A lot of the lyric poetry we’ve been reading in class deals with how short youth is and how awful being old is. Mimnermus practically says ‘I hope I die before I get old’. Semonides of Amorgos, in the following poem read and translated by Edmund Keeley, takes a somewhat more optimistic approach: when you know that life is short (and this is pretty hard to know, since young people think they will be young and awesome forever), go do fun things. At least that’s how I’m taking it.
The man from Chios called Homer said a beautiful thing: “The generations of men are like the leaves of a tree.” Few mortals who’ve heard this take it to heart: all men carry the hope rooted in their youth. While mortals are still living in youth’s lovely flowering, light-headed, their hearts cling to many vain things: they won’t grow old, they’ll never die, and being healthy, why give sickness a moment’s thought? Fools to think that way, they don’t yet know how quickly time moves for mortals, how short the young days. But since you know this now that your end is near, treat yourself entirely to what good things there are.