by Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, a.d. 60(?)-130(?)
Juvenal's tenth satire was written probably at some time close to a.d. 120, during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, the poet then in his fifties at least.
The poem is described in the Oxford Classical Dictionary as "a magnificent declamation on the folly of men in desiring hurtful things instead of courage, health, and sanity." George Gilbert Ramsay took a slightly different view in his introduction to the Loeb Classical Library volume. The tenth satire is, said Ramsay, "a profoundly depressing and pessimistic poem."
The importance of the tenth satire in English literature is that it was the model for Samuel Johnson's fine gloomy poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes," published in 1749.
Both the Latin text and the English prose translation given on this page are taken from the Loeb Juvenal and Persius mentioned above, first published in 1918. That date, and the fact of Ramsay being 78 years old at the time, account for the somewhat antique quality of the English. (Persius was another Roman satirist, of the generation before Juvenal.)
The tenth satire is 366 lines in Latin. It breaks thematically into nine parts having the following numbers of lines: 27, 28, 58, 19, 55, 52, 49, 57, 21.
The thematic breaks occur as follows.
|1||The things we most desire often lead to our ruin.||1-27|
|2||Both the philosopher Heraclitus and the philosopher Democritus observed the follies of mankind; but the first wept, while the second laughed.||28-55|
|3||The hollowness of political power, with Sejanus and the First Triumvirate as examples.||56-113|
|4||Schoolboys dream of attaining great eloquence, like Demosthenes and Cicero; but both men were put to death for their words.||114-132|
|5||Military glory is shown to be empty by the examples of Hannibal, Alexander, and Xerxes.||133-187|
|6||Everyone prays for long life, but old age is a miserable state.||188-239|
|7||The miseries of old age (cont.): even if you keep your mental powers, you'll get to see your loved ones die.||240-288|
|8||The perils of beauty and sexual desire.||289-345|
|9||Submit to the will of the gods. Pray for health, reason, and courage. Seek happiness through virtue.||346-366|
"Gades" — modern Cadiz; being outside the Straits of Gibraltar, it stands for the westernmost limit of the known world.
"Nero" — the emperor, of course. Came to the throne in a.d. 54, aged not quite seventeen, and ruled for fourteen years. "The dire days" refers to his reign of terror, which began in a.d. 62.
"Longinus" — a prominent jurist banished by Nero to Sardinia on a trumped-up charge so that the emperor could seize his property.
"Seneca" — Seneca the philosopher was Nero's tutor; then, when Nero came to power, his advisor. He became immensely wealthy through his influence at court. In a.d. 65 he was accused of complicity in Piso's conspiracy, and ordered to commit suicide.
"Palace of the Laterani" — This was on the Caelian hill, where the church of St. John Lateran now stands. The Laterani were a great family in Rome. Plautius Lateranus, a senator, was another one of those accused in Piso's plot and forced to commit suicide.
"Setine wine" — wine from the region around Setia was the most expensive in Rome. It was the favorite wine of the emperor Augustus. Its usage here would be roughly equivalent to saying "champagne" in modern English.
"fasces" — a symbol of authority
"tribunals" — these few lines poke fun at the praetor, an official with various duties, including judicial ones. A tribunal was his court. In his judicial capacity, the praetor was notoriously influenced by bribery.
"uplifted in his lofty car" — another duty of the praetor was to supervise the great games held at the Circus Maximus (think chariot races, though much more went on). The opening of the games was marked by a grand procession from the Capitol, through the Forum, the Vicus Tuscus, the Velabrum, and the Forum Boarium, to the main entrance of the Circus. The praetor rode in this procession on a triumphal chariot, wearing the ceremonial garments and crown as described.
"Tyrian toga" — the toga picta, a purple toga embroidered with gold, worn by generals, and by the praetor when opening the games. The purple dye came from Tyre (which the Romans called Sarra). Prized all over the ancient world, this dye was made from the crushed bodies of a certain Mediterranean sea snail, the murex, and was worth much more than its weight in gold.
"public slave" — as well as private slaves, there were slaves who belonged to the state. They were used, for example, in the maintenance of public buildings.
"Consul" — in the time of the Republic, a consul presided at the games. Juvenal is just using "consul" here to make a contrast with the slave.
"bird" — an eagle, with wings outspread.
"dinner-dole" — powerful men used to invite their clients to dinner. Then, to save time, they handed out the dinners for clients to take away in a small basket (Latin sportula). By Juvenal's time they were just giving them money — a dole — but the word sportula was still used.
"a dullard air … mutton-heads" — Democritus was born and raised in Abdera, in northern Greece, a place whose people were proverbially stupid. Their stupidity was supposed to be caused by the heavy atmosphere of the place.
"go hang … the finger" — it's actually the middle finger (mediumque unguem), and "go hang" is literal, laqueus being a noose; so this line sounds surprisingly modern.
"to load the knees of the Gods with wax" — a plea or a vow to some god was written out on a wax tablet and placed, or hung, on the god's statue.
"chariot wheels" — in ancient Rome, the statue of a great man often showed him standing in a triumphal chariot.
"Sejanus" — commander of the imperial bodyguards under Tiberius (who was emperor a.d. 14-37). Tiberius withdrew from active government in a.d. 26, and for the next five years Sejanus gathered dictatorial power to himself, conducting a reign of terror in the last three of those years. For reasons unknown, Tiberius turned against him, had him arrested by a trick in October a.d. 31, and Sejanus was immediately executed.
"laurel wreaths" — Sejanus was widely hated, so when he was overthrown, people celebrated,, wreathing their doorposts with laurel.
"chalked bull" — a sacrificial bull was supposed to be white, the whiter the better. Since white bulls are hard to find, the bull was oftened whitened with chalk.
"by a hook" — fixed under the chin.
"a great and wordy letter" — Sejanus was summoned to the senate to hear a letter read from the emperor, advertised to him as bestowing new honors on him. When the letter was read out, though, it criticized Sejanus and suggested arresting him. Sejanus was arrested there and then. (Tiberius had taken the precaution of putting a new commander in charge of the imperial guard.)
"Capri" — the island Tiberius retired to when he withdrew from government.
"Remus" — one of the mythical founders of Rome.
"Nortia … Etruscan" — Sejanus came from Etruria. Nortia was the Etruscan goddess of fortune. There was a temple to Nortia in Sejanus' home town.
"no one buys our votes" — Tiberius deprived Romans of the right to vote, and so of the right to sell their votes to the highest bidder.
"Brutidius" — probably Brutidius Niger, a famous orator in the reign of Tiberius.
"the defeated Ajax" — a legend about the great Homeric hero tells of him losing a fight with Ulysses for the dead Achilles' armor, and flying into a mad rage. Ajax stands for Tiberius here. The speaker fears he may likewise go mad with rage and punish those who he thinks are his enemies.
"Caesar's enemy" — Sejanus, whose body lay for three days on the bank of the river Tiber, where it was insulted by the common people. It was thrown into the river at last.
