THE SATIRES BOOK I.
How comes it, say, Maecenas, if you can,
That none will live like a contented man
Where choice or chance directs, but each must praise
The folk who pass through life by other ways?
“Those lucky merchants!” cries the soldier stout,
When years of toil have well-nigh worn him out:
What says the merchant, tossing o’er the brine?
“Yon soldier’s lot is happier, sure, than mine:
One short, sharp shock, and presto! all is done:
Death in an instant comes, or victory’s won.”
The lawyer lauds the farmer, when a knock
Disturbs his sleep at crowing of the cock:
The farmer, dragged to town on business, swears
That only citizens are free from cares.
I need not run through all: so long the list,
Fabius himself would weary and desist:
So take in brief my meaning: just suppose
Some God should come, and with their wishes close:
“See, here am I, come down of my mere grace
To right you: soldier, take the merchant’s place!
You, counsellor, the farmer’s! go your way,
One here, one there! None stirring? all say nay?
How now? you won’t be happy when you may.”
Now, after this, would Jove be aught to blame
If with both cheeks he burst into a flame,
And vowed, when next they pray, they shall not find
His temper easy, or his ear inclined?
Well, not to treat things lightly (though, for me,
Why truth may not be gay, I cannot see:
Just as, we know, judicious teachers coax
With sugar-plum or cake their little folks
To learn their alphabet):–still, we will try
A graver tone, and lay our joking by.
The man that with his plough subdues the land,
The soldier stout, the vintner sly and bland,
The venturous sons of ocean, all declare
That with one view the toils of life they bear,
When age has come, and labour has amassed
Enough to live on, to retire at last:
E’en so the ant (for no bad pattern she),
That tiny type of giant industry,
Drags grain by grain, and adds it to the sum
Of her full heap, foreseeing cold to come:
Yet she, when winter turns the year to chill,
Stirs not an inch beyond her mounded hill,
But lives upon her savings: you, more bold,
Ne’er quit your gain for fiercest heat or cold:
Fire, ocean, sword, defying all, you strive
To make yourself the richest man alive.
Yet where’s the profit, if you hide by stealth
In pit or cavern your enormous wealth?
“Why, once break in upon it, friend, you know,
And, dwindling piece by piece, the whole will go.”
But, if ’tis still unbroken, what delight
Can all that treasure give to mortal wight?
Say, you’ve a million quarters on your floor:
Your stomach is like mine: it holds no more:
Just as the slave who ‘neath the bread-bag sweats
No larger ration than his fellows gets.
What matters it to reasonable men
Whether they plough a hundred fields or ten?
“But there’s a pleasure, spite of all you say,
In a large heap from which to take away.”
If both contain the modicum we lack,
Why should your barn be better than my sack?
You want a draught of water: a mere urn,
Perchance a goblet, well would serve your turn:
You say, “The stream looks scanty at its head;
I’ll take my quantum where ’tis broad instead.”
But what befalls the wight who yearns for more
Than Nature bids him? down the waters pour,
And whelm him, bank and all; while he whose greed
Is kept in check, proportioned to his need,
He neither draws his water mixed with mud,
Nor leaves his life behind him in the flood.
But there’s a class of persons, led astray
By false desires, and this is what they say:
“You cannot have enough: what you possess,
That makes your value, be it more or less.”
What answer would you make to such as these?
Why, let them hug their misery if they please,
Like the Athenian miser, who was wont
To meet men’s curses with a hero’s front:
“Folks hiss me,” said he, “but myself I clap
When I tell o’er my treasures on my lap.”
So Tantalus catches at the waves that fly
His thirsty palate–Laughing, are you? why?
Change but the name, of you the tale is told:
You sleep, mouth open, on your hoarded gold;
Gold that you treat as sacred, dare not use,
In fact, that charms you as a picture does.
Come, will you hear what wealth can fairly do?
‘Twill buy you bread, and vegetables too,
And wine, a good pint measure: add to this
Such needful things as flesh and blood would miss.
But to go mad with watching, nights and days
To stand in dread of thieves, fires, runaways
Who filch and fly,–in these if wealth consist,
Let me rank lowest on the paupers’ list.
“But if you suffer from a chill attack,
Or other chance should lay you on your back,
You then have one who’ll sit by your bed-side,
Will see the needful remedies applied,
And call in a physician, to restore
Your health, and give you to your friends once more.”
Nor wife nor son desires your welfare: all
Detest you, neighbours, gossips, great and small.
What marvel if, when wealth’s your one concern,
None offers you the love you never earn?
Nay, would you win the kinsmen Nature sends
Made ready to your hand, and keep them friends,
‘Twere but lost labour, as if one should train
A donkey for the course by bit and rein.
Make then an end of getting: know, the more
Your wealth, the less the risk of being poor;
And, having gained the object of your quest,
Begin to slack your efforts and take rest;
Nor act like one Ummidius (never fear,
The tale is short, and ’tis the last you’ll hear),
So rich, his gold he by the peck would tell,
So mean, the slave that served him dressed as well;
E’en to his dying day he went in dread
Of perishing for simple want of bread,
Till a brave damsel, of Tyndarid line
The true descendant, clove him down the chine.
“What? would you have me live like some we know,
Maenius or Nomentanus?” There you go!
Still in extremes! in bidding you forsake
A miser’s ways, I say not, Be a rake.
‘Twixt Tanais and Visellius’ sire-in-law
A step there is, and broader than a straw.
Yes, there’s a mean in morals: life has lines,
To north or south of which all virtue pines.
Now to resume our subject: why, I say,
Should each man act the miser in his way,
Still discontented with his natural lot,
Still praising those who have what he has not?
Why should he waste with very spite, to see
His neighbour has a milkier cow than he,
Ne’er think how much he’s richer than the mass,
But always strive this man or that to pass?
In such a contest, speed we as we may,
There’s some one wealthier ever in the way.
So from their base when vying chariots pour,
Each driver presses on the car before,
Wastes not a thought on rivals overpast,
But leaves them to lag on among the last.
Hence comes it that the man is rarely seen
Who owns that his a happy life has been,
And, thankful for past blessings, with good will
Retires, like one who has enjoyed his fill.
Enough: you’ll think I’ve rifled the scrutore
Of blind Crispinus, if I prose on more.
All singers have a fault: if asked to use
Their talent among friends, they never choose;
Unask’d, they ne’er leave off. Just such a one
Tigellius was, Sardinia’s famous son.
Caesar, who could have forced him to obey,
By his sire’s friendship and his own might pray,
Yet not draw forth a note: then, if the whim
Took him, he’d troll a Bacchanalian hymn,
From top to bottom of the tetrachord,
Till the last course was set upon the board.
One mass of inconsistence, oft he’d fly
As if the foe were following in full cry,
While oft he’d stalk with a majestic gait,
Like Juno’s priest in ceremonial-state.
Now, he would keep two hundred serving-men,
And now, a bare establishment of ten.
Of kings and tetrarchs with an equal’s air
He’d talk: next day he’d breathe the hermit’s prayer:
“A table with three legs, a shell to hold
My salt, and clothes, though coarse, to keep out cold.”
Yet give this man, so frugal, so content,
A thousand, in a week ‘twould all be spent.
All night he would sit up, all day would snore:
So strange a jumble ne’er was seen before.
“Hold!” some one cries, “have you no failings?” Yes;
Failings enough, but different, maybe less.
One day when Maenius happened to attack
Novius the usurer behind his back,
“Do you not know yourself?” said one, “or think
That if you play the stranger, we shall wink?”
“Not know myself!” he answered, “you say true:
I do not: so I take a stranger’s due.”
Self-love like this is knavish and absurd,
And well deserves a damnatory word.
You glance at your own faults; your eyes are blear:
You eye your neighbour’s; straightway you see clear,
Like hawk or basilisk: your neighbours pry
Into your frailties with as keen an eye.
A man is passionate, perhaps misplaced
In social circles of fastidious taste;
His ill-trimmed beard, his dress of uncouth style,
His shoes ill-fitting, may provoke a smile:
But he’s the soul of virtue; but he’s kind;
But that coarse body hides a mighty mind.
Now, having scanned his breast, inspect your own,
And see if there no failings have been sown
By Nature or by habit, as the fern
Springs in neglected fields, for men to burn.
True love, we know, is blind: defects that blight
The loved one’s charms escape the lover’s sight,
Nay, pass for beauties, as Balbinus glows
With admiration of his Hagna’s nose.
Ah, if in friendship we e’en did the same,
And virtue cloaked the error with her name!
Come, let us learn how friends at friends should look
By a leaf taken from a father’s book.
Has the dear child a squint? at home he’s classed
With Venus’ self; “her eyes have just that cast:”
Is he a dwarf like Sisyphus? his sire
Calls him “sweet pet,” and would not have him higher,
Gives Varus’ name to knock-kneed boys, and dubs
His club-foot youngster Scaurus, king of clubs.
E’en so let us our neighbours’ frailties scan:
A friend is close; call him a careful man:
Another’s vain and fond of boasting; say,
He talks in an engaging, friendly way:
A third is a barbarian, rude and free;
Straightforward and courageous let him be:
A fourth is apt to break into a flame;
An ardent spirit–make we that his name.
This is the sovereign recipe, be sure,
To win men’s hearts, and having won, secure.
But WE put virtue down to vice’s score,
And foul the vessel that was clean before:
See, here’s a modest man, who ranks too low
In his own judgment; him we nickname slow:
Another, ever on his guard, takes care
No enemy shall catch him unaware,
(Small wonder, truly, in a world like this,
Beset with dogs that growl and snakes that hiss);
We turn his merit to a fault, and style
His prudence mere disguise, his caution guile.
Or take some honest soul, who, full of glee,
Breaks on a patron’s solitude, like me,
Finds his Maecenas book in hand or dumb,
And pokes him with remarks, the first that come;
We cry “He lacks e’en common tact.” Alas!
What hasty laws against ourselves we pass!
For none is born without his faults: the best
But bears a lighter wallet than the rest.
A man of genial nature, as is fair,
My virtues with my vices will compare,
And, as with good or bad he fills the scale,
Lean to the better side, should that prevail:
So, when he seeks my friendship, I will trim
The wavering balance in my turn for him.
He that has fears his blotches may offend
Speaks gently of the pimples of his friend:
For reciprocity exacts her dues,
And they that need excuse must needs excuse.
Now, since resentment, spite of all we do,
Will haunt us fools, and other vices too,
Why should not reason use her own just sense,
And square her punishments to each offence?
Suppose a slave, as he removes the dish,
Licks the warm gravy or remains of fish,
Should his vexed master gibbet the poor lad,
He’d be a second Labeo, STARING mad.
Now take another instance, and remark
A case of madness, grosser and more stark.
A friend has crossed you:–’tis a slight affair;
Not to forgive it writes you down a bear:–
You hate the man and his acquaintance fly,
As Ruso’s debtors hide from Ruso’s eye;
Poor victims, doomed, when that black pay-day’s come,
Unless by hook or crook they raise the sum,
To stretch their necks, like captives to the knife,
And listen to dull histories for dear life.
Say, he has drunk too much, or smashed some ware,
Evander’s once, inestimably rare,
Or stretched before me, in his zeal to dine,
To snatch a chicken I had meant for mine;
What then? is that a reason he should seem
Less pleasant, less deserving my esteem?
How could I treat him worse, were he to thieve,
Betray a secret, or a trust deceive?
Your men of words, who rate all crimes alike,
Collapse and founder, when on fact they strike:
Sense, custom, all, cry out against the thing,
And high expedience, right’s perennial spring.
When men first crept from out earth’s womb, like worms,
Dumb speechless creatures, with scarce human forms,
With nails or doubled fists they used to fight
For acorns or for sleeping-holes at night;
Clubs followed next; at last to arms they came,
Which growing practice taught them how to frame,
Till words and names were found, wherewith to mould
The sounds they uttered, and their thoughts unfold;
Thenceforth they left off fighting, and began
To build them cities, guarding man from man,
And set up laws as barriers against strife
That threatened person, property, or wife.
‘Twas fear of wrong gave birth to right, you’ll find,
If you but search the records of mankind.
Nature knows good and evil, joy and grief,
But just and unjust are beyond her brief:
Nor can philosophy, though finely spun,
By stress of logic prove the two things one,
To strip your neighbour’s garden of a flower
And rob a shrine at midnight’s solemn hour.
A rule is needed, to apportion pain,
Nor let you scourge when you should only cane.
For that you’re likely to be overmild,
And treat a ruffian like a naughty child,
Of this there seems small danger, when you say
That theft’s as bad as robbery in its way,
And vow all villains, great and small, shall swing
From the same tree, if men will make you king.
But tell me, Stoic, if the wise, you teach,
Is king, Adonis, cobbler, all and each,
Why wish for what you’ve got? “Tou fail to see
What great Chrysippus means by that,” says he.
“What though the wise ne’er shoe nor slipper made,
The wise is still a brother of the trade.
