Horace: The Satires

Book II: Satire III

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

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BkIISatIII:1-30 Criticism from Damasippus

‘You write so little, Horace, you barely trouble

The copyist four times a year, always unravelling

The web you’ve woven, angered with yourself because,

Despite lots of wine and sleep, nothing’s done to speak of.

Where will it end? Yet you left the Saturnalia

To come here, well then utter something worthy of your

Promise, start now! Nothing? No use blaming your pen,

Or thumping the innocent wall as insulting to gods

And poets. Yet you’d the look of one who promised

Great and splendid things, once free, in your warm villa.

Why pack Plato and Menander, and bring old friends

Like Eupolis and Archilochus along? Do you think

You can stifle envy by neglecting your powers?

You’ll be despised, wretch! You must shun the evil Siren

Indolence, or be ready to relinquish calmly

Whatever you’ve won in better days.’ Damasippus,

May the gods shave your beard for your good advice! How

Do you know me so well? ‘Ever since all my holdings

Crashed on Janus’ exchange, and ruined my business,

I’ve dealt for others. I used to love to search for bronze

In which wily Sisyphus once washed his feet, and spot

The works that were crudely carved or roughly cast:

I’d price some statue expertly at a hundred thousand:

I was the one who knew how to buy up gardens, fine

Houses, and turn a profit: so that at crowded auctions

They nicknamed me Mercury’s friend.’ I know, and so

I’m amazed you’ve been purged of that disorder. ‘Yes,

Amazing, a new obsession drove out the old, just as

A pain in the head or side’s replaced by a heart-ache, or as

Here, comatose patient turns boxer, and strikes the doctor.’

BkIISatIII:31-63 Stertinius on the follies of the world

Have it your own way, so long as you don’t do the same!

‘Oh, dear boy, don’t deceive yourself, you’re crazed too,

Almost all are fools, if Stertinius rings true, from whom

I swiftly learnt these marvellous precepts, at that time

When he comforted me, told me to grow a sage’s beard

Be troubled no more, and forget the Fabrician Bridge :

It was when my business failed, and I wanted to shroud

My head and leap in the river: he appeared at my side,

Saying: “Beware of doing something unworthy:

You’re wrong to be tortured by shame: among madmen,

Fear to seem mad. Let me ask first what madness is:

If you alone have it, I’ll not stop you dying bravely.

ChrysippusStoa, and his school, call insane all those

Whom dumb folly and ignorance of the truth drives

Blindly on. That includes nations, and mighty kings,

All but the wise. Now learn why all those who call

You insane, are every bit as foolish themselves.

It’s like a wood, where error leads men to wander

Here and there, from the true path, one off to the left,

Another off to the right, the same error both times,

But leading them in different directions: so know

You’re only as mad as the man no wiser than you

Who laughs at you, but still has a tail pinned behind.

One class of fools is afraid when there’s nothing to fear,

Lamenting that flames, rocks, rivers, obstruct their way:

Another differing, but no more wisely, rushes on

Through fire and flood. Though a dear mother, a noble

Sister, father, and wife, and kin all shout: ‘Look out,

There’s a deep ditch, there’s a high rock!’ They listen

No more than drunken Fufius did, acting out sleeping

Iliona, while twelve hundred watching, who joined with

Catienus, as ghost, cried: ‘Mother, I’m calling you!’

I’ll show you the whole world’s madness is like this.”

BkIISatIII:64-81 The madness of creditors

“If Damasippus is mad for buying old statues:

Does that make his creditors of sound mind? So,

If I say: ‘Take this money, you needn’t return it,’

Are you mad if you take it? Or wouldn’t you be

Madder to scorn the gift kind Mercury offers?

Write ten IOU’s on Nerius: if not satisfied, add

A hundred, a thousand of crafty Cicuta’s chains:

Still slippery Proteus will escape his bonds.

Drag him to court and he’ll laugh behind his mask,

Turned boar, bird, or stone, or if he likes, a tree.

If to manage things badly is mad, while well is sane,

Then believe me, Perellius’ brain is softest

Who writes out the loan you can never repay.

Settle down then, please, and pay attention, all you

Who are pale with fierce ambition or love of gold,

Fevered by excess, sad superstition, or another

Disorder of mind: sit nearer to me while I show

That every one of you from first to last is mad.”

BkIISatIII:82-110 The madness of avarice

“Avarice should get the largest dose of medicine,

I’d say: all of Anticyra’s hellebore for the mad.

