Satire XIII – Mock Consolation
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 XIII: Mock Consolation
- SatXIII:1-70 Why So Surprised, Calvinus?
- SatXIII:71-119 How They Seek To Justify Themselves!
- SatXIII:120-173 Your Loss Is Nothing New
- SatXIII:174-249 Forget About Revenge
Satire XIII: Mock Consolation
SatXIII:1-70 Why So Surprised, Calvinus?
Setting a bad example won’t make the perpetrator feel pleased.
That’s the first manner in which life takes its revenge, that no
One who’s guilty absolves themselves, in their own judgement,
Though he be a praetor who’s corrupt influence rigged a vote.
So why should anyone be surprised, Calvinus, at recent events,
The wicked crime, a matter of trust betrayed? It’s not as though
You’re a person of such slender means the weight of this modest
Loss will sink you, nor is your experience something that’s rarely
Known: it’s the kind of bad luck familiar to many a person, banal
These days, a card that’s plucked from fortune’s outspread hand.
Put an end to your excessive grief. One’s indignation should not
Burn more fiercely than fitting, nor be greater than one’s injury;
Yet you can scarcely endure the slightest, the least, the tiniest
Particle of hurt, you’re all in a blaze, with your innards seething,
Because your friend won’t return that sacred sum of money you
Entrusted to him. Why should that surprise someone with sixty
Years behind him, a man who was born in Fonteius’ consulship?
Have you gained not an ounce of profit from all your experience?
Surely those precepts are fine which the sacred books of wisdom
Offer; the wisdom to overcome fate, and yet we also consider
Those people fortunate, who have learned from life’s teachings
To endure unpleasant things, and to bow and not resist the yoke.
What day is so full of good luck it fails to produce theft, fraud,
And betrayal, and the benefits gained by other sorts of crime,
The wealth that’s gained through the sword or the poison chest?
The good are rare: count them, there are scarcely as many as
There were gates to Thebes, or mouths draining the rich Nile.
It’s the ninth century of Rome now, an era even worse than
The age of iron, and Nature herself can find no name for its
Wickedness, she has no baser metal left to provide a label.
What’s the point of invoking the aid of men and gods, with
The clamour Faesidius’ noisy crew makes, cheering him on,
For a handout? Say, old man, for whom a lad’s gold charm’s
More fitting, don’t you know the lure of other people’s cash?
Don’t you know how your simplicity moves the crowd to
Laughter, when you demand no one perjure himself, when
You seek divinity in lofty temples, on blood-stained altars?
The natives once lived that way, until Saturn was forced to
Forsake his crown, and grabbed the rustic sickle as he fled;
Back then, when Juno was but a child, and Jupiter lived as
A private individual in the caverns of Cretan Mount Ida;
There were no heavenly banquets then above the clouds
No Ganymede, no Hebe, Hercules’ wife, as cupbearers,
No Vulcan, once the nectar was poured, wiping his arms,
Black with soot from his Liparean forge and workshop.
Each god dined alone, nor was there the crowd of gods
That exists today; the heavens being content with only
A handful of deities, and weighing more lightly on Atlas’
Shoulders; grim Pluto had not yet drawn his lot, winning
His kingdom in the depths, wedding Sicilian Proserpine;
No Ixion’s wheel, no Furies, no Sisyphean rock, or dark
Vultures for Tityos; just happy shades, no infernal rulers.
In that age wickedness was greeted with astonishment.
They thought it a primal sin, one punishable by death,
If a young man refused to defend his elders, or a boy
To defend anyone with a beard, even if his own home
Did possess more berries, or a larger heap of acorns;
So revered was even four years seniority, and the first
Signs of a beard were the equivalent of sacred old age.
These days if a friend fails to renege on your agreement,
And returns your purse to you with all its rusting metal,
It’s a marvel of fidelity, a portent fit for the prophetic
Etruscan books, or the sacrifice of a garlanded lamb.
If I come across an outstandingly honest man, I rank
It with some monstrous embryo, or a fish turned up,
Amazingly, by the plough, or a pregnant mule; as
Stunned as if it rained stones, or as if a hive of bees
Had swarmed in a great cluster on the roof of a shrine,
Or as if a swift-flowing eddying river of milk, with its
Whirling vortices, had rushed precipitously to the sea.
SatXIII:71-119 How They Seek To Justify Themselves!
You complain about a hundred gold pieces gone astray,
In his sacrilegious act of fraud? Why not that secret hoard
Of two thousand lost thus by another, or yet another’s still
Greater sum, that an angle of his vast treasury scarce holds?
