Satires XI & XII

Satire XI: An Invitation To Dinner   SatXI:1-55 Know Yourself


If Atticus, the wealthy, dines well, he’s the height of elegance,

If Rutilus does so, he’s mad. What sparks louder laughter in

The public than a bankrupt gourmet? Every dinner-party,

Every bathhouse, square, and theatre is talking of Rutilus.

While his limbs are young, they say, and strong enough, for

Him to fight in a helmet, while his blood still burns hotly

He’s about to sign up to the code of the gladiatorial school,

With its royal decrees, free of the tribune’s pressure or veto.

You can find plenty like him, whose only reason for living

Is to satisfy their palate, whose creditors, barely eluded,

Frequently lie in wait for them at the gate of the market.

The most poverty-stricken gourmet will dine in choicest

And richest style, though facing ruin; the cracks apparent,

He’ll still be searching the four elements for appetisers,

Price no obstacle to his desire; indeed, if you watch closely,

He delights all the more in whatever proves most expensive.

He’ll not hesitate for a moment about raising liquid funds

By pawning the silver, or melting down mother’s statue.

He’ll not hesitate a moment to spend four thousand in gold

Spicing his gourmet dishes; only to eat stew with the gladiators.

It depends who holds the feast, then; Rutilus spells extravagance,

But the expense in Ventidius’ case is laudable and his wealth

Increases his fame and reputation. It’s right to despise the man

Who knows how superior Mount Atlas is in height to the other

Towering summits of Libya, yet hasn’t the least idea how small

His purse is compared with a treasure chest that’s bound in iron.

The saying gnωθι σεαυτόν: ‘know yourself’, is of heavenly origin,

It should be fixed in the memory, dwelt on in the heart, whether

You’re seeking a wife, or aim for a place in the sacred Senate;

Thersites had no wish to win the contest for Achilles’ armour,

That breastplate in which Ulysses made an exhibition of himself.

If it’s you who affect to defend a difficult and highly important

Case, then take counsel with yourself, ask yourself what you are,

A powerful orator, or merely a windbag, like Curtius or Matho?

You must know your measure, and be conscious of it in great

Things and in small, even for instance when you’re buying fish;

No point in desiring mullet, if your purse only runs to gudgeon!

Think of the fate that awaits you, as your wallet grows leaner

While your appetite increases, when you’ve sunk your paternal,

Inheritance, your property, your silver plate, all of that heavy

Stuff, with all your fields and herds, in your spacious stomach.

With spendthrift lords the last to go is the Roman knight’s gold

Ring, after which Pollio ends by begging with a naked finger.

It’s not a premature demise, an early funeral, the extravagant

Should fear, but old age, that is more to be feared than death.

There’s the usual progression: they’ll borrow money in Rome

And squander it in the lender’s face; then, while there’s still

A small amount left they’ll flee for Baiae and its oyster-beds.

It’s no worse these days to be declared bankrupt, than move

The other way, to the Esquiline from the seethe of Subura.

The only grief they experience fleeing the City, their only

Regret, is having to miss a year of races in the Circus.

There’s not a trace of a blush on their faces: Shame is

Mocked as she hastens from Rome, few seek to detain her.


SatXI:56-89 An Invitation To Dinner – The Food


Now you’ll discover, Persicus, whether I live up to this fine talk

In reality, in my style of living and my behaviour, or whether

Though singing the praises of beans, I’m really a gourmet at heart,

Ask my slave for porridge in public, but whisper ‘tart’ in his ear?

Now you’ve promised to be my guest, I’ll be your King Evander,

While you’ll be Hercules, hero of Tiryns, or that lesser guest

Aeneas, who could still count a goddess in his family tree.

Listen to what I’ll serve, without recourse to the market.

From my Tiburtine farm comes a little kid, the most tender,

The plumpest, of the herd, that’s as yet unacquainted with

Grazing, that hasn’t yet dared to nibble the hanging willow

Shoots, there’s more milk than blood in its veins; then wild

Asparagus, picked by my steward’s wife when she’s finished

Her weaving; large eggs, still warm, wrapped in wisps of hay,

Accompanying the hens themselves; and grapes kept for half

A year, still as good as they were when they hung on the vine;

Syrian and Signian pears; and in the same baskets of fruit

Fresh-smelling apples equalling those from Picenum; don’t

Fret, their autumnal juice has been tempered by frost,

And they’ve shed that dangerous lack of ripeness. In the

Old days, this would already have seemed a luxurious feast

To the Senate. Manius Curius Dentatus would cook humble

Greens, picked in the garden, on his modest hearth, now

Every squalid ditch-digger in the chain-gang would refuse it,

While reminiscing about the tripe he ate in some steaming diner.