Staberius ’ heirs had to carve his wealth on his tomb,

If not they’d to entertain the masses with a hundred

Paired gladiators, at a funeral feast, to be planned

By Arrius, plus all of Africa’s corn. His will said:

‘Whether I’m right or wrong in this, don’t criticise me.’

That’s what Staberius’ proud mind foresaw, I think.

‘So what did he mean when he willed that his heirs

Should carve his wealth in stone?’ Well, he thought poverty

Was a mighty evil, all his life, and guarded against it

Strongly, so if he’d chanced to die a penny poorer,

He’d have thought that much less of himself: he thought all things,

Virtue, reputation, honour, things human or divine

Bowed to the glory of riches: that he who’s garnered them

Is famous, just and brave. ‘And wise?’ Of course, a king,

Whatever he wishes. He hoped that wealth, won as if by

Virtue, would bring him great fame. Where’s the difference

Between him and Aristippus the Greek, who in deepest

Libya, ordered his slaves who travelled more slowly

Under its weight, to unload his gold? Which was crazier?

Useless examples explain one mystery by another.

If a man bought lutes, and piled them up together,

While caring not a fig for the lute or any art:

Or, though no cobbler, bought lasts and awls: or hating trade

Ships’ sails, all would think him insane and obsessed

And they’d be right. Why is the man who hoards gold

And silver any different from them? He’s no idea

How to use his pile, fearing to touch it as sacred.”

BkIISatIII:111-141 Men ignore everyday craziness

“If a man lay down next to a great heap of corn

Keeping watch, with a big stick, never daring

As owner, though starving, to touch a grain, but fed

Like a miser on bitter roots: if with a thousand jars,

No say three hundred thousand, of Chian and vintage

Falernian cellared away, he drank the most acid

Vinegar: if at nearly eighty years old he lay

On straw, while fine bedclothes were mouldering away

In his trunk, being eaten by roaches and moths:

Few it would seem would consider him mad, since most men

Toss and turn gripped by a similar fever. Are you

Guarding it for your son or some freedman, your heir,

You poisonous old fool, so they can drink it? Or lest

You run short? How tiny the sum you’d spend each day

If you poured better oil on your salad, or on your hair

That’s matted and thick with dandruff. If anything will do,

Why bother to lie and cheat and pilfer on every

Hand? You, sane! If you took to throwing stones at the crowd,

Or your own slaves you paid good money for, all the boys

And girls would cry ‘madman’ behind you: so is it sanity

To strangle your wife or poison your mother? Well?

No, true, you’re not doing it in Argos nor with a sword,

Murdering a mother as crazed Orestes killed his,

And maybe you think he went mad after killing her,

And wasn’t demented before that by evil Furies,

Before he warmed sharp steel in his mother’s jugular?

No, from the moment Orestes was considered

Deranged, true, he did nothing you would condemn:

He didn’t dare to attack Pylades or his sister Electra

With a steel blade, just abused them both, calling her

A Fury, him what his glittering bile suggested.”

Orestes and Pylades Disputing at the Altar

‘Orestes and Pylades Disputing at the Altar’
Pieter Lastman (Dutch, 1583 – 1633)
The Rijksmuseum

BkIISatIII:142-167 There’s more than one kind of madness

“The ‘pauper’ Opimius, who with his hoard of silver,

And gold, still drank coarse wine from Veii on holidays

Out of a cheap Campanian scoop, sour wine otherwise,

Once fell into a coma so deep that his joyful heir

Was already prancing around his coffers, rattling

The keys. But his faithful and quick-witted doctor

Revived him like this: he ordered a table be brought

And bags of coins poured out, and a crowd of people

To count them. That woke the patient, to whom he says:

‘If you don’t guard it, your greedy heir will possess it.’

‘While I’m alive?’ ‘If you’d live, then stir. Come on.’

‘What must I do?’ ‘You’re weak, your system will fail,

Unless you take food, strong nourishment for your belly.

Do you waver? Come, take a sip of this tisane with rice.’

‘What’s it cost?’ ‘A trifle.’ ‘What trifle’ ‘Eight-pence or so.’

‘Aaah! What difference if I die from sickness or theft!’

‘So who is sane?’ Whoever’s no fool. ‘And the miser?’

A fool and insane. ‘So whoever’s no miser is

Necessarily sane?’ Not so. ‘Why, my good Stoic?’

I’ll tell you. Suppose Craterus had said the patient

Wasn’t dyspeptic: so then is he well enough to get up?

He’d say no, his lungs and kidneys are badly infected.

Here’s a man who’s no liar or miser: fine, let him offer

A pig to his kindly Lares: he’s still bold, ambitious:

Let him sail for Anticyra, then! What difference

If sink your wealth in the deep, or never use it?”

BkIISatIII:168-186 Servius Oppidius against ambition

“They say that Servius Oppidius, by ancient

Standards rich, gave Canusian farms to his two sons,

And when he was dying called the boys to him, saying:

Aulus, since ever I saw you carrying your conkers,

And marbles, in a fold of your toga, gambling

Or giving them away, and you, Tiberius,

Counting them, hiding them, anxious, in corners,

I’ve feared you’d develop separate obsessions,

You, just like Nomentanus, and you, Cicuta.

So by our household gods I beg you, don’t lessen,

And you, don’t increase, what your father thinks

Is sufficient, and Nature ordains as a limit.

Furthermore, lest ambition stir you, I’ll bind you

Both, by firm oath: if either becomes an aedile

Or praetor, may he be infamous and accursed.’

Would you too waste money on gifts of beans, vetch,

Lupins, to strut in the Circus, or stand there in bronze,

Naked of land and inherited wealth, you madman?

Of course, so you can win applause that Agrippa wins,

A cunning fox imitating the noble lion.”

BkIISatIII:187-223 The desire for glory is a curse

Agamemnon, son of Atreus, though we wish

To bury Ajax, you say no: why? ‘I am the king.’

As commoner, I’ll say no more. ‘My prohibition

Is also just: and if anyone thinks otherwise

I permit him to say freely what he thinks.’ Greatest

Of kings, may the gods let you take Troy and sail home.

Am I allowed then to trade in question and answer?

‘Ask away.’ Why does great Ajax lie rotting, a hero

Who often rescued the Greeks, glorious, second

To Achilles alone? Is it right Priam and his people

Exult, since burial’s denied one who denied it their sons?

‘Insane, he slaughtered a thousand sheep, shouting that he

Was killing myself, Ulysses, and Menelaus.’

And when at Aulis you, shamelessly, set your daughter

Before the altar, instead of a calf, sprinkling her head

With salted meal, were you sane? What harm did he do

Slaughtering the flock with his sword? He spared his wife

And child: he’d plenty of abuse for the Atridae,

Yet he showed no violence to Teucer or Ulysses.

‘But to free my ships stuck fast on a lee shore,

I placated the gods, in my wisdom, with blood.’

Yes, your own, you madman. ‘Mine, but not in madness.’

A man who holds wrong views, confused by the turmoil

Of evil’s considered disturbed, and whether he

Errs from anger or foolishness makes no difference.

When Ajax killed innocent lambs he was judged insane:

When you in your wisdom do wrong for empty glory,

Is your mind sound, or your swollen heart free of fault?

If a man liked to carry a sweet lamb round in a litter,

Providing it clothes, maids, gold, like a daughter,

Calling it Baby or Goldilocks, planning to marry it

To a fine husband, the praetor would issue an order

Taking control, passing his care to his saner relations.

What, then? If a man offers his daughter mute as a lamb,

Is his mind sound? You’d say not. So where there’s perverse

Stupidity, there’s the height of madness: criminals

Are madmen too: he whom glittering fame entrances

Hears the thunder of blood-loving Bellona round his head.”

BkIISatIII:224-246 Profligacy is also a madness

“Denounce extravagance and Nomentanus with me:

Reason will prove spendthrifts are fools and madmen.

This man, inheriting a thousand talents from his dad,

Issued an edict: fishmongers, fruiterers, fowlers,

Perfumers, all Tuscan Street’s impious crew, poulterers

And parasites, the Velabrum, all of the market,

To come to him next morn. So? They arrived in crowds.

A pimp was spokesman: ‘All I have, all that these others

Have in the house, believe me is yours, send for it now

Or tomorrow.’ Hear what the reasonable young man said:

‘You, sleep in your boots in the snows of Lucania,

So I can eat boar: you, trawl the wintry sea for fish.

I’m idle, unworthy to own so much: so take it!

You take ten: you as much: you three times more, it’s you

From whom your wife comes running at the midnight call.’

Aesopus ’ son took a splendid pearl from Metella’s

Ear-lobe, and dissolved it in vinegar, clearly

Intending to swallow a million straight: was that

Saner than hurling it into the flood, or the sewer?

