Cleverness is not wisdom,
nor is thinking thoughts that are not mortal.
Life is short; this being so,
who would pursue great things
and not bear with what is at hand? These
are the ways of madmen and
men of evil counsel, at least
in my judgment.
[τὸ σοφὸν δ’ οὐ σοφία,
τό τε μὴ θνατὰ φρονεῖν
βραχὺς αἰών· ἐπὶ τούτωι
δὲ τίς ἂν μεγάλα διώκων
τὰ παρόντ’ οὐχὶ φέροι; μαι
νομένων οἵδε τρόποι καὶ
κακοβούλων παρ’ ἔμοιγε φωτῶν.]
Bacchæ [Βάκχαι], l. 395ff (Stasimon 1, Antiphon/Antistrophe 1) [Chorus/Χορός] (405 BC) [tr. Kirk (1970)]
The chorus of Bacchantes is playing with the similarly-rooted sophon (cleverness) and sophia (wisdom). (Source (Greek)). Alternate translation:
That science which beyond the scope
Of frail humanity aspires.
Haunts not the bosom of the Sage.
Short is life, and they who follow
Ambition's splendid treacherous lure
Taste not the blessings of the present hour:
I deem their conduct frantic and unwise.
[tr. Wodhull (1809)]
But cleverness is not wisdom, nor is thinking on things unfit for mortals. Life is short, and on this account the one who pursues great things does not achieve that which is present. In my opinion, these are the ways of mad and ill-advised men.
[tr. Buckley (1850)]
Beyond the range of mortal eyes
'Tis not wisdom to be wise.
Life is brief, the present clasp,
Nor after some bright future grasp.
Such were the wisdom, as I ween,
Only of frantic and ill-counseled men.
[tr. Milman (1865)]
That wisdom is not wise Which aims beyond man’s power.
Short is our life; to grasp at much is but to lose the present good, --
And this to me seems like the deed of frenzied and of foolish men.
[tr. Rogers (1872), l. 378ff]
Ah, not with knowledge is Wisdom bought;
And the spirit that soareth too high for mortals
Shall see few days: whosoever hath caught
At the things too great for a man's attaining,
Even blessings assured shall he lose in the gaining.
Such paths as this, meseemeth, be sought
Of the witless folly that roves distraught.
[tr. Way (1898)]
But the world's Wise are not wise,
Claiming more than mortal may.
Life is such a little thing;
Lo, their present is departed,
And the dreams to which they cling
Come not. Mad imagining
Theirs, I ween, and empty-hearted!
[tr. Murray (1902)]
Sophistry is not wisdom, and to indulge in thoughts beyond man’s ken is to shorten life; and if a man on such poor terms should aim too high, he may miss the pleasures in his reach. These, to my mind, are the ways of madmen and idiots.
[tr. Coleridge (1907)]
And what passes for wisdom is not;
unwise are those who aspire,
who outrange the limits of man.
Briefly, we live. Briefly,
then die. Wherefore, I say,
he who hunts a glory, he who tracks
some boundless, superhuman dream,
may lose his harvest here and now
and garner death. Such men are mad,
their counsels evil.
[tr. Arrowsmith (1960)]
To know much is not to be wise.
Pride more than mortal hastens life to its end;
And they who in pride pretend
Beyond man's limit, will lose what lay
Close to their hand and sure.
I count it madness, and know no cure can mend
The evil man and his evil way.
[tr. Vellacott (1973)]
Wisdom is not what is wise,
nor to think non-mortal thoughts.
Life is fleeting; can it be, then, that one seeks after what is greater,
not accepting circumstance?
These are the manners of a madman and, to me, of evil counsel'd persons.
[tr. Neuburg (1988)]
A knowing mind that ignores its own limits
has a very short span. And the man
who aims too high
never reaps what lies within his grasp.
Such is the folly --
and I know none worse --
of perversely ambitious, fanatical men.
[tr. Cacoyannis (1982)]
But shallow wisdom is untrue.
To think beyond this life
Cuts short our life. He who
Pursues the great, forfeits
What lies at hand. Such temperaments
According to my thought, belong
To madmen and the ill-advised.
[tr. Blessington (1993)]
So cleverness is not wisdom
nor is it wise to think thoughts unfit for mortals.
Life is short. Given such brevity
who would pursue ambitious ends
And lose what lies at hand?
These, in my opinion at least,
are the ways of madmen and evil counsellors.
[tr. Esposito (1998)]
Wisdom? It's not wise
to lift our thoughts too high;
we are human, and our time is short.
A man who aims at greatness
will not live to own what he has now.
That, I believe, is the belief of men
whose judgment is foul.
They are insane.
[tr. Woodruff (1999)]
Intellect is not wisdom.
And to think in a manner
not right for mortals means
Life will be short. Who
Would pursue great things
If doing so meant losing what
Is already his?
That is the way, as I see it,
And bad counsel, of madmen.
[tr. Gibbons/Segal (2000), l. 469ff]
Cleverness is not wisdom
nor is it wise to think thoughts not mortal.
Our life is short: this being so,
a man who pursues great things
may miss what lies at hand. To live thus
is to be, in my judgment
a madman and a fool.
[tr. Kovacs (2002)]
The wise are not wise if they don’t consider a human’s lot.
Life is short.
He who constantly pursues great achievements in this life, won’t have time to enjoy those he already has achieved.
So far as I can tell, these are the doings of madmen and evil minds.
[tr. Theodoridis (2005)]
Cleverness is not wisdom;
Thoughts, short life; in that case,
Who, in hunting greater things,
Would not be content with present fortune?
These are ways of men insane, with-
out understanding, so it seems to me.
[tr. Valerie (2005)]
But being clever isn't wisdom.
And thinking deeply about things
isn't suitable for mortal men.
Our life is brief -- that's why
the man who chases greatness
fails to grasp what's near at hand.
That's what madmen do,
men who've lost their wits.
That's what I believe.
[tr. Johnston (2008), l. 497ff]
Cleverness is not wisdom,
that over-reaching mortals
simply shorten their lives.
Life is brief enough as it is,
so hold it all to hand.
Wild ambition is a kind of madness:
stretch too hard for the summit
and you will fail and fall
and plummet back to land.
[tr. Robertson (2014)]
Cleverness is not wisdom,
and neither is reaching beyond thoughts meant for mortals.
Our lives are short.
Spend all your time reaching
and you miss what’s in front of you.
This is the madman’s way.
Or at least the ill-counseled.
But that’s just my opinion.
[tr. Pauly (2019)]
Cleverness is not wisdom, and those who'd seem wise as the gods -- their live will be short. Those who seek greatness will not see the snake at their feet. Mad ways set all on the road to disaster.
[tr. Behr/Foster (2019)]
It is not wisdom [sophiā] to be overly sophos, and to think things unbefitting mortal men. Life is short, and in it he who pursues great things does not achieve that which is present. In my opinion, these are the ways of mad and ill-counseling men.
[tr. Buckley/Sens/Nagy (2020)]
Wisdom is not wit;
Nor is thinking thoughts which belong not to mortals.
Life is brief. And because of this
Whoever seeks out great accomplishments
May not grasp the things at hand.
These are the ways of madmen
And wicked fools, I think.
[tr. @sentantiq (2021)]
Added on 10-Jan-23 | Last updated 11-Jul-23
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