"let our slaves see" — Roman law forbade a slave to testify against his master. Tiberius evaded this law by ordering that an accused's slaves be purchased by the state.
"Chaldean astrologers" — Tiberius was keenly interested in the occult. In his retirement on Capri, he surrounded himself with fortune-tellers.
"Fidenae … Gabii … Ulubrae" — small and desrted towns in Latium.
"Aedile" — a petty official. See here.
"Ceres' son-in-law" — Pluto, king of the Underworld
"his holidays" — March 19-23, the feast of Minerva.
"eloquence … to their death" — Demosthenes and Cicero both made powerful enemies with their oratory. Demosthenes angered the Macedonian rulers (Philip, Alexander, Antipater) by standing up for the independence of Athens. At last, cornered, he took poison. Cicero's main enemy was Mark Antony. He was hunted down and executed at last by the Second Triumvirate.
"rostra" — the speaker's platform in the forum.
"O happy Fate …" — the point here is that the quoted line of Latin (two lines in the translation) is clunky verse. The line comes from Cicero's poem "De suo Consulatu," which he wrote to glorify the events of his Consulship in 63 b.c. Says Ramsay: "To the many who are not gifted with the divine faculty of poesy it may be a consolation to know that a writer of the most splendid prose could be guilty of such a rubbishy line as that here quoted." Ramsay has of course taken pains to translate Cicero's line into equally bad English verse.
"Philippic" — after Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 b.c., Cicero prepared a set of speeches against Mark Antony. He called them the Philippics, after Demosthenes' great speeches against Philip of Macedon. The second one was never actually delivered; but it was published, Mark Antony read it, and it was said that this is what cost Cicero his life.
"his father, blear-eyed" — Demosthenes' father was a wealthy man, owner of a sword factory. Juvenal speaks of him as if he were toiling away in the factory himself, which is not likely.
"trophies fastened upon stumps" — the custom was to decorate a tree trunk with items of armor taken from a defeated enemy, near the place of victory. This arrangement was called a tropaeum. There's a good description of a tropaeum at the beginning of Book XI of the Aeneid.
"the barren fig-tree" — popularly supposed to grow around tombs.
"with vinegar" — Livy tells us that when Hannibal found his path blocked by a mass of rock, he would have a fire lit on it. When the rock was sufficiently hot, vinegar would be poured on to soften the rock so that it could be cut away more easily.
"the Subura" — the most densely populated quarter of Rome, the heart of the city.
"the one-eyed General" — in the spring of 217 b.c., after crossing the Apennines, Hannibal lost the sight in one eye.
"Gaetulian beast" — the Gaetulians were the Berbers of northwest Africa. The adjective here just means "African."
"his Bithynian Majesty" — Hannibal, exiled from Carthage, took service at several courts in the eastern Mediterranean, ending up in the court of Prusias, king of Bithynia (northwest Anatolia). The image here is of Hannibal reduced to a petitioner, a client, of Prusias, waiting at the king's door first thing in the morning to present his salutatio — his greeting — as the client of a great man at Rome would do.
"Cannae" — the tremendous battle in 216 b.c. at which Hannibal defeated the Romans. Says William Gifford in the notes to his 1800 translation: "Nearly three centuries [sic — it was actually well over three centuries] had elapsed since that disastrous action, yet Juvenal speaks of it, not only here, but elsewhere, in a way which shows that the impression made by it on the minds of the Romans was indelible."
"a ring" — Hannibal died at last by taking poison he had concealed in a ring.
"declaimers" — Hannibal's career was a favorite set subject for declamation in Roman schools.
"the youth of Pella" — Alexander the Great, who was born at Pella.
"Gyara … Seripho" — small islands in the Aegean, used as prisons by the Romans.
"the city fortified by the potter's art" — Babylon, whose walls were made of brick, and where Alexander died.
"Mount Athos" — Athos is a peninsula in northeast Greece, joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. When Xerxes was planning his invasion of Greece in 483-480 b.c., he cut a canal through the isthmus to let his fleet through, an earlier Persian fleet having been wrecked off the peninsula. Juvenal considers the story (which is in Herodotus 7.22-24) about Xerxes cutting this canal to be a tall tale the Greeks like to tell — one of "the lying tales" — but in fact traces of the canal can still be seen.
"the sea was paved" — to cross the Hellespont, Xerxes made a bridge of boats 1,350 yards long (Herodotus 7.34).
"rivers … streams" — Herodotus, keen for us to know how vast the army of Xerxes was, tells us that on three different occasions they drank a river dry: Herodotus 7.43, 7.58, 7.108).
"Sostratus" — a poet, otherwise unknown, who is said to have described the deeds of Xerxes. The phrase madidis alis, lit. "with moist wings," seems to refer to the sweating armpits of the poet reciting with great vigor.
"Salamis" — the great battle (480 b.c.) at which the Greeks defeated the Persians under Xerxes.
"upon the winds" — Xerxes' first attempt at a boat-bridge across the Hellespont was broken up by a storm. Xerxes, enraged, ordered the sea to receive 300 lashes (Herodotus 7.35). I don't see him whipping the winds in Herodotus, but perhaps this is a different source. Corus (or Caurus) was the northwest wind; Euros the southeast wind.
"Aeolian" — in Roman myth, Jupiter feared the storm winds for their power to destroy the world, so he imprisoned them in deep caves on the floating island of Aeolia and set Aeolus, the ruler of the island, to watch over them. In Book I of The Aeneid the goddes Juno bribes Aeolus to let the winds out, to destroy the Trojan fleet.
"the Earth-shaker … chains" — "Earth-shaker" was one of the Homeric names for Poseidon, god of the sea, who also had earthquakes in his portfolio. As well as ordering the winds to be flogged, Xerxes had chains and fetters thrown into the stormy waters, in symbolic punishment of them.
"a single ship" — Juvenal is saying that Xerxes escaped from Salamis with just one ship. Herodotus says he watched the battle from the shore, then when it was over marched his army back to Thessaly (Herodotus 8.113).
"Thabraca" — a small town on the coast of North Africa, modern Tabarka, in Tunisia. In Roman times North Africa abounded with apes and monkeys.
"Cossus" — generic for a flattering legacy-hunter.
"Seleucus" — some popular musician.
"Oppia … Themison … the barber" — we don't know the origins of these names, and they must just be taken generically: Oppia for some high-class adultress, Themison some prominent physician, Basilus some shyster attorney, Hirrus some dishonest guardian, Hamillus some pederastic schoolmaster, Maura some well-known slut, and the barber one who had got rich somehow and made himself obnoxious to Juvenal.
"Phiale" — likewise generic: some prostitute.
"the King of Pylos" — Nestor. In Book I of the Iliad he is said to have lived through two generations and to be ruling over the third.
"upon his right hand" — the ancients had a way of counting units and tens by positions of fingers of the left hand, hundreds and thousands by corresponding positions on the right hand.
"Antilochus" — Nestor's son.
"Peleus" — father of Achilles.
"that other father" — Laertes. Odysseus was away at the Trojan War for so long that his father Laertes had the right to mourn him as if he was dead.
"Priam" — King of Troy at the time of the Trojan War; husband of Hecuba; father of sons Paris and Hector and of daughters Cassandra and Polyxena.
"Assaracus" — mythical son of Tros, from which the name of Troy was taken.
"Ilion" — Troy.
"he fell" — this account of the death of Priam follows the one in Book II of The Aeneid.
"barking of a dog" — Priam's wife Hecuba, according to one legend, went insane at seeing her children murdered by the Greeks, and began barking like a dog.
"the king of Pontus" — Mithridates VI, supposed to have ruled the kingdom of Pontus (northern Anatolia) for nearly sixty years. His older son rebelled against him; Mithridates had him killed. Then his younger son rebelled more successfully, and Mithridates committed suicide.
"Croesus … Solon" — the story is told in Herodotus 1.30-32. Croesus, king of Lydia, was visited by Solon, famously wise. Fishing for compliments, Croesus asked Solon if he knew of anyone "who surpassed all others in happiness and prosperity." Solon named three men. Miffed, Croesus asked why Solon hadn't named him. Solon replied (though at considerable length): "Call no man happy until he's dead."
"Marius … Carthage" — the reference is to this episode.
"Teutonic" — Marius was awarded a triumph after his great victory over the Teutonic Cimbri at the battle of Vercellae (Ramsay calls it the battle of Campi Raudii) in 101 b.c.
"Campania … Pompey" — Campania is the region of southern Italy containing Naples. Pompey fell ill here in 50 b.c.. Many cities offered up prayers for him — he was immensely popular. He duly recovered; but the following year, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon into Italy to make war against him. The year after that saw the battle of Pharsalus, which Pompey lost to Caesar. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was assassinated and decapitated. The point here again is Pompey's age — he lived to almost sixty.
"Lentulus … Cethegus … Catiline" — references to the Catiline conspiracy that shook late-republican Rome in 64-62 b.c.. Lentulus and Cethegus were among the conspirators, executed together on December 5, 63 b.c. following the failure of the conspiracy. Catiline himself died at the battle of Pistoria the following year. He seems to have been well into his forties at the time, so I'm not sure why Juvenal is mentioning him in this context. Lentulus was likewise middle-aged, at least, when he died; though Cethegus is said to have been a young man.
"Latona" — mother (by Jupiter) of Apollo and Diana.
"Lucretia" — killed herself after losing her honor. The story is here.
"Verginia" — killed by her father to preserve her honor. The story is here.
"Rutila" — a generic hunchback. Verginia would trade fates with the hunchback if she could.
"the ancient Sabines" — the Sabines were proverbial for their simplicity and chastity.
"Mars … net" — this refers to the story told in Book VIII of the Odyssey. Mars was having an affair with Venus, wife of Vulcan. When Vulcan found out, he fashioned a magic net over his bed that would close on the lovers as they slept.
"punishment of the mullet" — the ancient world believed strongly in sexual punishment for sexual crimes. A traditional Roman method for avenging oneself on an adulterer was to force a large fish into the fundament. In ancient Athens they favored a radish for this purpose — Greek ραφανιδοω.
"Endymion" — a handsome youth.
"Servilia" — older mistress of Julius Caesar (and mother of Brutus).
"Oppia … Catulla" — generic for women of high social rank.
"Hippolytus … Bellerophon …" — these lines refer to handsome young men who came to grief because they declined the advances of powerful older women. The "modest youth" is Hyppolytus (Anthony Perkins to us sixties survivors); the "other stripling," Bellerophon. "The Cretan lady" is Phaedra, with whom Hippolytus came to grief; Stheneboea plays the corresponding part with Bellerophon.
"him whom Caesar's wife …" — these lines refer to a story about the emperor Claudius. Claudius' wife Messalina was famous for her promiscuity. She persuaded one of her lovers, Gaius Silius, to divorce his wife and marry her. A formal marriage ceremony was performed while Claudius was away performing a religious observance. When the emperor found out, he had both Messalina and Silius put to death.
"Tyrian" — purple. See above, second theme.
"Sardanapalus" — legendary last king of Assyria, whose court was proverbially luxurious.
• Play the reading
Text of the poem.
Decimus Iuni Iuvenalis Satura X
[First theme, lines 1-27: The things we most desire often lead to our ruin. Notes are here.]
Omnibus in terris, quae sunt a Gadibus usque
Auroram et Gangen pauci dinoscere possunt
vera bona atque illis multum diversa, remota
erroris nebula. quid enim ratione timemus
aut cupimus? quid tam dextro pede concipis ut te
conatus non paeniteat votique peracti?
evertere domos totas optantibus ipsis
di faciles. nocitura toga, nocitura petuntur
militia; torrens dicendi copia multis
et sua mortifera est facundia, viribus ille
confisus periit admirandisque lacertis,
sed plures nimia congesta pecunia cura
strangulat et cuncta exsuperans patrimonia census
quanto delphinis ballaena Britannica maior.
temporibus diris igitur iussuque Neronis
Longinum et magnos Senecae praedivitis hortos
clausit et egregias Lateranorum obsidet aedes
tota cohors: rarus venit in cenacula miles.
pauca licet portes argenti vascula puri
nocte iter ingressus, gladium contumque timebis
et motae ad lunam trepidabis harundinis umbram:
cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator.
Prima fere vota et cunctis notissima templis
divitiae, crescant ut opes, ut maxima toto
nostra sit arca foro. sed nulla aconita bibuntur
fictilibus: tunc illa time, cum pocula sumes
gemmata et lato Setinum ardebit in auro.
|In all the lands that stretch from Gades to the Ganges and the Morn, there are
but few who can distinguish
true blessings from
their opposites, putting aside the mists of error. For when does reason direct our desires or our fears? What project
do we form so auspiciously that
we do not repent us of our effort and of the granted wish? Whole households have been destroyed by the compliant Gods
in answer to the masters'
prayers; in camp and city alike we ask for things that will be our ruin. Many a man has met death from the rushing
flood of his own eloquence;
others from the strength and wondrous thews in which they have trusted. More still have been ruined by money too
carefully amassed, and by fortunes
that surpass all patrimonies by as much as the British whale exceeds the dolphin. It was for this that in the dire days
Nero ordered Longinus and the
great gardens of the over-wealthy Seneca to be put under siege; for this was it that the noble Palace of the Laterani
was beset by an entire cohort;
it is but seldom that soldiers find their way into a garret! Though you carry but few plain silver vessels with you in
a night journey, you will be
afraid of the sword and cudgel of a freebooter, you will tremble at the shadow of a reed shaking in the moonlight; but
the empty-handed traveller
will whistle in the robber's face.
The foremost of all petitions — the one best known to every temple — is for riches and their increase, that our money-chest may be the biggest in all the Forum. But you will drink no aconite out of an earthenware cup; you may dread it when a jewelled cup is offered you, or when Setine wine sparkles in a golden bowl.
