The Satires

Satire III – Fleeing Rome

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

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Satire III: Fleeing Rome

SatIII:1-20 It’s Enough to Drive Old Friends Away

Though I’m disturbed by an old friend’s departure, still

I approve his decision to set up home in vacant Cumae

And devote at least one more citizen to the Sibyl.

It’s the gateway to Baiae, a beautiful coast, sweetly

Secluded. I prefer Prochyta’s isle to the noisy Subura.

After all, is there anywhere that’s so wretched and lonely

You wouldn’t rather be there than in constant danger of fire,

Of collapsing buildings, and all of the thousand perils

Of barbarous Rome, with poets reciting all during August!

Now, while his whole house was being loaded onto a cart,

He lingered there by the ancient arch of sodden Capena.

We walked down to Egeria’s vale with its synthetic grottos.

How much more effective the fountain’s power would be,

If its waters were enclosed by a margin of verdant grass,

And if marble had never desecrated the native tufa.

Here, where Numa established his night-time girlfriend,

The grove and shrine of the sacred fount are rented out

To the Jews, who’re equipped with straw-lined baskets;

Since the grove has been ordered to pay the nation rent,

The Muses have been ejected, and the trees go begging.

SatIII:21-57 The Dishonest and Dishonourable

Here it was that Umbricius spoke: ‘There’s no joy in Rome

For honest ability, and no reward any more for hard work.

My means today are less than yesterday, and tomorrow

Will wear away a bit more, that’s why I’m resolved

To head for Cumae, where weary Daedalus doffed his wings.

While my white-hairs are new, while old age stands upright,

While Lachesis has thread left to spin, and I can still walk,

On my own two feet, without needing a staff in my hand,

I’ll leave the ancestral land. Let Arturius, let Catulus live

In Rome. Let the men who turn black into white remain,

Who find it easy to garner contracts for temples, and rivers,

Harbours, draining sewers, and carrying corpses to the pyre,

Who offer themselves for sale according to auctioneers’ rules.

Those erstwhile players of horns, those perpetual friends

Of public arenas, noted through all the towns for their

Rounded cheeks, now mount shows themselves, and kill

To please when the mob demand it with down-turned thumbs;

Then it’s back to deals for urinals, why not the whole works?

Since they’re the ones Fortune raises up to the highest sphere

Out of the lowest gutter, whenever she fancies a laugh.

What’s left for me in Rome? I can’t tell lies, I can’t praise

A book that’s bad, beg a copy; I’ve no notion of the motion

Of stars; I can’t and I won’t prophesy someone’s father’s

Death; I’ve never guessed a thing from the entrails of frogs;

Carrying to some adulterous wife whatever her lover sends,

Whatever his message, others know how to do; I’d never

Help out a thief; and that’s why I’m never one of the boys,

More like a cripple, with useless body and paralysed hand.

Who is esteemed now unless he’s someone’s accomplice,

His mind seething with things that should never be told.

There’s nothing they think they owe, they’ll give nothing,

To a person who’s only their partner in harmless secrets. 

Verrus only cares for those who can make a case against

Verrus whenever they wish. May the sand of Tagus mean

Less to you, with all its gold that is washed down to the sea,

Than lost sleep, and the sadness of taking regular bribes,

And thus being forever afraid of some powerful friend.

SatIII:58-125 And What About all Those Greeks?

That race most acceptable now to our wealthy Romans,

That race I principally wish to flee, I’ll swiftly reveal,

And without embarrassment. My friends, I can’t stand

A Rome full of Greeks, yet few of the dregs are Greek!

For the Syrian Orontes has long since polluted the Tiber,

Bringing its language and customs, pipes and harp-strings,

And even their native timbrels are dragged along too,

And the girls forced to offer themselves in the Circus.

Go there, if your taste’s a barbarous whore in a painted veil.

See, Romulus, those rustics of yours wearing Greek slippers,

Greek ointments, Greek prize medallions round their necks.

He’s from the heights of Sicyon, and he’s from Amydon,

From Andros, Samos, they come, from Tralles or Alabanda,

Seeking the Esquiline and the Viminal, named from its willows.

To become both the innards and masters of our great houses.

Quick witted, of shamelessly audacity, ready of speech, more

Lip than Isaeus, the rhetorician. Just say what you want them

To be. They’ll bring you, in one person, whatever you need:

The teacher of languages, orator, painter, geometer, trainer,

Augur, rope-dancer, physician, magician, they know it all,

Your hungry Greeks: tell them to buzz off to heaven, they’ll go.

That’s why it was no Moroccan, Sarmatian,  or man from Thrace

Who donned wings, but one Daedalus, born in the heart of Athens.

