Horace: The Satires

Book I: Satire IV



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Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved

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BkISatIV:1-25 Quality not Quantity in Satire please.4

BkISatIV:26-62 Is a Satirist truly a poet though?. 4

BkISatIV:63-85 Maybe not, but why treat Satire with suspicion?. 5

BkISatIV:86-106 After all, Iím not the malicious one. 6

BkISatIV:107-143 My father taught me to be critical6


BkISatIV:1-25 Quality not Quantity in Satire please.


Whenever anyone deserved to be shown as a crook

A thief, a libertine, a murderer, or merely notorious

In some other way, the true poets, those who powered

The Old Comedy: Eupolis, Aristophanes,

Cratinus, used to mark such a man out quite freely.

Lucilius derives from them, as a follower

Who only changed rhythm and metre: witty

With a sharp nose, true, but the verse he wrote was rough.

Thatís where the fault lay: often, epically, heíd dictate

Two hundred lines, do it standing on one foot even!

A lot should have been dredged from his murky stream.

He was garrulous, hated the labour involved in writing,

Writing well, I mean: I donít care for mere quantity.

Watch Crispinus offer me long odds: ĎNow, if you please,

Take your tablets and Iíll take mine: pick a time, a place,

The judges: letís see which of us can scribble the most.í

Thank the gods Iím a man of few ideas, with no spirit,

One who speaks only rarely, and then says little.

But if itís what you prefer, then you imitate air shut

In a goat-skin bellows, labouring away till the fire

Makes the iron melt. Blessed be Fannius who offers

His books and a bust unasked, while no one reads

What I write, and Iím afraid to recite it aloud

Since some care little for that sort of thing, and most

Men deserve censure. Choose any man from the crowd:

Heíll be bothered by avarice or some wretched ambition.


BkISatIV:26-62 Is a Satirist truly a poet though?


This man is crazy for married women, another for boys:

That manís captivated by gleaming silver: Albius

Marvels at bronze: this man trades his goods from the east

To the lands warmed by the evening rays, rushes headlong

Just like the dust caught up by the wind, full of fear

Lest he loses his capital or the chance of a profit.

All of them dread our verses and hate the poets.

ĎHeís dangerous, flee, heís marked by hay tied to his horns!

He wonít spare a single friend to get a laugh for himself:

And whatever heís scribbled all over his parchments

Heís eager for all the slaves and old women to know,

On their way from the well or the bake-house.í Well listen

To these few words of reply. First Iíd cut my own name

From those I listed as poets: itís not enough merely

To turn out a verse, and you canít call someone a poet

Who writes like me in a style close to everyday speech.

Give the honour owed to that name to a man of talent,

One with a soul divine, and a powerful gift of song.

Thatís why some people have doubted if Comedy

Is true poetry, since in words and content it lacks

Inspired force and fire, and except that it differs

From prose in its regular beat, is merely prose.

ĎBut it highlights a father there in a raging temper,

Because his son, a spendthrift whose madly in love

With his mistress, a slut, shuns a girl with an ample dowry,

Reels around drunk, and causes a scandal, with torches

At even-tide.í Yes, but wouldnít Pomponius get

A lecture no less severe from a real father? So,

Itís not nearly enough to write out a line in plain speech,

That if you arranged it, would allow any father to fume

Like the one in the play. Take the regular rhythm

From this that Iím writing now, or Lucilius wrote,

Putting the first words last, placing the last ones first,

Itís not like transposing Enniusí, ĎWhen hideous Discord

Shattered the iron posts and the gateways of War.í

Even dismembered youíll find there the limbs of a poet.


BkISatIV:63-85 Maybe not, but why treat Satire with suspicion?


Enough! Weíll ask some other time if itís poetry.

The only question for now is whether youíre right

To view such things with suspicion. Sulcius

And Caprius prowl about zealously armed with writs:

And, terribly hoarse, are a terror to thieves: but a man

With clean hands who lives decently, scorns them both.

