Satire IV – Mock-Epic
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved
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- Satire IV: Mock Epic
- SatIV:1-33 Crispinus and the Mullet
- SatIV:34-71 The Enormous Turbot
- SatIV:72-129 The Summoning of the Council
- SatIV:130-154 The Council’s Advice
Satire IV: Mock Epic
SatIV:1-33 Crispinus and the Mullet
Behold, Crispinus again! He’s someone I’ll often call on
To play a part, a monster without one redeeming virtue
To offset his faults, a weakling, strong only in lechery,
An adulterer, who rejects none but unmarried women.
What matter how extensive the porticoes are where he
Wears out his mules; how vast the groves where he’s borne
Beneath the shade; how many acres of palace he’s bought
Near the Forum? No miscreant’s happy, least of all a sinful
Seducer, who recently slept with a priestess in a headband;
And she now destined to be punished, by being buried alive.
So, on to his lighter sins: all the same, if another had done
The deed, he’d be convicted by the Censor, for lax morals,
For what’s normal in a Crispinus is criminal in another,
In a Titius or Seius. What can you do when the man himself
Is more dreadful and dire than any accusation you can bring?
He bought a red mullet, matched its weight in gold pieces,
Sixty, in fact, as those assert who’d make the gross, grosser.
I might praise his cunning plan, if with a gift so rare he stole
First place in the sealed will of some fond childless old man;
Or better still, sent it along to some high-ranking mistress,
Who rides along in that closed litter with the wide windows.
No way! It was for himself! Oh, we witness many things now,
The poor, miserly gourmet, Apicius, failed to enact. Did you,
Crispinus, clad in your native Egyptian papyrus dress, pay
As much, then, for fish-scales? Likely the fisherman could
Have been bought for less than the fish; land’s cheap too
In the provinces but fetches a whole lot more in Apulia.
Imagine what kind of feasts the Emperor himself guzzled
In those days, if so many silver coins, a tiny fraction,
A side-dish from a moderate repast, were belched forth
By a purple-clad clown attached to the Great Palace,
Now a great leader of horsemen, who used to shout
His wares, dealing in fellow catfish from a rotten haul!
SatIV:34-71 The Enormous Turbot
Begin, Muse. And Calliope, you may be seated: this is no
Recitation, the truth’s our theme. Come, girls of Pieria, tell
Your story, and may my terming you girls do me some good.
In the days when Rome was that bald Nero, Domitian’s slave,
When that last of the Flavians was mangling a dying world,
A marvellous hulk of an Adriatic turbot came to light,
Below the Temple of Venus that graces Doric Ancona,
Filled the net, and stuck fast, no smaller than those fish
The Sea of Azov hides, that when the sun melts the ice
At last, find their way down to the Black Sea straits,
Bloated from long idleness and from the enduring cold.
The monster was marked down by the controller of boats
And nets, for his High Priest, the Emperor. After all,
Who’d dare sell or buy such a thing when even the beaches
Were covered with spies? Like a shot, the inspectors of seaweed
Everywhere, would tackle a naked oarsmen, and claim
That the fish was, without shadow of doubt, a fugitive
That had swum for long ages in Caesar’s fishpond, and as
A prisoner on the run, must return to its former master.
If we’re to believe Palfurius, or heed what Armillatus says,
Whatever is rare and particularly fine in the whole ocean
Belongs to the treasury, wherever it swims. Donated thus,
It can’t go to waste. Now with fading autumn giving way
To frost, now with invalids prone to less frequent fevers,
Foul winter’s keen weather served to keep the catch fresh;
Nonetheless, the fisherman hurried, urged by the wintry wind.
When the lake lay below, where ruined Alba tends the Trojan
Flame and worships at the shrine of the lesser Vesta,
A wondering crowd obstructed his entrance for a time.
When they yielded, the gates swung open on oiled hinges;
The senators, excluded, watched the fish enter and travel,
Straight to Agamemnon, where, the fisherman from Picenum
Said: ‘Accept a gift too large for a private kitchen. Make this
A holiday. Hasten to fill your stomach with this rich food,
Consume this turbot preserved for your glorious reign.
It longed to be caught, itself.’ What flattery! All the same
The cock’s crest rose. There’s nothing the powerful
Won’t believe of themselves, when praised to the skies.