Just as Hennogenes, when silent, still
Remains a singer of consummate skill,
As sly Alfenius, when he had let drop
His implements of art and shut up shop,
Was still a barber, so the wise is best
In every craft, a king’s among the rest.”
Hail to your majesty! yet, ne’ertheless,
Rude boys are pulling at your beard, I guess;
And now, unless your cudgel keeps them off,
The mob begins to hustle, push, and scoff;
You, all forlorn, attempt to stand at bay,
And roar till your imperial lungs give way.
Well, so we part: each takes his separate path:
You make your progress to your farthing bath,
A king, with ne’er a follower in your train,
Except Crispinus, that distempered brain;
While I find pleasant friends to screen me, when
I chance to err, like other foolish men;
Bearing and borne with, so the change we ring,
More blest as private folks than you as king.
Cratinus, Aristophanes, and all
The elder comic poets, great and small,
If e’er a worthy in those ancient times
Deserved peculiar notice for his crimes,
Adulterer, cut-throat, ne’er-do-well, or thief,
Portrayed him without fear in strong relief.
From these, as lineal heir, Lucilius springs,
The same in all points save the tune he sings,
A shrewd keen satirist, yet somewhat hard
And rugged, if you view him as a bard.
For this was his mistake: he liked to stand,
One leg before him, leaning on one hand,
Pour forth two hundred verses in an hour,
And think such readiness a proof of power.
When like a torrent he bore down, you’d find
He left a load of refuse still behind:
Fluent, yet indolent, he would rebel
Against the toil of writing, writing WELL,
Not writing MUCH; for that I grant you. See,
Here comes Crispinus, wants to bet with me,
And offers odds: “A meeting, if you please:
Take we our tablets each, you those, I these:
Name place, and time, and umpires: let us try
Who can compose the faster, you or I.”
Thank Heaven, that formed me of unfertile mind,
My speech not copious, and my thoughts confined!
But you, be like the bellows, if you choose,
Still puffing, puffing, till the metal fuse,
And vent your windy nothings with a sound
That makes the depth they come from seem profound.
Happy is Fannius, with immortals classed,
His bust and bookcase canonized at last,
While, as for me, none reads the things I write.
Loath as I am in public to recite,
Knowing that satire finds small favour, since
Most men want whipping, and who want it, wince.
Choose from the crowd a casual wight, ’tis seen
He’s place-hunter or miser, vain or mean:
One raves of others’ wives: one stands agaze
At silver dishes: bronze is Albius’ craze:
Another barters goods the whole world o’er,
From distant east to furthest western shore,
Driving along like dust-cloud through the air
To increase his capital or not impair:
These, one and all, the clink of metre fly,
And look on poets with a dragon’s eye.
“Beware! he’s vicious: so he gains his end,
A selfish laugh, he will not spare a friend:
Whate’er he scrawls, the mean malignant rogue
Is all alive to get it into vogue:
Give him a handle, and your tale is known
To every giggling boy and maundering crone.”
A weighty accusation! now, permit
Some few brief words, and I will answer it:
First, be it understood, I make no claim
To rank with those who bear a poet’s name:
‘Tis not enough to turn out lines complete,
Each with its proper quantum of five feet;
Colloquial verse a man may write like me,
But (trust an author)’tis not poetry.
No; keep that name for genius, for a soul
Of Heaven’s own fire, for words that grandly roll.
Hence some have questioned if the Muse we call
The Comic Muse be really one at all:
Her subject ne’er aspires, her style ne’er glows,
And, save that she talks metre, she talks prose.
“Aye, but the angry father shakes the stage,
When on his graceless son he pours his rage,
Who, smitten with the mistress of the hour,
Rejects a well-born wife with ample dower,
Gets drunk, and (worst of all) in public sight
Keels with a blazing flambeau while ’tis light.”
Well, could Pomponius’ sire to life return,
Think you he’d rate his son in tones less stern?
So then ’tis not sufficient to combine
Well-chosen words in a well-ordered line,
When, take away the rhythm, the self-same words
Would suit an angry father off the boards.
Strip what I write, or what Lucilius wrote,
Of cadence and succession, time and note,
Reverse the order, put those words behind
That went before, no poetry you’ll find:
But break up this, “When Battle’s brazen door
Blood-boltered Discord from its fastenings tore,”
‘Tis Orpheus mangled by the Maenads: still
The bard remains, unlimb him as you will.
Enough of this: some other time we’ll see
If Satire is or is not poetry:
Today I take the question, if ’tis just
That men like you should view it with distrust.
Sulcius and Caprius promenade in force,
Each with his papers, virulently hoarse,
Bugbears to robbers both: but he that’s true
And decent-living may defy the two.
Say, you’re first cousin to that goodly pair
Caelius and Birrius, and their foibles share:
No Sulcius nor yet Caprius here you see
In your unworthy servant: why fear ME?
No books of mine on stall or counter stand,
To tempt Tigellius’ or some clammier hand,
Nor read I save to friends, and that when pressed,
Not to chance auditor or casual guest.
Others are less fastidious: some will air
Their last production in the public square:
Some choose the bathroom, for the walls all round
Make the voice sweeter and improve the sound:
Weak brains, to whom the question ne’er occurred
If what they do be vain, ill-timed, absurd.
“But you give pain: your habit is to bite,”
Rejoins the foe, “of sot deliberate spite.”
Who broached that slander? of the men I know,
With whom I live, have any told you so?
He who maligns an absent friend’s fair fame,
Who says no word for him when others blame,
Who courts a reckless laugh by random hits,
Just for the sake of ranking among wits,
Who feigns what he ne’er saw, a secret blabs,
Beware him, Roman! that man steals or stabs!
Oft you may see three couches, four on each,
Where all are wincing under one man’s speech,
All, save the host: his turn too comes at last,
When wine lets loose the humour shame held fast:
And you, who hate malignity, can see
Nought here but pleasant talk, well-bred and free.
I, if I chance in laughing vein to note
Rufillus’ civet and Gargonius’ goat,
Must I be toad or scorpion? Look at home:
Suppose Petillius’ theft, the talk of Rome,
Named in your presence, mark how yon defend
In your accustomed strain your absent friend:
“Petillius? yes, I know him well: in truth
We have been friends, companions, e’en from youth:
A thousand times he’s served me, and I joy
That he can walk the streets without annoy:
Yet ’tis a puzzle, I confess, to me
How from that same affair he got off free.”
Here is the poison-bag of malice, here
The gall of fell detraction, pure and sheer:
And these, I’swear, if man such pledge may give,
My pen and heart shall keep from, while I live.
But if I still seem personal and bold,
Perhaps you’ll pardon, when my story’s told.
When my good father taught me to be good,
Scarecrows he took of living flesh and blood.
Thus, if he warned me not to spend but spare
The moderate means I owe to his wise care,
‘Twas, “See the life that son of Albius leads!
Observe that Barrus, vilest of ill weeds!
Plain beacons these for heedless youth, whose taste
Might lead them else a fair estate to waste:”
If lawless love were what he bade me shun,
“Avoid Scetanius’ slough,” his words would run:
“Wise men,” he’d add, “the reasons will explain
Why you should follow this, from that refrain:
For me, if I can train you in the ways
Trod by the worthy folks of earlier days,
And, while you need direction, keep your name
And life unspotted, I’ve attained my aim:
When riper years have seasoned brain and limb,
You’ll drop your corks, and like a Triton swim.”
‘Twas thus he formed my boyhood: if he sought
To make me do some action that I ought,
“You see your warrant there,” he’d say, and clench
His word with some grave member of the bench:
So too with things forbidden: “can you doubt
The deed’s a deed an honest man should scout,
When, just for this same matter, these and those,
Like open drains, are stinking ‘neath your nose?”
Sick gluttons of a next-door funeral hear,
And learn self-mastery in the school of fear:
And so a neighbour’s scandal many a time
Has kept young minds from running into crime.
Thus I grew up, unstained by serious ill,
Though venial faults, I grant you, haunt me still:
Yet items I could name retrenched e’en there
By time, plain speaking, individual care;
For, when I chance to stroll or lounge alone,
I’m not without a Mentor of my own:
“This course were better: that might help to mend
My daily life, improve me as a friend:
There some one showed ill-breeding: can I say
I might not fall into the like one day?”
So with closed lips I ruminate, and then
In leisure moments play with ink and pen:
For that’s an instance, I must needs avow,
Of those small faults I hinted at just now:
Grant it your prompt indulgence, or a throng
Of poets shall come up, some hundred strong,
And by mere numbers, in your own despite,
Force you, like Jews, to be our proselyte.
Leaving great Rome, my journey I begin,
And reach Aricia, where a moderate inn
(With me was Heliodorus, who knows more
Of rhetoric than e’er did Greek before):
Next Appii Forum, filled, e’en, nigh to choke,
With knavish publicans and boatmen folk.
This portion of our route, which most get through
At one good stretch, we chose to split in two,
Taking it leisurely: for those who go
The Appian road are jolted less when slow.
I find the water villanous, decline
My stomach’s overtures, refuse to dine,
And sit and sit with temper less than sweet
Watching my fellow-travellers while they eat.
Now Night prepared o’er all the earth to spread
Her veil, and light the stars up overhead:
Boatmen and slaves a slanging-match begin:
“Ho! put in here! What! take three hundred in?
You’ll swamp us all:” so, while our fares we pay,
And the mule’s tied, a whole hour slips away.
No hope of sleep: the tenants of the marsh,
Hoarse frogs and shrill mosquitos, sing so harsh,
While passenger and boatman chant the praise
Of their true-loves in amoebean lays,
Each fairly drunk: the passenger at last
Tires of the game, and soon his eyes are fast:
Then to a stone his mule the boatman moors,
Leaves her to pasture, lays him down, and snores.
And now ’twas near the dawning of the day,
When ’tis discovered that we make no way:
Out leaps a hair-brained fellow and attacks
With a stout cudgel mule’s and boatman’s backs:
And so at length, thanks to this vigorous friend,
By ten o’clock we reach our boating’s end.
Tired with the voyage, face and hands we lave
In pure Feronia’s hospitable wave.
We take some food, then creep three miles or so
To Anxur, built on cliffs that gleam like snow;
There rest awhile, for there our mates were due,
Maecenas and Cocceius, good and true,
Sent on a weighty business, to compose
A feud, and make them friends who late were foes.
I seize on the occasion, and apply
A touch of ointment to an ailing eye.
Meanwhile Maecenas with Cocceius came,
And Capito, whose errand was the same,
A man of men, accomplished and refined,
Who knew, as few have known, Antonius’ mind.
Along by Fundi next we take our way
For all its praetor sought to make us stay,
Not without laughter at the foolish soul,
His senatorial stripe and pan of coal.
Then at Mamurra’s city we pull up,
Lodge with Murena, with Fonteius sup.
Next morn the sun arises, O how sweet!
At Sinnessa we with Plotius meet,
Varius and Virgil; men than whom on earth
I know none dearer, none of purer worth.
O what a hand-shaking! while sense abides,
A friend to me is worth the world besides.
Campania’s border-bridge next day we crossed,
There housed and victualled at the public cost.
The next, we turn off early from the road
At Capua, and the mules lay down their load;
There, while Maecenas goes to fives, we creep,
Virgil and I, to bed, and so to sleep:
For, though the game’s a pleasant one to play,
Weak stomachs and weak eyes are in the way.
Then to Cocceius’ country-house we come,
Beyond the Caudian inns, a sumptuous home.
Now, Muse, recount the memorable fight
‘Twixt valiant Messius and Sarmentus wight,
And tell me first from what proud lineage sprung
The champions joined in battle, tongue with tongue.
From Oscan blood great Messius’ sires derive:
Sarmentus has a mistress yet alive.
Such was their parentage: they meet in force:
Sarmentus starts: “You’re just like a wild horse.”
We burst into a laugh. The other said,
“Well, here’s a horse’s trick:” and tossed his head.
“O, were your horn yet growing, how your foe
Would rue it, sure, when maimed you threaten so!”
Sarmentus cries: for Messius’ brow was marred
By a deep wound, which left it foully scarred.
Then, joking still at his grim countenance,
He begged him just to dance the Cyclop dance:
No buskin, mask, nor other aid of art
Would be required to make him look his part.
Messius had much to answer: “Was his chain
Suspended duly in the Lares’ fane?
Though now a notary, he might yet be seized
And given up to his mistress, if she pleased.
Nay, more,” he asked, “why had he run away,
When e’en a single pound of corn a day
Had filled a maw so slender?” So we spent
Our time at table, to our high content.
Then on to Beneventum, where our host,
As some lean thrushes he essayed to roast,
Was all but burnt: for up the chimney came
The blaze, and well nigh set the house on flame:
The guests and servants snatch the meat, and fall
Upon the fire with buckets, one and all.
Next rise to view Apulia’s well-known heights,
Which keen Atabulus so sorely bites:
And there perchance we might be wandering yet,
But shelter in Trivicum’s town we get,
Where green damp branches in the fireplace spread
Make our poor eyes to water in our head.
