Prayer to the Muses
(Sixth Century B.C.)
[Solon was the Great Emancipator of Athens: "Many men I restored to Athens, their native city divinely-founded, men who justly or unjustly had been sold abroad, and others who through pressure of need had gone into exile, and who through wanderings far and wide no longer spoke the Attic tongue. Those here at home who were reduced to shameful slavery, and trembled at the caprices of their masters, I made free. These things I wrought by main strength, fashioning the blend of force and justice that is law, and I went through to the close as I had promised. And ordinances for noble and base alike I wrote, fitting a rule of jurisdiction straight and true to every man."]
You glorious children of Memory and Olympian Zeus, Muses of Pieria, hear me as I pray. Grant me from the blessed gods prosperity, and from all mankind the possession ever of good repute; and that I may thus be a delight to my friends, and an affliction to my foes, by the first revered, by the others beheld with dread. Wealth I do desire to possess, but to gain it unjustly I have no wish; without fail in after-time comes retribution.
The wealth that the gods give stays with a man firm-planted from bottom-most foundation to summit; whereas that which men pursue through arrogance comes not in orderly wise, but, under constraint of unjust deeds, against her will she follows; and swiftly is ruin mingled therewith. The beginning, as of a fire, arises from little; negligible at first, in its end it is without remedy; the works of men's arrogance have no long life. Zeus watches over the end of all things; and all at once, like a wind, that suddenly scatters the clouds, a wind of spring, that having stirred the deeps of the many-billowed unharvested sea, and razed the fair works of husbandry over the wheat-bearing earth, reaches the abode of the gods, the lofty sky, and makes it bright again to behold; and the sun in his might shines fair over the rich earth, and no longer is any cloud to be seen — such is the retribution of Zeus.
Not over single happenings, like a mortal, does he show himself swift to wrath; yet no man who has a sinful heart escapes his eye for ever; in the end without fail he is brought to light. But one man pays the penalty straightaway, another at a later time; and if the offenders themselves escape, and the fate of the gods in its oncoming alight not on them, yet it comes without fail at another time; the innocent pay for those deeds, either the children or the generations that come after.
We mortals, good and bad alike, think thus — each one has a good opinion of himself, before he comes to grief; then at once he begins to lament; but up to that moment in gaping folly we gloat over our vain hopes. The man who is crushed by cruel disease sets his thought on the hope of becoming well. Another who is a coward thinks himself a brave man, and the uncomely man thinks himself handsome. The needy man, whom the works of poverty constrain, thinks that he will assuredly win great wealth.
One man spends his effort in one direction, another in another. One wanders over the sea, home of fishes, striving to bring back gain in ships, borne along by the fierce winds, having no mercy on his life. Another, one of those whose business is with curved plows, cleaves the earth rich in trees, doing service throughout the year. Another, skilled in the works of Athene and Hephaistos the able craftsman, collects a living by means of his two hands. Another, trained in the gifts of the Olympian Muses, has knowledge of lovely poesy's measure.
Another the Lord Apollo, worker from afar, has appointed to be a seer, and he if he be one whom the gods accompany, discerns the distant evil coming upon a man; yet that which is fated assuredly neither omen of bird nor of victim shall avert. Others, who follow the profession of Paion, god of medicines, are physicians; and for their work, too, no certain issue is set; often from a slight pain comes great suffering, nor can any one relieve it by the giving of soothing medicines; again, when a man is afflicted with disease fell and fierce, by a touch of his hands at once the physician makes him whole.
Truly, Fate brings to mortals both evil and good; the gifts of the immortal gods may not be declined. In every kind of activity there is risk, and no man can tell, when a thing is beginning, what way it is destined to take. One man trying to do his work well, falls unexpectedly into great and bitter ruin; to another who blunders in his work the god grants good luck in everything, to save him from his folly.
In wealth no limit is set up within man's view; those of us who now have the largest fortune are doubling our efforts; what amount would satisfy the greed of all? Gain is granted to mankind by the immortals; but from it arises disastrous Folly, and when Zeus sends her to exact retribution, she comes now to this man, now to that.