Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most, the wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?

From Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Canto 5. I think this is my favorite of of Pope’s bathetic appropriations from ancient epic – if only for how core a scene the original has become for interpreting the social politics of epic or epic-informed culture.

Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

       “Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels call’d, and angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue, as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the smallpox, or chas’d old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Here is Pope’s own rendering of the relevant scene in the Iliad – bk 12 310-328 between Sarpedon (speaking) and Glaucus. This one, from his full translation, is a slight revision from an earlier selection of episodes. My edition – the Twickenham v.2 – points out that the parody is closer to a translation by John Denham, though I haven’t found a readily available digital copy to check.

Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
“Why boast we, Glaucus! our extended reign,
Where Xanthus’ streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown’d,
Our feasts enhanced with music’s sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy survey’d,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obey’d,
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
’Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place;
That when with wondering eyes our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful and the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death’s inexorable doom,
The life, which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honour’d if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!”

and the Greek because it is always prettiest.

Γλαῦκε τί ἢ δὴ νῶϊ τετιμήμεσθα μάλιστα
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ, πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι,
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι,
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων:
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες, ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ᾽ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα: ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή, ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ᾽ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ᾽, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Plus a bonus parallel from Milton’s Paradise Lost 2.450

Wherefore do I assume
These royalties and not refuse to reign,
Refusing to accept as great a share
Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him
Who reigns, and so much to him due
Of hazard more, as he above the rest
High honour’d sits.

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