Even if youíre a Caelius or Birrius, a thief,

Iím not Caprius or Sulcius: so why fear me?

No stall or pillar will offer up my little books

To the sweaty hands of the mob, and Hermogenes:

I only recite them to friends, and only when pressed,

Not anywhere, not to anyone. There are plenty

Who read out their works in the Forum, or baths:

(How nicely the vaulted space resonates to the voice!)

It delights the inane, who never consider, whether

Time and taste are right. ĎBut you take delight in wounding

And you work your evil zealously.í Where did you find

That spear to throw? Is anyone I know the author

Of that? The man who will slander an absent friend,

And fails to defend him from othersí attacks,

Whoís after othersí laughter, and the name of a wit,

And invents things heís never seen, and canít keep

A secret: beware of him, Rome, heís a blackguard.


BkISatIV:86-106 After all, Iím not the malicious one


When thereís a party of four and only three couches,

Often thereís one guest who likes to besprinkle the rest

Excluding his host who supplies the water: his host too

Though later when, drunk, truthful Liber unlocks the heart.

Yet you, hating blackguards, consider him charming,

Direct, and urbane. Did I seem then spiteful or vicious,

If I laughed because stupid Rufillus smells of pastils,

Gargonius of goat? If someone while you were there

Gave a hint of Petillius Capitolinusí thefts,

Youíd be sure to defend him as is your habit:

ĎCapitolinus has been a dear friend and companion

Since childhood: heís done me many a favour when asked,

Iím delighted heís living freely here in the City:

But Iím still amazed at how he escaped that trial

Thatís the black ink a cuttlefish squirts, now, thatís

Pure venom. Let such nastiness be far from my work,

And well before that from my heart: if thereís anything

I can truly promise, Iíll promise you that. If I

Speak too freely, too lightly perhaps, youíll allow me

That liberty, please. The best of fathers formed me:

So Iíd flee from vice, heíd point it out by example.


BkISatIV:107-143 My father taught me to be critical


When he exhorted me to be thrifty and careful,

So as to live in content on what heíd leave me:

Heíd say: ĎDonít you see how badly young Albius

Is doing, how poor Baius is? A clear warning: donít

Wilfully squander your birthright.í Or steering me

From base love of a whore: ĎDonít take after Scetanus

Or from chasing an adulteress where I might enjoy

Free sex: ĎNot nice, Treboniusí name now heís caught:

Some wise man can tell you why itís better to seek

Or avoid something: itís enough for me that I follow

The code our ancestors handed down, and while you

Need a guardian Iíll keep your reputation and health

From harm: then when age has strengthened your body

And mind, you can swim free of the float.í With words

Such as these he formed the child, whether urging me on

If I acted, with ĎYouíve an authority for doing this,í

Pointing to one of the judges the praetor had chosen:

Or forbidding it, with ĎCan you really be doubtful

Whether itís wrong or harmful, when scandalís ablaze

About that man and this?í As a neighbourís funeral scares

The sick glutton, and makes him diet, fearful of dying,

So tender spirits are often deterred from doing wrong

By othersí shame. Thatís why Iím free of whatever vices

Bring ruin, though Iím guilty of lesser failings, ones

You might pardon. Perhaps growing older will largely

Erase even these, or honest friends, or self-reflection:

Since when my armchair welcomes me, or a stroll

In the portico, alert to myself: ĎItís more honest,í

Iíll say, Ďif I do that my life will be better: that way Iíll

Make good friends: what he did wasnít nice: could I ever

Unthinkingly do something similar one day?í So

I advise myself with my lips tight closed: and when Iím free

I toy with my writings. Itís one of the minor failings

I mentioned: and if itís something you canít accept,

A vast crowd of poets will flock to my aid (for we

Are by far the majority), and just as the Jews do

In Rome, weíll force you to join our congregation!


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