I see the better … Ovid, Petrarch, and Foscolo

Spoken by Medea in the Metamorphoses as she first argues down her passion for Jason

Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor (7.20-21)

I see the better and approve, but I pursue the worse

Petrarch later adapts this line as the conclusion to one of his Canzoniere written after Laura’s death:

né mai peso fu greve
quanto quel ch’i’ sostengo in tale stato:
ché co la morte a lato
cerco del viver mio novo consiglio,
et veggio ‘l meglio, et al peggior m’appiglio (264.132-136)

Nor ever was weight so oppressive
as that which I sustain in such a state:
For with death at my side
I seek my new plan for living,
And I see the better, and yet to the worse do I cling

And Ugo Foscolo in his Sonnetti takes it back up over four centuries later:

Tal di me schiavo, e d’altri, e della sorte,
conosco il meglio ed al peggior mi appiglio,
e so invocare e non darmi la morte. (2.12-14)

So much a slave of myself, of others, and of the fates,
I know the better and cling to the worse,
and can pray for death but not give it to myself

One thought on “I see the better … Ovid, Petrarch, and Foscolo

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