Satire VI – Don’t Marry
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 20011 All Rights Reserved
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- Satire VI: Don’t Marry
- SatVI:1-24 Chastity Has Vanished
- SatVI:25-59 You’re Mad To Marry!
- SatVI:60-81 Look At Them In The Theatre
- SatVI:82-113 What About Eppia?
- SatVI:114-135 Or Messalina?
- SatVI:136-160 The Rich and Beautiful
- SatVI:161-199 Who Could Stand A Perfect Wife?
- SatVI:200-230 The Way They Lord It Over You!
- SatVI:231-285 They Do As They Wish
- SatVI:286-313 What Brought All This About?
- SatVI:314-345 The Rites of Bona Dea
- SatVI:Ox1-34 and 346-379 And Those Eunuchs!
- SatVI:380-397 There Are Those Who Fancy Musicians
- SatVI:398-456 And There Are Worse
- SatVI:457-507 Endless Beautification
- SatVI:508-591 And They’re So Superstitious
- SatVI:592-661 It’s Tragic!
Satire VI: Don’t Marry
SatVI:1-24 Chastity Has Vanished
I believe that Chastity lingered on earth in Saturn’s reign,
And long-endured, throughout that age when a chilly cave
Offered a modest home, enclosed a fire, gods of the hearth,
And the master and herd as well, in its communal gloom,
When a wife from the hills made up a woodland bed
With leaves and straw, and the pelts of wild beasts, her
Neighbours. She wasn’t you, Cynthia, nor you, Lesbia
Your bright eyes dimmed at the death of your sparrow,
She offered her breasts for her mighty infants to drain,
And was often hairier than her acorn-belching husband.
You see, when the world was new, the heavens young,
People lived differently, lacking parents as they did,
Born instead from cleft oak-trees, or shaped from mud.
And perhaps some traces or other of Chastity survived
Under Jupiter too, though long before Jupiter had grown
A beard, and the Greeks began to swear by other names;
When no man feared his apples or greens would be stolen,
And folk lived with their orchards and gardens un-walled.
It was later that with Justice, Astraea, her friend, she left
For the sky above, those two sisters flitting away together.
It’s an ancient tradition, Postumus, to thrash an alien bed,
And make light of the sacred spirit of the marriage-couch.
Every other crime came later, spawned by the age of iron:
But the silver age it was, that witnessed the first adulterers.
SatVI:25-59 You’re Mad To Marry!
Are you, in this day and age, ready for an agreement,
A contract, the wedding vows, having your hair done
By a master-barber, your finger already wearing the pledge?
Postumus, you were sane once. Are you really taking a wife?
Which Tisiphone is it, with her snakes, driving you mad?
You surely don’t have to endure it, with so much rope about,
Those vertiginous windows open, the Aemilian bridge at hand?
If none of these multiple exits please you, wouldn’t a boyfriend
Suit you better, one who would share your bed, a boyfriend
Who wouldn’t quarrel all night; wouldn’t demand from you
As he lies there, little gifts; and wouldn’t complain that your
Body was idle, that you weren’t breathing hard, as ordered.
‘But Ursidius is marrying, he approves of the Julian Law,
He intends to raise a sweet heir, and forgo his plump doves,
His bearded mullet, all his hunts through the meat market.’
Well nothing’s impossible, then, if Ursidius is wedding
Someone! If he, who was once the most noted of seducers,
He, so often concealed in a chest, like Latinus in the farce,
Is placing his foolish head in the marital halter! And that’s
Not all, you say, he seeks a wife with traditional virtues?
O, good doctor, relieve the pressure on that swollen vein!
What a fastidious man! Go prostrate yourself in worship
At the Tarpeian shrine, go sacrifice a gilded heifer to Juno,
If you should happen to find a woman whose life is chaste.
There are so few of them fit to touch Ceres’ sacred ribbons,
Whose kisses wouldn’t appal their fathers. Fasten a garland
To your doorpost if you do, deck the lintel with marriage ivy.
Is one man enough for Hiberina, then? She’d sooner confess
Under torture to being happy with only one of her eyes.
‘There’s a girl on her father’s estate in the country whose
Reputation is good.’ Try her at Gabii, not in the country,
Try her at Fidenae, then I’ll grant you the father’s farm.
Who says she’s not been carrying on in the caves or on
The hills? Have Jupiter and Mars gone into retirement?
SatVI:60-81 Look At Them In The Theatre
Can you find any woman that’s worthy of you, under
Our porticoes? Does any seat at the theatre hold one
You could take from there, and love with confidence?
When sinuous Bathyllus dances his pantomime Leda,
Tucia loses control of her bladder, and Apula yelps,
As if she were making love, with sharp tedious cries.
Thymele attends: naive Thymele learns something.
But the rest, when the stage-sets are packed away,
When the theatre’s locked, and the only sound’s outside,
When the People’s Games and the Megalesian are done,
Clutch sadly at Accius’ mask, his wand, or his tights.
Urbicus, in the Atellan farce, in his role as Autonoe
Invokes a laugh, and lo, penniless Aelia falls in love.
They’ll pay a fortune to get an actor’s clasp undone,
They’ll halt Chrysogonus’s singing. Hispulla’s mad
For a tragedian: you think it’s Quintilian they fall for?