[Second theme, lines 28-55: Both the philosopher Heraclitus and the philosopher Democritus observed the follies of mankind; but the first wept, while the second laughed. Notes are here.]
iamne igitur laudas quod de sapientibus alter
ridebat, quotiens de limine moverat unum
protuleratque pedem, flebat contrarius auctor?
sed facilis cuivis rigidi censura cachinni:
mirandum est unde ille oculis suffecerit umor.
perpetuo risu pulmonem agitare solebat
Democritus, quamquam non essent urbibus illis
praetextae trabeae fasces lectica tribunal;
quid si vidisset praetorem curribus altis
extantem et medii sublimem pulvere circi
in tunica Iovis et pictae Sarrana ferentem
ex umeris aulaea togae magnaeque coronae
tantum orbem, quanto cervix non sufficit ulla?
quippe tenet sudans hanc publicus et, sibi consul
ne placeat, curru servus portatur eodem.
da nunc et volucrem, sceptro quae surgit eburno,
illinc cornicines, hinc praecedentia longi
agminis officia et niveos ad frena Quirites,
defossa in loculos quos sportula fecit amicos.
tunc quoque materiam risus invenit ad omnis
occursus hominum, cuius prudentia monstrat
summos posse viros et magna exempla daturos
vervecum in patria crassoque sub aere nasci.
ridebat curas nec non et gaudia vulgi,
interdum et lacrimas, cum Fortunae ipse minaci
mandaret laqueum mediumque ostenderet unguem.
Ergo supervacua aut quae perniciosa petuntur
propter quae fas est genua incerare deorum!
|Then will you not commend the two wise men, one of whom would laugh while the
opposite sage would weep every
time he set a foot outside the door? To condemn by a cutting laugh comes readily to us all; the wonder is how the other
sage's eyes were supplied
with all that water. The sides of Democritus shook with unceasing laughter, although in the cities of his day there
were no purple-bordered or
purple-striped robes, no fasces, no palanquins, no tribunals. What if he had seen the Praetor uplifted in his lofty car
amid the dust of the Circus,
attired in the tunic of Jupiter, hitching an embroidered Tyrian toga on to his shoulders, and carrying a crown so big
that no neck could bear the
weight of it? For a public slave is sweating under the burden; and that the Consul may not fancy himself overmuch, the
slave rides in the same
chariot with his master. Add to all this the bird that is perched on his ivory staff; on this side the horn-blowers, on
that the duteous clients
preceding him in long array, with white-robed Roman citizens, whose friendship has been gained by the dinner-dole
snugly buried in their purses,
marching at his bridle-rein. Even then the philosopher found food for laughter at every meeting with his kind:
his wisdom shows us that men of
high distinction and destined to set great examples may be born in a dullard air, and in the land of mutton-heads. He
laughed at the troubles, ay and
at the pleasures, of the crowd, sometimes too at their tears, while for himself he would bid frowning fortune go hang,
and point at her the finger of
Thus it is that the things for which we pray, and for which it is right and proper to load the knees of the Gods with wax, are either profitless or pernicious!
[Third theme, lines 56-113: The hollowness of political power, with Sejanus and the First Triumvirate as examples. Notes are here.]
quosdam praecipitat subiecta potentia magnae
invidiae, mergit longa atque insignis honorum
pagina. descendunt statuae restemque sequuntur,
ipsas deinde rotas bigarum inpacta securis
caedit et inmeritis franguntur crura caballis;
iam strident ignes, iam follibus atque caminis
ardet adoratum populo caput et crepat ingens
Seianus, deinde ex facie toto orbe secunda
fiunt urceoli pelves sartago matellae.
pone domi laurus, duc in Capitolia magnum
cretatumque bovem! Seianus ducitur unco
spectandus, gaudent omnes: "quae labra, quis illi
vultus erat! numquam, si quid mihi credis, amavi
hunc hominem. sed quo cecidit sub crimine? quisnam
delator? quibus indicibus, quo teste probavit?"
"nil horum; verbosa et grandis epistula venit
a Capreis." "bene habet, nil plus interrogo." sed quid
turba Remi? sequitur fortunam ut semper et odit
damnatos. idem populus, si Nortia Tusco
favisset, si oppressa foret secura senectus
principis, hac ipsa Seianum diceret hora
Augustum. iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
vendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium fasces legiones omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses. "Perituros audio multos."
"nil dubium, magna est fornacula." "pallidulus mi
Bruttidius meus ad Martis fuit obvius aram;
quam timeo, victus ne poenas exigat Aiax,
ut male defensus." "curramus praecipites et
dum iacet in ripa, calcemus Caesaris hostem."
"sed videant servi, ne quis neget et pavidum in ius
cervice obstricta dominum trahat." Hi sermones
tunc de Seiano, secreta haec murmura vulgi.
visne salutari sicut Seianus, habere
tantundem, atque illi summas donare curules,
illum exercitibus praeponere, tutor haberi
principis augusta Caprearum in rupe sedentis
cum grege Chaldaeo? vis certe pila cohortes
egregios equites et castra domestica; quidni
haec cupias? et qui nolunt occidere quemquam,
posse volunt. sed quae praeclara et prospera tanti,
ut rebus laetis par sit mensura malorum?
huius qui trahitur praetextam sumere mavis,
an Fidenarum Gabiorumque esse potestas
et de mensura ius dicere, vasa minora
frangere pannosus vacuis aedilis Vlubris?
ergo quid optandum foret ignorasse fateris
Seianum; nam qui nimios optabat honores
et nimias poscebat opes, numerosa parabat
excelsae turris tabulata, unde altior esset
casus et inpulsae praeceps inmane ruinae.
quid Crassos, quid Pompeios evertit et illum,
ad sua qui domitos deduxit flagra Quirites?
summus nempe locus nulla non arte petitus,
magnaque numinibus vota exaudita malignis
ad generum Cereris sine caede ac vulnere pauci
descendunt reges et sicca morte tyranni.
|Some men are hurled headlong by over-great power and the envy to which it
exposes them; they are wrecked by
the long and illustrious roll of their honours: down come their statues, obedient to the rope; the axe hews in
pieces their chariot wheels and
the legs of the unoffending nags. And now the flames are hissing, and amid the roar of furnace and of bellows the
head of the mighty Sejanus,
the darling of the mob, is burning and crackling, and from that face, which was but lately second in the entire world,
are being fashioned pipkins,
basins, frying-pans and slop-pails! Up with the laurel-wreaths over your doors! Lead forth a grand chalked
bull to the Capitol!
Sejanus is being dragged along by a hook, as a show and joy to all! "What a lip the fellow had! What a
"Believe me, I never liked the man!" — "But on what charge was he condemned? Who
informed against him? What was
the evidence, who the witnesses, who made good the case?" — "Nothing of the sort; a great and
wordy letter came from
Capri." — "Good; I ask no more."
