The faint gifts of Aphrodite

Joseph Severn, "Ophelia" (1831)

But what life would there be, what joy, without golden Aphrodite? May I die when I be no more concerned with secret love and suasive gifts and the bed, such things as are the very flowers of youth, pleasant alike to man and woman. And when dolorous Age cometh, that maketh a man both foul without and evil within, 
ill cares do wear and wear his heart, he hath no more the joy of looking one the sunlight, to children he is hateful, to women contemptible, so grievous hath God made Age.

But we, like the leaves that come in the flowery Springtime when they wax so quickly beneath the sunbeams, like them we enjoy the blossoms of youth for a season but an ell long, the Gods giving us knowledge
 neither of evil nor of good; for here beside us stand the black Death-Spirits, the one with the end that is grievous Eld, the other that which is Death; and the harvest of youth is as quickly come as the rising Sun spreadeth his light abroad. And when the end of maturity be past, then to be dead is better than to live; for many be the sorrows that rise in the heart; sometimes our house is wasted and Poverty’s dolorous deeds are to do; or a man lacketh children and goeth down to Death desiring them more than all else; again he is possessed by heart-destroying Disease —there’s no man in the world to whom Zeus giveth not manifold woe.

Thus the fate of Death may overtake me without disease or woeful trouble at threescore years!

Τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς Ἀφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἅνθεα γίνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθῃ
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ καλὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεὶ μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐ δ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξὶν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Ἠμεῖς δ’ οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
ἔαρος, ὅτ’ αἶψ’ αὐγῇσ’ αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν κακὸν
οὔτ’ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρεσ δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,
ἡμὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ’ ἑτέρη θάνατοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίγνεται ἥβης
καρπός, ὅσον τ’ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἤ βίοτος·
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίγνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ’ ἔργ’ ὀδυνερὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ’ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τις ἔστιν
ἀνθρώπων, ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.

Αἲ γὰρ ἄτερ νούσων τε καὶ ἀργαλέων μελεδωνέων
ἑξηκονταέτη μοῖρα κίχοι θανάτου.

—Mimnermus, Fragm. 1, 2, 6 West



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