Horace: The Satires
Book II: Satire VI
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkIISatVI:1-39 On the Sabine Farm
- BkIISatVI:40-58 His relationship with Maecenas
- BkIISatVI:59-76 The delights of the country
- BkIISatVI:77-115 The country mouse and the town mouse
This was my prayer: a piece of land, not of great size,
With a garden, and a permanent spring near the house,
And above them a stretch of woodland. The gods gave
More and better. It’s fine. I ask for nothing else, O Son
Of Maia, except that you make these blessings last.
If I haven’t increased my possessions by malpractice,
If I don’t intend to reduce them by waste or neglect,
If I never stupidly make entreaties, like these:
‘O, if that odd corner were mine that spoils the farm’s shape!’
‘O, if chance would show me a pot of silver, like him
Who found treasure and bought and ploughed the same fields
That he once worked for hire, rich by Hercules’ favour!’
If what I have pleases me dearly, my prayer to you
Is: fatten the herds I own, and everything but my head,
And be my great protector just as you’ve always been!
Now that I’ve left town, then, for my castle in the hills,
What better matter for satire, and my prosaic Muse?
I’m not cursed here with ambition, leaden sirocco,
Or oppressive autumn, deathly Libitina’s gain.
Father of the Dawn, Janus if you’d prefer that name,
Under whose auspices men undertake the beginnings
Of labour and life’s toil (so please the gods), introduce
My song. In Rome you drag me off to be guarantor:
‘Up, lest someone else responds first to duty’s call!’
I have to go, even if northerlies sweep the earth,
Or winter’s narrowing circle brings a snowy day,
Then, after declaring, loudly, clearly, whatever may
Work against me, barge through the crowd, hurting the tardy.
‘What’s with you, idiot, what are you up to?’ Some wretch
Curses angrily: ‘There you go, jostling all in your way
When you’re hurrying back to Maecenas, full of him.’
That pleases me, honey-sweet I’ll not deny. But when
I reach the mournful Esquiline, hundreds of other
People’s matters buzz round me and through my brain.
‘Roscius asks you to meet before eight, tomorrow,
As there’s urgent new business of common concern.’
‘Take care Maecenas stamps all these papers’ ‘I’ll try,’
Say I: ‘If you want to, you can,’ he insistently adds.
Seven, nearer eight years have passed now since Maecenas
Began to count me among his friends, yet up to now
He’s merely been willing to let me share his carriage
When travelling, and confide nuggets like these to me:
‘These frosty mornings will chill you if you’re not careful.’
And whatever else it’s safe to drop in a careless ear.
All that time, every hour of the day, yours truly has
Grown more envied. If he’s watched the Games with me
Or played ball on the Campus, all cry: ‘Fortune’s child!’
Should a chilling rumour fill the streets, from the Rostra,
Whoever meets me asks my views: ‘My good friend,
Since you, so much nearer the gods, must know, have you
Heard any news of the Dacians?’ Not a thing. ‘Oh,
You’re always teasing us!’ May the gods strike me
If I have! ‘Well then, where does Caesar intend to grant
His men the land he promised, Italy, Sicily?’
When I swear I know nothing, they wonderingly take me
For a remarkably deep and reticent mortal indeed.
BkIISatVI:59-76 The delights of the country
Alas, the day’s wasted like this, and not without prayer:
‘O when shall I see you, my farm? When will I be free
To breathe the delightful forgetfulness of life’s cares,
Among ancient classics, with sleep and idle hours?
When will they set before me beans, Pythagoras’ kin,
And those little cabbages oiled with thick bacon-grease?
O heavenly night-time dinners, when I and my friends
Eat beside my own Lar, and feed jostling servants
On left-over offerings. Each guest drinks as he wishes
Large glasses or small, free from foolish rules, whether
He downs the strong stuff, nobly, or wets his whistle
In more carefree style. And so the conversation starts.
Not about other men’s houses in town, their country
Villas, or whether Lepos dances well or not: no,
We talk about things one should know, that matter more:
Whether it’s wealth or character makes men happier:
Whether self-interest or virtue make men friends:
And the nature of the good, and its highest form.
Now and then Cervius my neighbour spins us a yarn,
Some apt old woman’s tale. So, if anyone praised
Arellius ’ wealth but ignored his cares, he’d begin:
‘It’s said a country mouse welcomed a town mouse once
To his humble hole, the guest and the host were old friends:
He lived frugally, and was careful, but his spirit
Was still open to the art of being hospitable.
In short, he never grudged vetch or oats from his store,
And he’d bring raisins or pieces of nibbled bacon
In his mouth, eager by varying the fare to please
His guest, whose fastidious tooth barely sampled it.
At last the town mouse asks: ‘Where’s the pleasure, my friend,
In barely surviving, in this glade on a steep ridge?
Wouldn’t you prefer the crowded city to these wild woods?
Come with me, I mean it. Since all terrestrial creatures
Are mortal, and there’s no escape from death for great
Or small, then live happily, good friend, while you may
Surrounded by joyful things: mindful while you live
How brief existence is.’ His words stirred the country mouse,
Who scrambled lightly from his house: then the two
Took their way together as proposed, eager to scurry
Beneath the city walls in darkness. And now night
Occupied the zenith, as the pair of them made tracks
Through a wealthy house, where covers dyed scarlet
Glowed on ivory couches, and baskets piled nearby
Held the remains of all the courses of a magnificent
Feast, that had been celebrated the previous evening.
Once the town mouse had seated the country mouse
Amongst the purple, he rushed about like a waiter,
The host serving course after course, performing the role
Himself, and not unlike a slave first tasting what he served.
The country-mouse at ease enjoyed the change of style,
Playing the contented guest amongst all the good things,
When suddenly a great crashing of doors, shakes them
From their places. They run through the hall in fear, stricken
By greater panic when the high hall rings to the barking
Of Molossian hounds. Then says the country-mouse: ‘This
Life’s no use to me: and so, farewell: my woodland hole,
And simple vetch, safe from such scares, they’ll do for me.’
End of Book II Satire VI