The Satires

Satire XII – Friendship

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved

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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