Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo
et subito casu quae valuere ruunt.
divitis audita est cui non opulentia Croesi?
nempe tamen vitam captus ab hoste tulit.
ille Syracosia modo formidatus in urbe
vix humili duram reppulit arte famem.
quid fuerat Magno maius? Tamen ille rogavit
submissa fugiens voce clientis opem,
cuique viro totus terrarum paruit orbis
[indigus effectus omnibus ipse magis.]
ille Iugurthino clarus Cimbroque triumpho,
quo victrix totiens consule Roma fuit,
in caeno Marius iacuit cannaque palustri
pertulit et tanto multa pudenda viro.
ludit in humanis divina potentia rebus
et certam praesens vix feret hora fidem.
‘litus ad Euxinum’ si quis mihi diceret ‘ibis
et metues arcu ne feriare Getae’,
‘i, bibe’ dixissem ‘purgantes pectora sucos
quicquid et in tota nascitur Anticyra.’
sum tamen haec passus nec, si mortalia possem,
et summi poteram tela cavere dei.
tu quoque fac timeas et quae tibi laeta videntur,
dum loqueris, fieri tristia posse puta.
(Ovid, Ep. ex Pont. 4.3.35-58)
All human affairs hang by a slender thread; chance on a sudden brings to ruin what once was strong. Who has not heard of Croesus’s wealth ? Yet of a truth he was captured and received his life from an enemy. He who but now was dreaded in the city of Syracuse, scarce kept hunger at bay by a lowly calling. What was mightier than Magnus*? Yet in his flight he asked with humble voice a client’s aid. The man whom the whole world obeyed [himself came to feel need more than any]. He who was famed for his triumphs over Jugurtha and the Cimbri, under whom as consul Rome was so often victorious, lay, Marius though he was, in the slime and marsh grass, enduring many things shameful for so great a man. Divine power plays with human affairs, and sure trust can scarce be placed in the present hour. If anybody had said to me, “You shall go to the Euxine shore and you shall fear wounds from a Getic bow,” I would have said, “Go, drink a potion that clears the brain—everything that Anticyra** produces.” Yet have I suffered this. Though I might have guarded against the weapons of mortals, yet I could not protect myself against those of a supreme god. See that you too feel afraid and remember that what seems happiness to you has power, while you speak, to change into sorrow.
* Pompey. After the battle of Pharsalus he fled to Egypt where he was treacherously slain.
** Anticyra produced an abundance of hellebore which was much used as a cure for insanity.
(tr. Arthur Leslie Wheeler, with his notes)