Mimnermus 2, from the Ancient Greek

Mimnermus 2

We are like leaves born in the teeming spring,
basking in sunlight, swiftly burgeoning;1
like them, for an arm’s length2of time, we live
happy and young, and what the gods will give
we don’t suspect. Presences wrapped in gloom
are always near, one holding out the doom
of age, another, death. And youth won’t last;
its fruit, like one day’s-worth of sun, dies fast.
And when this season dwindles and is gone,
it’s better to be dead than to live on.….. ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. 10
For troubles swarm the heart: one man will drain
his house, and live in poverty and pain;
another man wants children most of all,
and, wanting them, goes down to Hades’ hall;
disease destroys a third. For Zeus the king
gives everyone a share of suffering.

Mimnermus 2
ἡμεῖς δ᾿, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
ἔαρος, ὅτ᾿ αἶψ᾿ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ᾿ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,
ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν
ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.
.
.

1 M may be thinking of Homer (Il. 6.146 ff.): “Like leaves that sprout in succession, the men of each new generation.”

2 One cubit, which stretched from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, about 1 ½ feet; cf. Psalm 39:5, “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.”
Chris Childers

Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.
Chris Childers

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Author: Chris Childers

Christopher Childers has poems, essays, and translations published or forthcoming at Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Parnassus, and elsewhere. He is at work on a translation of Latin and Greek Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics.