The Satires

Satire XIV– Bad Parenting

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

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Satire XIV: Bad Parenting

SatXIV:1-58 Try Setting A Good Example

There is much, Fuscinus, that’s displayed, and passed on,

To children by their parents, which merits condemnation,

And tarnishes the brightness of things with its lasting stain.

If the old man ruins himself gambling, his heir while still

A child plays too, his little cup armed with the same dice.

Nor can his relatives expect much from some young man,

If, taught by his wastrel father’s long-practised gluttony,

He’s learnt how to peel truffles, marinade mushrooms,

And drown fig-peckers, beccaficos, in the right manner,

As they swim in the resulting sauce. You may flank him

With a thousand bearded tutors to left and right, but such

A lad when his seventh year is past, or even before he

Has all his new teeth, will always wish to dine in lavish

Style, nor fall short of the highest standard of cuisine.

What effect will a man have on his son, if he delights in

The clank of chains, thrilled by branding, convicts, gaols?

Is Rutilus, when he enjoys the savage sound of a flogging,

And thinks the lash sings sweeter than any Siren; when

He’s a Polyphemus, an Antiphates, to his fearful home,

Only happy, if the torturer’s been called, and someone’s

Feeling the hot iron, for a pair of towels; is he teaching

Mildness of spirit; or how to rise above minor errors;

Or that he recognises the minds and bodies of slaves

Are of the same substance, the same elements as ours?

In your naivety do you expect Larga’s daughter not to

Commit adultery, she who couldn’t name her mother’s

Lovers quickly enough, at such speed, that she wouldn’t

Need thirty breaths to do it? She was mother’s accomplice

When a child, now she drafts billet-doux at her dictation,

And sends them via the same sodomites to her own lover.

It’s nature’s law: bad examples at home corrupt us sooner

And more swiftly, because they lodge in our minds with

Greater authority. Some young man or other perhaps may

Resist this influence, if Prometheus has fashioned his heart

With generous skill, forming it from some superior clay,

The rest, long-exposed to the old sinful round, are dragged

Along in their father’s footsteps, on that path to be shunned.

So refrain, lest those born of us should imitate our crimes,

The reality is that all of us can be taught to copy behaviour

That is shameful and perverse; some Catiline will conspire,

In every nation, you’ll find those opposed to freedom under

Every sky, but no Brutus, no Cato, his uncle, to defend it.

Let no foul sights or language touch a father’s threshold.

Keep far off, far away, you girls the pimps supply, those

Songs too sung by the parasite who parties all night long.

A child deserves the utmost respect. So if you’re planning

On something vile, have some regard for his tender years,

And your little son may deter you from doing wrong.

If later on he does something to stir the censor’s wrath,

If he proves himself like you not only in form and looks

But your true son in his behaviour too, sinning more

Profoundly, while following closely in your footsteps,

No doubt you’ll castigate him, attack with bitter words,

And after that choose to make an alteration to your will.

But where’s the justification for such stern parental looks,

Such outspokenness? Despite your age, you’ve done worse,

Your forehead, empty of brains, in need of a cupping glass.

SatXIV:59-106 Think of Your Children’s Well-Being

There’s no rest for your household when a guest’s expected.

‘Sweep the marble floor, rub the columns till they shine,

Brush away that dead spider up there, and all its web;

You, wipe the plain silver, and you, the ornate vases.’

The master’s voice rages, as he stands there holding his rod.

You’re anxious and wretched, lest your friend should arrive

And be offended by the sight of a foul dog-mess in the hall,

Or a portico splashed with mud, though a little slave-boy,

With half a bucket of sawdust, can soon put that to rights,

Yet you make no effort to ensure your son is witness to

A home that’s pure, and without a flaw, beyond reproach!

It’s fine to produce one more citizen for people and country,

So long as he’s an asset to that country, capable of farming,

Capable of achieving something, in peace and war alike.

What matters most are the virtues you instil, the morality

You teach him. The stork feeds its young on lizards and

Snakes, it finds in the wild: and once they acquire wings

The chicks will seek out those same creatures themselves.

The vulture flies to its young bringing pieces of carrion,

Morsels from dead cattle or dogs, or from crucifixions:

So that’s a vulture’s food when full-grown it feeds itself,

When it’s already building its own nest high in some tree.

While the noble eagle that’s Jove’s companion hunts for

Deer and hare in the glades, and carry the prey from there

To its eyrie: and when its offspring too reach maturity

And leave the nest, hunger prompts them to swoop on

The prey they tasted first after breaking free of the egg.