Quintus Arrius’ sons, equally famous brothers,

Twins in waste and wickedness, loving depravity,

Used to eat highly-priced nightingales for lunch:

How should we list them? With chalk, sane, or with charcoal?”

BkIISatIII:247-280 And love is another craziness

“Building doll’s houses, harnessing mice to a cart,

Playing odds and evens, riding a hobby-horse:

If they delighted an adult, he’d be thought mad.

Now, if Reason can show that love is even more

Puerile than these, that it matters not whether you play

With sand like a three year old, or weep with frustration

For love of a mistress: will you, I question, do as

Polemon did when enlightened, and shed your ill tokens

As they say he did: his garters, elbow-puffs, and cravat,

Quietly removing the flowers from his neck, arrested

By the voice of his temperate master Xenocrates?

When you offer apples to a sulky child he refuses:

‘Take them, love!’ He won’t: not offered he wants them.

Is the lover who’s been shut out different, who debates

Whether to shun that house he’d visit without being

Asked: as he clings to its hated door? ‘Should I accede,

Now she asks me herself, or consider ending the pain?

She shut me out: asks me back: shall I return? No,

Not if she begs me.’ Hear the servant, wiser by far:

‘O master, things without wisdom or measure can’t be

Ruled by rhyme or reason. These are love’s evils, war

Then peace again: as changeable almost as the weather,

By blind chance fluctuating, and if anyone laboured

To make them predictable he’d no more explain them

Than if he tried going crazy by reason and rhyme.’

What? When you flick at the pips of Picenian apples,

And think love returned if you strike the arched ceiling,

You’re sane? What? When you babble from aged lips,

You’re wiser than children building doll’s houses? Add

Blood to folly, stir the flame with a sword. A day since,

When Marius stabbed his Hellas then leapt to his death,

He was crazy: or would you acquit him of being

Of unsound mind, and so accuse him of crime,

Reducing things as ever to customary terms?”

BkIISatIII:281-299 Stertinius’ concluding words

“There once was an old freedman who fasted, and rinsed

His hands, then ran sober from shrine to shrine, and prayed:

‘Save me, me alone (it’s not much to ask, he’d add) from death,

It’s easy for all you gods!’ His hearing and sight were sound:

But as to his mind, his master when selling him,

Couldn’t vouch for that, unless he’s litigious. This crew

Chrysippus would class with mad Menenius’ clan.

A mother whose child’s been bedridden for five months, prays:

Jupiter, who brings and takes away our great sorrows,

If the quartan fever would leave my child, on the day

You appoint for fasts he’ll stand naked in the Tiber

At dawn.’ If chance or the doctor will see the patient

Free from all danger, his crazy mother will kill him

By having him stand on that freezing river-bank

Making quite sure that his fever returns. What illness

Has struck her mind? Superstition, fear of the gods.”

‘These were the weapons Stertinius the eighth wise man,

Gave me as his friend, so none could abuse me unscathed.

Who calls me mad will receive the same from me, in reply,

And learn to see his hidden pack of faults, that hangs behind.’

BkIISatIII:300-326 Damasippus’ concludes the argument

Dear Stoic, who I pray given all your losses might

Always trade profitably, in what foolish way, since

There’s more than one, am I mad? I seem sane to myself.

‘So what? When Agave, plucks at her luckless son’s head,

And carries it off, does she even then think herself mad?’

I own to my folly (let me acknowledge the truth)

And my madness too: but tell me this, from what defect

Of mind do you think I suffer? ‘Well, listen, firstly

You’re building things, that is, imitating great men,

Though tip to toe you’re but two foot tall: and you laugh

At Turbo the gladiator’s spirit and swagger

In armour too big for his body: who’s more foolish?

Or is whatever Maecenas does right for you,

Unlike him as you are, and unfit to compete?

When the frog was away from home, then the calf trod

On her young, only one surviving to tell mum the tale

Of the huge beast that killed his kin: ‘how big’, she asked

Puffing herself up: ‘big as this?’ ‘Oh, half as big again!’

‘How about this?’ And she puffed herself up more and more.

‘Not if you were to burst,’ said he, ‘could you be as a big!’

That description is not too unlike yourself, then add

Your poetry too, that is, pour some more oil on the fire,

Verse that if ever a sane man wrote, you were sane when

You wrote yours too. And your vile temper,’ Now wait!

‘Your living beyond your means,’ Damasippus, mind your

Own business! ‘Your passion for girls, and boys, in thousands.’

O greater madman, have mercy, now, on this lesser!

End of Book II Satire III