No One Can Be Assured Of Having Tomorrow


I have finally finished the complete translation of Cicero’s On Duties.  It has been an exhausting, laborious, maddening, and joyous experience.  There still remains a lot of work to do before it is finally ready for publication:  revising, editing, adding more textual notes, indices, explanatory essays, and a few other things.  But the end is finally in sight.

The project that I rashly took on over a year and a half ago, and that has dominated most of my free time since then, is slowly and surely congealing.  I am confident that this will be the most complete, most authoritative, and most readable English translation of this classic that has ever been produced.

But at times like these, I always remind myself not to tempt fate too much.  Call me superstitious.  Call me what you wish.  But no one should get too confident about anything.  Fortune loves to torment the proud, just to make her point.  She raises us to lofty heights, only to pull us down again.

I was reminded of this just a few moments ago as I read a few lines from Seneca’s play Thyestes.  There are a few beautiful lines (Act III.615-620) which remind us of the uncertain nature of Fortune.  Reading them helped me temper my exuberance.

This is what they say:

Nemo confidat nimium secundis,

Nemo desperet meliora lassis.

Miscet haec illis prohibetque Clotho

Stare Fortunam, rotat omne fatum.

Nemo tam divos habuit faventes,

Crastinum ut posset sibi polliceri.

Res deus nostras celeri citatas

Turbine versat.

And this passage means:

No one may trust too much in success,

No one should lose hope of betterment from ruin,

Clotho mixes both of these together,

And prevents Fortune from standing still,

Rotating each final destiny.

No one has had such favorable gods,

That he might promise himself tomorrow.

God turns our affairs quickly,

As a churning, spinning vortex.

I love this little passage.  “No one may trust too much in success.”  I think it is important to keep this sort of thing in mind.  No one is exempt from this law.  And when the point is stated so artfully, as here, the ominous message goes down that much more smoothly.


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