Satires XIII & XIV

Satire XIII: Mock Consolation   SatXIII:1-70 Why So Surprised, Calvinus?


Setting a bad example won’t make the perpetrator feel pleased.

That’s the first manner in which life takes its revenge, that no

One who’s guilty absolves themselves, in their own judgement,

Though he be a praetor who’s corrupt influence rigged a vote.

So why should anyone be surprised, Calvinus, at recent events,

The wicked crime, a matter of trust betrayed? It’s not as though

You’re a person of such slender means the weight of this modest

Loss will sink you, nor is your experience something that’s rarely

Known: it’s the kind of bad luck familiar to many a person, banal

These days, a card that’s plucked from fortune’s outspread hand.

Put an end to your excessive grief. One’s indignation should not

Burn more fiercely than fitting, nor be greater than one’s injury;

Yet you can scarcely endure the slightest, the least, the tiniest

Particle of hurt, you’re all in a blaze, with your innards seething,

Because your friend won’t return that sacred sum of money you

Entrusted to him. Why should that surprise someone with sixty

Years behind him, a man who was born in Fonteius’ consulship?

Have you gained not an ounce of profit from all your experience?

Surely those precepts are fine which the sacred books of wisdom

Offer; the wisdom to overcome fate, and yet we also consider

Those people fortunate, who have learned from life’s teachings

To endure unpleasant things, and to bow and not resist the yoke.

What day is so full of good luck it fails to produce theft, fraud,

And betrayal, and the benefits gained by other sorts of crime,

The wealth that’s gained through the sword or the poison chest?

The good are rare: count them, there are scarcely as many as

There were gates to Thebes, or mouths draining the rich Nile.

It’s the ninth century of Rome now, an era even worse than

The age of iron, and Nature herself can find no name for its

Wickedness, she has no baser metal left to provide a label.

What’s the point of invoking the aid of men and gods, with

The clamour Faesidius’ noisy crew makes, cheering him on,

For a handout? Say, old man, for whom a lad’s gold charm’s

More fitting, don’t you know the lure of other people’s cash?

Don’t you know how your simplicity moves the crowd to

Laughter, when you demand no one perjure himself, when

You seek divinity in lofty temples, on blood-stained altars?

The natives once lived that way, until Saturn was forced to

Forsake his crown, and grabbed the rustic sickle as he fled;

Back then, when Juno was but a child, and Jupiter lived as

A private individual in the caverns of Cretan Mount Ida;

There were no heavenly banquets then above the clouds

No Ganymede, no Hebe, Hercules’ wife, as cupbearers,

No Vulcan, once the nectar was poured, wiping his arms,

Black with soot from his Liparean forge and workshop.

Each god dined alone, nor was there the crowd of gods

That exists today; the heavens being content with only

A handful of deities, and weighing more lightly on Atlas’

Shoulders; grim Pluto had not yet drawn his lot, winning

His kingdom in the depths, wedding Sicilian Proserpine;

No Ixion’s wheel, no Furies, no Sisyphean rock, or dark

Vultures for Tityos; just happy shades, no infernal rulers.

In that age wickedness was greeted with astonishment.

They thought it a primal sin, one punishable by death,

If a young man refused to defend his elders, or a boy

To defend anyone with a beard, even if his own home

Did possess more berries, or a larger heap of acorns;

So revered was even four years seniority, and the first

Signs of a beard were the equivalent of sacred old age.

These days if a friend fails to renege on your agreement,

And returns your purse to you with all its rusting metal,

It’s a marvel of fidelity, a portent fit for the prophetic

Etruscan books, or the sacrifice of a garlanded lamb.

If I come across an outstandingly honest man, I rank

It with some monstrous embryo, or a fish turned up,

Amazingly, by the plough, or a pregnant mule; as

Stunned as if it rained stones, or as if a hive of bees

Had swarmed in a great cluster on the roof of a shrine,

Or as if a swift-flowing eddying river of milk, with its

Whirling vortices, had rushed precipitously to the sea.