And what does the mob of Remus say? It follows fortune, as it always does, and rails against the condemned. That same rabble, if Nortia had smiled upon the Etruscan, if the aged emperor had been struck down unawares, would in that very hour have conferred upon Sejanus the title of Augustus. Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — Bread and Games!
"I hear that many are to perish." — "No doubt of it; there is a big furnace ready." — "My friend Brutidius looked a trifle pale when I met him at the Altar of Mars. I tremble lest the defeated Ajax should take vengeance for having been so ill-defended." — "Let us rush headlong and trample on Caesar's enemy, while he lies upon the bank!" — "Ay, and let our slaves see that none bear witness against us, and drag their trembling master into court with a halter round his neck."
Such was the talk at the moment about Sejanus; such were the mutterings of the crowd. And would you like to be courted like Sejanus? To be as rich as he was? To bestow on one man the ivory chairs of office, appoint another to the command of armies, and be counted guardian of a Prince seated on the narrow ledge of Capri with his herd of Chaldean astrologers? You would like, no doubt, to have the pikes, cohorts, and illustrious cavalry at your call, and to possess a camp of your own? Why should you not? Even those who don't want to kill anybody would like to have the power to do it. But what grandeur, what high fortune, are worth the having if the joy is overbalanced by the calamities they bring with them? Would you rather choose to wear the bordered robe of the man now being dragged along the streets, or to be a magnate at Fidenae or Gabii, adjudicating upon weights, or smashing vessels of short measure, as a thread-bare Aedile at deserted Ulubrae? You admit, then, that Sejanus did not know what things were to be desired; for in coveting excessive honours, and seeking excessive wealth, he was but building up the many stories of a lofty tower whence the fall would be the greater, and the crash of headlong ruin more terrific. What was it that overthrew the Crassi, and the Pompeii, and him who brought the conquered Quirites under his lash? What but lust for the highest place pursued by every kind of means? What but ambitious prayers granted by unkindly Gods? Few indeed are the kings who go down to Ceres' son-in-law save by sword and slaughter — few the tyrants that perish by a bloodless death!
[Fourth theme, lines 114-132: Schoolboys dream of attaining great eloquence, like Demosthenes and Cicero; but both men were put to death for their words. Notes are here.]
Eloquium aut famam Demosthenis aut Ciceronis
incipit optare et totis quinquatribus optat
quisquis adhuc uno parcam colit asse Minervam,
quem sequitur custos angustae vernula capsae.
eloquio sed uterque perit orator, utrumque
largus et exundans leto dedit ingenii fons.
ingenio manus est et cervix caesa, nec umquam
sanguine causidici maduerunt rostra pusilli.
"o fortunatam natam me consule Romam":
Antoni gladios potuit contemnere, si sic
omnia dixisset. ridenda poemata malo
quam te, conspicuae divina Philippica famae,
volveris a prima quae proxima. Saevus et illum
exitus eripuit, quem mirabantur Athenae
torrentem et pleni moderantem frena theatri.
dis ille adversis genitus fatoque sinistro,
quem pater ardentis massae fuligine lippus
a carbone et forcipibus gladiosque paranti
incude et luteo Vulcano ad rhetora misit.
| Every schoolboy who worships Minerva with a modest penny
fee, attended by a slave to
guard his little satchel, prays all through his holidays for eloquence, for the fame of a Cicero or a
Demosthenes. Yet it was eloquence that
brought both orators to their death; each perished by the copious and overflowing torrent of his own genius. It
was his genius that cut off the
hand, and severed the neck, of Cicero; never yet did petty pleader stain the rostra with his blood!
"O happy Fate for the Roman State
Was the date of my great Consulate!"
Had Cicero always spoken thus, he might have laughed at the swords of Antony. I prefer verses meet only for contempt to thee, O famous and divine Philippic, that comest out second on the roll! Terrible, too, was the death of him whom Athens loved to hear sweeping along and holding in check the crowded theatre. Unfriendly were the Gods, and evil the star, under whom was born the man whom his father, blear-eyed with the soot of glowing ore, sent away from the coal, the pincers, and the sword-fashioning anvil of grimy Vulcan, to study the art of the rhetorician!
[Fifth theme, lines 133-187: Military glory is shown to be empty by the examples of Hannibal, Alexander, and Xerxes. Notes are here.]
Bellorum exuviae, truncis adfixa tropaeis
lorica et fracta de casside buccula pendens
et curtum temone iugum victaeque triremis
aplustre et summo tristis captivus in arcu
humanis maiora bonis creduntur. ad hoc se
Romanus Graiusque et barbarus induperator
erexit, causas discriminis atque laboris
inde habuit; tanto maior famae sitis est quam
virtutis. quis enim virtutem amplectitur ipsam,
praemia si tollas? patriam tamen obruit olim
gloria paucorum et laudis titulique cupido
haesuri saxis cinerum custodibus, ad quae
discutienda valent sterilis mala robora fici,
quandoquidem data sunt ipsis quoque fata sepulcris.
Expende Hannibalem; quot libras in duce summo
invenies? hic est, quem non capit Africa Mauro
percussa oceano Niloque admota tepenti,
rursus ad Aethiopum populos aliosque elephantos!
additur imperiis Hispania, Pyrenaeum
transilit; opposuit natura Alpemque nivemque:
diducit scopulos et montem rumpit aceto.
iam tenet Italiam, tamen ultra pergere tendit:
"acti," inquit, "nihil est, nisi Poeno milite portas
frangimus et media vexillum pono Subura."
o qualis facies et quali digna tabella,
cum Gaetula ducem portaret belua luscum!
exitus ergo quis est? o gloria, vincitur idem
nempe et in exilium praeceps fugit atque ibi magnus
mirandusque cliens sedet ad praetoria regis,
donec Bithyno libeat vigilare tyranno.
finem animae, quae res humanas miscuit olim,
non gladii, non saxa dabunt nec tela, sed ille
Cannarum vindex et tanti sanguinis ultor
anulus. i demens et saevas curre per Alpes,
ut pueris placeas et declamatio fias!
Unus Pellaeo iuveni non sufficit orbis;
aestuat infelix angusto limite mundi
ut Gyarae clausus scopulis parvaque Seripho;
cum tamen a figulis munitam intraverit urbem,
sarcophago contentus erit. mors sola fatetur
quantula sint hominum corpuscula. creditur olim
velificatus Athos et quidquid Graecia mendax
audet in historia, constratum classibus isdem
suppositumque rotis solidum mare, credimus altos
defecisse amnes epotaque flumina Medo
prandente et mandidis cantat quae Sostratus alis;
ille tamen qualis rediit Salamine relicta,
in Corum atque Eurum solitus saevire flagellis
barbarus Aeolio numquam hoc in carcere passos,
ipsum conpedibus qui vinxerat Ennosigaeum:
mitius id sane, quod non et stigmate dignum
credidit; huic quisquam vellet servire deorum?
sed qualis rediit? nempe una nave, cruentis
fluctibus ac tarda per densa cadavera prora.
has totiens optata exegit gloria poenas.
| The spoils of war and trophies fastened upon
stumps — a breast-plate, a
cheek-strap hanging from a broken helmet, a yoke shorn of its pole, the flag-staff of a captured galley, or a captive
sorrowing on a triumphal
arch — such things are deemed glories too great for man; these are the prizes for which every General
strives, be he Greek, Roman, or
barbarian; it is for these that he endures toil and peril: so much greater is the thirst for glory than for
virtue! For who would embrace
virtue herself if you stripped her of her rewards? Yet full oft has a land been destroyed by the vainglory of a
few, by the lust for honour and
for a title than shall cling to the stones that guard their ashes — stones which may be rent asunder by the
rude strength of the barren
fig-tree, seeing that even sepulchres have their doom assigned to them!