You’re marrying a woman who’ll make Echion a father,
Glaphyrus, the lyre-players, or Ambrosius with his pipe.
Let’s set up platforms stretching along the narrow streets,
And decorate the doorposts and lintels with laurel boughs,
So your noble child, dear Lentulus, there in his tortoiseshell
Cradle, shall remind us of Euryalus, perhaps, the gladiator!
SatVI:82-113 What About Eppia?
Eppia, wife of a senator, ran off with the gladiators
To Pharos, to the Nile, and notorious Alexandria;
Even decadent Canopus condemned immoral Rome;
She forgot her home, her husband, deserted her sister,
Shamelessly, left her country, her wailing children,
And, amazingly, Paris her actor, and the Games.
Though, as a child of a wealthy family, she once slept
In a richly decorated cradle on soft, downy pillows,
That sea voyage concerned her little; nor her reputation,
Which is ever the least of losses to such ladies of luxury.
And, with a firm spirit, she endured Tyrrhenian waves,
The Ionian Sea’s vast roar, though she was often hurled
From one abyss to another. Though the reason be just
And virtuous, for taking risks, women are still afraid,
Their hearts frozen with terror, trembling in every limb:
Yet they’re courageous when daring shameful things.
If a husband demands it; then, boarding ship’s a pain,
The bilge is sickening, sky spinning round and round.
But with a lover, her stomach’s fine. A wife will vomit
Over her husband, a mistress eat with the sailors, stride
The deck, and delight in handling the stubborn rigging.
Was it good looks and youthfulness set Eppia on fire?
What did she see in him to endure being classed with
The gladiators? After all, her Sergius had already begun
To smooth his throat, an injured arm presaged retirement;
And his face was seriously disfigured, a furrow chafed
By his helmet, a huge lump on the bridge of his nose,
And a nasty condition provoking a forever-weeping eye.
He was a gladiator, though. That makes them Hyacinthus;
That’s why she preferred him to children and country,
Husband and sister. They love the steel. That same Sergius
Once discharged, would have dwindled to poor Veiiento.
SatVI:114-135 Or Messalina?
Are you worried by Eppia’s tricks, of a non-Imperial kind?
Take a look at the rivals of the gods; hear how Claudius
Suffered. When his wife, Messalina, knew he was asleep,
She would go about with no more than a maid for escort.
The Empress dared, at night, to wear the hood of a whore,
And she preferred a mat to her bed in the Palatine Palace.
Dressed in that way, with a blonde wig hiding her natural
Hair, she’d enter a brothel that stank of old soiled sheets,
And make an empty cubicle, her own; then sell herself,
Her nipples gilded, naked, taking She-Wolf for a name,
Displaying the belly you came from, noble Britannicus,
She’d flatter her clients on entry, and take their money.
Then lie there obligingly, delighting in every stroke.
Later on, when the pimp dismissed his girls, she’d leave
Reluctantly, waiting to quit her cubicle there, till the last
Possible time, her taut sex still burning, inflamed with lust,
Then she’d leave, exhausted by man, but not yet sated,
A disgusting creature with filthy face, soiled by the lamp’s
Black, taking her brothel-stench back to the Emperor’s bed.
Shall I speak of spells and love-potions too, poisons brewed,
And stepsons murdered? The sex do worse things, driven on
By the urgings of power: their crimes of lust are the least of it.
SatVI:136-160 The Rich and Beautiful
‘Then why does Caesennia’s husband swear she’s the perfect wife?’
She brought him ten thousand in gold, enough to call her chaste.
He’s not been hit by Venus’s arrows, or scorched by her torch:
It’s the money he’s aflame with, her dowry launched the darts.
Her freedom’s bought. She can flirt, wave her love-letters in his
Face: she’s a single woman still: a rich man marries for greed.
‘Why then does Sertorius burn with love, for Bibula, his wife?
If you want the truth, it’s the face he fell for, and not the bride.
The moment she’s a wrinkle or two, her skin’s dry and flabby,
Her teeth become discoloured, her eyes like beads in her head,
‘Pack your bags’ she’ll hear his freedman cry, ‘Away with you.
Nothing but a nuisance now, always blowing your nose. Be off,
Make it snappy. There’s a dry nose coming to take your place.’
Meanwhile she’s hot, she reigns, demanding of her husband
Canusian sheep and shepherds, demanding Falernian vines –
Such tiny requests! – his house-slaves, those in the prison gangs,
Whatever her neighbour has, her house lacks, must be bought.
Then from the Campus where the booths hide Jason in winter,
His Argonauts too, concealed, behind their whitened canvas,
She’ll bear away crystal vases, huge, the largest pieces of agate,
And some legendary diamond made the more precious by once
Gracing Berenice’s finger, a gift to his incestuous sister from
Barbarous Herod Agrippa, a present for her, in far-off Judaea,
Where barefoot kings observe their day of rest on the Sabbath,
And their tradition grants merciful indulgence to elderly pigs.
SatVI:161-199 Who Could Stand A Perfect Wife?
‘Isn’t there a single one worthy of you, in all that vast flock?’