It was the tradition long ago to hang a side of salted pork

From the wide-barred rack ready for festive occasions, and

To serve your relations a birthday meal of bacon, with fresh

Meat too, if you received a cut from the sacrificial victim.

Even a relative, three-times consul, who’d held the office

Of dictator, and who’d commanded armies, would still

Hurry back for such a feast, earlier than usual, carrying

His spade on his shoulder, from some hillside he’d tamed.


SatXI:90-135 An Invitation To Dinner – The Surroundings


In the days when they trembled before the Fabii and Scauri,

Fabricius, and stern Cato, when the strict censor’s rigid

Moral code caused even his colleague to shiver with fear,

No one pondered, as a matter for serious consideration,

What species of tortoise swimming the Ocean’s wave,

Might make a fine and notable headrest for the elite;

Their couches were modest with bare sides, the bronze

Front displaying an ass’s head garlanded with vines,

Around which the playful rural children would frolic.

Their homes and their furniture matched their cuisine.

Then soldiers were simple men, ignorant of Greek art,

And they’d break up cups made by great craftsmen,

Their share of the spoils from some conquered city,

So their horses could be decked with the trappings,

And their helmets be studded with scenes their foes

Might gaze at, as they died; fate commanding the wolf

To be tame, that sucked Romulus; or the twins in the cave;

Or their father, Mars, descending, no shield or spear.

And thus they served their porridge in Tuscan bowls:

Their silver served solely to make their armour gleam.

You could envy all that, if you were the envious sort!

And the power of the shrines was more tangible then,

A voice in the depths of night echoed in silent Rome,

When the Gauls were on the march from the Ocean shore,

And the gods acting as prophets. Such, Jupiter’s warning,

Such the protection he offered Latium, when his image

Was fashioned from pottery, not tarnished by gold.

In those days you saw home-made tables crafted from

Our own trees; the wood was stacked for use, if some

Ancient walnut tree was overturned by an easterly wind.

But now the rich get no pleasure from dining; the turbot,

The venison are tasteless; the roses and fragrances foul,

Unless the great round tabletop is held up by a massive

Ivory pillar, a rampant snarling leopard made of tusks

Imported from Aswan, Gate of Syene, by the swift

Moors, or the Indian traders, even more dark-skinned;

Tusks that the elephants drop in the glades of Nabatea,

When they prove too large and heavy. It stirs the appetite,

And strengthens the stomach; a pedestal made of silver,

Would be like a plebeian iron ring on the finger. So I

Avoid the snobbish guest, who compares me to himself,

And despises my meagre resources. I own not an ounce

Of ivory, neither dice nor abacus beads made of the stuff,

Even the handles of my knives are fashioned out of bone.

Yet they’ve never made the fish or bread I serve rancid,

Nor is the chicken I carve any the worse for that reason.


SatXI:136-182 An Invitation To Dinner – The Entertainment


And I won’t have a carver to whom the whole school

Of carvers has to bow down, a disciple of Trypherus

The learned, in whose classroom they blunt steel, slicing

Sows, huge hares, wild boar, gazelle, Scythian pheasants,

Enormous flamingos, Gaetulian oryx, sumptuous fare,

Till the elm-wood chopping board’s echoes fill the Subura.

Nor has my novice servant learnt how to purloin a hunk

Of venison, or slice of Guinea fowl, untutored all his days,

And only initiated as yet in the stealing of tiniest scraps.

An uncultured boy will hand round the commonest cups,

Bought for a few pennies; he’ll be wrapped against the cold;

He’s no Phrygian, or Lycian slave obtained from the dealer

At great expense: when you want something, ask him in Latin.

All my slaves dress alike, their hair is cut short and straight,

And it’s only been combed today because of the dinner I give.

This one’s a tough shepherd’s son, this one’s father’s a drover.

That one sighs for the mother he’s not seen for so many days,

Pines for his little cottage, and the goats that he knew so well,

He’s a noble face, and his sense of honour is noble, both are

Fit to adorn those who are clothed in the glowing purple toga;

His voice hasn’t broken, he doesn’t display his teenage balls

At the baths, he hasn’t yet offered his armpits for plucking,

Nor does he nervously hide his swollen cock with an oil-flask.

The wine he’ll serve you was casked in the very same hills

He comes from, and below whose summits he played.

Perhaps you’re expecting the sound of tunes from Cadiz,

To set you going, dancing girls shimmying to the floor,

Wiggling their bottoms around to appreciative applause.