Put Hannibal into the scales; how many pounds' weight will you find in that greatest of commanders? This is the man for whom Africa was all too small — a land beaten by the Moorish sea and stretching to the steaming Nile, and then, again, to the tribes of Aethiopia and a new race of elephants! Spain is added to his dominions: he overleaps the Pyrenees; Nature throws in his way Alps and snow: he splits the rocks asunder, and breaks up the mountain-side with vinegar! And now Italy is in his grasp, but still on he presses: "Nought is accomplished," he cries, "until my Punic host breaks down the city gates, and I plant my standard in the midst of the Subura!" O what a sight was that! What a picture it would make, the one-eyed General riding on a Gaetulian beast! What then was his end? Alas for glory! A conquered man, he flees headlong into exile, and there he sits, a mighty and marvellous suppliant, in the King's antechamber, until it please his Bithynian Majesty to awake! No sword, no stone, no javelin shall end the life which once wrought havoc throughout the world: no, but that which shall avenge Cannae and all those seas of blood — a ring. On! on! thou madman, and race over the wintry Alps, that thou mayest be the delight of schoolboys and supply declaimers with a theme!
One globe is all too little for the youth of Pella; he chafes uneasily within the narrow limits of the world, as though he were cooped up within the rocks of Gyara or the diminutive Seriphos; but yet when once he shall have entered the city fortified by the potter's art, a sarcophagus will suffice him! Death alone proclaims how small are our poor human bodies! We have heard how ships once sailed through Mount Athos, and all the lying tales of Grecian history; how the sea was paved by those self-same ships, and gave solid support to chariot-wheels; how deep rivers failed, and whole streams were drunk dry when the Persian breakfasted, with all the fables of which Sostratus sings with reeking pinions. But in what plight did that king return when he left Salamis? he that had been wont to inflict barbaric stripes upon the winds Corus and Eurus — never treated thus in their Aeolian prison-house — he who had bound the Earth-shaker himself with chains, deeming it clemency, forsooth, not to think him worthy of a branding also: what god, indeed, would be willing to serve such a master? — in what plight did he return? Why, in a single ship; on blood-stained waves, the prow slowly forcing her way through waters thick with corpses! Such was the penalty exacted for that long-desired glory!
[Sixth theme, lines 188-239: Everyone prays for long life, but old age is a miserable state. Notes are here.]
"Da spatium vitae, multos da, Iuppiter, annos":
hoc recto vultu, solum hoc, et pallidus optas.
sed quam continuis et quantis longa senectus
plena malis! deformem et taetrum ante omnia vultum
dissimilemque sui, deformem pro cute pellem
pendentisque genas et talis aspice rugas
quales, umbriferos ubi pandit Thabraca saltus,
in vetula scalpit iam mater simia bucca.
plurima sunt iuvenum discrimina; pulchrior ille
hoc atque ille alio, multum hic robustior illo:
una senum facies. cum voce trementia membra
et iam leve caput madidique infantia nasi,
frangendus misero gingiva panis inermi;
usqueadeo gravis uxori natisque sibique,
ut captatori moveat fastidia Cosso.
non eadem vini atque cibi torpente palato
gaudia. nam coitus iam longo oblivio, vel si
coneris, iacet exiguus cum ramice nervus
et quamvis toto palpetur nocte, iacebit.
anne aliquid sperare potest haec inguinis aegri
canities? quid quod merito suspecta libido est
quae venerem adfectat sine viribus? Aspice partis
nunc damnum alterius. nam quae cantante voluptas,
sit licet eximius, citharoedo sive Seleuco
et quibus aurata mos est fulgere lacerna?
quid refert, magni sedeat qua parte theatri
qui vix cornicines exaudiet atque tubarum
concentus? clamore opus est, ut sentiat auris
quem dicat venisse puer, quot nuntiet horas.
Praeterea minimus gelido iam in corpore sanguis
febre calet sola, circumsilit agmine facto
morborum omne genus, quorum si nomina quaeras,
promptius expediam quot amaverit Oppia moechos,
quot Themison aegros autumno occiderit uno,
quot Basilus socios, quot circumscripserit Hirrus
pupillos; quot longa viros exorbeat uno
Maura die, quot discipulos inclinet Hamillus;
percurram citius quot villas possideat nunc
quo tondente gravis iuvenit mihi barba sonabat.
ille umero, his lumbis, hic coxa debilis; ambos
perdidit ille oculos et luscis invidet; huius
pallida labra cibum accipiunt digitis alienis,
ipse ad conspectum cenae diducere rictum
suetus hiat tantum ceu pullus hirundinis, ad quem
ore volat pleno mater ieiuna. sed omni
membrorum damno maior dementia, quae nec
nomina servorum nec vultum agnoscit amici
cum quo praeterita cenavit nocte, nec illos
quos genuit, quos eduxit. nam codice saevo
heredes vetat esse suos, bona tota feruntur
ad Phialen; tantum artificis valet halitus oris
quod steterat multis in carcere fornicis annis.
| "Give me length of days, give me many years, O
Jupiter!" Such is your
one and only prayer, in
days of strength or of sickness; yet how great, how unceasing, are the miseries of long old age! Look first at
the misshapen and ungainly face,
so unlike its former self; see the unsightly hide that serves for skin; see the pendulous cheeks and the wrinkles like
those which a matron baboon
carves upon her aged jaws where Thrabraca spreads her shaded glades. The young men differ in various ways:
this man is handsomer than
that, and he than another; one is far stronger than another; but old men all look alike, Their voices are as
shaky as their limbs, their heads
without hair, their noses drivelling as in childhood. Their bread, poor wretches, has to be munched by toothless
gums; so offensive do they
become to their wives, their children and themselves, that even the legacy-hunter, Cossus, turns from them in
disgust. Their sluggish palate
takes joy in wine or food no longer, and all pleasures of the flesh have been long ago forgotten …
[Note: Ramsay leaves this stretch, from "vel
si …" in line 204 to
"… sine viribus" in line 209, untranslated. Very literally: "… or
if / you
try, it-lies short with ruptured vessels / and however-much it-is-stroked all night, it-will-lie. /
to-hope he-can [have] from these loins ill / (and) gray? why that deservedly suspected desire is / which loveliness
And now consider the loss of another sense: what joy has the old man in song, however famous be the singer? what joy in the harping of Seleucus himself, or of those who shine resplendent in gold-embroidered overcoats? What matters it in what part of the great theatre he sits when he can scarce hear the horns and trumpets when they all blow together? The slave who announces a visitor, or tells the time of day, must needs shout in his ear if he is to be heard.
