He has lived well who has remained unknown

From Ovid’s Tristia (3.4 lines 11-26).  The title is my own rendering, the (mediocre) translation below is the Loeb edition (pg. 116-117).

Thou seest how the light cork floats atop the wave when the heavy burden sinks with itself the woven nets. If I who warn thee now had once myself been warned of this, perchance I should now be in that city in which I ought to be. Whilst I lived for myself, whilst the light breeze wafted me on, this bark of mine sped through calm waters. Who falls on level ground—though this scarce happens—so falls that he can rise from the ground he has touched, but poor Elpenor who fell from the high roof met his king a crippled shade. Why was it that Daedalus in safety plied his wings while Icarus marks with his name the limitless waves? Doubtless because Icarus flew high, the other flew lower; for both had wings not their own. Let me tell thee, he who hides well his life, lives well; each man ought to remain within his proper position.

aspicis ut summa cortex levis innatet unda,
cum grave nexa simul retia mergat onus.
haec ego si monitor monitus prius ipse fuissem,
in qua debebam forsitan urbe forem.
dum tecum vixi, dum me levis aura ferebat,
haec mea per placidas cumba cucurrit aquas,
qui cadit in plano—vix hoc tamen evenit ipsum—
sic cadit, ut tacta surgere possit humo;
at miser Elpenor tecto delapsus ab alto
occurrit regi debilis umbra suo.
quid fuit, ut tutas agitaret Daedalus alas,
Icarus inmensas nomine signet aquas?
nempe quod hic alte, demissius ille volabat;
nam pennas ambo non habuere suas.
crede mihi, bene qui latuit bene vixit, et intra
fortunam debet quisque manere suam.

To be honest I only care for the one line here – bene qui latuit bene vixit.  It has the honor of being enough a favorite of Descartes – who lived its advice – to have been included on his first tombstone (but not in his later reburial at Saint-Germain-des-Prés).  But I found it through a lucky purchase several years back – it features on the bookplates of my Pleiade editions of Saint-Simon’s Memoires, alongside a tastefully appropriate instance of what I believe is termed a negative-space font.


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