SatXIII:71-119 How They Seek To Justify Themselves!


You complain about a hundred gold pieces gone astray,

In his sacrilegious act of fraud? Why not that secret hoard

Of two thousand lost thus by another, or yet another’s still

Greater sum, that an angle of his vast treasury scarce holds?

It’s so simple, and easy, to ignore those divine witnesses,

If there’s no mortal in the know. See how loud he is in his

Denials, and the self-possession displayed on his lying face.

He swears by the sun’s rays and the Tarpeian lightning bolt,

And Mars’ lance and the arrows of Apollo, Cirrha’s prophet,

And by the shafts and quiver of Diana, the virgin huntress,

And by your trident Neptune, father of the Aegean, and he’ll

Add Hercules’ bow, and Minerva’s spear, for good measure,

Whatever weapons happen to exist in the heavenly armoury.

And if indeed, he’s a father, he’ll say, with a tear: ‘Or may I

Devour my son’s brain boiled, doused with Egyptian vinegar!’

There are those who attribute everything to acts of fortune,

Who believe that the world goes on its way without guidance,

And that nature brings on the succession of days and years;

Who will therefore touch any altar you like without concern,

Others believe the gods exist, yet still commit perjury, saying

To themselves; ‘Isis may choose to do what she wishes with

My body; let her strike me blind with an angry shake of her

Rattle, so long as, sightless, I keep the cash I’ll deny receiving.

Lung disease, or festering abscesses, or even the loss of a leg

Are worth it. Though Ladas, the runner, were poor, he should

Still have no hesitation, unless he’s mad or dying, in praying

For the rich man’s gout; for what does the glory of swiftness

Bring after all, or thirsting for that wreath of Olympian olive?

Though the gods’ anger is great, it’s slow indeed to take effect.

How long might it take before they trouble me? I may even

Find the powers that be are indulgent; ready to forgive all this.

The same crimes are committed but with very different results:

One man’s prize for his sins is crucifixion, another’s is a crown.’

His heart trembling in terror at his vile trespass, this is how he

Calms himself. When you summon him to the sacred shrine,

He’s ahead of you, drags you there, ready to vex you further;

When the cause is ill, given endless audacity, such confidence

Appear highly convincing. He’s acting out a farce, like that

Fugitive jester in Catullus’s witty mime, while you, wretched

Fool are roaring, loudly enough, it would seem, to out-do Stentor,

Just as Mars roars in Homer’s Iliad: ‘Jupiter, can you hear all this,

Yet not utter a word: surely you must speak out, though your lips

Be made of marble or bronze? Why else do we unwrap the incense

So piously, or the sliced calf’s liver, or the pieces of white pork-fat

To add to the glowing coals? As far as I can see there’s not a jot of

Difference between your statue and one of big-mouthed Vagellius.’


SatXIII:120-173 Your Loss Is Nothing New


Alternatively, accept this solace, worthy of being offered even

By one who’s not read the Cynics; or the dogmas of the Stoics,

Distinguishable from the Cynics by their shirts; or delighted

With Epicurus, happy with the plants in his miniscule garden.

Difficult illnesses should be cared for by the greatest of doctors:

But even one of Philippus’ students would do to take your pulse.

If there’s no more detestable crime you can point to in the whole

Of the world than this, I’ll be silent, I won’t stop you beating

Your chest with your fists, or smacking your face with the flat

Of your hand. After all, after a loss you close the doors; cash

Is mourned, throughout the house, with a louder moaning and

Wailing than a death; no one feigns grief in such a matter, or

Remains content with merely ripping the hems of his clothes,

Or simply making his eyes sore with his simulated weeping;

When it’s money that’s gone astray we grieve with real tears.