Then four and twenty miles, a good long way,
Our coaches take us, in a town to stay
Whose name no art can squeeze into a line,
Though otherwise ’tis easy to define:
For water there, the cheapest thing on earth,
Is sold for money: but the bread is worth
A fancy price, and travellers who know
Their business take it with them when they go:
For at Canusium, town of Diomed,
The drink’s as bad, and grits are in the bread.
Here to our sorrow Varius takes his leave,
And, grieved himself, compels his friends to grieve.
Fatigued, we come to Rubi: for the way
Was long, and rain had made it sodden clay.
Next day, with better weather, o’er worse ground
We get to Barium’s town, where fish abound.
Then Gnatia, built in water-nymphs’ despite,
Made us cut jokes and laugh, as well we might,
Listening to tales of incense, wondrous feat,
That melts in temples without fire to heat.
Tell the crazed Jews such miracles as these!
I hold the gods live lives of careless ease,
And, if a wonder happens, don’t assume
‘Tis sent in anger from the upstairs room.
Last comes Brundusium: there the lines I penned,
The leagues I travelled, find alike their end.
What if, Maecenas, none, though ne’er so blue
His Tusco-Lydian blood, surpasses you?
What if your grandfathers, on either hand,
Father’s and mother’s, were in high command?
Not therefore do you curl the lip of scorn
At nobodies, like me, of freedman born:
Far other rule is yours, of rank or birth
To raise no question, so there be but worth,
Convinced, and truly too, that wights unknown,
Ere Servius’ rise set freedmen on the throne,
Despite their ancestors, not seldom came
To high employment, honours, and fair fame,
While great Laevinus, scion of the race
That pulled down Tarquin from his pride of place,
Has ne’er been valued at a poor half-crown
E’en in the eyes of that wise judge, the town,
That muddy source of dignity, which sees
No virtue but in busts and lineal trees.
Well, but for us; what thoughts should ours be, say,
Removed from vulgar judgments miles away?
Grant that Laevinus yet would be preferred
To low-born Decius by the common herd,
That censor Appius, just because I came
From freedman’s loins, would obelize my name–
And serve me right; for ’twas my restless pride
Kept me from sleeping in my own poor hide.
But Glory, like a conqueror, drags behind
Her glittering car the souls of all mankind;
Nor less the lowly than the noble feels
The onward roll of those victorious wheels.
Come, tell me, Tillius, have you cause to thank
The stars that gave you power, restored you rank?
Ill-will, scarce audible in low estate,
Gives tongue, and opens loudly, now you’re great.
Poor fools! they take the stripe, draw on the shoe,
And hear folks asking, “Who’s that fellow? who?”
Just as a man with Barrus’s disease,
His one sole care a lady’s eye to please,
Whene’er he walks abroad, sets on the fair
To con him over, leg, face, teeth, and hair;
So he that undertakes to hold in charge
Town, country, temples, all the realm at large,
Gives all the world a title to enquire
The antecedents of his dam or sire.
“What? you to twist men’s necks or scourge them, you,
The son of Syrus, Dama, none knows who?”
“Aye, but I sit before my colleague; he
Ranks with my worthy father, not with me.”
And think you, on the strength of this, to rise
A Paullus or Messala in our eyes?
Talk of your colleague! he’s a man of parts:
Suppose three funerals jostle with ten carts
All in the forum, still you’ll hear his voice
Through horn and clarion: that commends our
Now on myself, the freedman’s son, I touch,
The freedman’s son, by all contemned as such,
Once, when a legion followed my command,
Now, when Maecenas takes me by the hand.
But this and that are different: some stern judge
My military rank with cause might grudge,
But not your friendship, studious as you’ve been
To choose good men, not pushing, base, or mean.
In truth, to luck I care not to pretend,
For ’twas not luck that mark’d me for your friend:
Virgil at first, that faithful heart and true,
And Varius after, named my name to you.
Brought to your presence, stammeringly I told
(For modesty forbade me to be bold)
No vaunting tale of ancestry of pride,
Of good broad acres and sleek nags to ride,
But simple truth: a few brief words you say,
As is your wont, and wish me a good day.
Then, nine months after, graciously you send,
Desire my company, and hail me friend.
O, ’tis no common fortune, when one earns
A friend’s regard, who man from man discerns,
Not by mere accident of lofty birth
But by unsullied life, and inborn worth!
Yet, if my nature, otherwise correct,
But with some few and trifling faults is flecked,
Just as a spot or mole might be to blame
Upon some body else of comely frame,
If none can call me miserly and mean
Or tax my life with practices unclean,
If I have lived unstained and unreproved
(Forgive self-praise), if loving and beloved,
I owe it to my father, who, though poor,
Passed by the village school at his own door,
The school where great tall urchins in a row,
Sons of great tall centurions, used to go,
With slate and satchel on their backs, to pay
Their monthly quota punctual to the day,
And took his boy to Rome, to learn the arts
Which knight or senator to HIS imparts.
Whoe’er had seen me, neat and more than neat,
With slaves behind me, in the crowded street,
Had surely thought a fortune fair and large,
Two generations old, sustained the charge.
Himself the true tried guardian of his son,
Whene’er I went to class, he still made one.
Why lengthen out the tale? he kept me chaste,
Which is the crown of virtue, undisgraced
In deed and name: he feared not lest one day
The world should talk of money thrown away,
If after all I plied some trade for hire,
Like him, a tax-collector, or a crier:
Nor had I murmured: as it is, the score
Of gratitude and praise is all the more.
No: while my head’s unturned, I ne’er shall need
To blush for that dear father, or to plead
As men oft plead, ’tis Nature’s fault, not mine,
I came not of a better, worthier line.
Not thus I speak, not thus I feel: the plea
Might serve another, but ’twere base in me.
Should Fate this moment bid me to go back
O’er all my length of years, my life retrack
To its first hour, and pick out such descent
As man might wish for e’en to pride’s content,
I should rest satisfied with mine, nor choose
New parents, decked with senatorial shoes,
Mad, most would think me, sane, as you’ll allow,
To waive a load ne’er thrust on me till now.
More gear ‘twould make me get without delay,
More bows there’d be to make, more calls to pay,
A friend or two must still be at my side,
That all alone I might not drive or ride,
More nags would want their corn, more grooms their meat,
And waggons must be bought, to save their feet.
Now on my bobtailed mule I jog at ease,
As far as e’en Tarentum, if I please,
A wallet for my things behind me tied,
Which galls his crupper, as I gall his side,
And no one rates my meanness, as they rate
Yours, noble Tillius, when you ride in state
On the Tiburtine road, five slaves EN SUITE,
Wineholder and et-ceteras all complete.
‘Tis thus my life is happier, man of pride,
Than yours and that of half the world beside.
When the whim leads, I saunter forth alone,
Ask how are herbs, and what is flour a stone,
Lounge through the Circus with its crowd of liars,
Or in the Forum, when the sun retires,
Talk to a soothsayer, then go home to seek
My frugal meal of fritter, vetch, and leek:
Three youngsters serve the food: a slab of white
Contains two cups, one ladle, clean and bright:
Next, a cheap basin ranges on the shelf,
With jug and saucer of Campanian delf:
Then off to bed, where I can close my eyes
Not thinking how with morning I must rise
And face grim Marsyas, who is known to swear
Young Novius’ looks are what he cannot bear.
I lie a-bed till ten: then stroll a bit,
Or read or write, if in a silent fit,
And rub myself with oil, not taken whence
Natta takes his, at some poor lamp’s expense.
So to the field and ball; but when the sun
Bids me go bathe, the field and ball I shun:
Then eat a temperate luncheon, just to stay
A sinking stomach till the close of day,
Kill time in-doors, and so forth. Here you see
A careless life, from stir and striving free,
Happier (O be that flattering unction mine!)
Than if three quaestors figured in my line.
How mongrel Persius managed to outsting
That pungent proscript, foul Rupilius King,
Is known, I take it, to each wight that drops
Oil on bleared eyes, or lolls in barbers’ shops.
Persius was rich, a man of great affairs,
Steeped to the lips in monetary cares
Down at Clazomenae: and some dispute
‘Twixt him and King had festered to a suit.
Tough, pushing, loud was he, with power of hate
To beat e’en King’s; so pestilent his prate,
That Barrus and Sisenna you would find
Left in the running leagues and leagues behind.
Well, to return to King: they quickly see
They can’t agree except to disagree:
For ’tis a rule, that wrath is short or long
Just as the combatants are weak or strong:
‘Twixt Hector and Aeacides the strife
Was truceless, mortal, could but end with life,
For this plain reason, that in either wight
The tide of valour glowed at its full height;
Whereas, if two poor cravens chance to jar,
Or if an ill-matched couple meet in war,
Like Diomede and Glaucus, straight the worse
Gives in, and presents are exchanged of course.
Well, in the days when Brutus held command,
With praetor’s rank, o’er Asia’s wealthy land,
Persius and King engage, a goodly pair,
Like Bithus matched with Bacchius to a hair.
Keen as sharp steel, before the court they go,
Bach in himself as good as a whole show.
Persius begins: amid the general laugh
He praises Brutus, praises Brutus’ staff,
Brutus, the healthful sun of Asia’s sphere,
His staff, the minor stars that bless the year,
All, save poor King; a dog-star he, the sign
To farmers inauspicious and malign:
So roaring on he went, like wintry flood,
Where axes seldom come to thin the wood.
Then, as he thundered, King, Praeneste-bred,
Hurled vineyard slang in handfuls at his head,
A tough grape-gatherer, whom the passer-by
Could ne’er put down, with all his cuckoo cry.
Sluiced with Italian vinegar, the Greek
At length vociferates, “Brutus, let me speak!
You are our great king-killer: why delay
To kill this King? I vow ’tis in your way.”
Long the Sacred Road I strolled one day,
Deep in some bagatelle (you know my way),
When up comes one whose name I scarcely knew–
“The dearest of dear fellows! how d’ye do?”
He grasped my hand–“Well, thanks: the same to you.”
Then, as he still kept walking by my side,
To cut things short, “You’ve no commands?” I cried.
“Nay, you should know me: I’m a man of lore.”
“Sir, I’m your humble servant all the more.”
All in a fret to make him let me go,
I now walk fast, now loiter and walk slow,
Now whisper to my servant, while the sweat
Ran down so fast, my very feet were wet.
“O had I but a temper worth the name,
Like yours, Bolanus!” inly I exclaim,
While he keeps running on at a hand-trot,
About the town, the streets, I know not what.
Finding I made no answer, “Ah! I see,
Tou ‘re at a strait to rid yourself of me;
But ’tis no use: I’m a tenacious friend,
And mean to hold you till your journey’s end,”
“No need to take you such a round: I go
To visit an acquaintance you don’t know:
Poor man! he’s ailing at his lodging, far
Beyond the bridge, where Caesar’s gardens are.”
“O, never mind: I’ve nothing else to do,
And want a walk, so I’ll step on with you.”
Down go my ears, in donkey-fashion, straight;
You’ve seen them do it, when their load’s too great.
“If I mistake not,” he begins, “you’ll find
Viscus not more, nor Varius, to yoar mind:
There’s not a man can turn a verse so soon,
Or dance so nimbly when he hears a tune:
While, as for singing–ah! my forte is there:
Tigellius’ self might envy me, I’ll swear.”
He paused for breath: I falteringly strike in:
“Have you a mother? have you kith or kin
To whom your life is precious?” “Not a soul:
My line’s extinct: I have interred the whole.”
O happy they! (so into thought I fell)
After life’s endless babble they sleep well:
My turn is next: dispatch me: for the weird
Has come to pass which I so long have feared,
The fatal weird a Sabine beldame sung,
All in my nursery days, when life was young:
“No sword nor poison e’er shall take him off,
Nor gout, nor pleurisy, nor racking cough:
A babbling tongue shall kill him: let him fly
All talkers, as he wishes not to die.”
We got to Vesta’s temple, and the sun
Told us a quarter of the day was done.
It chanced he had a suit, and was bound fast
Either to make appearance or be cast.
“Step here a moment, if you love me.” “Nay;
I know no law: ‘twould hurt my health to stay:
And then, my call.” “I’m doubting what to do,
Whether to give my lawsuit up or you.
“Me, pray!” “I will not.” On he strides again:
I follow, unresisting, in his train.
“How stand you with Maecenas?” he began:
“He picks his friends with care; a shrewd wise man:
In fact, I take it, one could hardly name
A head so cool in life’s exciting game.
‘Twould be a good deed done, if you could throw
Your servant in his way; I mean, you know,
Just to play second: in a month, I’ll swear,
You’d make an end of every rival there.”
“O, you mistake: we don’t live there in league:
I know no house more sacred from intrigue:
I’m never distanced in my friend’s good grace
By wealth or talent: each man finds his place.”
“A miracle! if ’twere not told by you,
I scarce should credit it.” “And yet ’tis true.”