Let her be lovely, gracious, rich, and fertile; let her exhibit her
Ancestors’ faces round her porticos; be more virginal than the
Sabine women, with tangled hair, who ended war with Rome;
A rare bird on this earth, in the very likeness of a black swan;
Who could stand a wife who embodied all of that? I’d rather,
Much rather, have Venustina than you, Cornelia, O Mother
Of the Gracchi, if that proud expression has to accompany
Your weighty virtues, if triumphs are part of your dowry.
Spare us your father’s defeat of Hannibal, please! Or Syphax,
Beaten in camp: vanish, now, with all of Scipio’s Carthage!
‘Mercy, Apollo, we pray, and you, Goddess, drop your arrows;
Her lads are innocent: Niobe, the mother’s, the one to shoot!’
Though Amphion may shout that, Apollo still draws his bow.
That’s how Niobe did for her flock of sons and the father too,
By thinking herself more noble than Latona’s divine children,
While proving more fertile than the white sow of Alba Longa.
What’s it worth, all the grace, the beauty, if you’re evermore
In her debt? There’s no pleasure in all those rare and exalted
Virtues, if the woman, spoilt by pride, comes dripping with
Bitter aloes not honey. Who, however devoted, doesn’t loathe
The wife he lavishes so much praise on? Who’s so devoted he
Can’t hate her, too, for seven hours or so out of every twelve?
Some faults may be minor, yet too much for husbands to take.
What’s more disgusting than this reality; no woman considers
Herself a beauty, unless she’s transformed herself from Tuscan
To Greek, abandoned Sulmo for Athens? Every sigh’s in Greek:
It’s far less attractive to them to show their ignorance in Latin.
They tell their fears, it’s Greek, vent their angers, joys, cares,
The secrets of their souls, it’s Greek. What else? When they
Make love, it’s Greek! Though you might grant it in some
Slip of a girl, if you’re knocking on eighty-six, should it still
Be Greek? Such language is surely not decent for elderly
Women. Whenever that lascivious ζωή κάί ψυχή ‘My life,
My soul’ emerges, you’re using words in public only ever
To be uttered under the sheets. What loins aren’t warmed
By that seductive and idle phrase? It has legs. Yet, to ruffle
Your fine feathers, though you articulate, more sweetly than
Haemus or Carpophorus, your age is still visible on your face.
SatVI:200-230 The Way They Lord It Over You!
If you’re not going to love the woman betrothed and joined
To you by lawful contract, there’d appear to be no reason for
Getting married, nor for wasting time on a feast with its cakes
For bloated guests at the end, or for that first night gift, when
DACIA, GERMANY, Trajan, in victory, gleam in gold on fine plate.
But if you’re simply uxorious, if your heart’s given to her alone,
Then bow your head, prepare to place your neck under the yoke.
You’ll not find any woman who’ll spare a man who loves her.
Though she’s on fire, she’ll still love to torture and fleece him;
So much the less suitable as wife, then, for a man who wishes
To be a good and desirable husband. And you’ll never be able
To send a gift if your bride objects, you’ll never be able to sell
A thing if she happens to disagree, nor buy one if she says no.
She’ll control your affections: the friend whose first beard your
Threshold witnessed, older now: he’ll be barred from the door.
She’ll dictate your heirs, more than one will turn out to be your
Rival, though even pimps and trainers of charioteers are free,
To act as they wish, in a will; the arena enjoys the same right.
‘Crucify that slave!’ What’s the crime of his that deserves it?
Where’s the witness? Who accused him? Grant him a hearing.
One can never be over-cautious when a human life is at stake.’
‘You fool, is a slave human? Even though he’s done nothing:
I wish it, so I command it, let my will be sufficient reason.’
That’s how she orders her husband about. Yet she’ll as soon
Abdicate, change her home, re-use her bridal veil; then flit
Off again, and return, to her imprint in the bed she rejected,
Forsaking the freshly-decked doorways, newly-hung drapes,
The branches, still green as yet, that decorate the threshold.
That’s how the score increases, that’s how she gets though eight
Husbands in five autumns, a fitting epitaph to place on her grave.
SatVI:231-285 They Do As They Wish
Despair of any harmony if your mother-in-law’s alive.
She’ll teach a daughter how to strip her husband bare;
She’ll teach her how to reply to letters seducers send,
In a manner neither simple nor uncultured; she’ll outwit
Your guardians; buy them. Though she’s perfectly well,
She’ll call Archigenes, tossing her heavy sheets around.
Meanwhile, secretly, the lover lies there concealed,
Waiting impatient and silent, and toying with his cock.
You don’t really expect the mother, to pass on honest
Behaviour, morals other than her own? Its appropriate
That a vile old woman begets an equally vile daughter.
There’s rarely a lawsuit brought a woman didn’t begin.
Manilia will accuse, unless she’s maybe the defendant.
They’ll even compose and construct the brief themselves,
Ready to dictate Celsus’ headings and opening speech.
Who doesn’t know those sports-wraps of Tyrian purple;
The female wrestling ring; who hasn’t seen the battered
Training-post, hacked by repeated sword-blows, scarred by
Her shield. The girl’s fully trained, totally qualified, ready
For the fanfare and fights at the Floralia, unless that is she
Plans something more, practises now for the wider arena.
How can you call her decent, a helmeted woman who spurns
Her very own gender? She loves a fight, even so she’d not
Wish to be a man; the pleasure we get is so little, after all,!