Should I not flee these people in purple? Should I watch them sign

Ahead of me, then, and recline to eat on a better couch than mine,

Men propelled to Rome by the wind, with the plums and the figs?

Is it nothing that in my childhood I breathed the Aventine air,

Is it nothing that in my youth I was nurtured on Sabine olives?

And aren’t they the people most adept at flattery, praising

The illiterate speech of a friend, praising his ugly face,

Likening a weak, scrawny neck to that of brave Hercules,

When he lifted the massive Antaeus high above earth,

And lost in their admiration for a voice as high-pitched

As the cockerel when he pecks at his hen as they mate?

We too can offer praise in just the same way: but they

Are the ones believed. What comic actor’s better at playing

Thais, the whore, or the wife, or Doris, the slave-girl, out

Without her cloak? It’s as if a woman were speaking not

Merely a mask: you’d think all was smooth and lacking

Below the belly, and only split there by a slender crack.

Yet our comic turn, Antiochus, would be no great wonder

In Greece, Demetrius, Stratocles, or effeminate Haemus:

They’re a nation of comics. Laugh, and they’ll be shaken

With fits of laughter. They weep, without grief, if they see

A friend in tears; if you pine for a little warmth in the winter

They don a cloak; if you remark “it’s hot” they’ll start to sweat.

So we’re unequal: they’ve a head start who always, day or night,

Can adopt the expression they see on someone’s face,

Who’re always ready to throw up their hands and cheer

If their ‘friend’ belches deeply, or perhaps pisses straight,

Or gives a fart when the golden bowl’s turned upside down.

Besides, nothing’s sacred to them or safe from their cocks

Not the lady of the house, or the virgin daughter, not

Even her smooth-faced fiancé, or the unbroken son.

Failing that, they’ll have the friend’s grandma on her back.

They like to own the secrets of the house, and so be feared.

And since I’m mentioning the Greeks, then let’s pass on

From their gymnastics to a crime of a darker colour. Celer,

The old Stoic turned informer, brought about Barea’s death,

His friend and pupil; Celer, of Tarsus, raised by the Cydnus,

Where a feather from Pegasus, the Gorgon’s child, landed.   

There’s no room here for the Romans; it’s some Greek;

Protogenes, or Diphilus, or Hermachus who reigns here,

Who never shares a friend, since that’s their race’s defect,

But monopolises him alone. For once they’ve dripped a drop

Of their country’s native poison in a ready ear, I’m driven

From the threshold, and my long years of slavery are lost.

Nowhere is the casting off of a client more casually done.

SatIII:126-163 Better Not Be Poor Here

Then, not to flatter ourselves, what office or service is left

For a poor man here, even if he dons his toga and dashes

About in the dark, given the praetor’s hurrying his lictor

Already, to run on with a morning greeting to rich Albina,

Or childless, sleepless Modia, lest his colleague’s there first?

Here, a freeborn son is detailed to escort a rich man’s slave:

The latter can hand out gifts, worth as much as a military

Tribune earns, to aristocratic Calvina or Catiena, just

To writhe around on top of her once or twice; while you

In love with the look of Chione’s finery, halt in your tracks

Hesitant about helping a whore descend from her high horse.

Find me a knight in Rome as holy as Nasica, who escorted

The image of Cybele, let Numa advance, or Caecilius Metellus,

Who rescued Minerva’s fire-threatened statue, from Vesta’s temple:

His character would be the very last thing discussed: money first.

“How many slaves does he own? How many acres of farmland?

How extravagant are his banquets, how many courses served?”

The number of coins a man keeps in his treasure chest, that’s

All the credit he earns. Swear your oath on the altars of Rome

Or Samothrace, they’ll maintain, as you’re poor, you’ll just flout

The divine lightning bolt, with the gods themselves acquiescing.

And what of the fact that the same poor beggar provides them all

With matter and cause for amusement, if his cloak’s dirty and torn,

If his toga is weathered and stained, one shoe gaping open where

The leather has split, or when there’s more than one patch showing

Where a rent has been stitched, displaying the coarse new thread?

There’s nothing harder to bear about poverty’s wretchedness

Than how it leaves you open to ridicule. “Off you go” they’ll say,

“If you’ve any shame: don’t dare sit here on a knight’s cushion,

If you’ve insufficient wealth under the law”, but they’ll sit there

All those sons of pimps, born in some vile brothel or other,

Here the auctioneer’s slick son can sit to applaud the show,

Beside the well-dressed lads of the gladiators and trainers.’

That’s how that fool Otho was pleased to dispose of us all.

What prospective son-in-law can pass the test, here, if his wealth

Is less, or his luggage worse than the girl’s? What pauper inherits?

When do aediles vote them onto the council? The indigent citizens

Should all have assembled, long ago, and migrated from the City.

