[Latin verses at Eton]
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[Latin verses at Eton]
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Title/Paratext] "[Prose translation by J. R. [...]" H.W. Starr/J.R. Hendrickson, 1966.
"[Prose translation by J. R. Hendrickson:]
"Latin verses at Eton"
[What God has ordered you to be and in what human role you have really been cast, learn. . . . Persius . . .]
Man lingers uncertainly on the borders of two worlds, doubtful which one he should draw near to; he knows not whether he should wish to rise up and mingle with the stars or creep over the face of the earth, an inglorious hulk, and entrust himself to the fields with the dumb beasts.
He boasts that he has joined the chorus of the gods and dares to call the earth his own, and the seas thereof, and the vault of heaven; whatever he beholds, he appropriates for his own use. 'For my sake awakening Nature blossoms into flowers in the spring and puts forth plants in gay profusion, and loves to paint the lap of earth; for me the vine swells with purple buds and blushes with ripe fruit; for my sake, for my sake only, the rose breathes pure fragrance; for me the moon sheds her pale light; for me Phoebus floods the heavens with golden radiance; the stars gleam for me, and the waters of the deep roll.' So Man thinks to himself, and believes that these stars are merely the ornaments of his abode, and that the dome of the sky is an immense stage, the canopy of a vast theatre.
But is it for you that the tiger rages through the desert, is it for you that he blazes fiercely, the fell lightning-bolt of the forest, the terror of the Ganges? Is it for your sake that the sea towers aloft and heaves in tumult?
When Man devotes himself to the pursuit of knowledge and grows pale over his books, does he acquire the power to reveal the force by which the elements, once they have been linked together, continue their harmonious union throughout the ages and preserve their state without change? Can he reveal the source from which the bubbling springs fill up the sea and the everlasting fountains the rivers of fresh water, or how the ether feeds the stars?
By no means! He makes his feeble way along lonely by-paths of the universe, hardly advancing at all, and pushes on under scanty light, and strives to make his fearful way through the dim shadows. The decrees of fate stand in his way; the Fates have set a limit to knowledge and have said,'Only so far you may advance, O Learning; let this be your limit.'
Man is not meant to roam too freely above the upper air, but to know Man; let him confine his limited desire within narrow bounds, and let him not seek to know what is outside himself. That man errs who wishes to transcend the limits placed in his way and who stretches out his hands with love of the farther shore. At this point the flood stretches wide; at this point a savage whirlpool yawns, and shadows wrapped in a mist of vast obscurities.
The fountains of the deep, the kingdom of the roaring waves, the working of the starry heavens, and the caverns of the earth are revealed to no mortal; that man who would uncover these secrets of the sky and unlock the mighty deep would break the eternal ties, the bond of the universe.
Many a man (this perversity and insane desire leads to destruction) tries to rush into heaven, the dwelling of the gods, and leave behind the dwellings that Nature has given him for his own, and bade him keep.
Another group laments the fortune of the human race, envies the beast, and lays claim to the grass of the field for Man.'Oh, who will carry me off to the happy fields of the herd, to places abandoned by the shepherds and to quiet retreats under the open sky? Why was I not given the eyes of the lynx or the keen scent of dogs or the ability to prance and gallop?
'Behold, when something is caught in the spider's web, while she weaves her delicate snares, it sends a lively motion far along the strands! Why is not the same exquisite faculty of touch mine, or the massive brawn of bulls, or the wings of birds?'
Let the answers teach those who have been chafing at their lot to be silent. If you should be able to vie in such great keenness of vision and to see into tiny atoms, you would not be able to look up at the heavens nor to take in the sweep of the broad ocean. If you had a keener sense of smell, how greatly, vain man, would you suffer—killed by a perfumed breeze, a sweet poison! If a livelier sense of touch were yours, your body would tremble, it would burn with unremitting pain in all its parts, it would suffer affliction in every nerve. Or, if your sense of hearing were sharper, the crash of sound would knock you senseless, when the sky is split by the fire of lightning and all the air of heaven reverberates: in a word, you would be overwhelmed; how eagerly you would long to regain the human endowments that you had to begin with, to become again the kind of being that you once were, to grow old in your former shape.
Whether you try to reach the clouds, to fly through the forbidden reaches of the air, or whether you pray for savage forests and the dens of wild beasts, you will be in error. Wisdom has planted her throne in a middle ground. Cease striving for a lot either greater or less than the one that God and Nature, the creatrix of things, has assigned."
- The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.
Contractions, italics and initial capitalization have been largely eliminated, except where of real import. Initial letters of sentences have been capitalized, all accents have been removed. The editor would like to express his gratitude to library staff at Pembroke College, Cambridge, at the British Library, and at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for their invaluable assistance.