What a sight, if they auctioned off the wives’ paraphernalia,
The sword-belts, arm-protectors, crests, and the half-size
Left-leg shin-guards! Or if it’s a different fight she wages,
How happy you’d be if she managed to sell off her greaves.
Yet these are the girls who sweat in the thinnest dress, whose
Delicate skins are chafed by the smoothest wisps of silk.
Hear her cries as she drives home the thrusts she’s learned,
Feel how heavy the helmet is that she bows beneath, see the
Breadth, the thickness, of those bandages round her knees,
And laugh when she takes to a chamber-pot, fully armed!
Grand-daughters of Lepidus, blind Metellus, and Fabius
Maximus Gurges too, what gladiator’s wife ever wore stuff
Like this? When did Asylus’s wife grunt at the training-post?
The bed that contains a bride is forever filled with quarrelling
And mutual recrimination; there’s not much sleep to be got.
When she feels guilty about some secret misdeed then she’s
Foul to her man, far worse than a tigress who’s lost her cubs,
She feigns anger, hating your slave-boy, complaining about
Some fictitious mistress. She’s a flood of tears at the ready,
Always at her command, just waiting for her to instruct them
In what manner of way to flow. And then you think it’s love!
You’re delighted, you worm, and start kissing away her tears.,
But the love-notes and letters that you’ll find yourself reading,
If you ever fling open your jealous adulteress’s writing-desk!
Say she’s found with a slave or knight, then it’s: ‘Speak,
Quintilian, speak, give me a line of defence in this situation.’
‘I can’t. Invent one yourself.’ She’ll try: ‘Long ago we agreed
that you could do as you wished, and that I could indulge in
Whatever I wanted. You can shout all you like, and turn life
Upside down, I’m only human.’ Nothing is so audacious as
A woman caught in the act: her guilt fuels anger and defiance.
SatVI:286-313 What Brought All This About?
What brought this monstrous behaviour about, what’s its source
You ask? Their lowly status used to keep Latin women chaste,
Hard work kept the corruption of vice from their humble roofs,
And lack of rest, and their hands, then, were chafed and hardened
From handling Tuscan fleeces, when Hannibal neared Rome,
When their husbands manned the towers at the Colline Gate.
Now we suffer the ills of a long peace. Worse for us than war
This luxury’s stifling us, taking its revenge for an empire won.
No single kind of crime or act of lust has been lacking, from
The moment we were no longer poor: all vice pours into Rome,
From the Isthmus of Corinth, from Sybaris, Miletus and Rhodes
From insolent Tarentum, garlanded, and sodden with wine.
It was filthy lucre at first that brought these alien morals here,
Effete wealth that’s corrupted the present age with revolting
Decadence. Does Venus care about anything when she’s drunk?
She no longer knows the difference between head and tail,
She who laps at giant oysters, long, long after midnight,
When the foaming unguent’s mixed with pure Falernian,
When they drink from perfume dishes, when the ceiling’s
Already whirling, and duplicated lamps dance on the table.
Go on, ask yourself, why Tullia scornfully sniffs the air,
What that infamous Maura’s foster-sister says as Maura
Passes by the ancient temple of Chastity in the Forum,
Here’s where they halt their litters at night, to make water,
And drench the goddess’s statue with flowing streams,
And take it in turns to ride and squirm under the moon.
Then it’s off home they go: and when the daylight returns
You’ll wade through your wife’s urine to call on mighty friends.
SatVI:314-345 The Rites of Bona Dea
All know the secret rites of the Good Goddess, when the pipe
Stirs the loins, and the maenads of Priapus, maddened they say
By wine and horns alike, go tossing their flowing hair about
And howl. O how all their hearts are on fire for sexual pleasure
How they squeal then to the dance of desire, and how powerful
The torrent of undiluted lust that covers their drenched thighs!
Saufeia doffs her garland, challenges the brothel-keeper’s
Slave-girls, then goes on to win the prize for shaking her arse,
She herself, in turn, admires Medullina’s undulating wiggles:
The contest’s between the ladies, their skill matches their birth.
Nothing is simulated in play, everything there is done for real,
Enough to light a spark in Priam, Laomedon’s son, grown cold
With furthest age, or even in old Nestor’s ruptured scrotum.
Then comes the restless itch of delay, then it’s naked woman,
And the shouts from the whole grotto echo there, in unison,
‘Now’s the moment, admit the men.’ If by chance the lover’s
Asleep, she’ll tell his son to don a hood and hurry to join them;
If that’s no use, she’ll summon a slave; if there’s no prospect
Of slaves, she’ll hire the water-man; if he’s nowhere to be found,
And there’s a lack of men, not a moment slips by, before she’ll
Accommodate her arse, freely, to a donkey’s rude attentions.
If only our ancient rites, or our state ceremonies at least, might
Be conducted free of such evils; but every India, every Moor
Knows about Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a lute-girl, bringing
A cock, one bigger than both of Caesar’s Anti-Cato speeches
Put together, into that place, from which even a male mouse flees
Conscious of its balls; that place where they’ll command any picture
To be veiled that happens to portray the form of the opposite sex.