“Ah, well, you double my desire to rise
To special favour with a man so wise.”
“You’ve but to wish it: ’twill be your own fault,
If, with your nerve, you win not by assault:
He can be won: that puts him on his guard,
And so the first approach is always hard.”
“No fear of me, sir: a judicious bribe
Will work a wonder with the menial tribe:
Say, I’m refused admittance for to-day;
I’ll watch my time; I’ll meet him in the way,
Escort him, dog him. In this world of ours
The path to what we want ne’er runs on flowers.”
‘Mid all this prate there met us, as it fell,
Aristius, my good friend, who knew him well.
We stop: inquiries and replies go round:
“Where do you hail from?” “Whither are you bound?”
There as he stood, impassive as a clod,
I pull at his limp arms, frown, wink, and nod,
To urge him to release me. With a smile
He feigns stupidity: I burn with bile.
“Something there was you said you wished to tell
To me in private.” “Ay, I mind it well;
But not just now: ’tis a Jews’ fast to-day:
Affront a sect so touchy! nay, friend, nay.”
“Faith, I’ve no scruples.” “Ah! but I’ve a few:
I’m weak, you know, and do as others do:
Some other time: excuse me.” Wretched me!
That ever man so black a sun should see!
Off goes the rogue, and leaves me in despair,
Tied to the altar, with the knife in air:
When, by rare chance, the plaintiff in the suit
Knocks up against us: “Whither now, you brute?”
He roars like thunder: then to me: “You’ll stand
My witness, sir?” “My ear’s at your command.”
Off to the court he drags him: shouts succeed:
A mob collects: thank Phoebus, I am freed.
Yes, I did say that, view him as a bard,
Lucilius is unrhythmic, rugged, hard.
Lives there a partisan so weak of brain
As to join issue on a fact so plain?
But that he had a gift of biting wit,
In the same page I hastened to admit.
Now understand me: that’s a point confessed;
But he who grants it grants not all the rest:
For, were a bard a bard because he’s smart,
Laberius’ mimes were products of high art.
‘Tis not enough to make your reader’s face
Wear a broad grin, though that too has its place:
Terseness there wants, to make the thought ring clear,
Nor with a crowd of words confuse the ear:
There wants a plastic style, now grave, now light,
Now such as bard or orator would write,
And now the language of a well-bred man,
Who masks his strength, and says not all he can:
And pleasantry will often cut clean through
Hard knots that gravity would scarce undo.
On this the old comedians rested: hence
They’re still the models of all men of sense,
Despite Tigellius and his ape, whose song
Is Calvus and Catullus all day long.
“But surely that’s a merit quite unique,
His gift of mixing Latin up with Greek,”
Unique, you lags in learning? what? a knack
Caught by Pitholeon with his hybrid clack?
“Nay, but the mixture gives the style more grace,
As Chian, plus Falernian, has more race.”
Come, tell me truly: is this rule applied
To verse-making by you, and nought beside,
Or would you practise it, when called to plead
For poor Petillius, at his direst need?
Forsooth, you choose that moment, to disown
Your old forefathers, Latin to the bone,
And while great Pedius and Corvinus strain
Against you in pure Latin lungs and brain,
Like double-tongued Canusian, try to speak
A piebald speech, half native and half Greek!
Once when, though born on this side of the sea,
I tried my hand at Attic poetry,
Quirinus warned me, rising to my view
An hour past midnight, just when dreams are true:
“Seek you the throng of Grecian bards to swell?
Take sticks into a forest just as well.”
So, while Alpinus spills his Memnon’s blood,
Or gives his Rhine a headpiece of brown mud,
I toy with trifles such as this, unmeet
At Tarpa’s grave tribunal to compete,
Or, mouthed by well-graced actors, be the rage
Of mobs, and hold possession of the stage.
No hand can match Fundanius at a piece
Where slave and mistress clip an old man’s fleece:
Pollio in buskins chants the deeds of kings:
Varius outsoars us all on Homer’s wings:
The Muse that loves the woodland and the farm
To Virgil lends her gayest, tenderest charm.
For me, this walk of satire, vainly tried
By Atacinus and some few beside,
Best suits my gait: yet readily I yield
To him who first set footstep on that field,
Nor meanly seek to rob him of the bay
That shows so comely on his locks of grey.
Well, but I called him muddy, said you’d find
More sand than gold in what he leaves behind.
And you, sir Critic, does your finer sense
In Homer mark no matter for offence?
Or e’en Lucilius, our good-natured friend,
Sees he in Accius nought he fain would mend?
Does he not laugh at Ennius’ halting verse,
Yet own himself no better, if not worse?
And what should hinder me, as I peruse
Lucilius’ works, from asking, if I choose,
If fate or chance forbade him to attain
A smoother measure, a more finished strain,
Than he (you’ll let me fancy such a man)
Who, anxious only to make sense and scan,
Pours forth two hundred verses ere he sups,
Two hundred more, on rising from his cups?
Like to Etruscan Cassius’ stream of song,
Which flowed, men say, so copious and so strong
That, when he died, his kinsfolk simply laid
His works in order, and his pyre was made.
No; grant Lucilius arch, engaging, gay;
Grant him the smoothest writer of his day;
Lay stress upon the fact that he’d to seek
In his own mind what others find in Greek;
Grant all you please, in turn you must allow,
Had fate postponed his life from then to now,
He’d prune redundancies, apply the file
To each excrescence that deforms his style,
Oft in the pangs of labour scratch his head,
And bite his nails, and bite them, till they bled.
Oh yes! believe me, you must draw your pen
Not once nor twice but o’er and o’er again
Through what you’ve written, if you would entice
The man that reads you once to read you twice,
Not making popular applause your cue,
But looking to fit audience, although few.
Say, would you rather have the things you scrawl
Doled out by pedants for their boys to drawl?
Not I: like hissed Arbuscula, I slight
Your hooting mobs, if I can please a knight.
Shall bug Pantilius vex me? shall I choke
Because Demetrius needs must have his joke
Behind my back, and Fannius, when he dines
With dear Tigellius, vilifies my lines?
Maecenas, Virgil, Varius, if I please
In my poor writings these and such as these,
If Plotius, Valgius, Fuscus will commend,
And good Octavius, I’ve achieved my end.
You, noble Pollio (let your friend disclaim
All thought of flattery when he names your name),
Messala and his brother, Servius too,
And Bibulus, and Furnius kind and true,
With others whom, despite their sense and wit
And friendly hearts, I purposely omit;
Such I would have my critics; men to gain
Whose smiles were pleasure, to forego them pain,
Demetrius and Tigellius, off! go pule
To the bare benches of your ladies’ school!
Hallo there, youngster! take my book, you rogue,
And write this in, by way of epilogue.
THE SATIRES BOOK II.
Some think in satire I’m too keen, and press
The spirit of invective to excess:
Some call my verses nerveless: once begin,
A thousand such per day a man might spin.
Trebatius, pray advise me.
T. Wipe your pen.
H. What, never write a single line again?
T. That’s what I mean.
H. ‘Twould suit me, I protest, Exactly: but at nights I get no rest.
T. First rub yourself three times with oil all o’er,
Then swim the Tiber through from shore to shore,
Taking good care, as night draws on, to steep
Your brain in liquor: then you’ll have your sleep.
Or, if you still have such an itch to write,
Sing of some moving incident of fight;
Sing of great Caasar’s victories: a bard
Who works at that is sure to win reward.
H. Would that I could, my worthy sire! but skill
And vigour lack, how great soe’er the will.
Not every one can paint in epic strain
The lances bristling on the embattled plain,
Tell how the Gauls by broken javelins bleed,
Or sing the Parthian tumbling from his steed.
T. But you can draw him just and brave, you know,
As sage Lucilius did for Scipio.
H. Trust me for that: my devoir I will pay,
Whene’er occasion comes to point the way.
Save at fit times, no words of mine can find
A way through Cassar’s ear to Cassar’s mind:
A mettled horse, if awkwardly you stroke,
Kicks out on all sides, and your leg is broke.
T. Better do this than gall with keen lampoon
Cassius the rake and Maenius the buffoon,
When each one, though with withers yet unwrung,
Fears for himself, and hates your bitter tongue.
H. What shall I do? Milonius, when the wine
Mounts to his head, and doubled lustres shine,
Falls dancing; horses are what Castor loves;
His twin yolk-fellow glories in the gloves:
Count all the folks in all the world, you’ll find
A separate fancy for each separate mind.
To drill reluctant words into a line,
This was Lucilius’ hobby, and ’tis mine.
Good man, he was our better: yet he took
Such pride in nought as in his darling book:
That was his friend, to whom he would confide
The secret thoughts he hid from all beside,
And, whether Fortune used him well or ill,
Thither for sympathy he turned him still:
So there, as in a votive tablet penned,
You see the veteran’s life from end to end.
His footsteps now I follow as I may,
Lucanian or Apulian, who shall say?
For we Venusians live upon the line
Just where Lucania and Apulia join,
Planted,’tis said, there in the Samnites’ place,
To guard for Rome the intermediate space,
Lest these or those some day should make a raid
In time of war, and Roman soil invade.
But this poor implement of mine, my pen,
Shall ne’er assault one soul of living men:
Like a sheathed sword, I’ll carry it about,
Just to protect my life when I go out,
A weapon I shall never care to draw,
While my good neighbours keep within the law.
O grant, dread Father, grant my steel may rust!
Grant that no foe may play at cut and thrust
With my peace-loving self! but should one seek
To quarrel with me, yon shall hear him shriek:
Don’t say I gave no warning: up and down
He shall be trolled and chorused through the town.
Cervius attacks his foes with writ and rule:
Albutius’ henbane is Canidia’s tool:
How threatens Turius? if he e’er should judge
A. cause of yours, he’ll bear you an ill grudge.
Each has his natural weapon, you’ll agree,
If you will work the problem out with me:
Wolves use their tooth against you, bulls their
Why, but that each is to the manner born?
Take worthy Scaeva now, the spendthrift heir,
And trust his long-lived mother to his care;
He’ll lift no hand against her. No, forsooth!
Wolves do not use their heel, nor bulls their tooth:
But deadly hemlock, mingled in the bowl
With honey, will take off the poor old soul.
Well, to be brief: whether old age await
My years, or Death e’en now be at the gate,
Wealthy or poor, at home or banished, still,
Whate’er my life’s complexion, write I will.
T. Poor child! your life is hanging on a thread:
Some noble friend one day will freeze you dead.
H. What? when Lucilius first with dauntless brow
Addressed him to his task, as I do now,
And from each hypocrite stripped off the skin
He flaunted to the world, though foul within,
Did Laelius, or the chief who took his name
Prom conquered Carthage, grudge him his fair game?
Felt they for Lupus or Metellus, when
Whole floods of satire drenched the wretched men?
He took no count of persons: man by man
He scourged the proudest chiefs of each proud clan,
Nor spared delinquents of a humbler birth,
Kind but to worth and to the friends of worth.
And yet, when Scipio brave and Laelius sage
Stepped down awhile like actors from the stage,
They would unbend with him, and laugh and joke
While his pot boiled, like other simple folk.
Well, rate me at my lowest, far below
Lucilius’ rank and talent, yet e’en so
Envy herself shall own that to the end
I lived with men of mark as friend with friend,
And, when she fain on living flesh and bone
Would try her teeth, shall close them on a stone;
That is, if grave Trebatius will concur–
T. I don’t quite see; I cannot well demur;
Yet you had best be cautioned, lest you draw
Some mischief down from ignorance of law;
If a man writes ill verses out of spite
‘Gainst A or B, the sufferer may indict.
H. Ill verses? ay, I grant you: but suppose
Caesar should think them good (and Caesar knows);
Suppose the man you bark at has a name
For every vice, while yours is free from blame.
T. O, then a laugh will cut the matter short:
The case breaks down, defendant leaves the court.
The art of frugal living, and its worth,
To-day, my friends, Ofellus shall set forth
(‘Twas he that taught me it, a shrewd clear wit,
Though country-spun, and for the schools unfit):
Lend me your ears:–but not where meats and wine
In costly service on the table shine,
When the vain eye is dazzled, and the mind
Recoils from truth, to idle shows resigned:
No: let us talk on empty stomachs. Why?
Well, if you’d have me tell you, I will try.
The judge who soils his fingers by a gift
Is scarce the man a doubtful case to sift.
Say that you’re fairly wearied with the course,
Following a hare, or breaking in a horse,
Or, if, for Roman exercise too weak,
You turn for your amusement to the Greek,
You play at ball, and find the healthy strain
Of emulation mitigates the pain,
Or hurl the quoit, till toil has purged all taint
Of squeamishness, and left you dry and faint;
Sniff, if you can, at common food, and spurn
All drink but honey mingled with Falern.
The butler has gone out: the stormy sea
Preserves its fishes safe from you and me:
No matter: salt ad libitum, with bread
Will soothe the Cerberus of our maws instead.
What gives you appetite? ’tis not the meat
Contains the relish: ’tis in you that eat.
