But the most sovereign remedy against sorrow is our
reason, and out of this arsenal we may arm ourselves with
defence against all the casualties of life; for every one ought
to lay down this as a maxim, that not only is he himself
mortal in his nature, but life itself decays, and things are
easily changed into quite the contrary to what they are;
for our bodies are made up of perishing ingredients. Our
fortunes and our passions too are subject to the same mortality; indeed all things in this world are in perpetual flux,—
Which no man can avoid with all his care.1
It is an expression of Pindar, that we are held to the
dark bottom of hell by necessities as hard as iron. And
No worldly wealth is firm and sure;
But for a day it doth endure.2
From small beginnings our misfortunes grow,
And little rubs our feet do overthrow;
A single day is able down to cast
Some things from height, and others raise as fast.3
Demetrius Phalereus affirms that this was truly said, but
that the poet had been more in the right if for a single day
he had put only a moment of time.
For earthly fruits and mortal men's estate
Turn round about in one and selfsame rate;
Some live, wax strong, and prosper day by day,
While others are cast down and fade away.From the Ino of Euripides.
And Pindar hath it in another place,
What are we, what are we not?
Man is but a shadow's dream.Pindar, Pyth. VIII. 135.
He used an artificial and very perspicuous hyperbole to
draw human life in its genuine colors; for what is weaker
than a shadow? Or what words can be found out whereby
to express a shadow's dream? Crantor hath something
consonant to this, when, condoling Hippocles upon the loss
of his children, he speaks after this manner:—
‘These are the things which all the old philosophers
talk of and have instructed us in; which though we do
not agree to in every particular, yet this hath too sharp a
truth in it, that our life is painful and full of difficulties;
and if it doth not labor with them in its own nature, yet
we ourselves have infected it with that corruption. For
the inconstancy of Fortune joined us at the beginning of
our journey, and hath accompanied us ever since; so that
it can produce nothing that is sound or comfortable unto us;
and the bitter potion was mingled for us as soon as we were
born. For the principles of our nature being mortal is the
cause that our judgment is depraved, that diseases, cares,
and all those fatal inconveniences afflict mankind.’
But what need of this digression? Only that we may
be made sensible that it is no unusual thing if a man be
unfortunate; but we are all subject to the same calamity.
For as Theophrastus saith, Fortune surpriseth us unawares,
robs us of those things we have got by the sweat of our
industry, and spoils the gaudy appearance of a prosperous
condition; and this she doth when she pleaseth, not being
stinted to any periods of time. These and things of the like
nature it is easy for a man to ponder with himself, and to
hearken to the sayings of ancient and wise men; among
whom divine Homer is the chief, who sung after this
Of all that breathes or grovelling creeps on earth,
Most man is vain! calamitous by birth:
To-day, with power elate, in strength he blooms;
The haughty creature on that power presumes:
Anon from Heaven a sad reverse he feels;
Untaught to bear, 'gainst Heaven the wretch rebels.
For man is changeful, as his bliss or woe;
Too high when prosperous, when distress'd too low.Odyss. XVIII. 130.
And in another place:—
What or from whence I am, or who my sire
(Replied the chief), can Tydeus' son enquire?
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground;
Another race the following spring supplies;
They fall successive, and successive rise.
So generations in their course decay;
So flourish these, when those are past away.Il. VI. 145.
How prettily he managed this image of human life
appears from what he hath said in another place:—
For what is man? Calamitous by birth,
They owe their life and nourishment to earth;
Like yearly leaves, that now with beauty crown'd,
Smile on the sun, now wither on the ground.Il. XXI. 463.
When Pausanias the king of Sparta was frequently bragging of his performances, and bidding Simonides the lyric
poet in raillery to give him some wise precept, he, knowing the vain-glory of him that spoke, admonished him to
remember that he was a man. Philip the king of Macedon, when he had received three despatches of good news
at the same time, of which the first was that his chariots
had won the victory in the Olympic games, the second, that
his general Parmenio had overcome the Dardanians in fight,
and the third, that his wife Olympias had brought him forth
an heir,—lifting up his eyes to heaven, he passionately cried
out, Propitious Daemon! let the affliction be moderate by
which thou intendest to be even with me for this complicated happiness. Theramenes, one of the thirty tyrants
of Athens, when he alone was preserved from the ruins of
a house that fell upon the rest of his friends as they were
sitting at supper, and all came about him to congratulate
him on his escape,—broke out in an emphatical accent,
Fortune! for what calamity dost thou reserve me? And
not long after, by the command of his fellow-tyrants, he was
tormented to death.