In the old days, what human being ever scorned the gods’ powers,
Or dared to laugh at Numa’s earthenware libation-bowls, the black
Pots, and the little fragile plates found on the Vatican Hill?
But now does any sacred altar exist that lacks it’s own Clodius?
SatVI:Ox1-34 and 346-379 And Those Eunuchs!
In all the houses where men live and entertain who embrace
Obscenity, and whose fidgeting right hands stop at nothing,
You’ll find all there resemble a vile bevy of lewd dancers.
These creatures are allowed to soil the food, and stand beside
The sacred table, and cups are washed that should be smashed
If Colocyntha, or bearded Chelidon, have drunk from them.
Thus the gladiator-trainer’s place is purer and better than their
Hearths, since in his troop the lightly-armed gladiators are kept
Away from the heavy. And isn’t it true that the net-men don’t
Associate with the lowly amateurs, that the shoulder-guards
And tridents of naked warriors are never kept in the amateur’s
Equipment locker? There’s a lowest class for such people
In every school, and heavier fetters for them in every prison.
Yet your wife makes you share the goblet with such objects,
With whom a yellow-haired whore from a ruined tomb
Would refuse to drink, despite the Alban or Surrentine wine.
It’s on their advice that women suddenly marry or divorce.
It’s with them they share life’s boredoms and anxieties. It’s
From such teachers they learn how to wiggle their arse and hips,
And whatever else the instructor knows. Yet he’s not always
To be trusted: a hair-netted adulterer he’ll paint his eyelids
With mascara, and strut around with his saffron gown undone.
You should be the more suspicious, the smoother his voice,
The more often his right hand lingers near his chubby loins.
He’ll prove virile enough in bed; there he’ll remove his mask,
An expert Triphallus, dancing the part of Alexander’s Thais.
‘Who do you think you’re fooling? Keep that pantomime for
Others! I bet, you’re every inch a man. I’d swear it: confess!
Or must we subject the female slaves to the torturer’s rack?
I know the warnings and advice that all my old friends offer:
“Lock the door, and keep her close.” But who is to guard the
Guardians themselves, when they win a prize for secrecy re
The lewd girl’s affairs?’ In crime, complicity guarantees silence.
The skilful wife anticipates, and therefore begins with them.
There are women thrilled by effete eunuchs, with their kisses
Ever-gentle, and their hopeless never-to-be-fulfilled beards,
Then, there’s no need to use abortifacients. It’s the very height
Of pleasure for them, when loins already ripe with youth’s hot
Blood and its dark plectrum, are dragged away to the surgeons.
That’s why the testicles are allowed to drop and develop first
And afterwards when they’ve achieved two pounds in weight,
Heliodorus has them off, to the barber’s loss but no one else’s.
It’s a truer, more wretched debility the slave-dealer’s boys are
Seared by, left shamed by the purse and chickpeas that remain,
But the man made a eunuch by his mistress is noticed by all,
From afar, as he enters the baths, and there’s no doubt he can
Challenge Priapus, who’s the guardian of vineyard and garden.
He may sleep with his mistress, Postumus, but don’t entrust your
Bromius, once he’s no longer smooth and hairless, to that eunuch.
And women both high and low feel the same lust these days;
The woman who treads the dirty pavement in bare feet, she’s
No better than one who’s borne on the shoulders of tall Syrians.
Just to watch the Games, Ogulnia is forced to hire a dress, forced
To hire attendants, a chair, the cushions, even the female friends,
And a nurse, and a yellow-haired girl, whom she can order about,
Yet she chooses to give away whatever’s left of the family silver,
Down to the very last dish, as presents for smooth-skinned athletes.
Many are short of things for the house, but none feel any shame
About being poor, nor will they temper their habits to their means.
Their husbands sometimes look ahead, and feel forebodings of
Cold and hunger, learning at last that lesson taught by the ants:
But a spendthrift woman has no idea of diminishing resources.
She’ll give not a thought to the cost of her pleasures, as if coins
Forever reborn keep burgeoning from an empty treasure chest,
Forever available to be gathered from a newly-replenished heap.
SatVI:380-397 There Are Those Who Fancy Musicians
If she likes music, no one whom the praetors hire for his voice
Will hang on to his clasp. Instruments are always in her hands,
Her web of sardonyx rings ever-flickering over the tortoiseshell
Lyre, the strings struck rhythmically by the quivering plectrum,
Which tender Hedymeles performs with: this she clasps, it’s her
Consolation, and she lavishes kisses on that beloved implement.
There’s even a woman of the Lamiae clan, with an Appian name,
Who went so far as to offer wine and grain to Janus and Vesta,
Demanding to know if her Pollio had any chance of winning
The Capitoline oak-leaf crown, and begging them to promote
His lyre. Could she have done more, if her husband had been ill,
Or if the doctors had been pessimistic about her dear little boy?
She stood there, in front of the altar, considering it no disgrace
To veil her head on behalf of a lyre, recited the words prescribed
In the proper form, and duly paled on viewing the lamb’s entrails.
Tell me, I’m asking now, say, Father Janus, most ancient of gods,
Do you answer requests from such as her? You must have plenty
Of time in the sky: there’s nothing I can see to occupy you there.
One consults you about comic actors, another wants to promote
A tragedian: your diviner will get varicose veins from standing!