Caetronius loved building, and would raise the roofs of

His villas high along Caieta’s curving shore, or the far

Slopes of Tivoli, or alternatively the hills of Praeneste,

Outdoing the Temples of Fortune and Hercules, with his

Marble transported from Greece or more distant places,

Just as Posides, Claudius’ eunuch, tried to top the Capitol.

With such edifices. In that way, Caetronius shrank his

Assets, frittered away his fortune, and yet there was still

Plenty left. All of that his son too foolishly squandered,

In constructing newer villas, out of even rarer marble.

Then there are those that, blessed with a father who

Reveres the Sabbath, worship only the clouds in the sky

And its spirit, who draw no distinction between the pork

From which their father had to abstain, and human flesh,

And who swiftly rid themselves of even their foreskins.

It’s their custom to ignore the laws of Rome, the Judaic

Code being that which they study, adhere to, and revere;

The Pentateuch, the mystic scroll handed down by Moses:

Nor do they reveal the way to anyone but a fellow-believer;

Leading only the circumcised, when asked, to the fountain.

It’s the father that’s to blame, treating every seventh day

As a day of idleness, separate from the rest of daily life.

SatXIV:107-188 The Avaricious Are The Worst

Our other vices, though, the young imitate by choice, it’s

Avarice that they’re commanded to indulge in regardless.

It’s indeed a deceptive vice, with the form and pretence

Of virtue, with its dour character, severe look and dress.

The avaricious, indeed, are praised as if for their frugality,

Economical people who keep a firmer hold of their wealth

Than if their fortune were guarded by that dragon of the

Hesperides, or the one in Colchis. Added to which, people

Consider that those of whom I speak are famously skilful

In acquisition; those, indeed, who forge larger inheritances

From their ever-glowing furnace, on their assiduous anvils.

Whoever admires wealth, and considers that no one who’s

Poor could ever be happy, will exhort his sons to start out

Along that road, and devote themselves to that same sect.  

There are various elements to the vice: he’ll imbue them

With these from the start, force them to practise every last

Stinginess; soon he’ll teach them insatiable desire for gain.

He’ll punish his slaves’ bellies with inadequate provisions,

And starve himself; indeed he can’t even bring himself to

Consume those last blue-green slices of his mouldy bread;

As early as mid-September he’ll take to storing a portion

Of yesterday’s mincemeat; and in summer he’ll set aside

His beans for another meal, sealed up with a little piece

Of dried mackerel, or half a rotting catfish; and he’ll count

The sections of chopped leek before putting them away.

A beggar from under a bridge would refuse his invitation.

Yet why go through such torment just to heap up wealth,

Show your patent obsession, with such manifest lunacy,

And live the life of the poor, simply in order to die rich?

Meanwhile, with your purse’s swollen mouth bulging,

Your desire for cash will grow as your money grows,

You’ll buy another villa, one rural estate’s not enough;

You’ll love extending the boundary, and the neighbour’s

Cornfield seems bigger and better; you’ll buy it, and the

Vineyards, and the hill-slope pale with its mass of olives.

If the owner won’t accept a single offer you make, well

Then, you’ll drive lean bullocks and starving mules with

Necks weary from the yoke, into his green corn at night,

And they won’t return to their yard till the whole of his

New crop, as if scythed, has filled their empty bellies.

You can scarcely count the number of people who make

Complaints of this kind, how many ravaged fields are sold,

But what of the gossip, and the blaring noise of scandal?

‘Where’s the harm,’ men say, ‘lupin seed for me, rather

Than have the neighbours all around singing my praises,

While I reap a handful of grain from a miniscule estate.’

That will spare you from disease and infirmity I suppose,

You’ll be free of anxiety and care, will you; granted a long

Life, and better luck, from the very moment you acquire

Sole possession of a tract of agricultural land as large as

That ploughed by the Roman people, under King Tatius!

Later yet, when, broken by age, fights with fierce Pyrrhus,

Or the Molossian blades, the veterans of the Punic Wars,

Were granted a bare couple of acres for their many wounds,

None of them thought that return for their blood and toil,

Was less than they deserved, nor the country ungrateful

Or short on loyalty. Those few clods of earth satisfied

The father himself and his crowded cottage, his pregnant

Wife lying there, four children playing about, one child

A slave’s and three of his own; as long as an ample meal,

Large pots of steaming porridge, awaited their big brothers,

When they would return home, from the ditch or furrow.