However, if every court you see is full of similar complaints,

If when a document’s been pored over ten times by the other

Party, the signature is later declared false, and the whole thing

Worthless, condemned by one’s very handwriting, one’s seal,

That prince of sardonyx stones, kept secure in an ivory chest,

Why do you, O precious creature, think your case should be

Judged extraordinary? What? Are you the child of a white hen,

While we are common chicks hatched from misfortune’s eggs?

It’s a minor thing you’ve experienced, it calls for modest anger,

One you’ve cast your eyes on more serious crimes. Compare

The hired thief, or the deliberate fire that’s started with matches,

The front door revealing the first effect of the flames; Compare

Those who steal huge venerable rusted chalices from the ancient

Temples, given us by nations, or crowns once dedicated by kings;

If those valuables are lacking, some lesser vandal appears who’ll

Sacrilegiously scrape the gold from Hercules’ thigh or Neptune’s

Face, or go stripping the thin gold leaf from the statue of Castor;

Compare the manufacturers and dealers in poison, the parricide

Who deserves to be thrown in the sea in an ox-skin, along with

The ill-fated ape, an innocent, but nevertheless sewn in as well.

That’s but a part of the wickedness Gallicus, Prefect of the City,

Hears all day, from the morning star’s setting to that of the sun!

A single courtroom is sufficient if you want to understand the

Behaviour of humankind; spend a few days there, then dare to

Call yourself unfortunate, once you’re far away from the place.

What’s so surprising about goitre in the Alps, or about a breast

In Meroe, beside the Ethiopian Nile, bigger than its fat baby?

Who gapes now at those blue-eyed Germans with their yellow

Hair, with their greasy curls all twisted into their pointed braids?

Imagine a Pygmy warrior in miniature armour who suddenly

Runs towards a raucous cloud of Thracian birds and is grabbed

By a savage crane in an instant, and carried off through the air

In its curved beak, no match for his enemy. If you saw that here,

Among the crowd, then you might shake with laughter; but there,

Where the whole army’s no more than a foot tall, no one laughs.


SatXIII:174-249 Forget About Revenge


‘Is the perjurer to suffer no punishment then for his irreligious

Fraud?’ Well imagine he’d been dragged away in the heaviest

Of chains, and executed at once based on your judgement (what

More could you want?); nevertheless your loss remains, that

Money of yours will never be returned, but the blood that has

Been shed from the headless corpse will grant invidious solace.

‘Yet vengeance is fine, it’s more gratifying than life itself!’

So the uneducated claim, whose tempers you see flaring for

The slightest reason, sometimes for no earthly reason at all.

That’s not what Chrysippus the Stoic says, nor the gentle mind

Of Thales, or old Socrates who lived below sweet Hymettus,

He who would never have inflicted on his accusers one drop

Of the hemlock he was obliged to drink, in his cruel prison.

Indeed vengeance is always a delight to the weak and petty

And small-minded. You can see that straight away, since

No one enjoys vengeance more than a woman. Yet why

Believe the guilty have escaped, when conscience dwells on

Their vile deeds, terrifies them, strikes with its silent whip,

Wielding its invisible lash, there, in the tortured mind?

A fierce punishment it is indeed, to bear in your breast that

Hostile witness, night and day, a punishment more savage

Than anything Rhadamanthus, or stern Caedicius contrived.

The Pythian prophetess told a Spartan, who asked about

His keeping money entrusted to him, retaining it legally

By swearing a false oath, that he’d not go unpunished.

He had truly wished to know Apollo’s thoughts on the

Matter, and whether the god would sanction the crime!

He returned the money, through fear, not principle, yet

Every word from the shrine was true and worthy of that

Temple, as was witnessed by his death, and those of his

Children, his household, and kin however far removed.

Such was the punishment suffered solely for thinking of

Doing wrong. Since, he who merely contemplates some

Secret wickedness in his mind, incurs the same guilt

As if he had done the deed. Think, if he really does it!

Perpetual anxiety is his, which even affects his eating,

His throat parched as in sickness, and the stubborn

Food sticking in his gullet. The wretched man spits

Out his Setian wine, and the choicest ageing Alban

Vintages displease; offer him finest Falernian; as if

It were sour, dense wrinkles will furrow his brow.

