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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.


By Menander (c. 342–c. 292 B.C.)

  • In his interesting chapter on the lost comedies, Mr. Symonds expressly renounces the attempt to translate from Menander, whom he gives an extremely lofty place as the “Sophocles of comedy.” This is perhaps an allusion to Matthew Arnold’s famous characterization of the tragic poet,
  • “Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”
  • Menander, as was almost inevitable in his age, saw life as a rather trifling and swift-passing show, hardly worth any violent expression of delight or grief. It was an age of outlived enthusiasm and lost ideals. Even in this fading twilight, Athens was still the fairest and richest of cities, a true university of books, statues, and temples: but her heroic men were only a memory.
    All Terence’s comedies, save the ‘Phormio,’ are based on lost plays of Menander. Of direct Roman allusion they contain hardly anything. The one plot is, to be sure, in several cases, skillfully framed from two Greek dramas; but the adapter’s own contribution need have been little more than a graceful Latin style. Professor Lindsay seems to claim much more originality for the Roman author; and the problem cannot be definitely solved, save by the recovery of Menander’s own scrolls.
    In his comparatively brief life Menander surpassed his chief rival in fruitfulness, leaving a hundred comedies. His popularity also must have come quickly after death. Though he gained only eight prizes, the fragments from his plays are by far the most copious of all, amounting to two thousand four hundred verses. Tantalizing as these bits are, they fully justify the exclamation of a famous Alexandrian scholar: “O Menander, and Life, which of you has imitated the other?” Goethe, also, counted the tolerant, philosophic Greek poet among his chief teachers.

    Desert a Beggar Born

    IF some divinity should say to me,—

    “Crato, when you have died, you shall again

    Be born; and shall be what you please,—dog, sheep,

    Or goat, man, horse,—but live again you must:

    That is your destiny. Choose what you will:”

    “Anything rather,” I methinks would say,

    “Make me, but man! Unjustly happiness

    And sorrow fall to him, and him alone.

    The horse that’s excellent has better care

    Than does another; if a dog prove good,

    He is more prized than is the baser hound.

    The valiant cock hath better sustenance,

    The ignoble is in terror of the brave.

    But man, if he be good, yea, excellent

    And noble,—that avails not, nowadays.

    The flatterer fares the best of all, and next

    The sycophant; while third the rogue is found.

    Rather an ass I’d spend my life, than see

    Men worse than I in higher honor set!”


    THAT man I count most happy, Parmeno,

    Who, after he has viewed the splendors here,

    Departeth quickly, whither he hath come.

    This common sun, I mean, stars, waters, clouds,

    And fire,—these shall he see if he abide

    A century, or if his years be few;

    Nor aught more glorious shall he see than they.

    The Claims of Long Descent

    OUR family! ’Twill be the death of me!

    Pray, if you love me, mother, harp no more

    Upon our family! ’Tis they to whom

    Nature accords no other excellence

    Who trust to monuments, or high descent,

    And count how many ancestors were theirs!

    Nor have they more than all men:
    Who doth live

    That had not grandsires? Else how came he here?

    And if he cannot name them, ’tis some change

    Of home, or lack of friends, accounts for this;

    And wherein is he worse than those who boast?

    He who is fitted for heroic deeds,

    Mother, although he be an African,

    Or savage Scythian,—he is noble born.

    Was Anacharsis not a Scythian?

    The Poor Relation Goes a-Visiting

    I HAD supposed that rich men, Phanias,

    Who pay no interest, did not thus lament

    The whole night through, nor tossing to and fro

    Cry “Woe is me”; but sweetly took their rest,

    While only beggars had such miseries.

    But now I see you, who are called of men

    The fortunate, behaving like ourselves.

    Is Worry, then, to life so close akin?

    She clings to luxury; the illustrious man

    She leaves not;—with the poor she waxes old!

    The Misery of Tyranny

    OH, utterly accurst!

    How pitiful the life they waste, their guards

    Always about them, pent in citadels,

    And ever ready to suspect that each

    Who comes hath in his hand a dagger hid:

    How bitter are the penalties they pay!


    FOR many reasons ’tis unwisely said

    To know thyself: more profitable it is

    To know thy neighbors!


