Domenico Ghirlandaio, Ritratto di vecchio con nipote, 1488
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Ritratto di vecchio con nipote (1488)

Ἀλλ’ ὀλιγοχρόνιον γίνεται ὥσπερ ὄναρ
ἥβη τιμήεσσα· τὸ δ’ ἀργαλέον καὶ ἄμορφον
γῆρας ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτίχ’ ὑπερκρέμεται,
ἐχθρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ ἄτιμον, ὅ τ’ ἄγνωστον τιθεῖ ἄνδρα,
βλάπτει δ’ ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ νόον ἀμφιχυθέν.
(Mimnermus, fr. 5)

But precious youth is like a fleeting dream; in no time grievous and hideous old age, hateful as well as dishonoured, hangs over one’s head. It makes a man unrecognisable and hampers eyes and mind when it is poured round. (tr. Douglas E. Gerber)


William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Le guêpier, 1892
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Le guêpier (1892)

Τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσέης Ἀφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίγνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθῃ
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορέων τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.
(Mimnermus, fr. 1)

What’s life, what’s joy, without love’s heavenly gold?
I hope I die when I no longer care
for secret closeness, tender favours, bed,
which are the rapturous flowers that grace youth’s prime
for men and women. But when painful age
comes on, that makes a man loathsome and vile,
malignant troubles ever vex his heart;
seeing the sunlight gives him joy no more.
He is abhorred by boys, by women scorned;
so hard a thing God made old age to be.
(tr. Martin Litchfield West)



Ἡμεῖς δ’, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
ἔαρος, ὅτ’ αἶψ’ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ’ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,
ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ’ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
καρπός, ὅσον τ’ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν
ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.
(Mimnermus, fr. 2)

But we are like the leaves that flowery spring
puts forth, quick spreading in the sun’s warm light:
for a brief span of time we take our joy
in our youth’s bloom, the future, good or ill,
kept from us, while the twin dark Dooms stand by,
one bringing to fulfillment harsh old age,
the other, death. The ripeness of youth’s fruit
is short, short as the sunlight on the earth,
and once this season of perfection’s past,
it’s better to be dead than stay alive.
All kinds of worry come. One man’s estate
is failing, and there’s painful poverty;
another has no sons—the keenest need
one feels as one goes down below the earth;
sickness wears down another’s heart. There’s none
Zeus does not give a multitude of ills.
(tr. Martin L. West)