Horace: The Satires
Book II: Satire VIII
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkIISatVIII:1-19 Nasidienus’ dinner-party
- BkIISatVIII:20-41 The guests
- BkIISatVIII:42-78 The trials of being a host
- BkIISatVIII:79-95 The guests disperse!
How was dinner with Nasidienus, the blessed?
Trying to get you as my guest yesterday I was told
You’d been drinking there since lunch-time. ‘Yes, and had
The time of my life.’ Tell me, if it’s no bother,
What dish was first to assuage your raging appetites?
‘The first was Lucanian wild-boar: caught, as the head
Of the feast kept saying, when a soft southerly blew.
Round it spiced turnips, lettuce, radishes, things that tease
A jaded palate, with water-parsnips, pickled-fish,
The lees of Coan wine. When they were cleared away
A girded lad wiped the maple board with a bright cloth,
While a second swept away whatever scraps remained
Or whatever might offend the diners: then in came
And Alcon with a Chian needing no added brine.
Pleasing to you, or Falernian, well, we have both.”’
The miseries of riches! But Fundanius
I’m eager to know who enjoyed the meal with you.
‘I was there at the head, and next to me Viscus
Remember correctly: then Servilius Balatro
With him. Above our host was Nomentanus, below
Porcius, that jester, gulping whole cakes at a time:
Nomentanus was by to point out with his finger
Anything that escaped our attention: since the rest
Of the crew, that’s us I mean, were eating oysters,
Fish and fowl, hiding far different flavours than usual:
Soon obvious for instance when he offered me
Fillets of plaice and turbot cooked in ways new to me.
Then he taught me that sweet apples were red when picked
By the light of a waning moon. What difference that makes
You’d be better asking him. Then Vibidius said
To Balatro: “We’ll die unavenged if we don’t drink him
Bankrupt”, and called for larger glasses. Then the host’s face
Went white, fearing nothing so much as hard drinkers,
Who abuse each other too freely, while fiery wines
Dull the palate’s sensitivity. Vibidius
And Balatro were tipping whole jugs full of wine
Into goblets from Allifae, the rest followed suit,
Only the guests on the lowest couch sparing the drink.’
‘A lamprey arrived, stretched out on a dish with prawns
Swimming round it. The host said: “This was caught before
Spawning, after they spawn the flesh is inferior.”
The dressing’s mixed like this: Venafran oil, from the first
Pressing: fish sauce made with juice of the Spanish mackerel:
Five-year old wine, from Italian slopes not Greek ones,
Added while boiling (Chian is best for this after
Boiling, nothing better): white pepper, and without fail
Vinegar made from fermented Methymnian grapes.
I was first to proclaim that green rocket, and bitter
Elecampne be simmered there too: Curtillus
Adds unwashed sea-urchins, their juice is better than brine.”
While he was speaking the wall-hanging over it collapsed
Heavily onto the dish, dragging down more black dust
Than the North-wind blows from Campania’s fields.
We feared worse, but finding there was no subsequent
Danger, uncurled. Rufus wept, head bowed, as if his son
Had met an untimely fate. What would the outcome
Have been if Nomentanus the wise hadn’t rallied
His friend: “O Fortune, what deity treats us more
Cruelly than you? How you always delight in mocking
Human affairs!” Varius with a napkin barely
Smothered his laughter. Balatro who always sneers,
Said: “It’s the mortal condition, and the returns
Of fame will never prove equal to your efforts.
To think, that to entertain me in splendour, you
Should be strained and tormented by every anxiety,
Lest the bread’s burned, the dressing’s not properly seasoned,
Each slave’s correctly dressed, and groomed for serving!
And all the other risks, the wall-hanging falling,
As it did: or your servant slipping and breaking a dish.
But as with a general, so a host: adversity
Often reveals his genius, success conceals it.”
Nasidienus replied: “The gods grant you every blessing
You pray for! You’re a fine fellow, and a courteous guest!”
He called for his slippers. Then from each couch you heard
The murmur of whispers filling those attentive ears.’
There’s no attraction I’d rather have watched: but say
What did you find to laugh at next? ‘While Vibidius,
Was questioning the servants as to whether the jug
Was broken too since the glasses hadn’t arrive as asked,
While we were laughing at tall stories, Balatro
Prompting, back you come, Nasiedenus, with smoother
Brow, ready to remedy mishap with art. Then boys
Follow bearing a vast dish containing crane’s legs,
Seasoned with plenty of salt, sprinkled with meal,
Plus the liver of a white goose fattened on rich figs,
And shoulder of hare on its own, reckoned more tasty
Than if eaten attached to the loin. We saw blackbird,
Then, the breast charred, and pigeon without the rump,
Delightful things if the host wasn’t full of their source
And nature: in revenge we fled from him, so as not
To taste them, as if Canidia had breathed on them
With a breath more deadly than African serpents.
End of Book II Satire VIII