Thedore Beza, in addition to being a theologian, pedagogue, and controversialist, was a delightfully ingenious neo-Latin poet. Below is an elegy (in elegiac couplets, natch) in praise of the Horatian aurea mediocritas (though he doesn’t say anything explicitly about Horace), 1 the golden mean–that old standby of ancient philosophical wisdom. It is thoroughly classical and classicizing; all of its exempla come from antiquity, in whose praise of moderation he shows his interest in the first line. My notes are keyed to the Latin text, but I’ve kept to his line-numbering in the translation, so they should still be easy to follow.
Non frustra solita est medium 2 laudare venustas:
Nam nil laudari dignius orbis habet.
In medio posita est virtus, hinc, indeque fallax
Tota sinistra via est, totaque dextra via est.
Icare, si patrem esses inter utrumque secutus, 3
Icarias nullus nomine nosset aquas. 4
Si medio Phaeton mansisset calle superbus, 5
Non esset saeva terra perusta face.
Nec lenis nimium, 6 nec durat saeva potestas:
Quae medium servat, sola perennis erit.
Te nimia, o Juli, 7 clementia perdidit olim:
Occidit feritas te, truculente Nero.
Augustus foelix cur multos mansit in annos? 8
Nec facilis nimium, nec truculentus erat.
Nec nimis ipse coli, nec sperni Juppiter optat,
Sed magis una juvat, mens moderata Deos.
Largus opum nullus, nullus laudatur avarus:
Magnus, in his potuit qui tenuisse modum. 9
Et tenuem melior fama secuta larem. 12
Nec gracilis structura nimis, nec crassa probatur:
Haec spectatori displicet, illa ruit.
Ut moderata juvant, sic aegris pharmaca multis,
Heu nimium multis, saepe petita nocent.
Efferri immodica sustinet ipse modus. 15
Not in vain was antiquity accustomed to praise the mean:
For the world holds nothing more worthy of praise.
Virtus has been set in the mean; deceptive on this side and that
is the way wholly to the left and the way wholly to the right.
Icarus, if you had followed your father between the two,
No one would know the Icarian Sea by that name.
If Phaethon–but he was proud!–had remained on the middle path,
the earth would not have been burned by the sun’s cruel torch.
Neither power that is too mild nor that which is too cruel endures:
that which preserves the mean alone is everlasting.
Too much mercy, O Julius Caesar, once destroyed you:
Savagery killed you, fierce Nero.
Why did Augustus remain happy for many years?
He was neither too easy-going, nor too fierce.
Jupiter himself desire neither to be worshiped in excess nor spurned,
But the moderate mind alone is more pleasing to the gods.
No one who is liberal with his wealth is praised, no one who is greedy:
he is great who has kept to moderation in these matters.
Thus did Cato’s supper conquer Antony’s tables,
and a better reputation followed a modest home.
Neither a too slight nor a too swollen building wins approval:
the latter displeases the viewer, the former falls down.
As drugs in moderation are a help, so drugs used too often
harm many–alas, too many!–of the sick.
It would be wicked to say more, I believe, for moderation itself
in no way endures to be talked up with immoderate praise. 16
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