Get condiments by work: for when the skin
Is pale and bloated from disease within,
Not golden plover, oyster, nor sardine,
Can make the edge of dulled enjoyment keen.
Yet there’s one prejudice I sorely doubt
If force of reason ever will root out:
Oft as a peacock’s set before you, still
Prefer it to a fowl you must and will,
Because (as if that mattered when we dine!)
The bird is costly, and its tail’s so fine.
What? do you eat the feathers? when’tis drest
And sent to table, does it still look best?
While, as to flesh, the two are on a par:
Yes, you’re the dupe of mere outside, you are.
You see that pike: what is it tells you straight
Where those wide jaws first opened for the bait,
In sea or river? ‘twixt the bridges twain,
Or at the mouth where Tiber joins the main?
A three-pound mullet you must needs admire,
And yet you know ’tis never served entire.
The size attracts you: well then, why dislike
The selfsame quality when found in pike?
Why, but to fly in Nature’s face for spite.
Because she made these heavy those weigh light?
O, when the stomach’s pricked by hunger’s stings,
We seldom hear of scorn for common things!
“Great fishes on great dishes! how I gloat
Upon the sight!” exclaims some harpy-throat.
Blow strongly, blow, good Auster, and ferment
The glutton’s dainties, and increase their scent!
And yet, without such aid, they find the flesh
Of boar and turbot nauseous, e’en though fresh,
When, gorged to sick repletion, they request
Onions or radishes to give them zest.
Nay, e’en at royal banquets poor men’s fare
Yet lingers: eggs and olives still are there.
When, years ago, Gallonius entertained
His friends with sturgeon, an ill name he gained.
Were turbots then less common in the seas?
No: but good living waxes by degrees.
Safe was the turbot, safe the stork’s young brood,
Until a praetor taught us they were good.
So now, should some potential voice proclaim
That roasted cormorants are delicious game,
The youth of Rome (there’s nothing too absurd
For their weak heads) will take him at his word.
But here Ofellus draws a line, between
A life that’s frugal and a life that’s mean:
For ’tis in vain that luxury you shun,
If straight on avarice your bark you run.
Avidienus–you may know him–who
Was always call’d the Dog, and rightly too,
On olives five-year-old is wont to dine,
And, till ’tis sour, will never broach his wine:
Oft as, attired for feasting, blithe and gay,
He keeps some birthday, wedding, holiday,
From his big horn he sprinkles drop by drop
Oil on the cabbages himself:–you’d stop
Your nose to smell it:–vinegar, I own,
He gives you without stint, and that alone.
Well, betwixt these, what should a wise man do?
Which should he copy, think you, of the two?
‘Tis Scylla and Charybdis, rock and gulf:
On this side howls the dog, on that the wolf.
A man that’s neat in table, as in dress,
Errs not by meanness, yet avoids excess;
Nor, like Albucius, when he plays the host,
Storms at his slaves, while giving each his post;
Nor, like poor Naevius, carelessly offends
By serving greasy water to his friends.
Now listen for a space, while I declare
The good results that spring from frugal fare.
IMPRIMIS, health: for ’tis not hard to see
How various meats are like to disagree,
If you remember with how light a weight
Your last plain meal upon your stomach sate:
Now, when you’ve taken toll of every dish,
Have mingled roast with boiled and fowl with fish,
The mass of dainties, turbulent and crude,
Engenders bile, and stirs intestine feud.
Observe your guests, how ghastly pale their looks
When they’ve discussed some mystery of your cook’s:
Ay, and the body, clogged with the excess
Of yesterday, drags down the mind no less,
And fastens to the ground in living death
That fiery particle of heaven’s own breath.
Another takes brief supper, seeks repair
From kindly sleep, then rises light as air:
Not that sometimes he will not cross the line,
And, just for once, luxuriously dine,
When feasts come round with the revolving year,
Or his shrunk frame suggests more generous cheer:
Then too, when age draws on and life is slack,
He has reserves on which he can fall back:
But what have you in store when strength shall fail,
You, who forestall your goods when young and hale?
A rancid boar our fathers used to praise:
What? had they then no noses in those days?
No: but they wished their friends to have the treat
When tainted rather than themselves when sweet.
O had I lived in that brave time of old,
When men were heroes, and the age was gold!
Come now, you set some store by good repute:
In truth, its voice is softer than a lute:
Then know, great fishes on great dishes still
Produce great scandal, let alone the bill.
Think too of angry uncles, friends grown rude,
Nay, your own self with your own self at feud
And longing for a rope to end your pain:
But ropes cost twopence; so you long in vain.
“O, talk,” you say, “to Trausius: though severe,
Such truths as these are just what HE should hear:
But I have untold property, that brings
A yearly sum, sufficient for three kings.”
Untold indeed! then can you not expend
Your superflux on some diviner end?
Why does one good man want while you abound?
Why are Jove’s temples tumbling to the ground?
O selfish! what? devote no modicum
To your dear country from so vast a sum?
Ay, you’re the man: the world will go your way….
O how your foes will laugh at you one day!
Take measure of the future: which will feel
More confidence in self, come woe, come weal,
He that, like you, by long indulgence plants
In body and in mind a thousand wants,
Or he who, wise and frugal, lays in stores
In view of war ere war is at the doors?
But, should you doubt what good Ofellus says,
When young I knew him, in his wealthier days:
Then, when his means were fair, he spent and spared
Nor more nor less than now, when they’re impaired.
Still, in the field once his, but now assigned
To an intruding veteran, you may find,
His sons and beasts about him, the good sire,
A sturdy farmer, working on for hire.
“I ne’er exceeded”–so you’ll hear him say–
“Herbs and smoked gammon on a working day;
But if at last a friend I entertained,
Or there dropped in some neighbour while it rained,
I got no fish from town to grace my board,
But dined off kid and chicken like a lord:
Raisins and nuts the second course supplied,
With a split fig, first doubled and then dried:
Then each against the other, with a fine
To do the chairman’s work, we drank our wine,
And draughts to Ceres, so she’d top the ground
With good tall ears, our frets and worries drowned
Let Fortune brew fresh tempests, if she please,
How much can she knock off from joys like these!
Have you or I, young fellows, looked more lean
Since this new holder came upon the scene?
Holder, I say, for tenancy’s the most
That he, or I, or any man can boast:
Now he has driven us out: but him no less
His own extravagance may dispossess
Or slippery lawsuit: in the last resort
A livelier heir will cut his tenure short.
Ofellus’ name it bore, the field we plough,
A few years back: it bears Umbrenus’ now:
None has it as a fixture, fast and firm,
But he or I may hold it for a term.
Then live like men of courage, and oppose
Stout hearts to this and each ill wind that blows.”
So seldom do you write, we scarcely hear
Your tablets called for four times in the year:
And even then, as fast as you compose,
You quarrel with the thing, and out it goes,
Vexed that, in spite of bottle and of bed,
You turn out nothing worthy to be read.
How is it all to end? Here you’ve come down,
Avoiding a December spent in town:
Your brains are clear: begin, and charm our ears
With something worth your boasting.–Nought appears.
You blame your pens, and the poor wall, accurst
From birth by gods and poets, comes off worst.
Yet you looked bold, and talked of what you’d do,
Could you lie snug for one free day or two.
What boot Menander, Plato, and the rest
You carried down from town to stock your nest?
Think you by turning lazy to exempt
Your life from envy? No, you’ll earn contempt.
Then stop your ears to sloth’s enchanting voice,
Or give up your best hopes: there lies your choice.
H. Good Damasippus, may the immortals grant,
For your sage counsel, the one thing you want,
A barber! but pray tell me how yon came
To know so well what scarce is known to fame?
D. Why, ever since my hapless all went down
‘Neath the mid arch, I go about the town,
And make my neighbours’ matters my sole care,
Seeing my own are damaged past repair.
Once I was anxious on a bronze to light
Where Sisyphus had washed his feet at night;
Each work of art I criticized and classed,
Called this ill chiselled, that too roughly cast;
Prized that at fifty thousand: then I knew
To buy at profit grounds and houses too,
With a sure instinct: till the whole town o’er
“The pet of Mercury” was the name I bore.
H. I know your case, and am surprised to see
So clear a cure of such a malady.
D, Ay, but my old complaint (though strange, ’tis true)
Was banished from my system by a new:
Just as diseases of the side or head
My to the stomach or the chest instead,
Like your lethargic patient, when he tears
Himself from bed, and at the doctor squares.
H. Spare me but that, I’ll trust you.
D. Don’t be blind;
You’re mad yourself, and so are all mankind,
If truth is in Stertinius, from whose speech
I learned the precious lessons that I teach,
What time he bade me grow a wise man’s beard,
And sent me from the bridge, consoled and cheered.
For once, when, bankrupt and forlorn, I stood
With muffled head, just plunging in the flood,
“Don’t do yourself a mischief,” so he cried
In friendly tones, appearing at my side:
“‘Tis all false shame: you fear to be thought mad,
Not knowing that the world are just as bad.
What constitutes a madman? if ’tis shown
The marks are found in you and you alone,
Trust me, I’ll add no word to thwart your plan,
But leave you free to perish like a man.
The wight who drives through life with bandaged eyes,
Ignorant of truth and credulous of lies,
He in the judgment of Chrysippus’ school
And the whole porch is tabled as a fool.
Monarchs and people, every rank and age,
That sweeping clause includes,–except the sage.
“Now listen while I show you, how the rest
Who call you madman, are themselves possessed.
Just as in woods, when travellers step aside
From the true path for want of some good guide,
This to the right, that to the left hand strays,
And all are wrong, but wrong in different ways,
So, though you’re mad, yet he who banters you
Is not more wise, but wears his pigtail too.
One class of fools sees reason for alarm
In trivial matters, innocent of harm:
Stroll in the open plain, you’ll hear them talk
Of fires, rocks, torrents, that obstruct their walk:
Another, unlike these, but not more sane,
Takes fires and torrents for the open plain:
Let mother, sister, father, wife combined
Cry ‘There’s a pitfall! there’s a rock! pray mind!’
They’ll hear no more than drunken Fufius, he
Who slept the part of queen Ilione,
While Catienus, shouting in his ear,
Roared like a Stentor, ‘Hearken, mother dear!’
“Well, now, I’ll prove the mass of humankind
Have judgments just as jaundiced, just as blind.
That Damasippus shows himself insane
By buying ancient statues, all think plain:
But he that lends him money, is he free
From the same charge? ‘O, surely.’ Let us see.
I bid you take a sum you won’t return:
You take it: is this madness, I would learn?
Were it not greater madness to renounce
The prey that Mercury puts within your pounce?
Secure him with ten bonds; a hundred; nay,
Clap on a thousand; still he’ll slip away,
This Protean scoundrel: drag him into court,
You’ll only find yourself the more his sport:
He’ll laugh till scarce you’d think his jaws his own,
And turn to boar or bird, to tree or stone.
If prudence in affairs denotes men sane
And bungling argues a disordered brain,
The man who lends the cash is far more fond
Than you, who at his bidding sign the bond.
“Now give attention and your gowns refold,
Who thirst for fame, grow yellow after gold,
Victims to luxury, superstition blind,
Or other ailment natural to the mind:
Come close to me and listen, while I teach
That you’re a pack of madmen, all and each.
“Of all the hellebore that nature breeds,
The largest share by far the miser needs:
In fact, I know not but Anticyra’s juice
Was all intended for his single use.
When old Staberius died, his heirs engraved
Upon his monument the sum he’d saved:
For, had they failed to do it, they were tied
A hundred pair of fencers to provide,
A feast at Arrius’ pleasure, not too cheap,
And corn, as much as Afric’s farmers reap.
‘I may be right, I may be wrong,’ said he,
‘Who cares? ’tis not for you to lecture me.’
Well, one who knew Staberius would suppose
He was a man that looked beyond his nose:
Why did he wish, then, that his funeral stone
Should make the sum he left behind him known?
Why, while he lived, he dreaded nothing more
Than that great sin, the sin of being poor,
And, had he left one farthing less in purse,
The man, as man, had thought himself the worse:
For all things human and divine, renown,
Honour, and worth at money’s shrine bow down:
And he who has made money, fool or knave,
Becomes that moment noble, just, and brave.
A sage, you ask me? yes, a sage, a king,
Whate’er he chooses; briefly, everything.
So good Staberius hoped each extra pound
His virtue saved would to his praise redound.
Now look at Aristippus, who, in haste
To make his journey through the Libyan waste,
Bade the stout slaves who bore his treasure throw
Their load away, because it made them slow.
Which was more mad? Excuse me: ’twill not do
To shut one question up by opening two.
“If one buys fiddles, hoards them up when bought,
Though music’s study ne’er engaged his thought,
One lasts and awls, unversed in cobbler’s craft,
One sails for ships, not knowing fore from aft,
You’d call them mad: but tell me, if you please,
How that man’s case is different from these,
Who, as he gets it, stows away his gain,
And thinks to touch a farthing were profane?