Nowadays that patch of ground’s insufficient for a garden.

Greed is usually the root of crime: no fault of the human

Mind causes more poison to be mixed, or a more frequent

Rampaging about with a blade than the uncontrolled desire

For extravagant wealth. For the man who wants to be rich,

Wants to be rich now; but what reverence for the law, what

Fear or shame can you expect from a greedy man in a hurry?

‘Rest content with your huts in the hills, lads,’ is what some

Aged sire of the Hercini, Vestini, or Marsi would say long

Ago, ‘Let’s seek bread enough for our table, from the plough:

That’s what our divinities approve of, our gods of the fields,

Through whose power and assistance, after the welcome gift

Of ears of corn, men lost their taste for the fruit of the ancient

Oak. They have no wish to do what is forbidden, who feel no

Shame in wearing great rawhide boots in the frost, or skins

Reversed against the east wind: this new and foreign purple

Cloth, of every kind, is what leads to wickedness and crime.’

SatXIV:189-255 Your Children Will Outdo You

Those were the precepts old men taught the young; but now

Once autumn’s done, the father wakes his slumbering son

In the middle of the night, shouting: ‘Grab your wax tablets,

Boy, scribble, stay awake, prepare your cases, study the civil

Laws of our ancestors, or seek the centurion’s swagger stick,

Make sure, the commander Laelius notes your uncombed head,

Your hairy nostrils, and admires the breadth of your shoulders;

Demolish the huts of the Moors, and the forts of the Brigantes,

So your sixtieth year might bring you the Eagle that makes you

Wealthy; or if you shrink from enduring the long labour of a

Military career, if the sound of cornets and trumpets loosen

Your anxious bowels, buy what you can sell for half again,

And don’t let yourself become fastidious about those goods

That have to be stored on the right bank of the Tiber, or

Think to start drawing a distinction between perfumes

And hides: profit always smells fine whatever its source.

Always remember to keep these words on your lips: fit

For the gods, fit even for Jove himself were he a poet:

“No one will ask how you made it, but make it you must.”’

Here’s what I’d like to say to any father threatening to give

Such advice: ‘Tell me, O mindless fool, who asked you to

Hasten the process? I’ll answer for the pupil bettering his

Teacher. Relax, don’t worry: you’ll be outdone as surely

As Telamon outdid Ajax, or as Achilles exceeded Peleus.

The young need a gentle touch; the evils of adult sinfulness

Have not yet pierced their marrow. Soon enough, when your

Son’s started shaving, taken the razor’s curved edge to his

Beard, he’ll bear false witness, he’ll perjure himself for a

Handful of coins, though clasping the foot of Ceres’ altar.

If his wife, you daughter-in-law, crosses your threshold

With a dowry: it’s fatal: consider her dead and buried.

She’ll be strangled in her sleep! He’ll find a quicker path

To the possessions you seek to acquire on land and sea;

Major crime after all takes little effort. ‘I never taught him

That,’ you’ll say, then, ‘I never told him to behave that way!’

Yet the reason for his wicked thoughts, their source, is you.

For anyone who has taught his children love of vast wealth,

And produced avaricious sons by giving them foolish advice

Has granted them full licence, wholly abandoned the reins

Of the chariot; call it back if you will, there’s no stopping it,

Scorning you in its flight, it leaves the turning posts behind.

No one believes in offending only to the extent permitted:

They’ll allow themselves a great deal more leeway than that.

When you tell your son the man’s a fool, who gives presents

To a friend, or helps a poor relation and sets him on his feet,

You’re teaching him to rob, to cheat, to pursue wealth by

Every form of crime. Your love of cash is as great as the

Heartfelt love of the Decii for their country, or, if Greece

Speaks true, Menoeceus’ devotion to his city of Thebes.

So you’ll see that fire, whose sparks you yourself kindled,

Burning far and wide, and razing everything in its wake.

You’ll be spared no wretchedness. The cub you’ve reared,

A roaring lion in a cage, will destroy its trembling teacher.

His astrologer has read your horoscope, but it’s a bore to

Await the spindle’s slow unwinding: you’ll die before the

Thread is broken. You’re already in the way, thwarting his

Wishes, already your long stag-like old age torments him.

Find that doctor, Archigenes, straight away, and buy one

Of King Mithridates’ antidotes, if you’d still seek to enjoy

Another fig, to cull a few more roses. You’ll need the drug

Fathers, as well as kings, had best swallow before they eat.

