Horace: The Epistles
Book I: Epistle VI
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkIEpVI:1-27 Nil admirari: marvel at nothing
- BkIEpVI:28-48 It it’s wealth makes you happy, work!
- BkIEpVI:49-68 Pursue what you think brings happiness!
BkIEpVI:1-27 Nil admirari: marvel at nothing
To marvel at nothing, Numicius, that’s almost
The only thing can make and maintain happiness.
The sun up there, the stars, the seasons, going past
In unerring flow, some can watch unmoved by awe:
Then how do you think earth’s gifts might be viewed,
Or those of the sea, that make far-off Arabia
Theatricals, applause: with what eyes and feelings?
Conversely he who fears them marvels as much
As the man who longs for them: excitement’s troubling
Either way where some unexpected vision startles both.
What matter whether he joys or grieves, desires or fears,
If, seeing something better or worse than expected,
A man’s gaze is fixed, his mind and body both numbed?
Let the wise man be called mad, the just unjust, if he
Pursues Virtue herself beyond what suffices.
Go on now, admire antique bronzes, silver, marble,
Works of art, marvel at gems and Tyrian dyes:
Delight in a thousand eyes watching you as you speak:
Rush to the Forum with vigour early, get home late,
Lest that Mutus reaps the richer crop from his fields,
His wife’s dower, and (the shame, he’s of meaner birth too!)
Seems more of a marvel to you, than you to him.
Whatever’s under the earth Time will bring to light,
Burying and hiding what glitters. Though Agrippa’s
Colonnade and the Appian Way note your face well,
BkIEpVI:28-48 It it’s wealth makes you happy, work!
If your lungs or kidneys were attacked by cruel disease,
You’d seek relief from the disease. You wish to live well:
Who does not? If it’s virtue alone achieves it, then
Be resolute, forgo pleasure. But if you consider
Virtue’s only words, a forest wood: then beware
Lest your rival’s first to dock, lest you lose Cibyra’s
Or Bithynia’s trade. Cleared a thousand, and another?
Then add a third pile, round it off with a fourth.
Surely wife and dowry, loyalty and friends, birth
And beauty too are the gifts of Her Highness Cash,
Don’t be like Cappadocia’s king, rich in slaves
Short of lucre. They say Lucullus was asked
If he could lend the theatre a hundred Greek cloaks.
‘Who could find all those? he answered, ‘but I’ll see,
And send what I’ve got’. Later, a note: ‘It seems at home
I’ve five thousand: take any of them, take the lot’
It’s a poor house where there isn’t much to spare,
Much that evades the master, benefits his slaves.
If wealth alone will make you happy, and keep you so,
Be first to strive for it again, and last to leave off.
BkIEpVI:49-68 Pursue what you think brings happiness!
If grace and favour promote the fortunate man,
Let’s buy a slave to remind us of peoples’ names,
Poke us in the ribs, prompt us to offer a handshake
He can confer the rods and axe, or ill-naturedly
Snatch away the ivory chair just as he wishes.’
Add ‘Brother!’ ‘Father!’ Adopt them cheerfully, by age.
If he lives well who dines well: it’s daybreak, let’s go
Wherever the palate leads us: let’s hunt and fish
As Gargilius once did, sending his slaves with nets
And spears through the crowd in the packed Forum,
So that one mule of his train could carry away
A boar he’d bought, watched by everyone. Swollen
With undigested food, forgetful of what’s decent
Vile Ithacan crew preferring forbidden pleasures
To their home. If there’s no joy sans love and laughter,
As Mimnermus holds, then live for love and laughter.
Long life! Farewell! And frankly, if you know better
Pass it on: if not, like me make use of the above.
End of Book I Epistle VI