It’s so simple, and easy, to ignore those divine witnesses,
If there’s no mortal in the know. See how loud he is in his
Denials, and the self-possession displayed on his lying face.
He swears by the sun’s rays and the Tarpeian lightning bolt,
And Mars’ lance and the arrows of Apollo, Cirrha’s prophet,
And by the shafts and quiver of Diana, the virgin huntress,
And by your trident Neptune, father of the Aegean, and he’ll
Add Hercules’ bow, and Minerva’s spear, for good measure,
Whatever weapons happen to exist in the heavenly armoury.
And if indeed, he’s a father, he’ll say, with a tear: ‘Or may I
Devour my son’s brain boiled, doused with Egyptian vinegar!’
There are those who attribute everything to acts of fortune,
Who believe that the world goes on its way without guidance,
And that nature brings on the succession of days and years;
Who will therefore touch any altar you like without concern,
Others believe the gods exist, yet still commit perjury, saying
To themselves; ‘Isis may choose to do what she wishes with
My body; let her strike me blind with an angry shake of her
Rattle, so long as, sightless, I keep the cash I’ll deny receiving.
Lung disease, or festering abscesses, or even the loss of a leg
Are worth it. Though Ladas, the runner, were poor, he should
Still have no hesitation, unless he’s mad or dying, in praying
For the rich man’s gout; for what does the glory of swiftness
Bring after all, or thirsting for that wreath of Olympian olive?
Though the gods’ anger is great, it’s slow indeed to take effect.
How long might it take before they trouble me? I may even
Find the powers that be are indulgent; ready to forgive all this.
The same crimes are committed but with very different results:
One man’s prize for his sins is crucifixion, another’s is a crown.’
His heart trembling in terror at his vile trespass, this is how he
Calms himself. When you summon him to the sacred shrine,
He’s ahead of you, drags you there, ready to vex you further;
When the cause is ill, given endless audacity, such confidence
Appear highly convincing. He’s acting out a farce, like that
Fugitive jester in Catullus’s witty mime, while you, wretched
Fool are roaring, loudly enough, it would seem, to out-do Stentor,
Just as Mars roars in Homer’s Iliad: ‘Jupiter, can you hear all this,
Yet not utter a word: surely you must speak out, though your lips
Be made of marble or bronze? Why else do we unwrap the incense
So piously, or the sliced calf’s liver, or the pieces of white pork-fat
To add to the glowing coals? As far as I can see there’s not a jot of
Difference between your statue and one of big-mouthed Vagellius.’
SatXIII:120-173 Your Loss Is Nothing New
Alternatively, accept this solace, worthy of being offered even
By one who’s not read the Cynics; or the dogmas of the Stoics,
Distinguishable from the Cynics by their shirts; or delighted
With Epicurus, happy with the plants in his miniscule garden.
Difficult illnesses should be cared for by the greatest of doctors:
But even one of Philippus’ students would do to take your pulse.
If there’s no more detestable crime you can point to in the whole
Of the world than this, I’ll be silent, I won’t stop you beating
Your chest with your fists, or smacking your face with the flat
Of your hand. After all, after a loss you close the doors; cash
Is mourned, throughout the house, with a louder moaning and
Wailing than a death; no one feigns grief in such a matter, or
Remains content with merely ripping the hems of his clothes,
Or simply making his eyes sore with his simulated weeping;
When it’s money that’s gone astray we grieve with real tears.
However, if every court you see is full of similar complaints,
If when a document’s been pored over ten times by the other
Party, the signature is later declared false, and the whole thing
Worthless, condemned by one’s very handwriting, one’s seal,
That prince of sardonyx stones, kept secure in an ivory chest,
Why do you, O precious creature, think your case should be
Judged extraordinary? What? Are you the child of a white hen,
While we are common chicks hatched from misfortune’s eggs?
It’s a minor thing you’ve experienced, it calls for modest anger,
One you’ve cast your eyes on more serious crimes. Compare
The hired thief, or the deliberate fire that’s started with matches,
The front door revealing the first effect of the flames; Compare
Those who steal huge venerable rusted chalices from the ancient
Temples, given us by nations, or crowns once dedicated by kings;
If those valuables are lacking, some lesser vandal appears who’ll
Sacrilegiously scrape the gold from Hercules’ thigh or Neptune’s
Face, or go stripping the thin gold leaf from the statue of Castor;
Compare the manufacturers and dealers in poison, the parricide
Who deserves to be thrown in the sea in an ox-skin, along with
The ill-fated ape, an innocent, but nevertheless sewn in as well.
That’s but a part of the wickedness Gallicus, Prefect of the City,
Hears all day, from the morning star’s setting to that of the sun!