At night perhaps his conscience allows him a brief

Respite; after tossing all over the bed, his limbs lie

Quiet; when at once he’ll see the temple, the altar

He’s insulted and you, his victim, in dream, a sight

To make him sweat profoundly; your image, ghostly,

Larger than life, scaring him, driving him to confess.

Such are men who turn pale and quake at every flash

Of lightning, who faint at the first rumble of thunder

In the sky, as if the fire falls to earth not by chance or

The tempest’s frenzy, but in anger, as if in judgement.

If they’re unharmed, they dread the next thunderstorm

With greater anxiety, as if the lull were a postponement.

Moreover if they once start to feel feverish, sharp pains

In the side keeping them awake, they believe their bodily

Afflictions sent by a higher power: and consider them

The gods’ spears and missiles. They don’t dare pledge

A bleating beast to the little shrine or promise the Lares

A cockerel’s crest; what respite from illness can the guilty

Hope for? What sacrificial victim isn’t worthier of life?

They’re full of resolution when they commit the crime;

Only after the evil’s done do they begin to acquire a sense

Of right and wrong. Yet their nature, fixed and incapable

Of change, will still return to the paths it has condemned.

Who ever set a limit to their own sins? When does a blush

Of shame, once banished, reappear on some hardened brow?

Who have you ever seen who remains content with but one

Offence? Your miscreant will set his foot in the snare, he’ll

Suffer the hook in some dark prison, or he’ll join a crowd of

Notorious exiles, on some rugged rock in the Aegean Sea.

You’ll revel in the bitter punishment meted out to the one

You hate, and eventually you’ll cheerfully admit the gods

Are not as dull-witted as Claudius, nor as blind as Tiresias.

Satire XIV: Bad Parenting   SatXIV:1-58 Try Setting A Good Example


There is much, Fuscinus, that’s displayed, and passed on,

To children by their parents, which merits condemnation,

And tarnishes the brightness of things with its lasting stain.

If the old man ruins himself gambling, his heir while still

A child plays too, his little cup armed with the same dice.

Nor can his relatives expect much from some young man,

If, taught by his wastrel father’s long-practised gluttony,

He’s learnt how to peel truffles, marinade mushrooms,

And drown fig-peckers, beccaficos, in the right manner,

As they swim in the resulting sauce. You may flank him

With a thousand bearded tutors to left and right, but such

A lad when his seventh year is past, or even before he

Has all his new teeth, will always wish to dine in lavish

Style, nor fall short of the highest standard of cuisine.

What effect will a man have on his son, if he delights in

The clank of chains, thrilled by branding, convicts, gaols?

Is Rutilus, when he enjoys the savage sound of a flogging,

And thinks the lash sings sweeter than any Siren; when

He’s a Polyphemus, an Antiphates, to his fearful home,

Only happy, if the torturer’s been called, and someone’s

Feeling the hot iron, for a pair of towels; is he teaching

Mildness of spirit; or how to rise above minor errors;

Or that he recognises the minds and bodies of slaves

Are of the same substance, the same elements as ours?

In your naivety do you expect Larga’s daughter not to

Commit adultery, she who couldn’t name her mother’s

Lovers quickly enough, at such speed, that she wouldn’t

Need thirty breaths to do it? She was mother’s accomplice

When a child, now she drafts billet-doux at her dictation,

And sends them via the same sodomites to her own lover.

It’s nature’s law: bad examples at home corrupt us sooner

And more swiftly, because they lodge in our minds with

Greater authority. Some young man or other perhaps may

Resist this influence, if Prometheus has fashioned his heart

With generous skill, forming it from some superior clay,

The rest, long-exposed to the old sinful round, are dragged

Along in their father’s footsteps, on that path to be shunned.