SatIII:164-189 It’s Hard to Climb the Ladder

It’s hard to climb the ladder when constricted private resources

Block your talents, but at Rome the effort is greater still:

They’re expensive, wretched lodgings; expensive, the bellies

Of slaves; and a meagre supper is just as expensive too.

You’re ashamed to dine off earthenware plates, though you

Would feel no disgust if suddenly spirited off to a Sabellan

Or Marsian table, content in a poor man’s coarse, blue hood.

To tell you the truth, in most of Italy, no one wears a toga

Unless they’re dead. Even on days of major festival when

The traditional farce returns once more to the wooden stage,

When the rustic infant cowers in its mother’s lap, at sight

Of a white gaping mask, even then you’ll see everyone,

There, still dressed the same, those in the senatorial seats

And those elsewhere. White tunics are quite sufficient for

The highest aediles, as a garb to adorn their glorious office.

Here our smart clothes are beyond our means, here at Rome

A little bit extra has to be borrowed from someone’s purse.

It’s a common fault; here we all live in pretentious poverty,

What more can I say? Everything in Rome comes at a price.

What do you not pay so you can say: “Good morning, Cossus”,

So Veiento will condescend to give you a tight-lipped glance?

This slave’s beard is clipped, that one’s lock of hair’s dedicated;

The house is full of celebratory cakes you’ve paid for: take one

And keep your frustration to yourself. Clients are forced to pay

Such tribute-money, and supplement the savings of sleek slaves.

SatIII:190-231 The Very Houses are Unsafe

Who fears, or ever feared, that their house might collapse,

In cool Praeneste, or in Volsinii among the wooded hills,

Or at unpretentious Gabii, or the sloping hills of Tibur?

We inhabit a Rome held up for the most part by slender

Props; since that’s the way management stop the buildings

Falling down; once they’ve covered some ancient yawning

Crack, they’ll tell us to sleep soundly at the edge of ruin.

The place to live is far from all these fires, and all these

Panics in the night. Ucalegon is already summoning a hose,

Moving his things, and your third floor’s already smoking:

You’re unaware; since if the alarm was raised downstairs,

The last to burn will be the one a bare tile protects from

The rain, up there where gentle doves coo over their eggs.

Cordus had a bed, too small for Procula, and six little jugs

Of earthenware to adorn his sideboard and, underneath it,

A little Chiron, a Centaur made of that very same ‘marble’

And a box somewhat aged now, to hold his Greek library,

So the barbarous mice gnawed away at immortal verse.

Cordus had nothing, who could demur? Yet, poor man,

He lost the whole of that nothing. And the ultimate peak

Of his misery, is that naked and begging for scraps, no one

Will give him a crust, or a hand, or a roof over his head.

If Assaracus’s great mansion is lost, his mother’s in mourning,

The nobles wear black, and the praetor adjourns his hearing.

Then we bewail the state of Rome, then we despair of its fires.

While it’s still burning, they’re rushing to offer marble, already,

Collect donations; one man contributes nude gleaming statues,

Another Euphranor’s master-works, or bronzes by Polyclitus,

Or antique ornaments that once belonged to some Asian god,

Here books and bookcases, a Minerva to set in their midst,

There a heap of silver. Persicus, wealthiest of the childless,

Is there to replace what’s lost with more, and better things.

He’s suspected, and rightly so, of setting fire to his house.

If you could tear yourself from the Games, you could buy

A most excellent place, at Sora, at Fabrateria or Frusino,

For the annual rent you pay now, for a tenement in Rome.

There you’d have a garden, and a well not deep enough

To demand a rope, so easy watering of your tender plants.

Live as a lover of the hoe, and the master of a vegetable bed,

From which a hundred vegetarian Pythagoreans could be fed.

You’d be somebody, whatever the place, however remote,

If only because you’d be the master of a solitary lizard.

SatIII:232-267 And Then There’s the Traffic

Many an invalid dies from insomnia here, though the illness

Itself is caused by partially digested food, that clings tight

To the fevered stomach; for, where can you lodge and enjoy

A good night’s sleep? You have to be filthy rich to find rest

In Rome. That’s the source of our sickness. The endless traffic

In narrow twisting streets, and the swearing at stranded cattle,

Would deprive a Claudius of sleep, or the seals on the shore.

When duty calls, the crowd gives way as the rich man’s litter,

Rushes by, right in their faces, like some vast Liburnian galley,

While he reads, writes, sleeps inside, while sped on his way:

You know how a chair with shut windows makes you drowsy!

Yet, he gets there first: as I hasten, the tide ahead obstructs me,

And the huge massed ranks that follow behind crush my kidneys;

This man sticks out his elbow, that one flails with a solid pole,

This man strikes my head with a beam, that one with a barrel.