SatVI:398-456 And There Are Worse
Still it’s better for her to play an instrument, than go flying about
The City brazenly, eager to converse amidst gatherings of men,
And speak to generals in their military cloaks, with her husband
Present, keeping a serious face herself, her nipples barely damp.
She knows every single thing that happens, throughout the world,
What the Chinese, and Thracians are doing; secrets of stepmothers
And of sons; who’s in love, and which adulterer they’re ravaging.
She’ll tell you who got the widow pregnant, and in which month
It occurred, what words each woman uses in bed; which positions.
She’s the first to locate a comet that threatens the kings of Parthia
And Armenia; she picks up the latest rumours and gossip, down by
The City gates, and invents some too; the Niphates river has burst
Its banks, endangering whole populations, while massive flooding
Has drowned the fields, cities are crumbling, regions are subsiding;
That’s what she’ll tell whoever she meets at the next street corner.
She’s no more intolerable though than the woman who grabs hold
Of her humble neighbours and lays into them with a whip, cursing
Loudly. If her sound sleep happens to be interrupted by the barking
Of a dog, then she’ll be shouting; ‘Quick, and bring the cudgels!’
First she’ll give orders for the owner to receive a thrashing and
Then the dog: she’s formidable to meet, with a truly repulsive face.
She goes to the baths at night, orders her staff with the perfume jars
Around at night, all because she delights to sweat amidst the tumult.
When her weary arms fall back after exercising with heavy weights,
The practised masseur will press his fingers into her crest, and will
Force a cry from his mistress, as he strokes the surface of her thigh.
Meanwhile her wretched dinner-guests are overcome by boredom
And hunger. Eventually, she will arrive, her face hot and flushed,
Thirsting for a whole barrel of wine; so a full jar’s brought and set
At her feet, from which she will down a pint or two before dinner,
And thereby create a raging appetite, then she’ll eat till she feels sick,
And it all comes up again from her soaked innards, hitting the floor.
Rivulets flow over marble, and the gilded basin stinks of Falernian
Wine; and, just like that coiling snake that tumbled into a deep
Vat, she keeps drinking and spewing up. No wonder her husband
Feels nauseous and closes his eyes to try and keep down his bile.
There’s worse yet, the woman I mean who as soon as she’s taken
Her place at dinner, starts praising Virgil, forgives the failing Dido,
Pits the poets against each other, and compares them, weighing
Virgil in one pan of the scales, depositing Homer in the other.
The literary men concede, the rhetoricians are beaten, the whole
Party is silent, not even the lawyer speaks or the auctioneer,
Not another woman. Such powerful utterance falls from her lips,
You might say it’s like the sound of dishes being struck, or peals
Of bells. No need for anyone to sound the trumpet, beat the gong:
She can come to the aid of the moon in labour, all on her own.
Even wise men claim one can have too much of a good thing;
So let the lady reclining next to you, not indulge in her own style
Of rhetoric, or revolve whole phrases before tangling you in some
Perverse argument, or know every event that occurred in history.
Let there be a few literary things she doesn’t understand. I loathe
A woman who thumbs, and recites from, Palaemon’s Grammar,
Always observes the laws and rules of speech, a woman learned
In antiquities, who knows lines from the ancients unknown to me.
Does any man care? She should criticise the crude speech of her
Girlfriends: husbands should be allowed the occasional solecism.
In fact, if she must appear so excessively learned and eloquent,
She may as well be a man, hitch her tunic knee-high, sacrifice
A pig to Silvanus, and only be charged a farthing at the baths.
SatVI:457-507 Endless Beautification
Once she’s clasped an emerald necklace round her neck, once
She’s stretched her earlobes and inserted a pair of giant pearls,
There’s nothing she won’t permit herself, nothing she thinks vile,
Nothing’s more intolerable than the sight of wealthy women.
Meanwhile her face is a hideous and quite ridiculous spectacle,
Caked with layers of bread-paste, reeking of greasy Poppaean
Creams, that stick to her wretched husband’s lips. Eventually,
She’ll uncover her face and remove the first few layers of stucco.
She begins to be recognisable, bathes like Poppaea in asses’ milk,
To obtain which fluid she’d take the asses along in her entourage,
Even if she chanced to be banished to chill Hyperborean climes.
She’ll arrive at her lover’s with pristine skin. Why would she
Wish to look lovely at home? To please their lovers they find
Aromatic oils, they buy everything the graceful Indians send us.
But what’s coated all over, revived, with all those concoctions
One on another, with those thick moist mounds of wheat-paste
Plastered all over its surface, do you call that a face or a boil?
It’s worth considering thoroughly, in fine detail, what they do
And what they get up to during the day. If the husband’s slept
With his back turned all night, her lady-secretary is in for it,
The wardrobe-master had best remove the clothes, the Liburnian
Litter-slaves are told they’re late, they must pay for their master’s
Slumbers. Sticks are broken on one slave, the whip and the strap
Scorch others; some women pay their torturers an annual wage.
They’re lashed while she daubs, and listens to her girlfriends,
Or inspects the broad gold stripe on some embroidered dress,
They’re beaten, as she reads her long vertical scroll of accounts,
And beaten, until the beaters are weary, and she cries: ‘Away,
With them!’ in a dreadful voice, once justice has been exacted.
