Horace: The Satires
Book I: Satire VI
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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- BkISatVI:1-44 Ancestry matters in public affairs
- BkISatVI:45-64 Maecenas’ discernment
- BkISatVI:65-88 Horace’s debt to his father
- BkISatVI:89-109 His satisfaction with his fate
- BkISatVI:110-131 The life of freedom
BkISatVI:1-44 Ancestry matters in public affairs
In Tuscany is of nobler birth than yours,
And though your maternal and paternal grandfathers
Commanded mighty legions in days of old,
You don’t turn your nose up as most men do
At men of unknown birth, sons of freedmen like me.
When you say it’s irrelevant who a man’s father is
If he’s free born, you’re persuaded correctly
By the fact that before low-born Tullius ruled,
Many men born of insignificant ancestors often
Lived virtuous lives and were blessed with high office:
Tarquin the Proud fled, driven from his throne, was never
Rated a penny higher, even in the crowd’s judgement,
Who, you know well, often grant honours stupidly
To the unworthy, and are sadly enthralled by fame,
Dazzled by titles, and ancestral busts. What about us
Then, being far, far removed from the vulgar masses?
Let us accept the people would rather put Laevinus
Would strike out my name if I weren’t the son of a freeborn
Father: rightly, for not having stuck to my own ass’s skin,
Yet Ambition drags all along bound to her glittering
Chariot, noble and lowly. What use was it Tillius for you
To resume the broad stripe you lost, becoming a tribune?
Envy grew, that of a private person would have been less,
For as soon as anyone’s crazy enough to bind black
Senatorial thongs to his legs and wear the broad stripe
On his chest, it’s: ‘Who’s this fellow? Who was his dad?’
It’s just like suffering from Barrus’ sickness, longing
To be deemed handsome, so that wherever he went
He’d incite girls’ interest in personal details, what of
His face, his ankles, his feet, his teeth, and his hair:
Well he who promises to care for the city and people,
The Empire, and Italy, and all the gods’ temples,
Forces the whole mortal world to show interest
In who was his father, and whether his mother’s low-born.
Dare to hand us over to Cadmus or hurl us from the Rock?’
‘But, Novius, my colleague’ he cries, ‘is only a row behind
In the theatre, he’s what my father was.’ ‘And does that
In the Forum meet three big funerals, this Novius at least
Shouts loud enough to drown out the horns and trumpets.’
BkISatVI:45-64 Maecenas’ discernment
I turn again to myself, now, the son of a freedman,
Denounced by everyone as ‘the son of a freedman’
Because I’m your close friend now, Maecenas, earlier
Because as tribune I commanded a Roman legion.
Yet the situations differ, since one who’d begrudge
Me honours, shouldn’t begrudge me your friendship,
Given you’re careful only to patronise the worthy,
Men free of self-seeking. I can’t say I was lucky
Enough to win your friendship just by good fortune:
It wasn’t luck indeed that revealed you to me: Virgil,
The best of men, and Varius, told you what I was.
Meeting you face to face, I stuttered a few words,
Mute diffidence preventing me saying more.
I didn’t claim to be born of a famous father,
Or rode a horse round a Tarentine estate,
I said what I was. You said little, as is your way,
I left: nine months later you recalled me, asking
Me to be one of your friends. And I think it’s fine
To have pleased you, who separate true from false,
Not by a man’s father but by his pure life and heart.
‘Publius Vergilius Maro’
Michel Wolgemut (workshop of), 1493
BkISatVI:65-88 Horace’s debt to his father
Still, if my character’s flawed by only a few little
Faults, and otherwise sound, just as you’d censure
Perhaps the blemishes scattered over a noble body:
And if no one can accuse me in fairness of greed,
Meanness, debauchery, if in truth, in my own praise,
I live purely, innocently, loved by my friends:
It’s due to my father, who though poor, on poor land,
Wouldn’t send me to Flavius’ school, where fine lads
The sons of fine centurions went with their tablets
And satchel hanging from their left shoulders, carrying
Their eight coins as fee on the Ides of each month,
But instead he bravely whisked his son off to Rome,
To be taught the skills senator or knight would expect
To be taught his son. And if anyone noticed my clothes
And attendants, a big city scene, he’d have thought
The expenses were being met from ancestral wealth.
He, the truest of guardians, toured all my teachers
With me, too. What can I say? He guarded my innocence,
And that’s virtue’s prime ornament, he kept me free
Not only from shameful actions, but slander as well.
He wasn’t afraid someone might call him foolish
If I’d only followed the trade of an auctioneer
Or collector of dues like himself: I’d not have complained
As it turns out I owe him still greater praise and thanks.
BkISatVI:89-109 His satisfaction with his fate
I’d be insane to be ashamed of such a father,
So I won’t defend myself by saying, as many do,
It’s not their fault they don’t have well-known, noble
Parents. What I say and think are quite otherwise:
If at a certain point in our lives Nature required us
To relive the past, and choose what parents we wished,
To suit our pride, then I’d still be content with mine,
I’d not want parents blessed with rods and thrones.
The crowd would think me mad, you sane perhaps,
For not wishing to carry an unaccustomed burden.
I’d be forced at once to acquire more possessions,
Welcome more visitors, take one or two companions
So as not to travel or visit the countryside alone,
Keep more horses and grooms, take a wagon-train,
While now I can ride on a gelded mule to Tarentum,
Its flanks galled by a heavy pack, withers by the rider:
No one will call me vulgar, Tillius the praetor,
As they do you, when five slaves, on the Tibur road,
Follow behind you with a chest, and a case of wine.
BkISatVI:110-131 The life of freedom
In this, in a thousand other ways, I live in more
Comfort than you, my illustrious Senator.
I wander wherever I choose, alone: ask the price
Of cabbage and flour, stroll round the dodgy Circus
And Forum at evening: loitering by the fortune-tellers:
Then home to a dish of oilcake, chickpeas, and leeks.
Three lads serve my supper, a white slab holds two cups
And a ladle: a cheap bowl too, oil-flask and saucer:
All Campanian ware. Then to bed, with no worries
About early rising, appearing before Marsyas’ statue
With its pained face, that can’t stick Novius Junior’s.
I lie in bed till ten: then take a stroll: or after reading
Or writing work I’ll enjoy in peace later, rub myself
With oil, but not what dirty Natta steals from the lamps!
When I’m tired and the hot sun tells me to go and bathe,
I avoid the Campus and those three-way ball games.
I take a light lunch, enough to prevent me fasting
All day long, then I idle about at home. This is the life
Of those relieved of the weight of wretched ambition:
I comfort myself, this way, that I’ll live more happily
Than if grandfather, father and uncle had all been quaestors.
End of Book I Satire VI