Satire XII – Friendship
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.
Satire XII: Friendship
SatXII:1-82 Safe Return
This day is sweeter to me than my own birthday, Corvinus,
It’s the day when the festal turf awaits the promised victims.
We bring a snow-white lamb for Juno, queen of the gods,
And its equal for Minerva, with her Gorgon-headed aegis;
While the sacrifice to Tarpeian Jove tugs petulantly at the
Long tether, making the rope quiver, and tossing its head;
Since it’s a spirited calf, you see, ready for temple and altar,
For sprinkling with pure wine, one already ashamed to suck
At its mother’s teats: with budding horns, it butts the oak tree.
If my personal resources were ample, a match for my feelings,
We’d be dragging a bull fatter than Hispulla to the slaughter,
One slowed by its very bulk, not nourished in local pastures,
But its lineage the product of the fertile fields of Clitumnus,
And its neck would be bowed, for the tall attendant’s blow.
All this is to mark my friend’s safe return, he who trembles
Still at terrors past, filled with amazement yet that he survived,
For besides the dangers of the sea he escaped the lightning too.
A single mass of dense cloud shrouded the sky in darkness,
While sudden flashes of fire struck the yardarms. Every man
Aboard thought he had been hit, and thought shipwreck as
Nothing compared to a death enveloped in blazing canvas;
It’s always so, just as serious, if when a storm of poetry rises,
Behold there’s some other crisis! Listen and pity once more,
Though the rest is on a par with that experience, dreadful
But not uncommon, as all those votive tablets in the shrines
Of Isis bear witness; who of us is unaware that artists earn
A living from painting them as offerings to the goddess?
That kind of ill-fortune overtook my dear friend Catullus.
With the hold half-full of water, and the waves already
Driving the stern this way and that, and the white-haired
Helmsman’s skill unable to counteract the swaying mast,
He then tried to deal with the wind by jettisoning the cargo,
In imitation of the beaver that in its desire to escape death,
Will bite off its testicles and render itself a eunuch: then
The drug, castoreum, is made from its preputial glands.
‘Take everything I’ve got,’ cried Catullus, willing now
To hurl even his most precious possessions overboard,
Purple-dyed clothes fit even for some tender Maecenas,
And others made from the wool of flocks tinted by their
Grazing on special grasses, plus the effect of the hidden
Powers of the fine water, and climate, of southern Spain.
He’d no hesitation in hurling his silver plate away; dishes
Made for Parthenius, Domitian’s chamberlain; a mixing
Bowl big as an urn, fit for Pholus the thirsty centaur, or
Even Fuscus’ wife; baskets; a thousand plates; and a pile
Of engraved cups that Philip of Macedon once drank from.
Is there another such man, in all the world, with the will
To set his life above money, his survival above his goods?
Overboard went most of what’s useful; there was still no
End of danger. Then, driven by necessity he resorted to
Taking a blade to the mast, so as to extricate himself from
His narrow strait: taking that ultimate risk, where the remedy
We adopt makes the vessel we’re journeying in even weaker.
Away then, commit your life to the winds, rely on a broken
Plank, four inches of pinewood away from death, or perhaps
Seven inches away from death, if the planking is extra thick;
And remember next time, along with your nets full of bread
And the bellied flagons, to take some axes for use in a storm.
But once the waves died down, and the passengers’ state
Improved, and destiny triumphed over the wind and sea;
Once the Fates began to weave a stronger thread, benign
Hands happily winding white wool into the yarn; and once
The wind arose, though no more than the lightest breeze,
The wretched vessel, ran on, its manoeuvrability impaired,
Every cloth spread to the wind, with the one remaining sail.
Now that the fierce southerly winds were abating, the sun
Returned bringing fresh hope of survival. Then the heights
Of Mount Alba, loved by Iulus, Aeneas’ son, and preferred
By him to Lavinium, his stepmother’s city, came in view,
Its peak named for the white sow whose litter amazed the
Delighted Trojans, and the novel sight of her thirty teats.
At last the ship passed the Tuscan lighthouse and entered
The breakwaters of Portus Augusti, that quiet the waves,
Those arms that leave Italy’s shore, stretch out and meet,
In the sea; no ancient harbour created by nature is more
Impressive. Then the master steered his crippled vessel
Into the inner roads of the harbour, so sheltered a pleasure
Boat from Baiae could cross, where sailors, heads shaved
To fulfil their vow, tell, in safety, garrulous tales of peril.
SatXII:93-130 And Perish Those Legacy-Hunters!
Off with you lads, control your tongues and minds
Garland the shrines, lay out the grain and knives,
And decorate the green turf and the spongy hearths.
I’ll follow, and once I’ve performed the sacred rite,
Head home again, where the little statues gleaming
With fragile wax will receive their slender crowns.
Here I’ll propitiate my Jupiter, and offer incense
To my paternal Lares, and scatter the viola petals.
Everything gleams, long branches beside the door
That welcomes the festive day with lamps at dawn.
Lest you suspect my efforts, Corvinus, this Catullus,
Whose return I celebrate by preparing these altars,
Has three young heirs: who’d buy, I’d like to know,
Even a sick chicken, about to shut its eyes for good,
For the sake of a friend who’s such a poor investment!
Truly even a hen’s too pricey; no one sacrifices even
A quail for a man with children, while if rich, childless,
Gallitta, or Pacius, show even a sign of fever, the whole
Colonnade is studded with neat prayers on their behalf.
There are people who’d promise to sacrifice a hundred
Bullocks, or even elephants, though now there are none
For sale, here, and the beasts won’t breed in Latium given
Our climate, though it’s true there’s Caesar’s herd, bought
From the dark nations to graze in Rutulian forests, and in
The land of Turnus, unfitted to be enslaved by lesser men,
Since their ancestors once served the King of Molossus,
And Hannibal of Carthage, and even our Roman generals;
Carrying squads of our soldiers, as a part of the battle line,
Equipped with turrets on their backs, advancing to the fight.
Novis, or Pacuvius Hister, those legacy-chasers, wouldn’t
Hesitate for a moment in leading those ivory-bearers to the
Altars, or slaughtering them before Gallitta’s household gods,
Sole victims worthy of such gods, and those fortune-hunters.
If you let him, the latter would even promise to make a sacrifice
Of the tallest and therefore handsomest of his herd of slaves,
Tie the sacrificial bands to the foreheads of boys or girls alike,
And if he’d a nubile daughter at home, his own Iphigeneia,
He’d offer her too on the altar, without even the hope of her
Being replaced by a deer, as in that variant of the tragic story.
Good on you, my fellow citizens, a thousand ships cannot
Compare with a legacy; since if the victim eludes the funeral
Goddess, Libitina, he’ll fall into the trap set by some truly
Amazing effort of Pacuvius, and destroy his previous will,
And probably, in brief, leave him the lot, leaving him to lord
It then over his beaten rivals. So you see how useful it can
Be to slit Iphigenia’s throat, slay a daughter from Mycenae.
Long live Pacuvius, may he live as long as Nestor, may he
Possess as much as Nero stole, may he pile up a mountain
Of gold, may he love no one, and never be loved in return!
End of Satire XII