Horace: The Epistles

Book I: Epistle XVII

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

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BkIEpXVII:1-32 Humble advice

Though you attend well enough to your own interests,

Scaeva, and know too how to behave with the great,

Hear the views of a dear friend, who’s still learning:

As if a blind man wished to show you the way: but see

If I’ve anything to say that you might care to own to.

If you love dearest peace, and to sleep till daybreak,

If dust, the sound of wheels, and tavern-life offend you,

I’ll order you off to silent Ferentinum:

Enjoyment’s not for the rich alone: he’s not lived

Badly, who’s escaped attention from birth to death.

But if you want to help your friends and help yourself

A little more, the hungry man head’s for the feast.

‘If Aristippus was happy to eat vegetables,

He wouldn’t woo princes.’ ‘If he knew how to woo

Princes, my critic would scorn vegetables.’ Which

Words and example do you approve? Tell me, or since

You’re younger, here’s why Aristippus is wiser.

This is the way, they say, he parried the fierce Cynic:

‘You play the fool for the people, I for myself:

It’s nobler and truer. I serve so a horse bears me,

A prince feeds me: you beg for scraps, but are still less

Than the giver, though you boast of needing no man.’

All styles, states, circumstances suited Aristippus

Aiming higher, but mostly content with what he had.

But I’d be amazed if a change in his way of life,

Would suit one austerity clothes in a Cynic’s rags.

The first won’t wait for a purple robe, he’ll walk

Through the crowded streets wearing anything he has,

And play either role without any awkwardness:

The second will shun a fine cloak made in Miletus,

As he would a dog or snake, and die of cold if you

Don’t return his rags. Do so, and let him be a fool.

BkIEpXVII:33-62 Win favour if you can

To achieve things, to display captive enemies

To the crowd, is to touch Jove’s throne, and mount th e sky:

Yet it’s no slight glory to have pleased the leading men.

It doesn’t happen that every man gets to Corinth.

He who feared he mightn’t reach it, stayed at home. ‘Fine,

But the one who arrived, did he play the man?’ Yes,

Here if anywhere is what we’re seeking. He dreads

The load as too great for his frail mind and body:

He lifts it, carries it on. If virtue’s no empty

Word, the enterprising man seeks worth and honour.

Those who keep quiet about their own needs in front of

Their patron, win more than those who beg: that’s the aim. 

It does matter whether you receive, humbly, or snatch.

‘My sister’s no dower, my mother’s a pauper,

My farm can’t feed us, and can’t find a buyer,’

He who speaks, is shouting: ‘Give us food!’ ‘Me too!’ cries

His neighbour: the gift is split, the morsel’s divided.

But if the crow fed quietly, he’d gain more food,

With a great deal less quarrelling and resentment.

When a companion travelling to Brundisium

Or sweet Surrentum moans about the ruts, the bitter

Cold, the rain, his trunk broken open, his money gone,

It’s like a girl’s cute tricks, always weeping to herself

About a stolen chain, or an anklet, so later

Her genuine losses and grief won’t be believed.

He who’s been fooled before won’t bother to help

That joker, with a broken leg, at the crossroads,

Who in floods of tears swears by sacred Osiris:

‘It’s no jest, believe me: don’t be cruel, help the lame!’

‘Go ask a stranger,’ the raucous neighbours shout.   

End of Book I Epistle XVII