Horace: The Epistles

Book I: Epistle VII

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

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BkIEpVII:1-28 There’s my health to be considered

I promised I’d only stay a week in the country,

I’m a liar, I’ve been missing all August. And yet

If you want me sound and in good health, Maecenas,

As you indulge me when I’m ill, you’ll ind ulge me

When I fear illness, when heat and the early figs

Honour the undertaker with dark attendants,

When pale fathers, fond mothers, fear for their children,

When dutiful zeal, the petty affairs of the Forum,

Bring on feverish bouts, break open sealed wills.

And if winter blankets the Alban fields in snow

Your poet will head for the sea, take care of himself,

Curl up and read: and, dear friend, if you’ll allow him,

He’ll see you again, with the breeze and the first swallow.

You’ve made me wealthy, not like a Calabrian host

Inviting one to try those pears: ‘Please, eat some.’ ‘I’m full.’

‘Well take them with you, as many as you like.’ ‘Too kind.’

‘They’ll be welcome if you take them for your little boys.’

‘I’m as grateful as if I’d been sent away weighed down.’

‘As you wish: you’re leaving them for the pigs’ to guzzle.’

Lavish fools make gifts of what they despise and dislike:

They yield, and will forever yield, a crop of ingratitude.

The wise, and good, will stand ready to help the worthy,

While always knowing how real and false coins differ.

I’ll show myself worthy too, of your praiseworthy deed.

But if you wish me never to leave your side, you’ll need

To grant me strong lungs again, those black curls that hide

The brow: restore sweet conversation, graceful laughter,

Laments over the wine about pert Cinara’s flight.

BkIEpVII:29-45 Ready to renounce it all

A slim little fox once crept through a narrow gap

Into a corn bin, and after eating the vermin,

Tried, in vain, to get free, his belly swollen. ‘If you,’

Said a weasel nearby, ‘desire to escape from there,

Return, lean, to the tiny gap, the lean ‘you’ slipped through.’

If I’m reproached with this tale, I’ll renounce all I have:

I don’t praise the poor man’s rest when I’m glutted on fowl,

Yet wouldn’t lose freedom and peace for Arabia’s wealth.

You’ve often praised reticence, well the ‘king’ and ‘father’

You’ve heard to your face, is no less true when far off.

Try me, and see if I could cheerfully return your gifts.

Telemachus, long-suffering Ulysses’ son, gave

No bad answer: ‘Ithaca’s no fit place for horses,

It hasn’t the wide, flat plains, it isn’t rich in grasses:

Son of Atreus, I refuse gifts fitter for you.’

Less for the lesser: not royal Rome, but Tibur

The free, or peaceful Tarentum, please me now.

BkIEpVII:46-98 Volteius the auctioneer

Philippus the famous lawyer, one both resolute

And energetic, was heading home from work, at two,

And complaining, at his age, about the Carinae

Being so far from the Forum, when he noticed,

A close-shaven man, it’s said, in an empty barber’s

Booth, penknife in hand, quietly cleaning his nails.

Demetrius,’ (a boy not slow to obey his master’s

Orders) ‘go and discover where that man hails from,

Who he is, his standing, his father or his patron.’

Off he goes, and returns to say the man’s Volteius

Mena, a respectable auctioneer, not wealthy,

Knowing his time to work or rest, earn or spend,

Taking pleasure in humble friends and his own home,

And sport, and the Campus when business was over.

‘I’d like to hear all that from his own lips: invite him

To dinner.’ Mena can scarcely believe it, pondering

In silence. To be brief, he replies: ‘No thank you.’

‘Does he refuse?’ ‘The rascal has refused, he’s either

Insulting you or afraid.’ Next morning, Philippus

Finds Volteius selling cheap goods to working folk,

And gives him a greeting. He offers business

Commitments and work as his excuse to Philippus

For not having come to his house that morning, in short

For not paying his respects. ‘Consider yourself

Forgiven, so long as you dine with me today.’

‘As you wish.’ ‘Come after nine then: now work, increase

Your wealth.’ At dinner he chattered unguardedly

And then was packed off home to bed. After that he was

Often seen to race like a fish to the baited hook,

A dawn attendant, a constant guest, so was summoned

To visit the country estate when the Latin games

Were called. Pulled by the ponies he never stops praising

The Sabine soil and skies. Philippus watches and smiles,

And seeking light relief and laughter from any source,

Gives him seven thousand sesterces, offers a loan

Of seven more, and persuades him to buy a small farm.

He buys it. Not to bore you with an over-long, rambling

Tale, the city-dweller turns rustic, rattling on about

Furrows, and vineyards, stringing his elm-trees, killing

Himself with zeal, aged by his passion for yields.

But after his sheep are lost to theft, goats to disease

The crops have failed, the ox is broken by ploughing,

Pricked by his losses, in the depths of night, he grabs

His horse, and rides to Philippus’ house in a rage.

When Philippus sees him, wild and unshaven, he cries:

‘Volteius, you look rough, and seem to be sorely tried.’

‘Truly, patron, call me a miserable wretch,’ he said,

‘If you want to call me by my true name. I beg you,

Implore you, by your guardian spirit, your own right hand,

Your household gods, give me back the life I once had!’

When a man sees by how much what he’s left surpasses

What he sought, he should swiftly return to what he lost.

Every man should measure himself by his own rule.

End of Book I Epistle VII