Legs caked with mud, I’m forever trampled by mighty feet

From every side, while a soldier’s hobnailed boot pierces my toe.

Do you see all the smoke that rises, to celebrate a hand-out?

There’s a hundred diners each followed by his portable kitchen.

Corbulo, that huge general, could scarce carry all those vast pots,

With all the rest that the poor little slave transports, on his head.

Fanning the oven, he runs along, his body held perfectly upright.

Recently-mended tunics are ripped, while a long fir log judders

As it looms near, while another cart’s bearing a whole pine-tree.

They teeter threateningly over the heads of those people below.

Now, if that axle breaks under the weight of Ligurian marble,

And spills an upturned mountain on top of the dense crowd,

What will be left of the bodies? What limbs, what bones will

Survive? Every man’s corpse wholly crushed will vanish along

With his soul. Meanwhile his household, oblivious, are scouring

The dishes; are puffing their cheeks at the embers; are clattering

The oily back-scrapers; by full oil-flasks, arranging the towels.

The slave-boys bustle about on various tasks, while their master,

Is now a newcomer on the banks of the Styx, shuddering there

At the hideous ferryman, without hope, poor wretch, of a ride

Over the muddy river, and no coin in his mouth for the fare.

SatIII:268-314 And The Violence

And now let’s consider all the other varied dangers, at night:

What a long way it is for a tile from the highest roof to fall

On your head; how often a cracked and leaky pot plunges down

From a sill; what a crash when they strike the pavement, chipping

And cracking the stones. If you go out to dinner without making

A will, you’re thought of as simply careless, dismissive of those

Tragic events that occur: there are as many opportunities to die,

As there are open windows watching you, when you go by, at night.

So I’d make a wretched wish and a prayer, as you go, that they’ll 

Rest content with simply emptying their brimming pots over you.

The impudent drunk’s annoyed if by chance there’s no one at all

To set upon, spending the whole night grieving, like Achilles for

His friend, lying now on his face, and then, turning onto his back:

Since it’s the only way he can tire himself; it takes a brawl or two

To send him to sleep. But however worked up he is, fired by youth

And neat wine, he steers clear of him in the scarlet cloak, who issues

A warning as he goes on his way, with his long retinue of attendants,

And plenty of torches besides and lamps of bronze. Yet despises me,

As I pass by, by the light of the moon, as usual, or the flickering light

Of a candle, whose wick I take great care off, and cautiously regulate.

Take note of the setting awaiting a wretched fight, if you call it a fight

Where one of us lashes out, and the other one, me, takes a beating.

He stands up, and he tells me to stop. I’ve no choice but to obey;

What can you do, when a madman is giving the orders, who’s stronger  

Than you as well? “Where’ve you been?” he shouts, “Whose sour wine

And beans have you been downing? Which shoemaker’s were you at,

Filling your  face with boiled sheep’s head, gorging it on fresh leeks?

Nothing to say? You’d better speak up fast, or get a good kicking!

Tell me where you’re staying: what far field are you praying in?”

If you try to say something, or try to retreat in silence, it’s all the same:

He’ll give you a thumping regardless, and then still full of anger, say

He’s suing you for assault. This is the freedom accorded to the poor:

When they’re beaten, knocked down by fists, they can beg and plead

To be allowed to make their way home afterwards with a few teeth left.

And that’s not all we need to fear; there’ll be no shortage of thieves

To rob you, when the houses are all locked up, when all the shutters

In front of the shops have been chained and fastened, everywhere silent.

And, ever so often, there’s a vagabond with a sudden knife at work:

Whenever the Pontine Marsh, or the Gallinarian Forest and its pines,

Are temporarily rendered safe by an armed patrol, the rogues skip

From there to here, heading for Rome as if to a game preserve.

Where is the furnace or anvil not employed for fashioning chains?

The bulk of our iron is turned into fetters; you should worry about

An imminent shortage of ploughshares, a lack of mattocks and hoes.

You might call our distant ancestors fortunate, fortunate those ages

Long ago, when lives were lived under the rule of kings and tribunes,

Those generations, that witnessed a Rome where a single prison sufficed.

SatIII:315-322 So Farewell!

I could add a host of other reasons to these, but the beasts of burden

Are braying, the sun is setting. It’s time for me to leave; the muleteer

Has been waving his whip, to signal he’s been ready to go for a while.

So farewell, keep me in your memory, and whenever Rome sends

You hastening back, for a rest in the country, to your own Aquinum,

Invite me from Cumae too, to visit the Ceres of Helvius, and your

Diana. I’ll come in my nail-shod boots, I’ll come and visit your chilly

Fields, and, if they’re not totally shameful, I’ll listen to your Satires.’

End of Satire III