Horace: The Satires
Book I: Satire VIII
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved
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BkISatVIII:1-22 Priapus on the Esquiline
I was once a fig-tree’s trunk, a lump of useless wood,
Till the carpenter, uncertain whether to carve Priapus
Or a stool, decided on the god. So I’m a god, the terror
Of thieves and birds: my right hand keeps the thieves away
Along with the red shaft rising obscenely from my groin:
While the reed stuck on my head frightens naughty birds,
And stops them settling here in Maecenas’ new Gardens.
Once slaves paid to have the corpses of their fellows,
Cast from their narrow cells, brought here in a cheap box.
This was the common cemetery for a mass of paupers,
Here a pillar marked a width of a thousand feet for graves,
Three hundred deep, ground ‘not to be passed to the heirs’!
Now you can live on a healthier Esquiline and stroll
On the sunny Rampart, where sadly you used to gaze
At a grim landscape covered with whitened bones.
Personally it’s not the usual thieves and wild creatures
Who haunt the place that cause me worry and distress,
As those who trouble human souls with their drugs
And incantations: I can’t escape them or prevent them
From collecting bones and noxious herbs as soon as
The wandering Moon has revealed her lovely face.
I’ve seen Canidia myself, wandering barefoot
With her black robe tucked up, and dishevelled hair,
Howling with the elder Sagana: pallor making them
Hideous to view. They scraped at the soil with their nails,
Then set to tearing a black lamb to bits with their teeth:
The blood ran into the trench, so they might summon
The souls of the dead, spirits to give them answers.
There was a woollen doll there, and another of wax:
The wool one was larger to torment and crush the other.
The wax one stood like a suppliant, waiting slave-like
For death. One of the witches cried out to Hecate,
The other to cruel Tisiphone: you might have seen
Snakes and hell-hounds wandering around, a blushing Moon,
Hiding behind the tall tombs, so as not to be witness.
If I’m lying, foul my head with white raven’s droppings,
Voranus come here, and shit and piss all over me.
Why tell every detail – how the spirits made shrill sad noises
As they conversed with Sagana, how the two witches
Stealthily buried the beard of a wolf, and the tooth
Of a spotted snake, how the wax doll made the fire
Blaze more brightly, and how I shuddered, a witness
To the twin Furies’ words and deeds, but had my revenge?
My buttocks of fig wood split with a crack as loud
As the sound of a bursting bladder: and off they ran
To the city. You’d have been laughing and cheering
To see Canidia’s false teeth drop, and Sagana’s tall wig,
Herbs and magical love-knots tumbling from their arms.
‘Psyche receives the jar with Proserpina's beauty’
Anonymous, after Giulio Romano, 1509 - 1596
End of Book I Satire VIII