Besides all this, the little blood in his now chilly frame is never warm except with fever; diseases of every kind dance around him in a troop; if you ask of me their names, I could more readily tell you the number of Oppia's paramours, how many patients Themison killed in one autumn, how many partners were defrauded by Basilus, or wards by Hirrus, or pupils are corrupted by Hamillus, how many lovers tall Maura wears out in one day; I could sooner run over the number of villas now belonging to the barber under whose razor my stiff youthful beard used to grate. One suffers in the shoulder, another in the loins, a third in the hip; another has lost both eyes, and envies those who have one; another takes food into his pallid lips from someone else's fingers, while he whose jaws used to fly open at the sight of his dinner, now only gapes like the young of a swallow whose fasting mother flies to him with well-laden beak. But worse than any loss in body is the failing mind which forgets the names of slaves, and cannot recognize the face of the old friend who dined with him last night, nor those of the children whom he has begotten and brought up. Yes, by a cruel will he cuts off his own flesh and blood and leaves all his estate to Phiale — so potent was the breath of that alluring mouth which had plied its trade for so many years in her narrow archway.
[Seventh theme, lines 240-288: The miseries of old age (cont.): even if you keep your mental powers, you'll get to see your loved ones die. Notes are here.]
Ut vigeant sensus animi, ducenda tamen sunt
funera natorum, rogus aspiciendus amatae
coniugis et fratris plenaeque sororibus urnae.
haec data poena diu viventibus, ut renovata
semper clade domus multis in luctibus inque
perpetuo maerore et nigra veste senescant.
rex Pylius, magno si quicquam credis Homero,
exemplum vitae fuit a cornice secundae.
felix nimirum, qui tot per saecula mortem
distulit atque suos iam dextra conputat annos,
quique novum totiens mustum bibit. oro, parumper
attendas quantum de legibus ipse queratur
fatorum et nimio de stamine, cum videt acris
Antilochi barbam ardentem, cum quaerit ab omni
quisquis adest socius, cur haec in tempora duret,
quod facinus dignum tan longo admiserit aevo.
haec eadem Peleus, raptum cum luget Achillem,
atque alius cui fas Ithacum lugere natantem.
incolumi Troia Priamus venisset ad umbras
Assaraci magnis sollemnibus Hectore funus
portante ac reliquis fratrum cervicibus inter
Iliadum lacrimas, ut primos edere planctus
Cassandra inciperet scissaque Polyxena palla,
si foret extinctus diverso tempore, quo non
coeperat audaces Paris aedificare carinas.
longa dies igitur quid contulit? omnia vidit
eversa et flammis Asiam ferroque cadentem.
tunc miles tremulus posita tulit arma tiara
et ruit ante aram summi Iovis ut vetulus bos,
qui domini cultris tenue et miserabile collum
praebet ab ingrato iam fastiditus aratro.
exitus ille utcumque hominis, sed torva canino
latravit rictu quae post hunc vixerat uxor.
Festino ad nostros et regem transeo Ponti
et Croesum, quem vox iusti facunda Solonis
respicere ad longae iussit spatia ultima vitae.
exilium et carcer Minturnarumque paludes
et mendicatus victa Carthagine panis
hinc cause habuere; quid illo cive tulisset
natura in terris, quid Roma beatius umquam,
si circumducto captivorum agmine et omni
bellorum pompa animam exhalasset opimam,
cum de Teutonico vellet descendere curru?
provida Pompeio dederat Campania febres
optandas, sed multae urbes et publica vota
vicerunt: igitur Fortuna ipsius et urbis
serbatum victo caput abstulit. hoc cruciatu
Lentulus, hac poena caruit ceciditque Cethegus
integer, et iacuit Catilina cadavere toto.
| And though the powers of his mind be strong as ever, yet
must he carry forth his sons
to burial; he must behold the funeral pyres of his beloved wife and his brothers, and urns filled with the ashes of his
sisters. Such are the
penalties of the long liver: he sees calamity after calamity befall his house, he lives in a world of sorrow, he
grows old amid continual
lamentation and in the garb of woe. If we have any belief in mighty Homer, the King of Pylos was an example of
long life second only to the
crow; happy forsooth in this that he had put off death for so many generations, and had so often quaffed the new-made
wine, counting now his years
upon his right hand. But mark for a moment, I beg, how he bewails the decrees of fate and his too-long thread of
life, when he beholds the
beard of his brave Antilochus in the flames, and asks of every friend around him why he has lived so long, what crime
he has committed to deserve
such length of days. Thus did Peleus also mourn when he lost Achilles; and so that other father who had to bewail
the sea-roving Ithacan.
Had Priam perished at some other time, before Paris began to build his audacious ships, he would have gone down to the
shade of Assaracus when Troy
was still standing, and with regal pomp; his body would have been borne on the shoulders of Hector and his brother too
amid the tears of Ilion's
daughters, and the rending of Polyxena's garments: Cassandra would have led the cries of woe. What boon did
length of days bring to
him? He saw everything in ruins, and Asia perishing by fire and the sword. Laying aside his tiara, and
arming himself, he fell, a
trembling soldier, before the altar of Almighty Jupiter, like an aged ox discarded by the thankless plough who offers
his poor lean neck to his
master's knife. Priam's death was at least that of a human being; but his wife lived on to open her mouth with
the savage barking of a dog.
I hasten to our own countrymen, passing by the king of Pontus and Croesus, who was bidden by the wise and eloquent Solon to look to the last lap of a long life. It was this that brought Marius to exile and to prison, it took him to the swamps of Minturnae and made him beg his bread in the Carthage that was a conquered city. What could Nature, what could Rome ever in all the world have produced more glorious than him, if after parading his troops of captives with all the pomp of war he had breathed forth his soul in glory as he was about to step down from his Teutonic car? Kindly Campania gave to Pompey a fever, which he might have prayed for as a boon; but the public prayers of all those cities gained the day; so his own fortune and that of Rome preserved him to be vanquished and to lose his head. No such cruel thing befell Lentulus; Cethegus escaped such punishment and fell whole; and Catiline's corpse lay unviolated.
Formam optat modico pueris, maiore puellis
murmure, cum Veneris fanum videt, anxia mater
usque ad delicias votorum. "cur tamen?" inquit,
"corripias? pulchra gaudet Latona Diana."
sed vetat optari faciem Lucretia qualem
ipsa habuit, cuperet Rutilae Verginia gibbum
accipere atque suum Rutilae dare. filius autem
corporis egregii miseros trepidosque parentes
semper habet; rara est adeo concordia formae
atque pudicitiae. sanctos licet horrida mores
tradiderit domus ac veteres imitata Sabinos,
preaterea castum ingenium vultumque modesto
sanguine ferventem tribuat natura benigna
larga manu (quid enim puero conferre potest plus
custode et cura natura potentior omni?),
non licet esse viro; nam prodiga corruptoris
improbitas ipsos audet temptare parentes:
tanta in muneribus fiducia. nullus ephebum
deformem saeva castravit in arce tyrannus,
nec prae textatum rapuit Nero loripedem nec
strumosum atque utero pariter gibboque tumentem.
