The Satires

Satire XVI (Incomplete Text) – The Military life

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

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Satire XVI: The Military Life

SatXV1:1-60 The Advantages Of The Military Life

Who could list all the rewards of a fruitful military career,

Gallius? There’s no more desirable gift the gods can grant

Than to join a successful unit, one blessed with good luck.

I wouldn’t mind being a nervous recruit at that camp gate,

Under its auspicious stars. The hour of benign fate, after

All, is even more powerful than a recommendation to Mars

From Venus, or Juno, his mother, whom Samos delights.

Let me first deal with the benefits enjoyed by all soldiers,

Not the least being that no civilian will dare to assault you,

Rather if he’s beaten himself, he’ll give out that he wasn’t,

Reluctant to show the praetor his missing teeth, the lumps

On his face, the black swollen bruises, and the eye he has

Still retained, although the doctor’s making no promises.

If he seeks redress for it, he’ll get a hobnailed boot for a

Judge, and swollen calf-muscles lining the wide bench,

Since the old military law, the rules of Camillus, are

Still in force, and soldiers can’t attend court outside the

Camp, away from the standard. ‘A centurion’s military

Enquiry is totally fair,’ you’ll say ‘and I shall have my

Revenge, if, as in my case, it’s a well- proven complaint.’

But the entire division is hostile, and all the units will act

As one to ensure your redress is troublesome, and worse  

Than the injury incurred. It would be worthy, therefore,

Of Vagellius’ the blusterer’s mulish mind, for your two

Legs alone to offend all those heavy boots, with their

Thousands of nails. Besides who would accompany you

So far from the city, who’d be your Pylades and venture

Beyond the massive Embankment? Let your tears cease,

And don’t bother friends who’ll only make their excuses.

When the judge says ‘Call the witness!’ if the man who

Saw the assault has the nerve to say, ‘I saw it,’ he’ll be

Worthy of the long hair and beard of one of our honest

Ancestors. It’s easier to find a false witness against a

Civilian than one who’ll tell a truth that reflects badly

On a military man’s honour, and his superior status.

Now let’s note the other rewards and benefits of taking

The military oath. Imagine some devious neighbour has

Stolen a valley, some tract of land from my family estate,

Rooting out the sacred stone at the heart of the boundary,

That I honour, at the Terminalia, with cakes and polenta,

Or that a debtor continually refuses to repay me a loan,

Claiming his signature’s forged, my document worthless,

Then I’m forced to wait for the sessions, when the whole

World files its suits; and then accept a thousand delays

And frustrations. Often, though we’re all ready, we have

To disperse, because the benches aren’t there, eloquent

Caedicius is still in his cloak, Fuscus is passing water,

That’s how we fight each other in the Forum’s soft sand.

But those who wear armour, and hang a sword by their

Side, have the hours of their hearings adjusted to suit,

Their money not wasted on some never-ending case.

Plus, it’s only soldiers who’ve the right to cash earned

While their fathers still live, For it’s held that wealth

Acquired in the service should not form part of that

Which the father wholly controls. So Coranus who

Follows the standard, and garners a soldier’s pay,

Is courted by his own doddering parent. The son is

Duly promoted, and earns the reward for his efforts.

To the general no doubt it seems crucial that a brave

Man, should also be rendered the most successful,

That those who delight in medals and decorations…

End of Satire XVI (Incomplete Text)