Young wives watch such, reclining beside their spouses,

Even though you may be too embarrassed to describe it.

It has the effect of arousing jaded desire, fiercely too,

Like stinging nettles; swelling more and more, until

With its sights and sounds, the pent up liquid flows.

My humble home excludes such nonsense. Let the man

Enjoy the clacking castanets; words from which even

The naked slave, for sale in a rank brothel, will abstain;

Let him delight in filthy language and pornographic art;

Whose spat out wine-dregs oil his Spartan marble floor;

My dinner today will offer another kind of enjoyment:

We’ll have recitations from Homer, and Virgil’s verse

Resonating on high, each challenging for supremacy.

What matter whose voice delivers such words as those?


SatXI:183-208 Leave Your Cares Behind


But now relinquish care, put business aside, and treat

Yourself to a pleasant interlude, in which you may

Idle the whole day away. There’ll be not a mention

Of payments due; nor shall you let your wife arouse

Your silent anger, though she’s out from dawn to dusk,

Though she comes back in the dark, her flimsy dress

Clinging to her, and suspiciously wrinkled, her hair

All over the place, and her face and ears still aglow.

Throw off whatever annoys you at my door, leave

House and slaves behind, whatever they’ve smashed

Or lost, and forget above all your friends’ ingratitude.

Here the rows of spectators celebrate the Idaean rites,

And the Megalesia’s starting flag; the praetor’s already

Seated there in triumph: he’s paid for the teams, and if I

Dare say so, without offending the vast, the excessive

Crowd, the Circus contains the whole of Rome today;

That ear-splitting noise tells me the Greens have won.

For if they’d lost you’d see this City of ours muted

And in mourning, as when the consuls lost their battle

In Cannae’s dust. Let the youngsters watch, theirs is

The clamour, the daring bets, a stylish girl at their side:

My wrinkled hide would rather drink the spring sunlight,

And shed its toga. You can head for the baths already,

With a clear conscience, though it’s an hour till noon.

It’s not something you will do every day of the week,

Since even this sort of life grows excessively boring:

Our pleasures are deepened by less frequent indulgence.
Satire XII: Friendship   SatXII:1-82 Safe Return


This day is sweeter to me than my own birthday, Corvinus,

It’s the day when the festal turf awaits the promised victims.

We bring a snow-white lamb for Juno, queen of the gods,

And its equal for Minerva, with her Gorgon-headed aegis;

While the sacrifice to Tarpeian Jove tugs petulantly at the

Long tether, making the rope quiver, and tossing its head;

Since it’s a spirited calf, you see, ready for temple and altar,

For sprinkling with pure wine, one already ashamed to suck

At its mother’s teats: with budding horns, it butts the oak tree.

If my personal resources were ample, a match for my feelings,

We’d be dragging a bull fatter than Hispulla to the slaughter,

One slowed by its very bulk, not nourished in local pastures,

But its lineage the product of the fertile fields of Clitumnus,

And its neck would be bowed, for the tall attendant’s blow.

All this is to mark my friend’s safe return, he who trembles

Still at terrors past, filled with amazement yet that he survived,

For besides the dangers of the sea he escaped the lightning too.

A single mass of dense cloud shrouded the sky in darkness,

While sudden flashes of fire struck the yardarms. Every man

Aboard thought he had been hit, and thought shipwreck as

Nothing compared to a death enveloped in blazing canvas;

It’s always so, just as serious, if when a storm of poetry rises,

Behold there’s some other crisis! Listen and pity once more,

Though the rest is on a par with that experience, dreadful

But not uncommon, as all those votive tablets in the shrines

Of Isis bear witness; who of us is unaware that artists earn

A living from painting them as offerings to the goddess?

That kind of ill-fortune overtook my dear friend Catullus.

With the hold half-full of water, and the waves already

Driving the stern this way and that, and the white-haired

Helmsman’s skill unable to counteract the swaying mast,

He then tried to deal with the wind by jettisoning the cargo,

In imitation of the beaver that in its desire to escape death,

Will bite off its testicles and render itself a eunuch: then

The drug, castoreum, is made from its preputial glands.

‘Take everything I’ve got,’ cried Catullus, willing now

To hurl even his most precious possessions overboard,

Purple-dyed clothes fit even for some tender Maecenas,

And others made from the wool of flocks tinted by their

Grazing on special grasses, plus the effect of the hidden

Powers of the fine water, and climate, of southern Spain.

He’d no hesitation in hurling his silver plate away; dishes

Made for Parthenius, Domitian’s chamberlain; a mixing

Bowl big as an urn, fit for Pholus the thirsty centaur, or

Even Fuscus’ wife; baskets; a thousand plates; and a pile

Of engraved cups that Philip of Macedon once drank from.