So refrain, lest those born of us should imitate our crimes,

The reality is that all of us can be taught to copy behaviour

That is shameful and perverse; some Catiline will conspire,

In every nation, you’ll find those opposed to freedom under

Every sky, but no Brutus, no Cato, his uncle, to defend it.

Let no foul sights or language touch a father’s threshold.

Keep far off, far away, you girls the pimps supply, those

Songs too sung by the parasite who parties all night long.

A child deserves the utmost respect. So if you’re planning

On something vile, have some regard for his tender years,

And your little son may deter you from doing wrong.

If later on he does something to stir the censor’s wrath,

If he proves himself like you not only in form and looks

But your true son in his behaviour too, sinning more

Profoundly, while following closely in your footsteps,

No doubt you’ll castigate him, attack with bitter words,

And after that choose to make an alteration to your will.

But where’s the justification for such stern parental looks,

Such outspokenness? Despite your age, you’ve done worse,

Your forehead, empty of brains, in need of a cupping glass.


SatXIV:59-106 Think of Your Children’s Well-Being


There’s no rest for your household when a guest’s expected.

‘Sweep the marble floor, rub the columns till they shine,

Brush away that dead spider up there, and all its web;

You, wipe the plain silver, and you, the ornate vases.’

The master’s voice rages, as he stands there holding his rod.

You’re anxious and wretched, lest your friend should arrive

And be offended by the sight of a foul dog-mess in the hall,

Or a portico splashed with mud, though a little slave-boy,

With half a bucket of sawdust, can soon put that to rights,

Yet you make no effort to ensure your son is witness to

A home that’s pure, and without a flaw, beyond reproach!

It’s fine to produce one more citizen for people and country,

So long as he’s an asset to that country, capable of farming,

Capable of achieving something, in peace and war alike.

What matters most are the virtues you instil, the morality

You teach him. The stork feeds its young on lizards and

Snakes, it finds in the wild: and once they acquire wings

The chicks will seek out those same creatures themselves.

The vulture flies to its young bringing pieces of carrion,

Morsels from dead cattle or dogs, or from crucifixions:

So that’s a vulture’s food when full-grown it feeds itself,

When it’s already building its own nest high in some tree.

While the noble eagle that’s Jove’s companion hunts for

Deer and hare in the glades, and carry the prey from there

To its eyrie: and when its offspring too reach maturity

And leave the nest, hunger prompts them to swoop on

The prey they tasted first after breaking free of the egg.

Caetronius loved building, and would raise the roofs of

His villas high along Caieta’s curving shore, or the far

Slopes of Tivoli, or alternatively the hills of Praeneste,

Outdoing the Temples of Fortune and Hercules, with his

Marble transported from Greece or more distant places,

Just as Posides, Claudius’ eunuch, tried to top the Capitol.

With such edifices. In that way, Caetronius shrank his

Assets, frittered away his fortune, and yet there was still

Plenty left. All of that his son too foolishly squandered,

In constructing newer villas, out of even rarer marble.

Then there are those that, blessed with a father who

Reveres the Sabbath, worship only the clouds in the sky

And its spirit, who draw no distinction between the pork

From which their father had to abstain, and human flesh,

And who swiftly rid themselves of even their foreskins.

It’s their custom to ignore the laws of Rome, the Judaic

Code being that which they study, adhere to, and revere;

The Pentateuch, the mystic scroll handed down by Moses:

Nor do they reveal the way to anyone but a fellow-believer;

Leading only the circumcised, when asked, to the fountain.

It’s the father that’s to blame, treating every seventh day

As a day of idleness, separate from the rest of daily life.


SatXIV:107-188 The Avaricious Are The Worst


Our other vices, though, the young imitate by choice, it’s

Avarice that they’re commanded to indulge in regardless.

It’s indeed a deceptive vice, with the form and pretence

Of virtue, with its dour character, severe look and dress.

