Horace: The Satires
Book I: Satire X
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkISatX:1-30 The art of writing well
- BkISatX:31-49 I decided to write Satire
- BkISatX:50-71 Lucilius would prune his work today
- BkISatX:72-92 We should write for the few not the many
BkISatX:1-30 The art of writing well
Yes, I did say Lucilius’ verses ran on stumbling
Feet. Who’s so absurd a fan of Lucilius not to
Admit it? Yet on the same page the same man’s praised
For scouring the City with all the salt of his wit.
Still, granting him that, I wouldn’t admit all the rest,
Or Laberius’ mimes would have to be called fine poetry.
It isn’t enough for your listener to crack his jaws
Laughing: though there’s a virtue still in achieving that:
Conciseness is needed, so that the thought can run on,
Un-entangled by words that weigh heavy on weary ears:
And you need a style sometimes serious, often witty,
Suiting the role now of orator now of poet,
At times the urbane man who husbands his strength
And parcels it out wisely. Ridicule usually
Cuts through things better, more swiftly, than force.
It was the mainstay of those who wrote Old Comedy,
In it, they should imitated: those whom pretty
Hermogenes never reads, nor that ape whose art
‘But it was a great achievement to blend Greek and Latin.’
O tardy students, if you think it’s wonderful
Or hard to do what Pitholeon of Rhodes achieved!
‘But a style harmoniously mixing both languages
Is more delightful, like Chian and Falernian wine.’
When you’re writing verse, I’ll ask you, or also
When you’re pleading Petillius’ long hard case?
Would you really prefer to forget home and country,
Over their cases in Latin, mingle foreign words
With your own, like the twin-tongued Canusians?
Though born this side of the sea, I too made versicles
In Greek, but after midnight, when dreams are true,
A vision of Quirinus forbade me to do so, saying:
Your desire to swell the mighty ranks of the Greeks
Is as stupid as carrying wood to the forest.’
And muddies the head of the Rhine, I toy with these,
That won’t resound in the Muses’ temple competing
For Tarpa’s prize, nor be staged, again and again.
Fundanius, you alone of the living, delight us
With chatty comedy where the crafty whore and Davus
Sings kingly deeds: Varius marshals brave epics
Have granted rare tenderness and grace. What Varro
Of Atax, and others, a few, attempted in vain,
Satire, is what I could write more effectively,
Though less well than its inventor: I’d not presume
To snatch the crown that clings to his head in glory.
But I do say he flows muddily, often carrying
What you’d rather remove than let remain. Well,
As a scholar do you never criticise Homer?
Doesn’t he mock Ennius’ less dignified verses,
Though he considers himself no greater than them?
What forbids us readers of Lucilius’ writings
To ask whether it was a harshness in himself,
Or in his times, denied more finish to his verse,
A smoother flow, he who’s content merely to stuff
His thoughts into six feet, cheerfully penning two hundred
Lines before dinner, and the same after? So Etruscan
Cassius did too, whose own nature was fiercer
Than a raging river, his shelves of books, so it’s said,
Forming his funeral pyre. Let’s agree, I admit
Lucilius was pleasant and witty, more polished
Than a maker of rough forms the Greeks never touched
And than the crowd of older poets: but he, had he
Happened to be destined to live in our age, he too
Would have rubbed away, cutting out whatever was
Less than perfect, scratching his head as he made
His verses, and often biting his nails to the quick.
BkISatX:72-92 We should write for the few not the many
If you want to write what’s worth a second reading,
You must often reverse your stylus, and smooth the wax:
Don’t write to amaze the crowd, be content with the few.
Are you mad enough to want your poems mouthed in school?
Not I: as proud Arbuscula said when they hissed her act,
‘It’s fine so long as the knights applaud’: she scorned the rest.
Should I bother about that louse Pantilius, should I
Be tortured by Demetrius’ sneers behind my back,
And I can name you Pollio, without flattery,
And you, and your brother, Messalla, and you,
And many another learned friend, I’m aware
I omit: and I’d like these verses, such as they are,
To please them, grieved if they delight them less than I
Hope. But you Demetrius, you Tigellius, go carp
Among the armchairs of those female disciples!
Go boy, quickly, add these lines to my little book.
End of Book I Satire X