Her house regime is no less cruel than a Sicilian tyrant’s court.
If she has an assignation and wants to be beautified to a higher
Standard than usual, hurrying to make a rendezvous in the park,
Or, more likely, at the sanctuary of that brothel-keeper Isis,
Unlucky Psecas, the slave-girl, will be doing her mistress’s hair,
With her own scalp torn, and her breasts and shoulders bared,
‘Why’s this curl sticking out?’ and the bull-hide strap is ready
To exact a swift penalty for the foul crime of a twisted ringlet.
Why is it Psecas’ fault? How can it be the slave-girl’s fault if
Your own nose displeases you? Meanwhile another slave on
Her left, draws out and combs the hair, and coils it into a bun.
She’ll seek the advice of a slave of her mother’s promoted to
Spinning wool, after long service at hairpins; it’s her opinion
That’s sought first, then her inferiors in age and skill will give
Their views, as if their mistress’s reputation were at stake, as if
Life itself were at stake: with so much anxiety, is beauty sought.
Her head is weighed down with layer on layer, tier after tier,
Piled high: it’s an Andromache you’ll see from the front, from
Behind someone altogether shorter. See, if you will, if she
Hasn’t been granted, sadly, hips and thighs of meagre extent,
And, without high-heeled boots, is as short as a Pigmy maiden,
See is she hasn’t to rise up on tiptoe to be able to plant a kiss.
SatVI:508-591 And They’re So Superstitious
Meanwhile, she’ll possess not a care or a single thought for her
Wronged husband. She lives her life like a next-door neighbour,
More intimate only in this respect that she loathes her husband’s
Friends, and slaves, and is hard on his pocket. Behold, here are
The acolytes of frenzied Bellona, and of Cybele, Mother of Gods,
Led by a gross eunuch, with a form that perverted youth reveres,
Who long ago, wielding a flint knife, cut off his tender genitals,
Before whom the raucous band and the plebeian drums fall silent,
And whose cheeks are bisected by the straps of a Phrygian cap.
In a booming voice, he’ll warn the woman to beware of windy
September’s approach, against which she needs to purify herself
With a hundred eggs, and by gifting him her old russet dresses,
So that any sudden, serious danger is removed at a stroke along
With the clothes, atoning for the whole year in a single action.
In winter she’ll break the ice, and submerge herself in the river,
Dipping herself three times in the Tiber at dawn, even plunging
Her fearful head in the swirling waters, and, naked and shivering.
She’ll crawl across our proud King Tarquin’s Campus Martius,
On blood-stained knees; and then if white Io should command,
She’ll journey to the far bounds of Egypt and bring back water
From sweltering Meroe, to sprinkle around in the Temple of Isis,
That looms by the Campus polling-booths, the ancient sheepfold.
Indeed, she believes she’s ruled by the voice of the Lady herself,
Hers being the kind of mind and spirit the gods speak to at night!
It’s Anubis, therefore, who receives the best and highest honour,
Running along, mocking the lamentations of the crowd for Osiris,
Surrounded by his shaven-headed creatures, in their linen robes.
He’s the one who petitions on your wife’s behalf, when she fails
To refrain from sex on the holy days, owing a fine for violation
Of the bed. After the silver asp has been seen to raise its head,
It’s his tears and professional muttering that guarantees Osiris
Won’t refuse to pardon her transgression, provided, of course,
He’s bribed, with a fat goose and a large slice of sacrificial cake.
No sooner does he give way, than a palsied Jewess will leave
Her hay-lined begging-basket to mutter her requests in an ear.
She’s the interpreter of the laws of Jerusalem, high-priestess
Of the tree, and the faithful messenger of highest heaven.
Her hand too is filled, but with less; since the Jews will sell
You whatever dreams you wish for the tiniest copper coin.
While the soothsayer from Armenia or Commagene, having
Probed the meaning of a dove’s lungs, will promise a tender
Lover, or a vast inheritance from some childless millionaire;
He’ll dig into chicken breasts, the guts of a puppy, and now
And then a male child; himself reporting what he has done.
But even greater faith’s placed in the Chaldeans: whatever
The astrologer claims, women will believe to have issued
Out of Ammon’s oasis, the Oracle at Delphi having fallen
Silent, and the human race now blind as regards the future.
Yet the first of these astrologers is the one most often exiled.
They’ll trust his skill, if his right hand’s rattled the chains,
His left too, if he’s languished in some distant military gaol.
No astrologer lacking a criminal record possesses any talent,
Only one who nearly perished, who managed to be banished
To a Cycladic island, languishing in the end on tiny Seriphus.
Your very own Tanaquil, will consult him about the lingering
Death of her jaundiced mother (she’s asked about yours already),
When she’ll bury sister and uncles, and whether her lover will
Outlive her; what greater tidings could the gods bring her?
At least she’s ignorant herself of the threats posed by gloomy
Saturn, in which signs Venus shows herself as favourable,
And which month means loss, which days will bring a profit.
Remember always to avoid encountering the kind of woman
With a dog-eared almanac in her hands, as if it were an amber
Worry-bead, who no longer seeks consultations but gives them,
Who won’t follow her husband to camp, or back home again,
If Thrasyllus the astrologer’s calculations advise against it.
