He that disembarks on distant sands, becomes thereby the greater man.

Petronius, poem 78 in the Loeb edition.  The politely archaizing translation is Michael Heseltine’s from the same edition.

Linque tuas sedes alienaque litora quaere,
o iuvenis: maior rerum tibi nascitur ordo.
Ne succumbe malis: te noverit ultimus Hister,
te Boreas gelidus securaque regna Canopi,
quique renascentem Phoebum cernuntque cadentem:
maior in externas fit qui descendit harenas.

Leave thine home, O youth, and seek out alien shores: a larger range of life is ordained for thee. Yield not to misfortune; the far-off Danube shall know thee, the cold North-wind, and the untroubled kingdoms of Canopus,2 and the men who gaze on the new birth of Phoebus or upon his setting: he that disembarks on distant sands, becomes thereby the greater man.

 

This poem is one of three epigraphs – along with verses by George Herbert and Louis MacNeice –  to one of my favorite books, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel narrative of walking across Europe in the 1930s, A Time of Gifts.  Of its personal significance he says the following in his introductory letter to that work:

During the last days, my outfit assembled fast. Most of it came from Millet’s army surplus store in The Strand: an old Army greatcoat, different layers of jersey, grey flannel shirts, a couple of white linen ones for best, a soft leather windbreaker, puttees, nailed boots, a sleeping bag (to be lost within a month and neither missed nor replaced); notebooks and drawing blocks, rubbers, an aluminium cylinder full of Venus and Golden Sovereign pencils; an old Oxford Book of English Verse. (Lost likewise, and, to my surprise—it had been a sort of Bible—not missed much more than the sleeping bag.) The other half of my very conventional travelling library was the Loeb Horace, Vol. I, which my mother, after asking what I wanted, had bought and posted in Guildford. (She had written the translation of a short poem by Petronius on the flyleaf, chanced on and copied out, she told me later, from another volume on the same shelf: ‘Leave thy home, O youth, and seek out alien shores… Yield not to misfortune: the far-off Danube shall know thee, the cold North-wind and the untroubled kingdom of Canopus and the men who gaze on the new birth of Phoebus or upon his setting…’ She was an enormous reader, but Petronius was not in her usual line of country and he had only recently entered mine. I was impressed and touched.

 

 

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