    THE BOLDEST man, if conscious of his guilt,

    Is by that conscience made most cowardly.

    THE HEAVY stone that from the hand is hurled

    We cannot check, nor word that leaves the tongue.

    THE ENVIOUS man is foeman to himself;

    In self-wrought worriment fast-bound he stands.

    HE who condemns before he fairly hears,

    Himself is guilty—for credulity.

    IF all to each would lend a helpful hand,

    Good fortune would be lacking then for none.

    GRIEVOUS indeed has been our error, when

    We are ashamed to tell the deed we do.

    THRICE wretched, who by his economies

    Hath hoarded hatred doubling all his wealth.

    I NEVER envied much the wealthy man,

    Who nothing can enjoy of what he keeps.

    ’TIS not the quantity we drink that marks

    The drunkard, but our own capacity!

    THERE is no remedy for wrath, it seems,—

    Unless it be a friend’s unflinching word.

    WHO would command, and is not soldier-bred,

    Leads forth but sacrifices to the foe.

    The total mass of these comic fragments (chiefly from the Middle and New Comedy) is extremely large. They are most accessible in two volumes of the Didot series, ‘Fragmenta Comicorum’ and ‘Aristophanes, etc.’ The latter volume includes most of Menander and Philemon. There is added a Latin translation, with helpful notes. These estrays have not been translated into English,—and as a whole perhaps hardly deserve to be; but a most vivid picture of the Attic fourth century could be reconstructed from them, and numberless exquisite bits of pure poetry still glimmer in the dust.
    Altogether, there is hardly another terra incognita so rich as this, lying so close outside the beaten track of classical scholarship. F. A. Paley, toward the end of his laborious life, made a rather flippant little volume of rhymed versions from the ‘Fragmenta Comicorum.’ Symonds, in the chapter mentioned above, has some good versions. Of Menander many of the finest sustained passages were rendered by Francis Fawkes, in the free Johnsonian fashion of the eighteenth century. But the field lies fallow.
    The term “comedy” is, as we have tried to illustrate in the citations, rather too narrow. Plautus’s ‘Rudens,’ a romantic tale of shipwreck, may well remind us of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’ or ‘Winter’s Tale’; his ‘Captives’ is in its essential plot a story of heroic sacrifice for friendship’s sake, like the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ The Greek originals of such plays may have formed a transitional class of romantic dramas, not precisely tragic, and by no means essentially comic. This was doubtless especially true of the “Middle” period, when Athens had not forgotten her more heroic past, nor renounced her freedom forever. Agathon’s ‘Flower,’ again, may have been rather a melodramatic opera than a drama. In general, our traditional types are entirely too few and too rigid to include the numberless masterpieces of the Attic imagination.
    The preceding paragraphs were written in 1897. During the twenty years following, Egypt has doubled for us the actual number of Menandrian verses which can be read more or less exactly. In particular, a single manuscript found at Aphroditopolis in 1905 contains very large though still fragmentary and tattered portions from four of the master’s plays. Not one, unhappily, has a tinge of the heroic quality to be felt in the Plautine ‘Captivi.’ Nor is one of the four plots fit, as is that of the ‘Trinummus,’ to be frankly recounted to “ingenuous boys and maids.” Every one of the four turns largely on the fate of an infant who is the fruit of shame if not also of violence. The social conditions are utterly ignoble; of patriotism or any large public duty there is hardly a whiff.
    The most the enthusiastic editor can praise is “Menander’s inimitable dialogue and monologue.” The peculiar grace of the phrasing, while undeniable, of course evaporates in any translation. The wit, the quickness in repartee, may be fairly illustrated in a single scene, the one which gives its name to the ‘Epitrepontes’ or ‘Arbitrants,’ which will be cited following.
    These “four plays” (all still fragments) are edited with much devotion and learning by Professor Edward Capps of Princeton (Ginn & Co., 1909). A clever but rather willful and “restored” English version has been published, with the Greek text, by “Unus Multorum” (Oxford, 1909). Among the volumes announced in the Loeb Library is one by Professor F. G. Allinson of Brown University, already known for spirited translations from classical poets. This volume will no doubt contain both an accurate text and a faithful translation of every significant fragment, however recently discovered, from any Menandrian play.