When she wishes to take a ride to the first milestone, she’ll find
The best time to travel in her book; if her eye-corner itches
When rubbed, she checks her horoscope before seeking relief;
If she’s lying in bed ill, the hour appropriate for taking food,
It seems, must be one prescribed by that Egyptian, Petosiris.
If she’s middle-class she’ll try the fortune-tellers at the Circus,
Select the cards, or offer her hand and brow to the prophet
Who demands of her lots of clicking sounds with the tongue.
Rich women obtain their readings from Phrygian soothsayers,
Or someone expert in star-signs and the cosmos, or the elder
Who publicly purifies the places where lightning buries itself.
Plebeian fates are decided in the Circus or on the Embankment,
Where those displaying a long gold chain hung on a bare neck,
Ask advice at the foot of the Circus towers or the dolphin columns,
About whether to leave the tradesman, and marry the inn-keeper.
SatVI:592-661 It’s Tragic!
Yet at least such women endure the dangers of childbirth, and all
The effort of nurturing their offspring their lot in life dictates.
Hardly any woman who sleeps in a gilded bed will lie there in labour,
Such is the power of the arts and drugs, of that woman who procures
Abortions, and contracts to murder human embryos in the womb.
Be grateful, you wretch, and offer your wife yourself whatever she has
To take, since if she had chosen to let vigorous boys vex and stretch
Her belly, you might have been father to an Ethiopian! Your dark heir,
Barely visible at dawn, would soon be seen everywhere in the will.
I’ll not dwell on adoption: the joys and vows so often proven false
At the foul latrine; the little Salian priests, the high-priests so often
Acquired from there; to bear, illegitimately, the Scauri family name.
Shameless Fortune lingers there at night, smiling on naked infants:
She warms them at her breast, and clasps them in her embrace, then
Hands them over to the most exalted of houses, secretly readying
A farce for her enjoyment; these are the ones she loves, these she
Showers with attention, always promoting them, her foster-children.
This fellow offers magic incantations, that one Thessalian potions,
Which allow a wife to befuddle her husband’s mind, then beat him
On the buttocks with her sandal. That’s the reason for the confusion
In your head, and your total forgetfulness of things that you did only
A moment ago. Still it’s bearable, so long as you don’t start raving,
Like that uncle of Nero’s, Caligula, after Caesonia dosed him with
An aphrodisiac made from the membrane from a newborn foal’s brow.
What woman isn’t forever prepared to act like an Emperor’s wife?
Then everything was on fire, the whole fabric collapsing in ruins,
Exactly as if the goddess Juno had driven her husband Jupiter mad.
Agrippina’s mushroom, by comparison, turned out to be far less
Ruinous, since all it did was stop the beating heart of one old man,
He of the trembling head, and the lips dripping long strands of saliva,
Forced to ‘descend’ into the sky: Your wife’s potion by contrast
Conjures up steel and fire, torments and tears the innards of knights
And senators, causing indiscriminate pain. Such the high cost of a
Mare’s afterbirth, such the high price of a single venomous sorceress.
Wives loath a mistress’s bastards; and it’s long been acceptable
To murder a stepson; no one opposes it now, no one even objects.
You wards, who are rather wealthy, and lacking fathers, beware:
Guard your lives, and don’t ever put your faith in a single dish:
Those warm pastries are dark with a mother’s livid venom.
Have someone else taste first whatever the woman who bore you
Serves, get your terrified tutor to drink, before you, from the cup.
I’m inventing it all, am I? Placing satire in tragedy’s shoes,
Exceeding the limits and rules set down my predecessors,
Opening my gaping mouth, and ranting, in Sophoclean verse,
Of things unknown to Rutulian hills, or the skies of Latium?
If only it were nonsense! Yet Pontia confesses: ‘I’m guilty, I
Admit it all, I prepared aconite, and gave it to my own boys;
The crime was discovered, revealed; I carried it out myself. ‘
You did away with them both, and at the same meal, you viper?
You murdered both? ‘Or seven, if there’d chanced to be seven.’
So we must believe what the tragedians say about cruel Medea
From Colchis, or sad Procne; I’ll not venture to contradict them.
Those women too dared monstrous things, enormities even then,
Though not for money. Those crowning monstrosities elicit less
Amazement, when we realise it was anger that made the sex turn
To crime, when they were swept along, frenzy tearing their hearts,
Dashed about like rocks torn from the cliffs, when the mountain
Collapses beneath, and the face of the overhanging slope is shorn.
No, the woman I detest is the calculating one, in complete control,
Who betrays deep wickedness. Such as they, can watch Alcestis
Suffer death on her husband’s behalf, yet if a parallel choice is
On offer, would happily watch a husband die to save their pup.
Every day you meet many a murderous Danaid, many an Eriphyle;
There isn’t a street that doesn’t possess it’s very own Clytemnestra.
The only difference is: that daughter of Tyndareus swung an absurd
And unwieldy double-bladed axe, with both her hands, while these
Days the thing is accomplished with the insignificant lungs of a toad.
Yet a woman now will use steel, as well, if her cautious Agamemnon
Has downed one of the Pontic antidotes of thrice-conquered Mithridates.
End of Satire VI