The avaricious, indeed, are praised as if for their frugality,

Economical people who keep a firmer hold of their wealth

Than if their fortune were guarded by that dragon of the

Hesperides, or the one in Colchis. Added to which, people

Consider that those of whom I speak are famously skilful

In acquisition; those, indeed, who forge larger inheritances

From their ever-glowing furnace, on their assiduous anvils.

Whoever admires wealth, and considers that no one who’s

Poor could ever be happy, will exhort his sons to start out

Along that road, and devote themselves to that same sect.

There are various elements to the vice: he’ll imbue them

With these from the start, force them to practise every last

Stinginess; soon he’ll teach them insatiable desire for gain.

He’ll punish his slaves’ bellies with inadequate provisions,

And starve himself; indeed he can’t even bring himself to

Consume those last blue-green slices of his mouldy bread;

As early as mid-September he’ll take to storing a portion

Of yesterday’s mincemeat; and in summer he’ll set aside

His beans for another meal, sealed up with a little piece

Of dried mackerel, or half a rotting catfish; and he’ll count

The sections of chopped leek before putting them away.

A beggar from under a bridge would refuse his invitation.

Yet why go through such torment just to heap up wealth,

Show your patent obsession, with such manifest lunacy,

And live the life of the poor, simply in order to die rich?

Meanwhile, with your purse’s swollen mouth bulging,

Your desire for cash will grow as your money grows,

You’ll buy another villa, one rural estate’s not enough;

You’ll love extending the boundary, and the neighbour’s

Cornfield seems bigger and better; you’ll buy it, and the

Vineyards, and the hill-slope pale with its mass of olives.

If the owner won’t accept a single offer you make, well

Then, you’ll drive lean bullocks and starving mules with

Necks weary from the yoke, into his green corn at night,

And they won’t return to their yard till the whole of his

New crop, as if scythed, has filled their empty bellies.

You can scarcely count the number of people who make

Complaints of this kind, how many ravaged fields are sold,

But what of the gossip, and the blaring noise of scandal?

‘Where’s the harm,’ men say, ‘lupin seed for me, rather

Than have the neighbours all around singing my praises,

While I reap a handful of grain from a miniscule estate.’

That will spare you from disease and infirmity I suppose,

You’ll be free of anxiety and care, will you; granted a long

Life, and better luck, from the very moment you acquire

Sole possession of a tract of agricultural land as large as

That ploughed by the Roman people, under King Tatius!

Later yet, when, broken by age, fights with fierce Pyrrhus,

Or the Molossian blades, the veterans of the Punic Wars,

Were granted a bare couple of acres for their many wounds,

None of them thought that return for their blood and toil,

Was less than they deserved, nor the country ungrateful

Or short on loyalty. Those few clods of earth satisfied

The father himself and his crowded cottage, his pregnant

Wife lying there, four children playing about, one child

A slave’s and three of his own; as long as an ample meal,

Large pots of steaming porridge, awaited their big brothers,

When they would return home, from the ditch or furrow.

Nowadays that patch of ground’s insufficient for a garden.

Greed is usually the root of crime: no fault of the human

Mind causes more poison to be mixed, or a more frequent

Rampaging about with a blade than the uncontrolled desire

For extravagant wealth. For the man who wants to be rich,

Wants to be rich now; but what reverence for the law, what

Fear or shame can you expect from a greedy man in a hurry?

‘Rest content with your huts in the hills, lads,’ is what some

Aged sire of the Hercini, Vestini, or Marsi would say long

Ago, ‘Let’s seek bread enough for our table, from the plough:

That’s what our divinities approve of, our gods of the fields,

Through whose power and assistance, after the welcome gift

Of ears of corn, men lost their taste for the fruit of the ancient

Oak. They have no wish to do what is forbidden, who feel no

Shame in wearing great rawhide boots in the frost, or skins

Reversed against the east wind: this new and foreign purple

Cloth, of every kind, is what leads to wickedness and crime.’