A single courtroom is sufficient if you want to understand the
Behaviour of humankind; spend a few days there, then dare to
Call yourself unfortunate, once you’re far away from the place.
What’s so surprising about goitre in the Alps, or about a breast
In Meroe, beside the Ethiopian Nile, bigger than its fat baby?
Who gapes now at those blue-eyed Germans with their yellow
Hair, with their greasy curls all twisted into their pointed braids?
Imagine a Pygmy warrior in miniature armour who suddenly
Runs towards a raucous cloud of Thracian birds and is grabbed
By a savage crane in an instant, and carried off through the air
In its curved beak, no match for his enemy. If you saw that here,
Among the crowd, then you might shake with laughter; but there,
Where the whole army’s no more than a foot tall, no one laughs.
SatXIII:174-249 Forget About Revenge
‘Is the perjurer to suffer no punishment then for his irreligious
Fraud?’ Well imagine he’d been dragged away in the heaviest
Of chains, and executed at once based on your judgement (what
More could you want?); nevertheless your loss remains, that
Money of yours will never be returned, but the blood that has
Been shed from the headless corpse will grant invidious solace.
‘Yet vengeance is fine, it’s more gratifying than life itself!’
So the uneducated claim, whose tempers you see flaring for
The slightest reason, sometimes for no earthly reason at all.
That’s not what Chrysippus the Stoic says, nor the gentle mind
Of Thales, or old Socrates who lived below sweet Hymettus,
He who would never have inflicted on his accusers one drop
Of the hemlock he was obliged to drink, in his cruel prison.
Indeed vengeance is always a delight to the weak and petty
And small-minded. You can see that straight away, since
No one enjoys vengeance more than a woman. Yet why
Believe the guilty have escaped, when conscience dwells on
Their vile deeds, terrifies them, strikes with its silent whip,
Wielding its invisible lash, there, in the tortured mind?
A fierce punishment it is indeed, to bear in your breast that
Hostile witness, night and day, a punishment more savage
Than anything Rhadamanthus, or stern Caedicius contrived.
The Pythian prophetess told a Spartan, who asked about
His keeping money entrusted to him, retaining it legally
By swearing a false oath, that he’d not go unpunished.
He had truly wished to know Apollo’s thoughts on the
Matter, and whether the god would sanction the crime!
He returned the money, through fear, not principle, yet
Every word from the shrine was true and worthy of that
Temple, as was witnessed by his death, and those of his
Children, his household, and kin however far removed.
Such was the punishment suffered solely for thinking of
Doing wrong. Since, he who merely contemplates some
Secret wickedness in his mind, incurs the same guilt
As if he had done the deed. Think, if he really does it!
Perpetual anxiety is his, which even affects his eating,
His throat parched as in sickness, and the stubborn
Food sticking in his gullet. The wretched man spits
Out his Setian wine, and the choicest ageing Alban
Vintages displease; offer him finest Falernian; as if
It were sour, dense wrinkles will furrow his brow.
At night perhaps his conscience allows him a brief
Respite; after tossing all over the bed, his limbs lie
Quiet; when at once he’ll see the temple, the altar
He’s insulted and you, his victim, in dream, a sight
To make him sweat profoundly; your image, ghostly,
Larger than life, scaring him, driving him to confess.
Such are men who turn pale and quake at every flash
Of lightning, who faint at the first rumble of thunder
In the sky, as if the fire falls to earth not by chance or
The tempest’s frenzy, but in anger, as if in judgement.
If they’re unharmed, they dread the next thunderstorm
With greater anxiety, as if the lull were a postponement.
Moreover if they once start to feel feverish, sharp pains
In the side keeping them awake, they believe their bodily
Afflictions sent by a higher power: and consider them
The gods’ spears and missiles. They don’t dare pledge
A bleating beast to the little shrine or promise the Lares
A cockerel’s crest; what respite from illness can the guilty
Hope for? What sacrificial victim isn’t worthier of life?
They’re full of resolution when they commit the crime;
Only after the evil’s done do they begin to acquire a sense
Of right and wrong. Yet their nature, fixed and incapable
Of change, will still return to the paths it has condemned.
Who ever set a limit to their own sins? When does a blush
Of shame, once banished, reappear on some hardened brow?
Who have you ever seen who remains content with but one
Offence? Your miscreant will set his foot in the snare, he’ll
Suffer the hook in some dark prison, or he’ll join a crowd of
Notorious exiles, on some rugged rock in the Aegean Sea.
You’ll revel in the bitter punishment meted out to the one
You hate, and eventually you’ll cheerfully admit the gods
Are not as dull-witted as Claudius, nor as blind as Tiresias.
End of Satire XIII