Satire I – A Justification for Satire
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved
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- Satire I: A Justification
- SatI:1-18 Unbearable Stuff!
- SatI:19-44 Why Choose Satire?
- SatI:45-80 It’s a Litany of Crime
- SatI:81-126 And All About Money
- SatI:127-146 The Reward of Greed
- SatI:147-171 The Dangers of Satire
Satire I: A Justification
SatI:1-18 Unbearable Stuff!
Must I be a listener forever? Never reply,
Tortured so often by throaty Cordus’s Theseus?
Must I let this fellow recite his Roman comedies,
Unpunished, and that one his elegies? Unpunished,
Consuming my whole day on some endless Telephus,
Or unfinished Orestes, the cover full and the margins?
A man knows his own house less well than I know
The grove of Mars or that cave of Vulcan’s right by
The Aeolian cliffs; what the winds do, which shade
Aeacus torments, where he’s from, he with the golden
Stolen fleece, how big that ash tree Monychus hurled –
Fronto’s plane-trees, cracked marble, and columns
Fractured by non-stop readings, ring with this stuff.
Expect the same, then, from this best and worst of poets.
I too have snatched my hand out of reach of the cane,
I too have given old Sulla ‘good advice’: get lost, enjoy
A good rest. It’s false mercy, when you trip over poets
Everywhere, to spare the paper they’re all ready to waste.
SatI:19-44 Why Choose Satire?
Why I still choose to go driving over the very plain
Where Lucilius the great, from Aurunca, steered his team,
I’ll explain, if you’ve time to hear my reasons, quietly.
When a tender eunuch takes him a wife; when Mevia
Fights a Tuscan boar, with bare breasts, gripping the spear;
When a fellow can match all the aristocrats in wealth,
Who made me cry with pain when he used to shave me;
When a pleb from the Nile, when a slave from Canopus,
One Crispinus, hitching his Tyrian cloak on his shoulder,
Wafts the gold of summer about on his sweaty fingers,
Simply unable to suffer the dreadful weight of a gem;
It’s hard not to write satire! For who’s so tolerant of Rome’s
Iniquities, so made of steel they can contain themselves
When along comes that lawyer Matho’s brand new litter,
Full of himself; behind, one who informed on a powerful
Friend, ready to steal any scraps from the noble carcase,
Whom Massa the stool-pigeon fears, and Carus sweetens
With gifts, like Thymele, in the farce, fed by fearful Latinus;
When you’re shoved by men who earn a place in the will
By night, men raised to the gods by the wide road now
To highest advancement, by a rich old woman’s ‘purse’?
To Proculeius just one twelfth share, but to Gillo eleven,
Each heir gets the portion that matches their performance.
May they turn truly pale as they snatch their blood-money,
Like a man with bare feet who’s stepped on a snake,
Or the next loser to speak, at Caligula’s altar in Lyon.
SatI:45-80 It’s a Litany of Crime
How can I describe the fierce anger burning my fevered gut,
When people are crushed by the herd behind some despoiler
Who prostituted his ward, or one found guilty in a wasteful
Trial? How could disgrace matter if the money’s safe?
Marius Priscus, in exile, drinks all afternoon, enjoying
The gods’ displeasure, while you, the dutiful winner, weep.
Isn’t that worth shining a light on, one lit by old Horace?
Isn’t that my task? What better? No dull tales of Hercules,
Please, or Diomedes, or that bellowing in the labyrinth,
Or the sea struck by the wing-wrecked son of a flying artisan,
When a husband accepts a wife’s lover’s gifts, and no law
Against her cheating: expert now at staring up at the ceiling,
An expert too at snoring over his cup through vigilant nose?
When someone who’s lavished his wealth on the horses, blown
The family fortune, thinks he’s the right to expect a command,
Just for racing his speeding chariot down the Flaminian Way,
Like some puny Automedon? Yes, he was clutching the reins,
Himself, while showing off to his girlfriend, her in the cloak.
Surely I’m allowed to fill a fat notebook at the crossroads
When they carry past, on six shoulders, no less, some false
Signatory, exhibited, this side and that, in his almost bare
Litter, one, strongly resembling the effeminate Maecenas,
Who’s made himself distinguished and rich with the aid
Of a brief roll of paper, and a moist signet ring?
When a powerful lady is next, who mixes in dried toad’s
Venom, while offering her husband mellow Calenian wine,
Improves on Lucusta, by teaching her simple neighbours
How to bury their skin-blotched husbands to public acclaim.
If you want to be someone, do something worthy of prison,
Exile on tiny Gyara – the honest are praised, but neglected.
It’s crime brings the gardens, mansions, elaborate dinners,
Old silver plate, and those drinking-cups carved with goats.
Who can sleep, for seducers of greedy daughters-in-law,
Who can sleep, for impure brides and teenage adulterers?
If talent is lacking, then indignation can fashion my verse,
Of such kind as poets like me, or Cluvenius, produce.
