For Hieron of Syracuse
?474 B. C.
If it were proper for this commonplace prayer to be made by my tongue, I would want Cheiron the son of Philyra to be alive again, he who has departed, the wide-ruling son of Cronus son of Uranus; and I would want him to reign again in the glens of Pelion
, the beast of the wilds
whose mind was friendly to men; just as he was when once he reared Asclepius, that gentle craftsman who drove pain from the limbs that he healed, that hero who cured all types of diseases.
His mother, the daughter of Phlegyas with his fine horses, before she could bring him to term with the help of Eleithuia who attends on childbirth, was stricken by the golden
arrows of Artemis in her bedroom and descended to the house of Hades, by the skills of Apollo. The anger of the children of Zeus is not in vain. But she made light of Apollo, in the error of her mind, and consented to another marriage without her father's knowledge, although she had before lain with Phoebus of the unshorn hair,
and was bearing within her the pure seed of the god. She did not wait for the marriage-feast to come, nor for the full-voiced cry of the hymenaeal chorus, such things as unmarried girls her own age love to murmur in evening songs to their companion.1
she was in love with what was distant; many others have felt that passion. There is a worthless tribe among men which dishonors what is at home and looks far away, hunting down empty air with hopes that cannot be fulfilled.
Such was the strong infatuation
that the spirit of lovely-robed Coronis had caught. For she lay in the bed of a stranger who came from Arcadia
; but she did not elude the watcher. Even in Pytho
where sheep are sacrificed, the king of the temple happened to perceive it, Loxias, persuading his thoughts with his unerring counsellor: his mind, which knows all things. He does not grasp falsehood, and he is deceived
by neither god nor man, neither in deeds nor in thoughts.
Knowing even then of her sleeping with Ischys, son of Elatus, and of her lawless deceit, he sent his sister, raging with irresistible force, to Lacereia, since the girl lived by the banks of Lake Boebias.
A contrary fortune turned her to evil and overcame her. And many neighbors shared her fate and perished with her; fire leaps from a single spark on a mountain, and destroys a great forest.
But when her kinsmen had placed the girl in the wooden walls of the pyre, and
the ravening flame of Hephaestus ran around it, then Apollo spoke: “I can no longer endure in my soul to destroy my own child by a most pitiful death, together with his mother's grievous suffering.” So he spoke. In one step he reached the child and snatched it from the corpse; the burning fire divided its blaze for him,
and he bore the child away and gave him to the Magnesian Centaur to teach him to heal many painful diseases for men.
And those who came to him afflicted with congenital sores, or with their limbs wounded by gray bronze or by a far-hurled stone,
or with their bodies wasting away from summer's fire or winter's cold, he released and delivered all of them from their different pains, tending some of them with gentle incantations, others with soothing potions, or by wrapping remedies all around their limbs, and others he set right with surgery.
But even skill is enthralled by the love of gain.
Gold shining in his hand turned even that man, for a handsome price, to bring back from death a man who was already caught. And so the son of Cronus hurled his shaft with his hands through both of them, and swiftly tore the breath out of their chests; the burning thunderbolt brought death crashing down on them. We must seek from the gods what is appropriate for mortal minds,
knowing what lies before our feet, and what kind of destiny we have.
Do not crave immortal life, my soul, but use to the full the resources of what is possible. But if wise Cheiron were still living in his cave, and if our honey-voiced odes
had cast a spell on his spirit, I would have persuaded him to send even now a healer to cure noble men of their feverish diseases, someone called a son of Apollo or of his father Zeus. And I would have gone on a ship, cleaving the Ionian waters, to the fountain of Arethusa and the presence of my Aetnaean host,
the king who rules Syracuse, gentle to his citizens, bearing no envious grudge against good men, a marvellous father to his guests. If I had reached his shores bringing a double blessing, golden health and a victory-song to add brilliance to his garlands from the Pythian games, which once Pherenicus took when he was the best at Cirrha
I say that I would have come across the deep sea to him as a light that shines farther than a star of the sky.
But I, for my part, want to offer a prayer to the Mother, the revered goddess whose praises, with those of Pan, girls often sing at night beside my doorway.
Hieron, if you are skilled in understanding the true essence of words, you have learned and know the saying of former times: “The immortals dispense to men two pains for every blessing.” Fools cannot bear their pain with grace, but noble men can, by turning the good side outwards.
It is your lot to be attended by good fortune.
For great destiny watches over the leader of the people, the tyrant, if over any man. But a secure life was not granted either to Peleus son of Aeacus or to godlike Cadmus; yet they are said to have attained the highest prosperity of all mortal men, since
they heard the Muses of the golden headbands singing on the mountain and in seven-gated Thebes
, when Cadmus married ox-eyed Harmonia, and Peleus married the famous daughter of wise Nereus.
And the gods held feasts for both of them, and they saw the royal sons of Cronus on their golden seats, and they received
wedding gifts. By the grace of Zeus, they set their hearts right again from their former troubles. But in time Cadmus' three daughters, by their bitter suffering, took from him his share of joy; even though father Zeus had visited the desirable bed of white-armed Thyone.
And Peleus' son, the only child whom immortal Thetis bore in Phthia
, had his life taken in battle by the bow, and roused the wailing of the Danaans while his body was burning on the pyre. But if any mortal has the path of truth in his mind, he must fare well at the hands of the gods as he has the opportunity. But the winds are changeable
that blow on high. The prosperity of men does not stay secure for long, when it follows weighing upon them in abundance.
I will be small when my fortunes are small, great when they are great. I will honor in my mind the fortune that attends me from day to day, tending it to the best of my ability.
But if a god were to give me luxurious wealth, I hope that I would find lofty fame in the future. We know of Nestor and Lycian Sarpedon, whom men speak of, from melodious words which skilled craftsmen join together. Through renowned songs excellence
gains a long life. But few find that easy to accomplish.