SatXIV:189-255 Your Children Will Outdo You


Those were the precepts old men taught the young; but now

Once autumn’s done, the father wakes his slumbering son

In the middle of the night, shouting: ‘Grab your wax tablets,

Boy, scribble, stay awake, prepare your cases, study the civil

Laws of our ancestors, or seek the centurion’s swagger stick,

Make sure, the commander Laelius notes your uncombed head,

Your hairy nostrils, and admires the breadth of your shoulders;

Demolish the huts of the Moors, and the forts of the Brigantes,

So your sixtieth year might bring you the Eagle that makes you

Wealthy; or if you shrink from enduring the long labour of a

Military career, if the sound of cornets and trumpets loosen

Your anxious bowels, buy what you can sell for half again,

And don’t let yourself become fastidious about those goods

That have to be stored on the right bank of the Tiber, or

Think to start drawing a distinction between perfumes

And hides: profit always smells fine whatever its source.

Always remember to keep these words on your lips: fit

For the gods, fit even for Jove himself were he a poet:

“No one will ask how you made it, but make it you must.”’

Here’s what I’d like to say to any father threatening to give

Such advice: ‘Tell me, O mindless fool, who asked you to

Hasten the process? I’ll answer for the pupil bettering his

Teacher. Relax, don’t worry: you’ll be outdone as surely

As Telamon outdid Ajax, or as Achilles exceeded Peleus.

The young need a gentle touch; the evils of adult sinfulness

Have not yet pierced their marrow. Soon enough, when your

Son’s started shaving, taken the razor’s curved edge to his

Beard, he’ll bear false witness, he’ll perjure himself for a

Handful of coins, though clasping the foot of Ceres’ altar.

If his wife, you daughter-in-law, crosses your threshold

With a dowry: it’s fatal: consider her dead and buried.

She’ll be strangled in her sleep! He’ll find a quicker path

To the possessions you seek to acquire on land and sea;

Major crime after all takes little effort. ‘I never taught him

That,’ you’ll say, then, ‘I never told him to behave that way!’

Yet the reason for his wicked thoughts, their source, is you.

For anyone who has taught his children love of vast wealth,

And produced avaricious sons by giving them foolish advice

Has granted them full licence, wholly abandoned the reins

Of the chariot; call it back if you will, there’s no stopping it,

Scorning you in its flight, it leaves the turning posts behind.

No one believes in offending only to the extent permitted:

They’ll allow themselves a great deal more leeway than that.

When you tell your son the man’s a fool, who gives presents

To a friend, or helps a poor relation and sets him on his feet,

You’re teaching him to rob, to cheat, to pursue wealth by

Every form of crime. Your love of cash is as great as the

Heartfelt love of the Decii for their country, or, if Greece

Speaks true, Menoeceus’ devotion to his city of Thebes.

So you’ll see that fire, whose sparks you yourself kindled,

Burning far and wide, and razing everything in its wake.

You’ll be spared no wretchedness. The cub you’ve reared,

A roaring lion in a cage, will destroy its trembling teacher.

His astrologer has read your horoscope, but it’s a bore to

Await the spindle’s slow unwinding: you’ll die before the

Thread is broken. You’re already in the way, thwarting his

Wishes, already your long stag-like old age torments him.

Find that doctor, Archigenes, straight away, and buy one

Of King Mithridates’ antidotes, if you’d still seek to enjoy

Another fig, to cull a few more roses. You’ll need the drug

Fathers, as well as kings, had best swallow before they eat.


SatXIV:256-302 The Risks You Take


It’s a famous show I’m giving, whose equal you’ll not see

On any stage, any platform of our distinguished praetor’s,

Just take a look at how people risk their lives to swell their

Fortunes, for a huge bag of gold in their brass-bound chest,

For the money deposited in Castor’s Temple, under guard,

Ever since Mars the Avenger lost his helmet, and failed to

Keep tight hold of his assets. So forget holiday theatricals,

Cybele’s Ludi Megalenses,  the Cerealia, and the Florialia:

Human affairs are bound to offer us far more entertainment.