Yet if a man beside a huge corn-heap
Lies watching with a cudgel, ne’er asleep,
And dares not touch one grain, but makes his meat
Of bitter leaves, as though he found them sweet:
If, with a thousand wine-casks–call the hoard
A million rather–in his cellars stored,
He drinks sharp vinegar: nay, if, when nigh
A century old, on straw he yet will lie,
While in his chest rich coverlets, the prey
Of moth and canker, moulder and decay,
Few men can see much madness in his whim,
Because the mass of mortals ail like him.
“O heaven-abandoned wretch! is all this care
To save your stores for some degenerate heir,
A son, or e’en a freedman, who will pour
All down his throttle, ere a year is o’er?
You fear to come to want yourself, you say?
Come, calculate how small the loss per day,
If henceforth to your cabbage you allow
And your own head the oil you grudge them now.
If anything’s sufficient, why forswear,
Embezzle, swindle, pilfer everywhere?
Can you be sane? suppose you choose to throw
Stones at the crowd, as by your door they go,
Or at the slaves, your chattels, every lad
And every girl will hoot yon down as mad:
When with a rope you kill your wife, with bane
Your aged mother, are you right in brain?
Why not? Orestes did it with the blade,
And ’twas in Argos that the scene was laid.
Think you that madness only then begun
To seize him, when the impious deed was done,
And not that Furies spurred him on, before
The sword grew purple with a parent’s gore?
Nay, from the time they reckon him insane,
He did no deed of which you could complain:
No stroke this madman at Electra aims
Or Pylades: he only calls them names,
Fury or other monster, in the style
Which people use when stirred by tragic bile.
“Opimius, who, with gold and silver store
Lodged in his coffers, ne’ertheless was poor
(The man would drink from earthen nipperkin
Flat wine on working-days, on feast-days thin),
Once fell into a lethargy so deep
That his next heir supposed it more than sleep,
And entering on possession at his ease,
Went round the coffers and applied the keys.
The doctor had a conscience and a head:
He had a table moved beside the bed,
Poured out a money-bag, and bade men come
And ring the coin and reckon o’er the sum:
Then, lifting up his patient, he began:
‘That heir of yours is plundering you, good man.
‘What? while I live?’ ‘You wish to live? then take
The necessary steps: be wide awake.’
‘What steps d’ye mean?’ ‘Your strength will soon run short,
Unless your stomach have some strong support.
Come, rouse yourself: take this ptisane of rice.’
‘The price?’ ‘A trifle.’ ‘I will know the price.’
‘Eight-pence.’ ‘O dear! what matters it if I
Die by disease or robbery? still I die.’
“‘Who then is sane?’ He that’s no fool, in troth.
‘Then what’s a miser?’ Fool and madman both.
‘Well, if a man’s no miser, is he sane
That moment?’ No. ‘Why, Stoic?’ I’ll explain.
The stomach here is sound as any bell,
Craterus may say: then is the patient well?
May he get up? Why no; there still are pains
That need attention in the side or reins.
You’re not forsworn nor miserly: go kill
A porker to the gods who ward off ill.
You’re headlong and ambitious: take a trip
To Madman’s Island by the next swift ship.
For where’s the difference, down the rabble’s throat
To pour your gold, or never spend a groat?
Servius Oppidius, so the story runs,
Rich for his time, bequeathed to his two sons
Two good-sized farms, and calling to his bed
The hopeful youths, in faltering accents said:
‘E’er since I saw you, Aulus, give away
Your nuts and taws, or squander them at play,
While you, Tiberius, careful and morose,
Would count them over, hide them, keep them close,
I’ve feared lest both should err in different ways,
And one have Cassius’, one Cicuta’s craze.
So now I beg you by the household powers
Who guard, and still shall guard, this roof of ours,
That you diminish not, nor you augment
What I and nature fix for your content.
To bar ambition too, I lay an oath
Of heaviest weight upon the souls of both;
Should either be an aedile, or, still worse,
A praetor, let him feel a father’s curse.
What? would you wish to lavish my bequest
In vetches, beech-nuts, lupines and the rest,
You, that in public you may strut, or stand
All bronze, when stripped of money, stripped of land;
You, that Agrippa’s plaudits you may win,
A sneaking fox in a brave lion’s skin?’
“What moves you, Agamemnon, thus to fling
Great Ajax to the dogs? ‘I am a king.’
And I a subject: therefore I forbear
More questions. ‘Right; for what I will is fair:
Yet, if there be who fancy me unjust,
I give my conduct up to be discussed.’
Mightiest of mighty kings, may proud success
And safe return your conquering army bless!
May I ask questions then, and shortly speak
When you have answered? ‘Take the leave you seek.’
Then why should Ajax, though so oft renowned
For patriot service, rot above the ground,
Your bravest next Achilles, just that Troy
And envious Priam may the scene enjoy,
Beholding him, through whom their children came
To feed the dogs, himself cast out to shame?
‘A flock the madman slew, and cried that he
Had killed my brother, Ithacus, and me.’
Well, when you offered in a heifer’s stead
Your child, and strewed salt meal upon her head,
Then were you sane, I ask you? ‘Why not sane?’
Why, what did Ajax when the flock was slain?
He did no violence to his wife or child:
He cursed the Atridae, true; his words were wild;
But against Teucer ne’er a hand he raised,
Nor e’en Ulysses: yet you call him crazed.
‘But I, of purpose, soothed the gods with blood,
To gain our fleet free passage o’er the flood.’
Blood! ay, your own, you madman. ‘Nay, not so:
My own, I grant it: but a madman’s, no.’
“He that sees things amiss, his mind distraught
By guilty deeds, a madman will be thought;
And, so the path of reason once be missed,
Who cares if rage or folly gave the twist?
When Ajax falls with fury on the fold,
He shows himself a madman, let us hold:
When you, of purpose, do a crime to gain
A meed of empty glory, are you sane?
The heart that air-blown vanities dilate,
Will medicine say ’tis in its normal state?
Suppose a man in public chose to ride
With a white lambkin nestling at his side,
Called it his daughter, had it richly clothed,
And did his best to get it well betrothed,
The law would call him madman, and the care
Of him and of his goods would pass elsewhere.
You offer up your daughter for a lamb;
And are you rational? Don’t say, I am.
No; when a man’s a fool, he’s then insane:
The man that’s guilty, he’s a maniac plain:
The dupe of bubble glory, war’s grim queen
Has dinned away his senses, clear and clean.
“Cassius and luxury! hunt that game with me;
For spendthrifts are insane, the world shall see.
Soon as the youngster had received at last
The thousand talents that his sire amassed,
He sent round word to all the sharking clan,
Perfumer, fowler, fruiterer, fisherman,
Velabrum’s refuse, Tuscan Alley’s scum,
To come to him. next morning. Well, they come.
First speaks the pimp: ‘Whatever I or these
Possess, is yours: command it when you please.’
Now hear his answer, and admire the mind
That thus could speak, so generous and so kind.
‘You sleep in Umbrian snow-fields, booted o’er
The hips, that I may banquet on a boar;
You scour the sea for fish in winter’s cold,
And I do nought; I don’t deserve this gold:
Here, take it; you a hundred, you as much,
But you, the spokesman, thrice that sum shall
“AEsopus’ son took from his lady dear
A splendid pearl that glittered in her ear,
Then melted it in vinegar, and quaffed
(Such was his boast) a thousand at a draught:
How say you? had the act been more insane
To fling it in a river or a drain?
“Arrius’ two sons, twin brothers, of a piece
In vice, perverseness, folly, and caprice,
Would lunch off nightingales: well, what’s their mark?
Shall it be chalk or charcoal, white or dark?
“To ride a stick, to build a paper house,
Play odd and even, harness mouse and mouse,
If a grown man professed to find delight
In things like these, you’d call him mad outright.
“Well now, should reason force you to admit
That love is just as childish, every whit;
To own that whimpering at your mistress’ door
Is e’en as weak as building on the floor;
Say, will you put conviction into act,
And, like young Polemo, at once retract;
Take off the signs and trappings of disease,
Your leg-bands, tippets, furs, and muffatees,
As he slipped off his chaplets, when the word
Of sober wisdom all his being stirred?
“Give a cross child an apple: ‘Take it, pet:’
He sulks and will not: hold it back, he’ll fret.
Just so the shut-out lover, who debates
And parleys near the door he vows he hates,
In doubt, when sent for, to go back or no,
Though, if not sent for, he’d be sure to go.
‘She calls me: ought I to obey her call,
Or end this long infliction once for all?
The door was shut:’tis open: ah, that door!
Go back? I won’t, however she implore.’
So he. Now listen while the slave replies,
And say if of the two he’s not more wise:
‘Sir, if a thing is senseless, to bring sense
To bear upon it is a mere pretence;
Now love is such a thing, the more’s the shame;
First war, then peace, ’tis never twice the same,
For ever heaving, like a sea in storm,
And taking every hour some different form.
You think to fix it? why, the job’s as bad
As if you tried by reason to be mad.’
“When you pick apple-pips, and try to hit
The ceiling with them, are you sound of wit?
“When with your withered lips you bill and coo,
Is he that builds card-houses worse than you?
Then, too, the blood that’s spilt by fond desires,
The swords that men will use to poke their fires!
When Marius killed his mistress t’other day
And broke his neck, was he demented, say?
Or would you call him criminal instead,
And stigmatize his heart to save his head,
Following the common fallacy, which founds
A different meaning upon different sounds?
“There was an aged freedman, who would run
From shrine to shrine at rising of the sun,
Sober and purified for prayer, and cry
‘Save me, me only! sure I need not die;
Heaven can do all things:’ ay, the man was sane
In ears and eyes: but how about his brain?
Why, that his master, if not bent to plead
Before a court, could scarce have guaranteed.
Him and all such Chrysippus would assign
To mad Menenius’ most prolific line.
“‘Almighty Jove, who giv’st and tak’st away
The pains we mortals suffer, hear me pray!’
(So cries the mother of a child whose cold,
Or ague rather, now is five months old)
‘Cure my poor boy, and he shall stand all bare
In Tiber, on thy fast, in morning air.’
So if, by chance or treatment, the attack
Should pass away, the wretch will bring it back,
And give the child his death: ’tis madness clear;
But what produced it? superstitious fear.”
Such were the arms Stertinius, next in sense
To the seven sages, gave me for defence.
Now he that calls me mad gets paid in kind,
And told to feel the pigtail stuck behind.
H. Good Stoic, may you mend your loss, and sell
All your enormous bargains twice as well.
But pray, since folly’s various, just explain
What type is mine? for I believe I’m sane.
D. What? is Agave conscious that she’s mad
When she holds up the head of her poor lad?
H. I own I’m foolish–truth must have her will–
Nay, mad: but tell me, what’s my form of ill?
D. I’ll tell you. First, you build, which means you try
To ape great men, yourself some two feet high,
And yet you laugh to see poor Turbo fight,
When he looks big and strains beyond his height.
What? if Maecenas does a thing, must you,
His weaker every way, attempt it too?
A calf set foot on some young frogs, they say,
Once when the mother chanced to be away:
One ‘scapes, and tells his dam with bated breath
How a huge beast had crushed the rest to death:
“How big?” quoth she: “is this as big?” and here
She swelled her body out. “No, nothing near.”
Then, seeing her still fain to puff and puff,
“You’ll burst,” gays he, “before you’re large enough.”
Methinks the story fits you. Now then, throw
Your verses in, like oil to feed the glow.
If ever poet yet was sane, no doubt,
You may put in your plea, but not without.
Your dreadful temper–
D. The sums you spend
Beyond your income–
H. Mind yourself, my friend.
D. And then, those thousand flames no power can cool.
H. O mighty senior, spare a junior fool!
Ho, Catius! whence and whither?
C. Not to-day:
I cannot stop to talk: I must away
To set down words of wisdom, which surpass
The Athenian sage and deep Pythagoras.
H. Faith, I did ill at such an awkward time
To cross your path; but you’ll forgive the crime:
If you’ve lost aught, you’ll get it back ere long
By nature or by art; in both you’re strong.
C. Ah, ’twas a task to keep the whole in mind,
For style and matter were alike refined.
H. But who was lecturer? tell me whence he came.
C. I give the precepts, but suppress the name.
The oblong eggs by connoisseurs are placed
Above the round for whiteness and for taste:
Procure them for your table without fail,
For they’re more fleshy, and their yolk is male.
The cabbage of dry fields is sweeter found
Than the weak growth of washed-out garden ground.
Should some chance guest surprise you late at night,
For fear the new-killed fowl prove tough to bite,
Plunge it while living in Falernian lees,
And then ’twill be as tender as you please.
Mushrooms that grow in meadows are far best;
You can’t be too suspicious of the rest.
He that would pass through summer without hurt
Should eat a plate of mulberries for dessert,
But mind to pluck them in the morning hour,
Before the mid-day sun exerts its power.
