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

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

And India wealthy, or our dear Romans’ gifts,

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,

You still must go down where Numa and Ancus have gone.

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,

While Venus and Charm grace the moneyed classes.

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

Across the way: ‘He’s Fabian power, he’sVeline:

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

Or not, let’s bathe, worthy of Caere, or Ulysses

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