Sunday, April 11, 2010

Simplicity: Xenophon's Memorabilia

I have to admit that much of my reading list has consisted of seed catalogs and the like for the past few weeks, but it's time to stop imagining my garden and to get to work instead. I want to share some of the texts that inspire, encourage, or just interest me the most in a weekly feature because many of them have shaped how I approach farming in some way. I'll start with a passage I have kept coming back to since I was a freshman at Chapel Hill six years ago. I don't remember how I first came across it, but the following excerpt is from an episode known as "The Choice of Heracles (Hercules)" in Xenophon's Memorabilia, a defense of Socrates which was written around 370 BC. The setup for this passage is that Heracles is visited by Virtue (Arete) and Vice (Kakia) who are trying to convince him to pursue either a hard yet virtuous life or an easy and wicked one. (I've simplified some archaic language in this translation.)

"[Virtue said:] 'For of all things good and fair, the gods give nothing to man without toil and effort. If you want the favour of the gods, you must worship the gods: if you desire the love of friends, you must do good to your friends: if you covet honour from a city, you must aid that city: if you are fain to win the admiration of all Greece for virtue, you must strive to do good to Greece: if you want land to yield you fruits in abundance, you must cultivate that land: if you are resolved to get wealth from flocks, you must care for those flocks: if you essay to grow great through war and want power to liberate your friends and subdue your foes, you must learn the arts of war from those who know them and must practise their right use: and if you want your body to be strong, you must accustom your body to be the servant of your mind, and train it with toil and sweat.'

And Vice answered and said: ‘Heracles, mark you how hard and long is that road to joy, of which this woman tells? but I will lead you by a short and easy road to happiness.'

And Virtue said: ‘What good thing is yours, poor wretch, or what pleasant thing do you know, if you will do nought to win them? You do not even tarry for the desire of pleasant things, but fill yourself with all things before you desire them, eating before you are hungry, drinking before you are thirsty, getting you cooks, to give zest to eating, buying you costly wines and running to and fro in search of snow in summer, to give zest to drinking; to soothe your slumbers it is not enough for you to buy soft coverlets, but you must have frames for your beds. For not toil, but the tedium of having nothing to do, makes you long for sleep. [...]'"

We all can figure out what choice Heracles made, but if you want to read the whole passage (even in Greek!), you can find it starting here. The Perseus Digital Library is a great resource for Greek and Latin texts among other things, but it can take some time to learn how to navigate the site.

I know there were no pictures today, but I'll try to make up for it later in the week.

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