη ο θρήνος.
Των ημερών μας αναμνήσεις κλαιν κ’ αισθήματα.
Πικρά για μας ο Πρίαμος κ’ η Εκάβη κλαίνε.

K.Π. Kαβάφη, τα Ποιήματα 1897-1933, Ίκαρος 1984.

You’ll come to when you lean your face over the nose will fall with it – that is know as death. You’ll come to angular rages and lonely romages among Beast of Day in hot glary circumstances made grit by the hour of the clock – that is know as Civilization. You’ll roll your feet together in the tense befuddles of ten thousand evenings in company in the parlor, in the pad – that is know as, ah, socializing. You’ll grow numb all over from inner paralytic thoughts, and bad chairs, – that is known as Solitude. You’ll inch along the ground on the day of your death and be pursued by the Editorial Cartoon Russian Bear with a knife, and in his bear hug he will poignard you in the reddy blood back to gleam in the pale Siberian sun – that is known as nightmares. You’ll look at a wall of blank flesh and fritter to explain yourself – that is know as Love. The flesh of your head will recede from the bone, leaving the bulldog Determination pointing thru the pique-jaw tremulo jaw bone point – in other words, you’ll slobber over your morning egg cup – that is known as old age, for which they have benefits. Bye and bye you’ll rise to the sun and propel your mean bones hard and sure to huge labors, and great steaming dinners, and spit your pits out, aching cocklove nights in cobweb moons, the mist of tired dust at evening, the corn, the silk, the moon, the rail – that is known as Maturity – but you’ll never be as happy as you are now in your quiltish innocent book-devouring boyhood immortal night.

Jack Kerouac. Doctor Sax. 1977.

"Fuga di Ulisse da Polifemo" / "Odysseus Escape from Polyphemus", Catania sea port area, Sicily, by AEC, 2015

So he declared. I poured him another fiery bowl—
three bowls I brimmed and three he drank to the last drop,
the fool, and then, when the wine was swirling round his brain, I approached my host with a cordial, winning word:
‘So, you ask me the name I’m known by, Cyclops?

I will tell you. But you must give me a guest-gift
as you’ve promised. Nobody—that’s my name. Nobody—
so my mother and father call me, all my friends.’

But he boomed back at me from his ruthless heart,
‘Nobody? I’ll eat Nobody last of all his friends—
I’ll eat the others first! That’s my gift to you!’

With that
he toppled over, sprawled full-length, flat on his back
and lay there, his massive neck slumping to one side,
and sleep that conquers all overwhelmed him now
as wine came spurting, flooding up from his gullet
with chunks of human flesh—he vomited, blind drunk.
Now, at last, I thrust our stake in a bed of embers
to get it red-hot and rallied all my comrades:
‘Courage—no panic, no one hang back now!’
And green as it was, just as the olive stake
was about to catch fire—the glow terrific, yes—
I dragged it from the flames, my men clustering round
as some god breathed enormous courage through us all.
Hoisting high that olive stake with its stabbing point,
straight into the monster’s eye they rammed it hard—
I drove my weight on it from above and bored it home
as a shipwright bores his beam with a shipwright’s drill
that men below, whipping the strap back and forth, whirl
and the drill keeps twisting faster, never stopping—
So we seized our stake with its fiery tip
and bored it round and round in the giant’s eye
till blood came boiling up around that smoking shaft
and the hot blast singed his brow and eyelids round the core
and the broiling eyeball burst—
its crackling roots blazed

and hissed—
as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax or adze
in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches steam
and its temper hardens—that’s the iron’s strength—
so the eye of the Cyclops sizzled round that stake!
He loosed a hideous roar, the rock walls echoed round
and we scuttled back in terror. The monster wrenched the spike
from his eye and out it came with a red geyser of blood—
he flung it aside with frantic hands, and mad with pain
he bellowed out for help from his neighbor Cyclops
living round about in caves on windswept crags.
Hearing his cries, they lumbered up from every side
and hulking round his cavern, asked what ailed him:
‘What, Polyphemus, what in the world’s the trouble?
Roaring out in the godsent night to rob us of our sleep.
Surely no one’s rustling your flocks against your will—
surely no one’s trying to kill you now by fraud or force!’

‘Nobody, friends’—Polyphemus bellowed back from his cave—
‘Nobody’s killing me now by fraud and not by force.’‘

‘If you’re alone,’ his friends boomed back at once,
‘and nobody’s trying to overpower you now—look,
it must be a plague sent here by mighty Zeus
and there’s no escape from that.
You’d better pray to your father, Lord Poseidon.’

They lumbered off, but laughter filled my heart
to think how nobody’s name—my great cunning stroke—
had duped them one and all. But the Cyclops there,
still groaning, racked with agony, groped around
for the huge slab, and heaving it from the doorway,
down he sat in the cave’s mouth, his arms spread wide,
hoping to catch a comrade stealing out with sheep—
such a blithering fool he took me for!
But I was already plotting …
what was the best way out? how could I find
escape from death for my crew, myself as well?
My wits kept weaving, weaving cunning schemes—
life at stake, monstrous death staring us in the face—
till this plan struck my mind as best. That flock,
those well-fed rams with their splendid thick fleece,
sturdy, handsome beasts sporting their dark weight of wool:

I lashed them abreast, quietly, twisting the willow-twigs
the Cyclops slept on—giant, lawless brute—I took them
three by three; each ram in the middle bore a man
while the two rams either side would shield him well.

So three beasts to bear each man, but as for myself?
There was one bellwether ram, the prize of all the flock,
and clutching him by his back, tucked up under
his shaggy belly, there I hung, face upward,
both hands locked in his marvelous deep fleece,
clinging for dear life, my spirit steeled, enduring …
So we held on, desperate, waiting Dawn’s first light.

As soon
as young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more
the rams went rumbling out of the cave toward pasture,
the ewes kept bleating round the pens, unmilked,
their udders about to burst. Their master now,
heaving in torment, felt the back of each animal
halting before him here, but the idiot never sensed
my men were trussed up under their thick fleecy ribs.
And last of them all came my great ram now, striding out,
weighed down with his dense wool and my deep plots.
Stroking him gently, powerful Polyphemus murmured,
‘Dear old ram, why last of the flock to quit the cave?
In the good old days you’d never lag behind the rest—
you with your long marching strides, first by far
of the flock to graze the fresh young grasses,
first by far to reach the rippling streams,
first to turn back home, keen for your fold
when night comes on—but now you’re last of all.
And why? Sick at heart for your master’s eye
that coward gouged out with his wicked crew?—
only after he’d stunned my wits with wine—
that, that Nobody …
who’s not escaped his death, I swear, not yet.
Oh if only you thought like me, had words like me
to tell me where that scoundrel is cringing from my rage!
I’d smash him against the ground, I’d spill his brains—
flooding across my cave—and that would ease my heart
of the pains that good-for-nothing Nobody made me suffer!’

Homer. Odyssey IX 360-460 (Robert Fagles translation).