Is there another such man, in all the world, with the will

To set his life above money, his survival above his goods?

Overboard went most of what’s useful; there was still no

End of danger. Then, driven by necessity he resorted to

Taking a blade to the mast, so as to extricate himself from

His narrow strait: taking that ultimate risk, where the remedy

We adopt makes the vessel we’re journeying in even weaker.

Away then, commit your life to the winds, rely on a broken

Plank, four inches of pinewood away from death, or perhaps

Seven inches away from death, if the planking is extra thick;

And remember next time, along with your nets full of bread

And the bellied flagons, to take some axes for use in a storm.

But once the waves died down, and the passengers’ state

Improved, and destiny triumphed over the wind and sea;

Once the Fates began to weave a stronger thread, benign

Hands happily winding white wool into the yarn; and once

The wind arose, though no more than the lightest breeze,

The wretched vessel, ran on, its manoeuvrability impaired,

Every cloth spread to the wind, with the one remaining sail.

Now that the fierce southerly winds were abating, the sun

Returned bringing fresh hope of survival. Then the heights

Of Mount Alba, loved by Iulus, Aeneas’ son, and preferred

By him to Lavinium, his stepmother’s city, came in view,

Its peak named for the white sow whose litter amazed the

Delighted Trojans, and the novel sight of her thirty teats.

At last the ship passed the Tuscan lighthouse and entered

The breakwaters of Portus Augusti, that quiet the waves,

Those arms that leave Italy’s shore, stretch out and meet,

In the sea; no ancient harbour created by nature is more

Impressive. Then the master steered his crippled vessel

Into the inner roads of the harbour, so sheltered a pleasure

Boat from Baiae could cross, where sailors, heads shaved

To fulfil their vow, tell, in safety, garrulous tales of peril.



SatXII:93-130 And Perish Those Legacy-Hunters!


Off with you lads, control your tongues and minds

Garland the shrines, lay out the grain and knives,

And decorate the green turf and the spongy hearths.

I’ll follow, and once I’ve performed the sacred rite,

Head home again, where the little statues gleaming

With fragile wax will receive their slender crowns.

Here I’ll propitiate my Jupiter, and offer incense

To my paternal Lares, and scatter the viola petals.

Everything gleams, long branches beside the door

That welcomes the festive day with lamps at dawn.

Lest you suspect my efforts, Corvinus, this Catullus,

Whose return I celebrate by preparing these altars,

Has three young heirs: who’d buy, I’d like to know,

Even a sick chicken, about to shut its eyes for good,

For the sake of a friend who’s such a poor investment!

Truly even a hen’s too pricey; no one sacrifices even

A quail for a man with children, while if rich, childless,

Gallitta, or Pacius, show even a sign of fever, the whole

Colonnade is studded with neat prayers on their behalf.

There are people who’d promise to sacrifice a hundred

Bullocks, or even elephants, though now there are none

For sale, here, and the beasts won’t breed in Latium given

Our climate, though it’s true there’s Caesar’s herd, bought

From the dark nations to graze in Rutulian forests, and in

The land of Turnus, unfitted to be enslaved by lesser men,

Since their ancestors once served the King of Molossus,

And Hannibal of Carthage, and even our Roman generals;

Carrying squads of our soldiers, as a part of the battle line,

Equipped with turrets on their backs, advancing to the fight.

Novis, or Pacuvius Hister, those legacy-chasers, wouldn’t

Hesitate for a moment in leading those ivory-bearers to the

Altars, or slaughtering them before Gallitta’s household gods,

Sole victims worthy of such gods, and those fortune-hunters.

If you let him, the latter would even promise to make a sacrifice

Of the tallest and therefore handsomest of his herd of slaves,

Tie the sacrificial bands to the foreheads of boys or girls alike,

And if he’d a nubile daughter at home, his own Iphigeneia,

He’d offer her too on the altar, without even the hope of her

Being replaced by a deer, as in that variant of the tragic story.

Good on you, my fellow citizens, a thousand ships cannot

Compare with a legacy; since if the victim eludes the funeral

Goddess, Libitina, he’ll fall into the trap set by some truly

Amazing effort of Pacuvius, and destroy his previous will,

And probably, in brief, leave him the lot, leaving him to lord

It then over his beaten rivals. So you see how useful it can

Be to slit Iphigenia’s throat, slay a daughter from Mycenae.

Long live Pacuvius, may he live as long as Nestor, may he

Possess as much as Nero stole, may he pile up a mountain

Of gold, may he love no one, and never be loved in return!