Tyrtaeus on War


Translated by Steven Willett


Tyrtaeus fragment 10 Lycurg. in Leocr: 107




To die when he’s fallen in the front ranks is good

   for a brave man fighting for his homeland,

but to abandon his city and abundant fields

   as a beggar is the most painful of all,

wandering with his dear mother and aged father,

   with small children and wedded wife.

For he’s hateful to whomever he may meet

   yielding to need and hateful poverty,

he disgraces his lineage, refutes his noble form,

   and all dishonor and baseness attend him.

If a man who wanders thus hasn’t any regard

   or respect, nor for the family after him,

let us fight with spirit for this land and our children,

   let us die, no longer sparing our lives.

Fight, O young men, standing fast with one another,

   and don’t start shameful flight or fear,

but make the heart in your breasts great and valiant,

   and don’t love your life fighting with men.

And for the elders, whose knees are no longer nimble,

   don’t flee abandoning them, revered men.

For this is shameful, when fallen in the front ranks,

   an older man lies with the young behind him,

who's already got a white head and gray beard,

   breathing out his valiant spirit in the dust,

grasping his bloody genitals in his dear hands—

   a shameful sight and wrathful to see—

his body naked. Yet for young men all is seemly

  long as their noble bloom of lovely youth,

a marvel for men to see, and a desire for women

   while alive, but noble fallen in the front ranks.

Let each one planting himself firmly stand with both legs

   fixed on the ground, biting his lip with teeth.

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3 Responses to Tyrtaeus on War

  1. Deap says:

    Our ancients were pyschologically rich. I find that a wonderment. Was the retelling of the gore of battle intended to be anti-war, rather than its glorification?
    Poking around the Illiad myself these days, I am equally struck they used “five tined forks” and knew the choicest cuts of beef came from the animal’s backbone (ribeye,sirlon) – which in turn were reserved for the battle heros.

  2. JLCG says:

    But those banquets are treated as something magical. the meat is roasted in spits but no preparer of the roast is named or suggested. The heroes enjoy the labor of the anonymous slaves.

  3. Deap says:

    JLCG, you raise a good argument for the Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, so the cafeteria ladies can go back to watching soap operas instead.
    Let alone sanctioning the theft of women as an excuse for both going war and the anger of Achilles to stay out of war.

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