What delights the mind more? Bodies hurled through the air,

By some acrobat, who’s an expert in walking the tightrope,

Or you, who haunt the deck of that Cilician ketch you’re

Stuck with, forever tossed by the northerlies and southerlies,

A cheap and desperate trader in smelly sacks, so thrilled to

Import sweet raisin-wine from the shores of Jupiter’s ancient

Crete, along with the wine-jars, his compatriots? Yet he who

Plants his feet on the tightrope with wavering step, garners

Himself a living from that occupation, in order to keep off

The hunger and cold: while you take foolish risks, merely

For a thousand talents and a hundred villas. Look at the sea

And the harbours full of great vessels: most of the human

Race is ocean-bound. Fleets will go wherever the hope of

Profit summons them, not merely crossing from Crete to

Rhodes, but sailing North African waters, leaving Gibraltar

Far behind, hearing the setting sun hiss in the western deeps.

And the great prize for your efforts, having seen the Ocean

Monsters, and the children of the waves, is to return home

Again with a full purse, proud of your swollen bags of loot.

More than one kind of madness hounds men’s minds. Orestes,

Clasping his sister, was terrified by the Furies’ fires and faces,

Ajax attacking a bullock thinks it is Agamemnon bellowing

Or Odysseus. The man who loads his ship to the gunwales

With goods, with only a plank between him and the waves,

May forgo his tunic or cloak, but surely needs a minder,

If the only reason for all that risk and effort, is a pile of

Clipped silver coins, with their legends and tiny portraits.

Clouds lower, the thunder rumbles, still: ‘Cast off,’ he cries,

The owner of that load of grain and pepper just purchased,

‘They’re no threat, the darkened sky, those black streaks of

Cloud; it’s summer lightning.’ Unhappy man, this very night

Perhaps, he’ll go overboard, the timbers shattered, whelmed

And engulfed by the waves, his belt clasped in his left hand

Or teeth. And he for whose dreams all the gold whirled down

By the Tagus, or the Pactolus in its reddened sand, would

Not suffice, must now, a shipwrecked wretch, be satisfied

With a handful of rags to cover his freezing flanks, a few

Scraps of food, and the pennies he can beg as a survivor;

Holding a daub of the wreck, maintaining himself by alms.


SatXIV:303-331 It’s Never Enough


What’s acquired with so much effort is kept safe with even

More care and anxiety: guarding great wealth’s a sad affair.

Licinus, the millionaire, sets out his fire-buckets, commands

His team of slaves to keep watch all night, terrified for his

Amber, and his statues, pillars of Phrygian marble, ivory,

And tortoiseshell plaques. The pot Diogenes, the naked Cynic

Slept in never caught fire; break it, it was still there tomorrow,

Patched with lead, or another shelter would appear. Viewing

That earthenware jar with its inhabitant, Alexander saw how

Much happier the great philosopher was, lacking desires,

Than he who claimed the whole world for his own, fated

To suffer dangers as great as his victories would prove.

If all were wise you’d have no power, Fortune: it is we, we

Who make you a goddess. Yet if you were to ask for my

Advice, I’d tell you what measure of wealth suffices, just

As much as you need to stave off hunger, thirst and cold,

As much as you needed, Epicurus, in your little garden,

As much as Socrates kept in his house, in ancient times;

Nature says nothing different, wisdom nothing different.

Does it seem I’m constraining you to follow only those

Fine examples? Then, add something from our Roman

Tradition, settle for what Otho’s laws ordained as needed,

To join the fourteen rows of knights, or if that still makes

You frown, triple it, and make it twelve thousand in gold.

If by doing that I’ve still not filled your lap, if you want

More, not the riches of Croesus, nor the Persian lands,

Could ever satisfy your desire, nor the wealth of Narcissus,

That freedman to whom Claudius granted all, and whose

Orders he obeyed, in executing his empress, Messalina.