Theognis on The State Sailing to Disaster

Theognis 667~82

Translated by Steven Willett


Note: Melos is on the southwest edge of the Cyclades, beyond which is open sea.


If I had possessions, Simonides, such as I once had,

   I wouldn’t be grieved associating with noble men,

but now I’m aware they pass me by, and I’m voiceless

   with want, though recognizing better than many

that we’re now being carried with white sails lowered

   beyond the Melian sea through the murky night,

not willing to bail the ship, though the sea washes over

   both sides. It’s extremely difficult for anyone

to escape, such as they act; they’ve deposed the helmsman,

   a noble man, who skillfully had kept watch;

they seize possessions by force, discipline is destroyed,

   and there’s no equal sharing in common interest;

the merchantmen rule, and the base stand over the noble.

   I fear that a wave will swallow the ship.

Let these be my allusive words hidden for the noble.

  But anyone can see misfortune, if he’s skilled.

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2 Responses to Theognis on The State Sailing to Disaster

  1. JohninMK says:

    Sic_semper_tyrannis, the site that brings the classics into modern life.
    Bring it on.

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    Steven Willett
    What an inspired choice of passage to quote at this time, thank you. I hope you will forgive the blatant allegorical nature of my comment.
    Being now out of view it is hard to say whether or not our present helmsman has yet been deposed. This man may not have been so skilled at keeping watch, but with his officers bent on subverting his efforts at every turn it is hardly a surprise. And while his nobility is still subject of much debate, Big Tech’s transparent takeover of power has at least made it clear that “the merchantmen rule”.
    I see that Nietzsche in Genealogy.. cites Theognis as coining the word ἐσθλος to equate noblesse with “truthfulness”. The almost total decay of nobility in politics has led us to our present predicament and it seems to me that an awareness and widespread recognition of this fact is an essential precondition to saving us from disaster, if indeed this is possible.
    One no longer needs to be particularly skilled, I think, to see the cataclysmic misfortune threatening to sink our present ship.

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