SatXIV:256-302 The Risks You Take

It’s a famous show I’m giving, whose equal you’ll not see

On any stage, any platform of our distinguished praetor’s,

Just take a look at how people risk their lives to swell their

Fortunes, for a huge bag of gold in their brass-bound chest,

For the money deposited in Castor’s Temple, under guard,

Ever since Mars the Avenger lost his helmet, and failed to

Keep tight hold of his assets. So forget holiday theatricals,

Cybele’s Ludi Megalenses,  the Cerealia, and the Florialia:

Human affairs are bound to offer us far more entertainment.

What delights the mind more? Bodies hurled through the air,

By some acrobat, who’s an expert in walking the tightrope,

Or you, who haunt the deck of that Cilician ketch you’re

Stuck with, forever tossed by the northerlies and southerlies,

A cheap and desperate trader in smelly sacks, so thrilled to

Import sweet raisin-wine from the shores of Jupiter’s ancient

Crete, along with the wine-jars, his compatriots? Yet he who

Plants his feet on the tightrope with wavering step, garners

Himself a living from that occupation, in order to keep off

The hunger and cold: while you take foolish risks, merely

For a thousand talents and a hundred villas. Look at the sea

And the harbours full of great vessels: most of the human

Race is ocean-bound. Fleets will go wherever the hope of

Profit summons them, not merely crossing from Crete to

Rhodes, but sailing North African waters, leaving Gibraltar

Far behind, hearing the setting sun hiss in the western deeps.

And the great prize for your efforts, having seen the Ocean

Monsters, and the children of the waves, is to return home

Again with a full purse, proud of your swollen bags of loot.

More than one kind of madness hounds men’s minds. Orestes,

Clasping his sister, was terrified by the Furies’ fires and faces,

Ajax attacking a bullock thinks it is Agamemnon bellowing

Or Odysseus. The man who loads his ship to the gunwales

With goods, with only a plank between him and the waves,

May forgo his tunic or cloak, but surely needs a minder,

If the only reason for all that risk and effort, is a pile of

Clipped silver coins, with their legends and tiny portraits.

Clouds lower, the thunder rumbles, still: ‘Cast off,’ he cries,

The owner of that load of grain and pepper just purchased,

‘They’re no threat, the darkened sky, those black streaks of

Cloud; it’s summer lightning.’ Unhappy man, this very night

Perhaps, he’ll go overboard, the timbers shattered, whelmed

And engulfed by the waves, his belt clasped in his left hand

Or teeth. And he for whose dreams all the gold whirled down

By the Tagus, or the Pactolus in its reddened sand, would

Not suffice, must now, a shipwrecked wretch, be satisfied

With a handful of rags to cover his freezing flanks, a few

Scraps of food, and the pennies he can beg as a survivor;

Holding a daub of the wreck, maintaining himself by alms.

SatXIV:303-331 It’s Never Enough

What’s acquired with so much effort is kept safe with even

More care and anxiety: guarding great wealth’s a sad affair.

Licinus, the millionaire, sets out his fire-buckets, commands

His team of slaves to keep watch all night, terrified for his

Amber, and his statues, pillars of Phrygian marble, ivory,

And tortoiseshell plaques. The pot Diogenes, the naked Cynic

Slept in never caught fire; break it, it was still there tomorrow,

Patched with lead, or another shelter would appear. Viewing

That earthenware jar with its inhabitant, Alexander saw how

Much happier the great philosopher was, lacking desires,

Than he who claimed the whole world for his own, fated

To suffer dangers as great as his victories would prove.

If all were wise you’d have no power, Fortune: it is we, we

Who make you a goddess. Yet if you were to ask for my

Advice, I’d tell you what measure of wealth suffices, just

As much as you need to stave off hunger, thirst and cold,

As much as you needed, Epicurus, in your little garden,

As much as Socrates kept in his house, in ancient times;

Nature says nothing different, wisdom nothing different.

Does it seem I’m constraining you to follow only those

Fine examples? Then, add something from our Roman

Tradition, settle for what Otho’s laws ordained as needed,

To join the fourteen rows of knights, or if that still makes

You frown, triple it, and make it twelve thousand in gold.

If by doing that I’ve still not filled your lap, if you want

More, not the riches of Croesus, nor the Persian lands,

Could ever satisfy your desire, nor the wealth of Narcissus,

That freedman to whom Claudius granted all, and whose

Orders he obeyed, in executing his empress, Messalina.

End of Satire XIV