Euripides frg. 362.23 (Erechtheus)
ὁμιλίας δὲ τὰς γεραιτέρων φίλει,
ἀκόλαστα δ’ ἤθη λαμπρὰ συγγελᾶν μόνον
μίσει· βραχεῖα τέρψις ἡδονῆς κακῆς.
ἐξουσίᾳ δὲ μήποτ’ ἐντρυφῶν, τέκνον,
αἰσχροὺς ἔρωτας δημοτῶν διωκαθεῖν.
Love the company of older folk and
just hate laughing along at intemperate ways all aglitter.
Brief is the delight in pleasure that is bad.
But never revel in license, child,
and chase after the disgraceful passions of the common folk.
In a longish speech that the eponymous hero gives in a fragment of the play Erechtheus (? 423 B.C.E. ?) by Euripides, it was the gnomic (< gnome) concision in the middle line that hooked me.
… βραχεῖα τέρψις ἡδονῆς κακῆς.
brakheia terpsis hēdonēs kakēs
brief delight (of) pleasure bad
“Brief is the delight in pleasure that is bad.”
Pat, pithy, ponderable.
I like it, I like it.
For me at least, the chiastic (< chiasmus) formulation is in and of itself inherently appealing:
adjective1 – noun1 – noun2 – adjective2.
Not exactly an oxymoron, but shades of same. And certainly the abutted juxtaposition of the plesionymic (< plesionym – see under lexical semantics) substantives across a delayed caesura (a ‘metrical break’ – cf. here, here, and here [of Latin poetry, but applies mutatis mutandis to Greek poetry]) is saying, “Look at us!”
I suspect it’s not so much a matter of pleasure that is κακῆς kakēs ‘bad’ (a stop-gap translation for this word that bears such an enormous semantic loading – cf. here), but pleasure that is base (κακῆς, as you can see from the previous link, is not an entirely unprotean word). If I am reading the context properly, κακῆς in line 23 is itself broadly glossed by the preceding ἀκόλαστα … ἤθη akolasta … ēthē ‘intemperate ways’ (22) and a following αἰσχροὺς ἔρωτας aiskhrous erōtas ‘disgraceful passions’ (25), both of which the young addressee is urged to avoid. The latter of these glosses in particular helps to specify with greater precision the particular (eroticized) flavor of both ἡδονῆς and κακῆς in this context.
Well, that kind of delight is indeed short-lived – for a variety of reasons.
As a gnome, the statement’s centrifugal validity pushes out minatory as well as monitory ripples far beyond its humble applicability in this one play Erechtheus. One can readily imagine a vast and encompassing relevance.
What a notion!
What a language!