Aufidius used Falernian, rich and strong,
To mingle with his honey: he did wrong:
For when the veins are empty, ’tis not well
To pour in fiery drinks to make them swell:
Mild gentle draughts will better do their part
In nourishing the cockles of the heart.
In costive cases, limpets from the shell
Are a cheap way the evil to dispel,
With groundling sorrel: but white Coan neat
You’ll want to make the recipe complete.
For catching shell-fish the new moon’s the time,
But there’s a difference between clime and clime;
Baiae is good, but to the Lucrine yields;
Circeii ranks as best for oyster-fields;
Misenum’s cape with urchins is supplied;
Flat bivalve mussels are Tarentum’s pride.
Let no man fancy he knows how to dine
Till he has learnt how taste and taste combine.
‘Tis not enough to sweep your fish away
From the dear stall, and chuckle as you pay,
Not knowing which want sauce, and which when broiled
Will tempt a guest whose appetite is spoiled.
The man who hates wild boars that eat like tame
Gets his from Umbria, genuine mast-fed game:
For the Laurentian beast, that makes its fat
Off sedge and reeds, is flavourless and flat.
The flesh of roes that feed upon the vine
Is not to be relied on when you dine.
With those who know what parts of hare are best
You’ll find the wings are mostly in request.
Fishes and fowls, their nature and their age,
Have oft employed the attention of the sage;
But how to solve the problem ne’er was known
By mortal palate previous to my own.
There are whose whole invention is confined
To novel sweets: that shows a narrow mind;
As if you wished your wines to be first-rate,
But cared not with what oil your fish you ate.
Put Massic wine to stand ‘neath a clear sky
All night, away the heady fumes will fly,
Purged by cool air: if ’tis through linen strained,
You spoil the flavour, and there’s nothing gained.
Who mix Surrentine with Falernian dregs
Clear off the sediment with pigeons’ eggs:
The yolk goes down; all foreign matters sink
Therewith, and leave the beverage fit to drink.
‘Tis best with roasted shrimps and Afric snails
To rouse your drinker when his vigour fails:
Not lettuce; lettuce after wine ne’er lies
Still in the stomach, but is sure to rise:
The appetite, disordered and distressed,
Wants ham and sausage to restore its zest;
Nay, craves for peppered viands and what not,
Fetched from some greasy cookshop steaming hot.
There are two kinds of sauce; and I may say
That each is worth attention in its way.
Sweet oil’s the staple of the first; but wine
Should be thrown in, and strong Byzantine brine.
Now take this compound, pickle, wine, and oil,
Mix it with herbs chopped small, then make it boil,
Put saffron in, and add, when cool, the juice
Venafrum’s choicest olive-yards produce.
In taste Tiburtian apples count as worse
Than Picene; in appearance, the reverse.
For pots, Venucule grapes the best may suit:
For drying, Albans are your safer fruit.
‘Twas I who first, authorities declare,
Served grapes with apples, lees with caviare,
White pepper with black salt, and had them set
Before each diner as his private whet.
‘Tis gross to squander hundreds upon fish,
Yet pen them cooked within too small a dish.
So too it turns the stomach, if there sticks
Dirt to the bowl wherein your wine you mix;
Or if the servant, who behind you stands,
Has fouled the beaker with his greasy hands.
Brooms, dish-cloths, saw-dust, what a mite they cost!
Neglect them though, your reputation’s lost.
What? sweep with dirty broom a floor inlaid,
Spread unwashed cloths o’er tapestry and brocade,
Forgetting, sure, the less such things entail
Of care and cost, the more the shame to fail,
Worse than fall short in luxuries, which one sees
At no man’s table but your rich grandees’?
H. Catius, I beg, by all that binds a friend,
Let me go with you, when you next attend;
For though you’ve every detail at command,
There’s something must be lost at second hand.
Then the man’s look, his manner–these may seem
Mere things of course, perhaps, in your esteem,
So privileged as you are: for me, I feel
An inborn thirst, a more than common zeal,
Up to the distant river-head to mount,
And quaff these precious waters at their fount.
Now, good Tiresias, add one favour more
To those your kindness has vouchsafed before,
And tell me by what ways I may redeem
My broken fortunes–You’re amused, ‘twould seem.
T. You get safe home, you see your native isle,
And yet it craves for more, that heart of guile!
U. O source of truth unerring, you’re aware,
I reach my home impoverished and stripped bare
(So you predict), and find nor bit nor sup,
My flocks all slaughtered and my wines drunk up:
Yet family and worth, without the staff
Of wealth to lean on, are the veriest draff.
T. Since, in plain terms, ’tis poverty you fear,
And riches are your aim, attend and hear.
Suppose a thrush or other dainty placed
At your disposal, for your private taste,
Speed it to some great house, all gems and gold,
Where means are ample, and their master old:
Your choicest apples, ripe and full of juice,
And whatsoe’er your garden may produce,
Before they’re offered at the Lares’ shrine,
Give them to your rich friend, as more divine:
Be he a branded slave, forsworn, distained
With brother’s blood, in short, a rogue ingrained,
Yet walk, if asked, beside him when you meet,
And (pray mind this) between him and the street.
U. What, give a slave the wall? in happier days,
At Troy, for instance, these were not my ways:
Then with the best I matched myself.
T. Indeed? I’m sorry: then you’ll always be in need.
U. Well, well, my heart shall bear it; ’tis inured
To dire adventure, and has worse endured.
Go on, most worthy augur, and unfold
The arts whereby to pile up heaps of gold.
T. Well, I have told you, and I tell you still:
Lay steady siege to a rich dotard’s will;
Nor, should a fish or two gnaw round the bait,
And ‘scape the hook, lose heart and give up straight.
A suit at law comes on: suppose you find
One party’s old and childless, never mind
Though law with him’s a weapon to oppress
An upright neighbour, take his part no less:
But spurn the juster cause and purer life,
If burdened with a child or teeming wife.
“Good Quintus,” say, or “Publius” (nought endears
A speaker more than this to slavish ears),
“Your worth has raised you up a friend at court;
I know the law, and can a cause support;
I’d sooner lose an eye than aught should hurt,
In purse or name, a man of your desert:
Just leave the whole to me: I’ll do my best
To make you no man’s victim, no man’s jest.”
Bid him go home and nurse himself, while you
Act as his counsel and his agent too;
Hold on unflinching, never bate a jot,
Be it for wet or dry, for cold or hot,
Though “Sirius split dumb statues up,” or though
Fat Furius “spatter the bleak Alps with snow.”
“What steady nerve!” some bystander will cry,
Nudging a friend; “what zeal! what energy!
What rare devotion!” ay, the game goes well;
In flow the tunnies, and your fish-ponds swell.
Another plan: suppose a man of wealth
Has but one son, and that in weakly health;
Creep round the father, lest the court you pay
To childless widowers your game betray,
That he may put you second, and, in case
The poor youth die, insert you in his place,
And so you get the whole: a throw like this,
Discreetly hazarded, will seldom miss.
If offered by your friend his will to read,
Decline it with a “Thank you! no, indeed!”
Yet steal a side-long glance as you decline
At the first parchment and the second line,
Just to discover if he leaves you heir
All by yourself, or others have a share.
A constable turned notary oft will cheat
Your raven of the cheese he thought to eat;
And sly Nasica will become, you’ll see,
Coranus’ joke, but not his legatee.
U. What? are you mad, or do you mean to balk
My thirst for knowledge by this riddling talk?
T. O Laertiades! what I foreshow
To mortals, either will take place or no;
For ’tis the voice of Phoebus from his shrine
That speaks in me and makes my words divine.
U. Forgive my vehemence, and kindly state
The meaning of the fable you narrate.
T. When he, the Parthian’s dread, whose blood comes down
E’en from Aeneas’ veins, shall win renown
By land and sea, a marriage shall betide
Between Coranus, wight of courage tried,
And old Nasica’s daughter, tall and large,
Whose sire owes sums he never will discharge.
The duteous son-in-law his will presents,
And begs the sire to study its contents:
At length Nasica, having long demurred,
Takes it and reads it through without a word;
And when the whole is done, perceives in fine
That he and his are simply left–to whine.
Suppose some freedman, or some crafty dame
Rules an old driveller, you may join their game:
Say all that’s good of them to him, that they,
When your back’s turned, the like of you may say
This plan has merits; but ’tis better far
To take the fort itself, and end the war.
A shrewd old crone at Thebes (the fact occurred
When I was old) was thus by will interred:
Her corpse was oiled all over, and her heir
Bore it to burial on his shoulders bare:
He’d stuck to her while living; so she said
She’d give him, if she could, the slip when dead.
Be cautious in attack; observe the mean,
And neither be too lukewarm, nor too keen.
Much talk annoys the testy and morose,
But ’tis not well to be reserved and close.
Act Davus in the drama: droop your head,
And use the gestures of a man in dread.
Be all attention: if the wind is brisk,
Say, “Wrap that precious head up! run no risk!”
Push shouldering through a crowd, the way to clear
Before him; when he maunders, prick your ear.
He craves for praise; administer the puff
Till, lifting up both hands, he cries “Enough.”
But when, rewarded and released, at last
You gain the end of all your service past,
And, not in dreams but soberly awake,
Hear “One full quarter let Ulysses take,”
Say, once or twice, “And is good Dama dead?
Where shall I find his like for heart and head?”
If possible, shed tears: at least conceal
The tell-tale smiles that speak the joy you feel.
Then, for the funeral: with your hands untied,
Beware of erring upon meanness’ side:
No; let your friend be handsomely interred,
And let the neighbourhood give you its good word.
Should one of your co-heirs be old, and vexed
With an inveterate cough, approach him next:
A house or lands he’d purchase that belong
To your estate: they’re his for an old song.
But Proserpine commands me; I must fly;
Her will is law; I wish you health; good-bye.
This used to be my wish: a bit of land,
A house and garden with a spring at hand,
And just a little wood. The gods have crowned
My humble vows; I prosper and abound:
Nor ask I more, kind Mercury, save that thou
Wouldst give me still the goods thou giv’st me now:
If crime has ne’er increased them, nor excess
And want of thrift are like to make them less;
If I ne’er pray like this, “O might that nook
Which spoils my field be mine by hook or crook!
O for a stroke of luck like his, who found
A crock of silver, turning up the ground,
And, thanks to good Alcides, farmed as buyer
The very land where he had slaved for hire!”
If what I have contents me, hear my prayer:
Still let me feel thy tutelary care,
And let my sheep, my pastures, this and that,
My all, in fact, (except my brains,) be fat.
Now, lodged in my hill-castle, can I choose
Companion fitter than my homely Muse?
Here no town duties vex, no plague-winds blow,
Nor Autumn, friend to graveyards, works me woe.
Sire of the morning (do I call thee right,
Or hear’st thou Janus’ name with more delight?)
Who introducest, so the gods ordain,
Life’s various tasks, inaugurate my strain.
At Rome to bail I’m summoned. “Do your part,”
Thou bidd’st me; “quick, lest others get the start.”
So, whether Boreas roars, or winter’s snow
Clips short the day, to court I needs must go.
I give the fatal pledge, distinct and loud,
Then pushing, struggling, battle with the crowd.
“Now, madman!” clamours some one, not without
A threat or two, “just mind what you’re about:
What? you must knock down all that’s in your way,
Because you’re posting to Maecenas, eh?”
This pleases me, I own; but when I get
To black Esquiliae, trouble waits me yet:
For other people’s matters in a swarm
Buzz round my head and take my ears by storm.
“Sir, Roscius would be glad if you’d arrange
By eight a. m. to be with him on ‘Change.”
“Quintus, the scribes entreat you to attend
A meeting of importance, as their friend.”
“Just get Maecenas’ seal attached to these.”
“I’ll try.” “O, you can do it, if you please.”
Seven years, or rather eight, have well-nigh passed
Since with Maecenas’ friends I first was classed,
To this extent, that, driving through the street,
He’d stop his car and offer me a seat,
Or make such chance remarks as “What’s o’clock?”
“Will Syria’s champion beat the Thracian cock?”
“These morning frosts are apt to be severe;”
Just chit-chat, suited to a leaky ear.
Since that auspicious date, each day and hour
Has placed me more and more in envy’s power:
“He joined his play, sat next him at the games:
A child of Fortune!” all the world exclaims.
From the high rostra a report comes down,
And like a chilly fog, pervades the town:
Each man I meet accosts me “Is it so?
You live so near the gods, you’re sure to know:
That news about the Dacians? have you heard
No secret tidings?” “Not a single word.”
“O yes! you love to banter us poor folk.”
“Nay, if I’ve heard a tittle, may I choke!”
“Will Caesar grant his veterans their estates
In Italy, or t’other side of the straits?”
I swear that I know nothing, and am dumb:
They think me deep, miraculously mum.
And so my day between my fingers slips,
While fond regrets keep rising to my lips:
O my dear homestead in the country! when
Shall I behold your pleasant face again;
And, studying now, now dozing and at ease,
Imbibe forgetfulness of all this tease?
