Theognis; how to avoid tyranny inside a polity

In this post we present and discuss two excerpts from the ancient poet Theognis.

From Theognis’ “Elegies” we read:

Ancient Greek: “πέπνυσο, μηδ’ αἰσχροῖσιν ἐπ’ ἔργμασι μηδ’ ἀδίκοισιν τιμὰς μηδ’ ἀρετὰς ἕλκεο μηδ’ ἄφενος. ταῦτα μὲν οὕτως ἴσθι· κακοῖσι δὲ μὴ προσομίλει ἀνδράσιν, ἀλλ’ αἰεὶ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἔχεο· καὶ μετὰ τοῖσιν πῖνε καὶ ἔσθιε, καὶ μετὰ τοῖσιν ἵζε, καὶ ἅνδανε τοῖσ’, ὧν μεγάλη δύναμις. ἐσθλῶν μὲν γὰρ ἄπ’ ἐσθλὰ μαθήσεαι· ἢν δὲ κακοῖσιν συμμίσγῃς, ἀπολεῖς καὶ τὸν ἐόντα νόον.”

English: “Be thou wise and draw to thyself neither honours nor virtues nor substance on account of dishonourable or unrighteous deeds. This then I would have thee to know, nor to consort with the bad but ever to cleave unto the good, and at their tables to eat and to drink, and with them to sit, and them to please, for their power is great. Of good men shalt thou learn good, but if thou mingle with the bad, thou shalt e’en lose the wit thou hast already.”

NovoScriptorium: Theognis, similarly to the Philosophers, firmly believes in a stance of life that seeks and promotes Virtue. He firmly advises one to refrain from any kind of evilness. He suggests that being prudent is essential. He denies wealth and recognition if they are a product of unrighteous deeds and means. He is adamant that socializing with the ‘good people’ will eventually help one improve and become ‘good’ himself, too. The contrary he believes for the socialization with the ‘evil people’; not only one will become worse, but he risks of losing everything, his whole self!

Ancient Greek: “οὐδεμίαν πω, Κύρν’, ἀγαθοὶ πόλιν ὤλεσαν ἄνδρες, ἀλλ’ ὅταν ὑβρίζειν τοῖσι κακοῖσιν ἅδῃ δῆμόν τε φθείρουσι δίκας τ’ ἀδίκοισι διδοῦσιν οἰκείων κερδέων εἵνεκα καὶ κράτεος· ἔλπεο μὴ δηρὸν κείνην πόλιν ἀτρεμέ’ ἧσθαι, μηδ’ εἰ νῦν κεῖται πολλῇ ἐν ἡσυχίῃ, εὖτ’ ἂν τοῖσι κακοῖσι φίλ’ ἀνδράσι ταῦτα γένηται, κέρδεα δημοσίῳ σὺν κακῷ ἐρχόμενα. ἐκ τῶν γὰρ στάσιές τε καὶ ἔμφυλοι φόνοι ἀνδρῶν· μούναρχοι δὲ πόλει μήποτε τῇδε ἅδοι.”

English: “Never yet, Cyrnus, have good men ruined a city; but when it pleases the bad to do the works of pride and corrupt the common folk and give judgment for the unrighteous for the sake of private gain and power, then expect not that city to be long quiet, for all she be now in great tranquillity, ay, then when these things become dear to the bad — to wit, gains that bring with them public ill. For of such come discords and internecine slaughter, and of such come tyrants; which things I pray may never please this city.”

NovoScriptorium: Theognis provides us here with one of those historically confirmed -over and over again- ‘social rules’; if evil and proud men are allowed to govern a polity, then, they will -always- attempt to “corrupt the common folk” and “give judgment for the unrighteous for the sake of private gain and power”! And he moves on predicting the horribe outcome of such a governance: the polity will lose its tranquillity. Then “discords and internecine slaughter” (i.e. social discords and civil war) will eventually occur; tyranny will prevail. We cannot resist the temptation to compare the above with the current situation in the majority of countries around the globe. If the ‘rule’ is once again confirmed, soon enough we should face social disasters in far too many human polities. Injustice and corruption seem to prevail already, while abuse of power by the governing men is quite apparent.

Theognis, as a real Philosopher would do, not only describes the problem but he also offers its possible solution. It is not a matter of ‘destiny’ that a polity will fail as above; there is always the alternative! That is, if the individual choses to personally resist to injustice, pride, corruption (of every kind), cultivate himself (and his children, of course) in Virtue and Goodness instead of the opposite, if he strives to isolate the evil, unjust and corrupt inside the polity, then tyranny will never find its way to the head of any polity. It is always a matter of choice for Man. And when there is a will, there will be a way.

Source for the Greek text

Source for the English text

Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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