SatI:81-126 And All About Money
Since the days when a rainstorm raised the water-level,
And Deucalion sailed mountains by boat, asked a sign,
And the malleable stone was gradually warmed to life,
And Pyrrha displayed newly-created girls to the men,
What humankind does, its prayers, fears, angers, and pleasures,
Delights and excursions, all that farrago’s in my little book.
And when was the flow of vice fuller? When did the palm
Open wider to greed? When did gambling arouse greater
Passion? See, they don’t flock to the gaming tables now
With their purses: they place the family treasure and play.
What battles you’ll see there, the croupier bringing forth
Warriors! It’s quite mad to go losing a hundred thousand,
Surely, and yet to begrudge a shirt to a shivering slave?
Who of our ancestors built such villas, dined in private
On seven courses? Now the paltry handout-basket sits
On the doorstep, snatched at by a toga-clad mob,
As the patron first takes a nervous look at the faces,
Lest they’ve come to make false claim in another’s name:
Known, and you’re in. He even instructs the herald to call
The ‘Trojan’ elite, they too vex the threshold among us
All. ‘Give first to the praetor, and then to the tribune.’
But a freedman is first. ‘I was the first, here.’ he says.
‘Why should I fear, why should I hesitate, though I was
Born by Euphrates? The effeminate holes in my ears
Would proclaim it, if I denied it. Yet my five taverns
Bring in four hundred thousand, what more can the purple
Provide? While some Corvinus herds his leased sheep
There, in Laurentine fields, I possess more than Pallas
More than Licinus?’ Well, let the tribunes wait, then,
Let cash be the conqueror; let the slave just arrived here,
With chalk-whitened feet, not yield to high office;
After all, among us, the greatness of riches is sacred,
Though fatal Pecunia (Cash) has no temple as yet
To dwell in, and as yet we’ve set up no altars to money,
As we worship now, Peace, Loyalty, Victory, Virtue,
Or Concord, with clatter of storks when we hail her.
But while the highest official reckons at year-end
What the handouts brought in, how much added fat,
What will his clients do for their togas and shoes,
Bread and fuel at home? Jam-packed the litters arrive
For their hundred pence, a wife who’s pregnant or sick
Follows a husband doing the rounds, a craftier man
Plays the old trick, claims for his wife in her absence,
Pointing instead to an empty, close-curtained sedan,
‘There’s my Galla,’ he cries, ‘quick now, why the delay?
Show your face, Galla.’ ‘No need, she might be asleep.’
SatI:127-146 The Reward of Greed
The very day is distinguished by splendid things:
The handout, then the Forum, Apollo expert in law,
And the insignia, among which some customs-man
Out of Egypt, a nobody, dares to display his titles,
On whose statue it’s fine to take not merely a piss.
Aged and weary his clients abandon the forecourts,
Relinquish their aims; since the hope of eating lasts
Longest in man, they must buy firewood and greens.
Meanwhile his lordship is dining on all of the best
Produce of forest and sea, himself, amid empty couches.
Now at their table, one of those lovely large round
Antique ones, these people consume a whole fortune.
Soon there’ll be no parasites left. Who can bear
Such vulgar luxury? What a monstrous maw that feeds
On a whole wild boar, a creature that’s fit for a banquet!
There’s swift punishment though, when bloated you doff
Your cloak, and go for a bath, with a part-digested peacock
Inside. Then for the old it’s death, intestate and sudden.
The news is passed round at dinner, with never a tear;
And the funeral’s performed to the cheers of irate friends.
SatI:147-171 The Dangers of Satire
Posterity will need to add nothing to how we behave,
Our children will do and desire exactly the same;
All depravity stands at the edge of a chasm. Set sail,
Spread all your canvas. Perhaps you’ll say ‘Where
Is the power to match your subject? Where will you find
The frankness of those who wrote as they chose
With passionate spirit?’ Well who do I dare not name?
What matter if Mucius could never forgive my words?
‘Well, try Tigellinus, and you’ll be the flame to his torch
That scorches men upright, their bound throats smoking,
And score a wide track with your corpse over the sand.’
Do I let him ride by, then, that man who’s poisoned three
Of his uncles, and despise us from his feather cushions?
‘Yes, button your lip, instead, when he sallies by:
If you even say: ‘that’s him’, you’ll be marked, an informer.
It’s fine to pit pious Aeneas against the fierce Rutulian,
There’s no problem with old Achilles pierced by a shaft,
Or a Hylas, chasing his pitcher, searched for by many:
But when fiery Lucilius roars as if waving his naked
Blade, the hearer whose criminal mind is long-frozen,
Reddens and sweats, his conscience new-stricken by guilt.
Then, there’ll be anger and tears. So think about it first,
Before you go sounding your trumpet: too late to regret
Arming when you’re at war.’ Then I’ll see what they can do
To me, whose ashes the Via Latina and Via Flaminia shroud.
End of Satire I