I recently polished off a book that has been on my "to read" shelf for some years now, the 1973 translation of Hesiod's "Theogeny," "Works and Days," and Theognis' "Elegies," translated by Dorothea Wender and published by Penguin Classics. It's a tidy little volume at just under 150 pages of unrhymed iambic pentameter. I'd like to talk about Theognis presently (I will probably deal with Hesiod in some later post).
Now. I don't like to give bad reviews, to a certain extent because I don't like to read bad books. Every once in a while, though, one sneaks through, as is the case with this particular translation of this particular poet.
Theognis, so far as we know, was a ancient Greek poet, who lived somewhere in the vicinity of 550 BC, around 200 years after Homer. He was a well educated aristocrat who lived in a city named Megara, (of which there were evidently several), and at some point lost his money and was exiled.
Now, I've read some poetry in my time, and this translation of the Elegies of Theognis is at best dull, repetitive, and inherently self-contradictory. The elegies produce the impression of an arrogant, whiny, self-indulgent man in the grip of whatever passed for a mid-life crisis in the iron age. One moment he's saying that all rich men have unjust hearts, and the next he's lamenting how poor he is and how he wishes he still had his riches. One moment he says that an honest friend is worth their weight in silver and gold, the next he advises to always be duplicitous, and never tell even your friends the whole truth. The one thing he universally agrees on, though, is that youth is wonderful and being old is worse than being dead. In fact, one gets the distinct impression in a couple places that Theognis is a pedophile. I know I can't make a claim like that without some proof, so here you go:
1335-1336: "Happy the lover who exercises, then / Goes home to sleep all day with a handsome boy."