Monday, August 10, 2009


Samuel Johnson and Palladas

Lord Chesterfield, Letters to his Son, No. 100 (January 25, 1745):
But, to return now to your fifth form, from whence I have strayed, it may be, too long: Pray what do you do in that country? Be so kind as to give me a description of it. What Latin and Greek books do you read there? Are your exercises, exercises of invention? or do you still put the bad English of the Psalms into had Latin, and only change the shape of Latin verse, from long to short, and from short to long? People do not improve, singly, by travelling, but by the observations they make, and by keeping good company where they do travel. So, I hope, in your travels through the fifth form, you keep company with Horace and Cicero, among the Romans; and Homer and Xenophon, among the Greeks; and that you are got out of the worst company in the world, the Greek epigrams. Martial has wit, and is worth your looking into sometimes; but I recommend the Greek epigrams to your supreme contempt. Good night to you.
Samuel Johnson didn't consider the Greek epigrams "the worst company in the world" or worthy of his "supreme contempt." In a letter to Mrs. Thrale (August 19, 1784), he wrote:
As you do not now use your books, be pleased to let Mr. Cator know that I may borrow what I want. I think at present to take only Calmet, and the Greek Anthology. When I lay sleepless, I used to drive the night along by turning Greek epigrams into Latin.

I know not if I have not turned a hundred.
See also James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (A.D. 1784, aetat. 75):
During his sleepless nights he amused himself by translating into Latin verse, from the Greek, many of the epigrams in the Anthologia. These translations, with some other poems by him in Latin, he gave to his friend Mr. Langton, who, having added a few notes, sold them to the booksellers for a small sum, to be given to some of Johnson's relations, which was accordingly done; and they are printed in the collection of his works.
Similarly Arthur Murphy, An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., in George Birbeck Hill, ed., Johnsonian Miscellanies, vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1897), p. 445:
Eternity presented to his mind an aweful prospect, and, with as much virtue as perhaps ever is the lot of man, he shuddered at the thought of his dissolution. His friends awakened the comfortable reflection of a well-spent life; and, as his end drew near, they had the satisfaction of seeing him composed, and even chearful, insomuch that he was able, in the course of his restless nights, to make translations of Greek epigrams from the Anthologia; and to compose a Latin epitaph for his father, his mother, and his brother Nathaniel.
Johnson's translations from the Greek Anthology (nearly a hundred, as he estimated) can be found in Barry Baldwin, The Latin & Greek Poems of Samuel Johnson. Text, Translation and Commentary (London: Duckworth, 1995), pp. 198-263, and Niall Rudd, Samuel Johnson: The Latin Poems (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005), pp. 80-118.

Among Johnson's translations are some Latin versions of epigrams by Palladas, including these, with Niall Rudd's English translation (followed by the Greek and W.R. Paton's translation).

Greek Anthology 10.60:
Ditescis, credo, quid restat? quicquid habebis
  In tumulum tecum, morte jubente, trahes?
Divitias cumulas, pereuntes neglegis horas,
  Incrementa aevi non cumulare potes.

You are growing rich. So I believe. What of the future? Are you going to drag whatever you have into the tomb with you, when death gives the order? You are piling up your riches, unaware that your hours are dwindling. You can't pile up increasing quantities of life.

Πλουτεῖς· καὶ τί τὸ λοιπόν; ἀπερχόμενος μετὰ σαυτοῦ
  τὸν πλοῦτον σύρεις, εἰς σορὸν ἑλκόμενος;
τὸν πλοῦτον συνάγεις δαπανῶν χρόνον· οὐ δύνασαι δὲ
  ζωῆς σωρεῦσαι μέτρα περισσότερα.

You are wealthy. And what is the end of it? When you depart do you trail your riches after you as you are pulled to your tomb? You gather wealth spending time, but you cannot pile up a heavier measure of life.
Greek Anthology 10.72:
Vita omnis scena est ludusque; aut ludere disce
  Seria seponens, aut mala dura pati.

Life is all a stage and a play. Either learn to play, setting serious matters aside, or else to endure hard misfortunes.

σκηνὴ πᾶς ὁ βίος καὶ παίγνιον· ἢ μάθε παίζειν
  τὴν σπουδὴν μεταθεὶς, ἢ φέρε τὰς ὀδύνας.

All life is a stage and a play: either learn to play laying your gravity aside, or bear with life's pains.

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