I nunc et iuvenis specie laetare tui, quem
maiora expectant discrimina. fiet adulter
publicus et poenas metuet quascumque maritis
iratis debet, nec erit felicior astro
Martis, ut in laqueos numquam incidat. exigit autem
interdum ille dolor plus quam lex ulla dolori
concessit: necat his fero, secat ille cruentis
verberibus, quosdam moechos et mugilis intrat.
sed tuus Endymion dilectae fiet adulter
matronae. mox cum dederit Servilia nummos,
fiet et illius quam non amat, exeut omnem
corporis ornatum: quid enim ulla negaverit udis
inguinibus, sive est haec Oppia sive Catulla?
deterior totos habet illic femina mores.
"sed casto quid forma nocet?" quid profuit immo
Hippolyto grave propositum, quid Bellorophonti?
erubuit nempe haec ceu fastidita, repulsa,
nec Stheneboea minus quam Cressa, excanduit, et se
concussere ambae. mulier saevissima tunc est,
cum stimulos odio pudor admovet. Elige Quidnam
suadendum esse putes cui nubere Caesaris uxor
destinat? optimus hic et formosissimus idem
gentis patriciae rapitur miser extinguendus
Messalinae oculis; dudum sedet illa parato
flammeolo Tyriusque palam genialis in hortis
sternitur et ritu decies centena dabuntur
antiquo, veniet cum signatoribus auspex.
haec to secreta et paucis commissa putabas?
non nisi legitime vult nubere. quid placeat dic:
ni parere velis, pereundum erit ante lucernas;
si scelus admittas, dabitur mora parvula, dum res
nota urbi et populo contingat principis aurem.
dedecus ille domus sciet ultimus; interea tu
obsequere imperio, si tanti vita dierum
paucorum. quidquid levius meliusve putaris,
praebenda est gladio pulchra haec et candida cervix.
|When the loving mother passes the temple of Venus, she prays in whispered breath
for her boys —
more loudly, and entering into the most trifling particulars, for her daughters — that they may have
beauty. "And why should I
not?" she asks; "did not Latona rejoice in Diana's beauty?" Yes: but Lucretia
forbids us to pray for a face
like her own; and Verginia would gladly take Rutila's hump and give her own to Rutila. A handsome son keeps his
parents in constant fear and
misery; so rarely do modesty and good looks go together. For though his home be rough and simple, and have taught
him ways as pure as those of
the ancient Sabines, and though Nature besides with kindly hand have lavishly gifted him with a pure mind and a cheek
mantling with modest
blood — and what better thing can Nature, more careful, more potent than any guardian, bestow upon a
youth? — he will not be
allowed to become a man. The lavish wickedness of some seducer will tempt the boy's own parents: such trust
can be placed in money!
No misshapen youth was ever unsexed by cruel tyrant in his castle; never did Nero have a bandy-legged or scrofulous
favorite, or one that was
hump-backed or pot-bellied!
Go to now, you that revel in your son's beauty; think of the deadly perils that lie before him. He will become a promiscuous gallant, and have to fear all the vengeance due to outraged husbands; no luckier than Mars, he will not fail to fall into the net. And sometimes the husband's wrath exacts greater penalties than any law allows; one lover is slain by the sword, another bleeds under the cutting lash; some adulterers undergo the punishment of the mullet. Your dear Endymion will become the gallant of some matron whom he loves; but before long, when Servilia has taken him into her pay, he will serve one also whom he loves not, and will strip her of all her ornaments; for what can any woman, be she an Oppia or a Catulla, deny to the man who serves her passion? It is on her passion that a bad woman's whole nature centres. "But how does beauty hurt the chaste?" you ask. Well, what availed Hippolytus or Bellerophon their firm resolve? The Cretan lady flared up as though repelled with scorn; no less furious was Stheneboea. Both dames lashed themselves into fury; for never is woman so savage as when her hatred is goaded on by shame.
And now tell me what counsel you think should be given to him whom Caesar's wife is minded to wed. Best and fairest of a patrician house, the unhappy youth is dragged to destruction by Messalina's eyes. She has long been seated; her bridal veil is ready; the Tyrian nuptial couch is being spread openly in the gardens; a dowry of one million sesterces will be given after the ancient fashion, the soothsayer and the witnesses will be there. And you thought these things were secret, did you, known only to a few? But the lady will not wed save with all the due forms. Say what is your resolve: if you say nay to her, you will have to perish before the lighting of the lamps; if you perpetrate the crime, you will have a brief respite until the affair, known already to the city and the people, shall come to the Prince's ears; he will be the last to know of the dishonour of his house. Meanwhile, if you value a few days of life so highly, obey your orders: whatever you may deem the easier and the better way, that fair white neck of yours will have to be offered to the sword.
[Ninth theme, lines 346-366: Submit to the will of the gods. Pray for health, reason, and courage. Seek happiness through virtue. Notes are here.]
Nil ergo optabunt homines? si consilium vis,
permittes ipsis expendere numinibus quid
conveniat nobis rebusque sit utile nostris.
nam pro iucundis aptissima quaeque dabunt di:
carior est illis homo quam sibi. nos animorum
inpulsu et caeca magnaque cupidine ducti
coniugium petimus partumque uxoris; at illis
notum qui pueri qualisque futura sit uxor.
ut tamen et poscas aliquid voveasque sacellis
exta et candiduli divina tomacula porci,
orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano;
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium vitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores
Herculis aerumnas credat saevosque labores
et venere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per virtutem patet unica vitae.
nullum numen habes, si sit prudentia: nos te,
nos facimus, Fortuna, deam caeloque locamus.
|Is there nothing then for which men shall pray? If you ask my counsel, you will leave it to the gods themselves to provide what is good for us, and what will be serviceable for our state; for, in place of what is pleasing, they will give us what is best. Impelled by strong and blind desire in our hearts, we ask for wife and offspring; but the gods know of what sort the sons, of what sort the wife, will be. Still, that you may have something to pray for, and be able to offer to the shrines entrails and presaging sausages from a white porker, you should pray for a sound mind in a sound body; ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death, and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts; that can endure any kind of toil; that knows neither wrath nor desire, and thinks that the woes and hard labours of Hercules are better than the loves and the banquets and the downy cushions of Sardanapalus. What I commend to you, you can give to yourself; for it is assuredly through virtue that lies the one and only path to a life of peace. Thou wouldst have no divinity, O Fortune, if we had but wisdom; it is we that make a goddess of thee, and place thee in the skies.|