SatIV:72-129 The Summoning of the Council
Yet a dish was lacking large enough for the fish. So
The nobles, the Emperor hated, were summoned to a council,
Displaying in their faces the pallor of that vast and terrible
Friendship. The first to snatch up his cloak and hasten there,
As the Liburnian slave was calling: ‘Hurry, he’s seated now’
Was Plotius Pegasus, slave – what else were prefects then,
After all? – appointed to oversee a startled Rome, the best,
Most incorruptible, of jurists, one who thought that however
Dreadful the times, justice should be weighed without violence.
The aged and amiable Quintus Crispus was there as well,
A gentle soul, with a character to match his eloquence.
How much more useful a courtier he’d have been to that king
Of nations, lands and seas, if only he’d been allowed, while
Serving that ruinous plague, to condemn cruelty and offer
Honourable advice! But what’s more deaf than the ear of a
Tyrant? On his whim hangs the fate of a friend, who simply
Wants to speak of rain, heat, or the poor spring weather.
Thus, Crispus never extended his arms against the flood,
Not being the kind of citizen to dare to offer his thoughts
Freely, nor one to put his life at risk for the sake of truth.
That’s how he managed eighty summers and as many
Winters, protected by such armour even in that court.
Hurrying along with him came his peer, Acilius Aviola,
With a young son, Glabrio, whom a cruel death awaited,
So swiftly dealt by the master’s sword; though it’s long
Been a miracle to survive to old age among the nobility,
Which is why I prefer to remain a nobody on this earth.
It only brought that youth misery to appear as a naked
Hunter in the Alban arena, tackling bears at close quarters.
Who, after all, isn’t wise to aristocratic arts these days?
Who’d be amazed at your pretences now Lucius Brutus?
It was easier in those days to impose on a bearded king.
No less in appearance, despite his humble background
Came Rubrius Gallus, guilty of an old unmentionable
Offence, yet more perverse than a pathic scribbling satire.
Montanus’s belly was present too, with weighty paunch;
And Crispinus drenched in that morning’s perfume,
Scarcely less odorous than a funeral cortege or two; more
Ruthless still, Pompeius, men killed at his slightest whisper;
Fuscus whose guts Dacia’s vultures were destined to enjoy,
And who meditated battles in his marble villa; prudent Veiiento,
In company with the deadly Lucius Catullus Messalinus,
Inflamed with passion for a girl he had never seen,
He’d be a great and notable monster even in our day,
A blind sycophant, and a terrifying hired accomplice,
Worthy to be one of those beggars blowing obsequious
Kisses at the wheels of your carriage on the hill at Aricia.
None was more impressed with the turbot; for he made
A long speech to his left, though the fish was on his right,
Which is how he used to praise the Cilician fist fights,
And the wires that whisk lads high up above the stage.
Veiiento not to be outdone, like your fanatics, Bellona,
Goaded to ritual frenzy, prophesied: ‘Here is the mighty
Omen of a magnificent and glorious triumph to come.
You’ll net a king, or Arvigarus will fall from his British
Chariot.’ ‘This fish is a new species: do you see the spikes
Bristling from its spine?’ The only thing Fabricius failed
To mention was the turbot’s place of birth, and its age.
SatIV:130-154 The Council’s Advice
‘So what do you recommend? Should we chop it in half?’
‘Spare it such outrage’ cried Montanus, ‘have a deep dish
Made, thin-sided, but large enough for its vast dimensions.
We need a prompt and mighty potter, like Prometheus.
Ready the wheel and the clay swiftly, and from this time
Forth, let there be potters, Caesar, among your servants.’
The proposal, worthy of the man, won the day. He’d known
The excesses of the old Imperium, and Nero’s late hours,
The famished feeling at midnight, when Falernian wine
Gives heartburn. No one today has greater knowledge where
Food’s concerned: at first bite he could tell if the oysters
Came from Circeii, the Lucrine Lake, or the Kentish Coast
By Richborough, or at a glance, a sea-urchin’s native shore.
They rose, the council over, the nobles ordered to leave,
Whom the great leader had called to his Alban fortress,
Forced to hasten there, gathered together in surprise,
As though he’d news of the Chatti or fierce Sygambri,
As though a disturbing letter had arrived on frantic wings,
Sent swiftly from some far-distant region of the world.
Oh, if only he’d chosen to devote the whole of that age, given
To savagery, to such trivia, instead of depriving Rome of great
And illustrious spirits, with impunity, and none to take revenge!
Yet he perished as soon as the working man began to fear him:
It did for him, to be drenched in the Lamia family’s blood.
End of Satire IV