O when, Pythagoras, shall thy brother bean,
With pork and cabbage, on my board be seen?
O happy nights and suppers half divine,
When, at the home-gods’ altar, I and mine
Enjoy a frugal meal, and leave the treat
Unfinished for my merry slaves to eat!
Not bound by mad-cap rules, but free to choose
Big cups or small, each follows his own views:
You toss your wine off boldly, if you please,
Or gently sip, and mellow by degrees.
We talk of–not our neighbour’s house or field,
Nor the last feat of Lepos, the light-heeled–
But matters which to know concerns us more,
Which none but at his peril can ignore;
Whether ’tis wealth or virtue makes men blest,
What leads to friendship, worth or interest,
In what the good consists, and what the end
And chief of goods, on which the rest depend:
While neighbour Cervius, with his rustic wit,
Tells old wives’ tales, this case or that to hit.
Should some one be unwise enough to praise
Arellius’ toilsome wealth, he straightway says:
“One day a country mouse in his poor home
Received an ancient friend, a mouse from Rome:
The host, though close and careful, to a guest
Could open still: so now he did his best.
He spares not oats or vetches: in his chaps
Raisins he brings and nibbled bacon-scraps,
Hoping by varied dainties to entice
His town-bred guest, so delicate and nice,
Who condescended graciously to touch
Thing after thing, but never would take much,
While he, the owner of the mansion, sate
On threshed-out straw, and spelt and darnels ate.
At length the townsman cries: “I wonder how
You can live here, friend, on this hill’s rough brow:
Take my advice, and leave these ups and downs,
This hill and dale, for humankind and towns.
Come now, go home with me: remember, all
Who live on earth are mortal, great and small:
Then take, good sir, your pleasure while you may;
With life so short, ’twere wrong to lose a day.”
This reasoning made the rustic’s head turn round;
Forth from his hole he issues with a bound,
And they two make together for their mark,
In hopes to reach the city during dark.
The midnight sky was bending over all,
When they set foot within a stately hall,
Where couches of wrought ivory had been spread
With gorgeous coverlets of Tyrian red,
And viands piled up high in baskets lay,
The relics of a feast of yesterday.
The townsman does the honours, lays his guest
At ease upon a couch with crimson dressed,
Then nimbly moves in character of host,
And offers in succession boiled and roast;
Nay, like a well-trained slave, each wish prevents,
And tastes before the tit-bits he presents.
The guest, rejoicing in his altered fare,
Assumes in turn a genial diner’s air,
When hark! a sudden banging of the door:
Each from his couch is tumbled on the floor:
Half dead, they scurry round the room, poor things,
While the whole house with barking mastiffs rings.
Then says the rustic: “It may do for you,
This life, but I don’t like it; so adieu:
Give me my hole, secure from all alarms,
I’ll prove that tares and vetches still have charms.”
I’ve listened long, and fain a word would say,
But, as a slave, I dare not.
H. Davus, eh?
D. Yes, Davus, true and faithful, good enough,
But not too good to be of lasting stuff.
H. Well, take December’s licence: I’ll not balk
Our fathers’ good intentions: have your talk.
D. Some men there are take pleasure in what’s ill
Persistently, and do it with a will:
The greater part keep wavering to and fro,
And now all right, and now all wrong they go.
Prisons, we all remember, oft would wear
Three rings at once, then show his finger bare;
First he’d be senator, then knight, and then
In an hour’s time a senator again;
Flit from a palace to a crib so mean,
A decent freedman scarce would there be seen;
Now with Athenian wits he’d make his home,
Now live with scamps and profligates at Rome;
Born in a luckless hour, when every face
Vertumnus wears was pulling a grimace.
Shark Volanerius tried to disappoint
The gout that left his fingers ne’er a joint
By hiring some one at so much per day
To shake the dicebox while he sat at play;
Consistent in his faults, so less a goose
Than your poor wretch who shifts from fast to loose.
H. For whom d’ye mean this twaddle, tell me now,
D. Why, for you.
H. Good varlet, how?
D. You praise the life that people lived of old,
When Rome was frugal and the age was gold,
And yet, if on a sudden forced to dwell
With men like those, you’d strenuously rebel,
Either because you don’t believe at heart
That what you bawl for is the happier part,
Or that you can’t act out what you avow,
But stand with one foot sticking in the slough.
At Rome you hanker for your country home;
Once in the country, there’s no place like Rome.
If not asked out to supper, then you bless
The stars that let you eat your quiet mess,
Vow that engagements are mere clogs, and think
You’re happy that you’ve no one’s wine to drink.
But should Maecenas, somewhat late, invite
His favourite bard to come by candle-light,
“Bring me the oil this instant! is there none
Hears me?” you scream, and in a trice are gone:
While Milvius and his brother beasts of prey,
With curses best not quoted, walk away.
Yet what says Milvius? “Honest truth to tell,
I turn my nose up at a kitchen’s smell;
I’m guided by my stomach; call me weak,
Coward, tavern-spunger, still by book you’ll speak.
But who are you to treat me to your raps?
You’re just as bad as I, nay worse perhaps,
Though you’ve a cloak of decent words, forsooth,
To throw at pleasure o’er the ugly truth.”
What if at last a greater fool you’re found
Than I, the slave you bought for twenty pound?
Nay, nay, don’t scare me with that threatening eye:
Unclench your fist and lay your anger by,
While I retail the lessons which of late
The porter taught me at Crispinus’ gate.
You’re no adulterer:–nor a thief am I,
When I see plate and wisely pass it by:
But take away the danger, in a trice
Nature unbridled plunges into vice.
What? you to be my master, who obey
More persons, nay, more things than words can say,
Whom not the praetor’s wand, though four times waved,
Could make less tyrant-ridden, less enslaved?
Press home the matter further: how d’ye call
The thrall who’s servant to another thrall?
An understrapper, say; the name will do;
Or fellow-servant: such am I to you:
For you, whose work I do, do others’ work,
And move as dolls move when their wires we jerk.
Who then is free? The sage, who keeps in check
His baser self, who lives at his own beck,
Whom neither poverty nor dungeon drear
Nor death itself can ever put in fear,
Who can reject life’s goods, resist desire,
Strong, firmly braced, and in himself entire,
A hard smooth ball that gives you ne’er a grip,
‘Gainst whom when Fortune runs, she’s sure to trip.
Such are the marks of freedom: look them through,
And tell me, is there one belongs to you?
Your mistress begs for money, plagues you sore,
Ducks you with water, drives you from her door,
Then calls you back: break the vile bondage; cry
“I’m free, I’m free.”–Alas, you cannot. Why?
There’s one within you, armed with spur and stick,
Who turns and drives you, howsoe’er you kick.
On one of Pausias’ masterworks you pore,
As you were crazy: what does Davus more,
Standing agape and straining knees and eyes
At some rude sketch of fencers for a prize,
Where, drawn in charcoal or red ochre, just
As if alive, they parry and they thrust?
Davus gets called a loiterer and a scamp,
You (save the mark!) a critic of high stamp.
If hot sweet-cakes should tempt me, I am naught:
Do you say no to dainties as you ought?
Am I worse trounced than you when I obey
My stomach? true, my back is made to pay:
But when you let rich tit-bits pass your lip
That cost no trifle, do you ‘scape the whip?
Indulging to excess, you loathe your meat,
And the bloat trunk betrays the gouty feet.
The lad’s a rogue who goes by night to chop
A stolen flesh-brush at a fruiterer’s shop:
The man who sells a farm to buy good fare,
Is there no slavery to the stomach there?
Then too you cannot spend an hour alone;
No company’s more hateful than your own;
You dodge and give yourself the slip; you seek
In bed or in your cups from care to sneak:
In vain: the black dog follows you, and hangs
Close on your flying skirts with hungry fangs.
H. Where’s there a stone?
D. Who wants it?
H. Or a pike?
D. Mere raving this, or verse-making belike.
H. Unless you’re off at once, you’ll join the eight
Who do their digging down at my estate.
That rich Nasidienus–let me hear
How yesterday you relished his good cheer:
For when I tried to get you, I was told
You’d been there since the day was six hours old.
F. O, ’twas the finest treat.
H. Inform me, pray,
What first was served your hunger to allay.
F. First a Lucanian boar; ’twas captured wild
(So the host told us) when the wind was mild;
Around it, turnips, lettuce, radishes,
By way of whet, with brine and Coan lees.
Then, when the board, a maple one, was cleared,
A high-girt slave with purple cloth appeared
And rubbed and wiped it clean: another boy
Removed the scraps, and all that might annoy:
“While dark Hydaspes, like an Attic maid
Who carries Ceres’ basket, grave and staid,
Came in with Caecuban, and, close behind,
Alcon with Chian, which had ne’er been brined.
Then said our host: “If Alban you’d prefer,
Maecenas, or Falern, we have them, Sir.”
H. What sorry riches! but I fail to glean
Who else was present at so rare a scene.
F. Myself at top, then Viscus, and below
Was Varius: after us came Balatro,
Vibidius also, present at the treat
Unasked, as members of Maecenas’ suite.
Porcius and Nomentanus last, and he,
Our host, who lay betwixt them, made the three:
Porcius the undermost, a witty droll,
Who makes you laugh by swallowing cheesecakes whole:
While Nomentanus’ specialty was this,
To point things out that vulgar eyes might miss;
For fish and fowl, in fact whate’er was placed
Before us, had, we found, a novel taste,
As one experiment sufficed to show,
Made on a flounder and a turbot’s roe.
Then, turning the discourse to fruit, he treats
Of the right time for gathering honey-sweets;
Plucked when the moon’s on wane, it seems they’re red;
For further details see the fountain-head.
When thus to Balatro Vibidius: “Fie!
Let’s drink him out, or unrevenged we die;
Here, bigger cups.” Our entertainer’s cheek
Turned deadly white, as thus he heard him speak;
For of the nuisances that can befall
A man like him, your toper’s worst of all,
Because, you know, hot wines do double wrong;
They dull the palate, and they edge the tongue.
On go Vibidius and his mate, and tilt
Whole flagons into cups Allifae-built:
We follow suit: the host’s two friends alone
Forbore to treat the wine-flask as their own.
A lamprey now appears, a sprawling fish,
With shrimps about it swimming in the dish.
Whereon our host remarks: “This fish was caught
While pregnant: after spawning it is naught.
We make our sauce with oil, of the best strain
Venafrum yields, and caviare from Spain,
Pour in Italian wine, five years in tun,
While yet ’tis boiling; when the boiling’s done,
Chian suits best of all; white pepper add,
And vinegar, from Lesbian wine turned bad.
Rockets and elecampanes with this mess
To boil, is my invention, I profess:
To put sea-urchins in, unwashed as caught,
‘Stead of made pickle, was Curtillus’ thought.”
Meantime the curtains o’er the table spread
Came tumbling in a heap from overhead,
Dragging withal black dust in whirlwinds, more
Than Boreas raises on Campania’s floor:
We, when the shock is over, smile to see
The danger less than we had feared ‘twould be,
And breathe again. Poor Rufus drooped his head
And wept so sore, you’d think his son was dead:
And things seemed hastening to a tragic end,
But Nomentanus thus consoled his friend:
“O Fortune, cruellest of heavenly powers,
Why make such game of this poor life of ours?”
Varius his napkin to his mouth applied,
A laugh to stifle, or at least to hide:
But Balatro, with his perpetual sneer,
Cries, “Such is life, capricious and severe,
And hence it comes that merit never gains
A meed of praise proportioned to its pains.
What gross injustice! just that I may get
A handsome dinner, you must fume and fret,
See that the bread’s not burned, the sauce not spoiled,
The servants in their places, curled and oiled.
Then too the risks; the tapestry, as of late,
May fall; a stumbling groom may break a plate.
But gifts, concealed by sunshine, are displayed
In hosts, as in commanders, by the shade.”
Rufus returned, “Heaven speed things to your mind!
Sure ne’er was guest so friendly and so kind;”
Then takes his slippers. Head to head draws near,
And each man’s lips are at his neighbour’s ear.
H. ‘Tis better than a play: but please report
What further things occurred to make you sport.
F. Well, while Vibidius takes the slaves to task,
Enquiring if the tumble broke the flask,
And Balatro keeps starting some pretence
For mirth, that we may laugh without offence,
With altered brow returns our sumptuous friend,
Resolved, what chance has damaged, art shall mend.
More servants follow, staggering ‘neath the load
Of a huge dish where limbs of crane were stowed,
Salted and floured; a goose’s liver, crammed
To twice its bulk, so close the figs were jammed;
And wings of hares dressed separate, better so
Than eaten with the back, as gourmands know.
Then blackbirds with their breasts all burnt to coal,
And pigeons without rumps, not served up whole,
Dainties, no doubt, but then there came a speech
About the laws and properties of each;
At last the feeder and the food we quit,
Taking revenge by tasting ne’er a bit,
As if Canidia’s mouth had breathed an air
Of viperous poison on the whole affair.