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(The previous entry in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/translation-and-notes-plutarchs-marriage-advice-5/


ὥσπερ τὸ πῦρ ἐξάπτεται μὲν εὐχερῶς ἐν ἀχύροις καὶ θρυαλλίδι καὶ θριξὶ λαγῴαις, σβέννυται δὲ τάχιον ἂν μή τινος· ἑτέρου δυναμένου στέγειν ἅμα καὶ τρέφειν ἐπιλάβηται, οὓτω τὸν ἀπὸ σώματος καὶ ὥρας ὀξὺν ἔρωτα τῶν νεογάμων ἀναφλεγόμενον δεῖ μὴ διαρκῆ μηδὲ βέβαιον νομίζειν, ἂν μὴ περὶ τὸ ἦθος ἱδρυθεὶς καὶ τοῦ φρονοῦντος ἁψάμενος ἔμψυχον λάβῃ διάθεσιν.

Translation:   When fire takes hold, it recklessly burns through chaff, straw – rabbit hair! But, if it there is not something for it to grab and eat, it quickly goes out.  The same thing happens with sexual desire. When you are first married, the beauty of the body stabs you passion – but don’t suppose that flare-up will last forever –better and lasting is the way of thinking that becomes habit, a living disposition which takes hold of the soul.

Goodwin’s translation (1874):

Fire takes speedy hold of straw or hare’s fur, but soon goes out again, unless fed with an addition of more fuel. Thus that same love, whose flames are nourished only by heat of youth and looser charms of beauty, seldom proves of long continuance or grows to wedlock maturity, unless it have taken a deep root in conformity of manners, and mutual affection be enlivened by the intermixture of souls as well as bodies, while prudence and discretion feed the noble flame.


Translation Notes:

ὥσπερ τὸ πῦρ ἐξάπτεται μὲν εὐχερῶς

Although fire recklessly burns

The men points forward and sets up the anticipation of a contrast.  Thus, rather than translate the hosper as “just” or “just … as” it is better to set up the contrast immediately.

ἐξάπτω:  is to start a fire – and is related to ἅπτωwhich means to “touch” but with the subject of fire, it means to light/kindle. The pre-fix may be intensive here, particularly since it is coupled to “recklessly”.

ἐν ἀχύροις καὶ θρυαλλίδι καὶ θριξὶ λαγῴαις

through chaff and wick and rabbit hair

The verb would typically take the accusative of the object lit. Here, the use of the preposition gives the image of the fire burning through the object lit.

ἀχύροις:  chaff (straws)

θρυαλλίδι: candle wick

θριξὶ λαγῴαις: rabbit hair (literally hare hair).


σβέννυται δὲ τάχιον ἂν μή τινος

it is quickly quenched if there is not other

The de need not be separately translated due to the original “although”.

Σβέννυται: present passive, it is quenched (it could be middle in form, but that would leave the action without an actor).

Τάχιον: quickly

ἂν μή τινος: if there is not some-thing.

Τινος ἑτέρου δυναμένου : something other, something else of the ability the power to

στέγειν ἅμα καὶ: to both take hold of and

τρέφειν ἐπιλάβηται: it grasps to feed

The idea is that the fire will go without more fuel. The imagery is violent, grasping, holding, feeding the fire. The series of verbs does little to add denotative content, but the connotation, the feel is of an aggressive fire.

οὓτω τὸν ἀπὸ σώματος καὶ ὥρας ὀξὺν ἔρωτα τῶν νεογάμων

Thus [outos] the from the body and beauty sharp sexual desire of the newly married

The accusative article τὸν is matched by the noun ἔρωτα.  Despite the complexity of the adjectival phrase, the whole is in the first attributive position (article + adjective + noun).

Eros may be translated “love” but the idea is certainly sexual passion. Plutarch makes that particularly plain with the addition of beauty of the body and the adjective “sharp” to describe the passion.

The genitive τῶν νεογάμων: sets out the possessor of the sharp love.

ἀναφλεγόμενον: flaring up.

δεῖ μὴ διαρκῆ μηδὲ βέβαιον νομίζειν

it is necessary not enduring nor having been established to suppose: It is necessary to understand that it is not enduring nor lasting


ἂν μὴ περὶ τὸ ἦθος ἱδρυθεὶς

if not concerning the custom/habit to be established


καὶ τοῦ φρονοῦντος ἁψάμενος

and the thinking [substantive particple: emphasizing the action] being touched/inflamed.

There is a pun here: ἁψάμενοs is the aorist middle/passive of ἅπτω: Sexual love is a passion which can burn through the body like a flame through straw. The marital love will soon be over if there is not a similar fire which touches, i.e., burns through the thinking, that is, the soul.

ἔμψυχον λάβῃ διάθεσιν

it receives a living disposition.

ἔμψυχον: literally, in-soul. It means “alive” (having a soul).

Διάθεσιν: disposition