The Satires

Satire V – Patron and Client

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

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Satire V: Patron and Client

SatV:1-24 Payment in Kind

If you’re not yet ashamed of the way you live, if you think

That the highest good is still to live off another’s leavings,

And can suffer the treatment Sarmentus or Gabba, the fool,

Endured at Augustus’s table, where not all men were equal,

Though you swore on oath, I’d still hesitate to trust you.

I know nothing’s nobler than the belly; yet, nonetheless,

If you lack whatever it takes to fill your empty stomach:

Is there no beggar’s pitch vacant? No archway or lesser

Half of a mat somewhere? Are insults for dinner worth it?

Are you as famished as that? Wouldn’t it be more honest

To shiver outside, and gnaw bread left behind by the dogs?

In the first place, understand that being invited to dinner

Will be treated as payment in full for all your past service.

Great friendship’s reward is food: and your lord will enter it

In the accounts, however infrequent the dinner. Each couple

Of months, if he wishes, he’ll invite a neglected client to eat,

So that the third cushion on some unfilled couch isn’t vacant,

‘Let’s get together’ he’ll say. It’s the height of your wishes.

What more could you want? Now Trebius has reason to break

His rest, and take to his heels, anxious lest the whole crowd

Of dawn visitors has already been round to greet the patron,

While the stars are still fading in the sky or even at an hour

When tardy Bootes’ frosty wagon is still wheeling around.

SatV:25-65 Dinner With The Patron – The Drink

And what a dinner! You’ll get wine too dry for cotton-wool

To absorb: you’ll watch the guests turn into wild Corybants.

Brawls break out, but once you’re hit you’ll be hurling cups

Too, and dabbing at your wounds with a reddened napkin,

That’s what happens as the battle rages between the guests

And the crowd of freedmen, with Spanish ware as missiles.

The patron meanwhile sips old wine, bottled when Consuls

Wore their hair long, and gets stewed on a vintage trodden

During the Social Wars, yet denies his dyspeptic friend a drop.

Tomorrow he’ll get himself drunk on something from Setian

Or Alban hills, its name and vineyard erased by time, layers

Of soot coating the ancient jar, a wine that Thrasea Paetus

And Helvidius Priscus used to drink, wearing their garlands

To honour the birth of Cassius, Marcus Brutus, and his brother.

Virro, the patron, himself, drinks from capacious goblets, tiled

With amber, encrusted with beryl. You’re not allowed their gold,

Or, if you are handed one, there’s a servant guarding your place,

Counting the gems, keeping his eye on your sharp fingernails.

Forgive the patron: the splendour of his jasper’s widely praised.

Virro, like many another, transfers from his fingers to the cups

Gemstones that might have decorated the front of the scabbard

Of Aeneas, that youth who Dido loved more than jealous Iarbas.

While you’ll drain a Vatinian cup, its four nozzles like the nose

Of that cobbler of Beneventum for which it was named, cracked

Already, its broken glass due to be traded for sulphur matches.

If the patron’s stomach’s heated by food and wine, then distilled

Water cooler than frost in Thrace is ordered. Just now, was I

Complaining you’ll not be served from the same bottle of wine?

Well, you’ll drink different water too, your cup will be handed

You by some Gaetulian footman, or black bony Moroccan hand,

By one of those folk you’d not like to encounter at midnight

As you’re carried past those tombs on the hilly Via Latina.

The flower of Asia serve the patron, bought for a higher price

Than all the wealth of those warrior kings Tullus and Ancus

Or, to be brief, all the trinkets of the richest rulers of Rome.

That being so, when you’re thirsty, you’ll be required to catch

The eye of your African Ganymede. A boy bought for so many

Thousands hasn’t the time to be mixing drinks for paupers,

His looks and youth justify his scorn. When will he get to you?

When will the server of hot and cold water answer your plea?

Of course he’s annoyed at having to answer to some old client

Who keeps asking for things, reclining there, while he stands.

SatV:66-155 Dinner With The Patron – The Food

The greatest houses are always full of arrogant slaves.

Behold another, grumbling as he offers you scarcely

Breakable bread, lumps of solid crust already mouldy,

That exercise your molars, while thwarting your bite.

While that reserved for the patron is soft snowy-white

Kneaded from finest flour. Remember to stay your hand;

The baking-tray must be granted respect; if you show

Presumption notwithstanding, a slave orders you to stop:

‘Impertinent guest, please address the proper basket,

Have you forgotten which bread’s reserved for you?’

‘Was it for this, then, I left wife and home so often

To go scurrying up the Esquiline’s freezing slope,

While the spring-time skies hurled down savage hail,

In a cloak soaked through by the endless cloudbursts?’

Look at the size of that lobster they bring the patron,

How it adorns the dish, how it’s hedged all round

By asparagus, how it’s tail scorns the diners, on entry,

Carried along, on high, in the hands of a tall attendant.

While you’re served crayfish cupped by half an egg,

A morsel only fit for a funeral, on a miniscule plate.

The patron dips his seafood in Venafran olive oil, but the

Sallow cabbage they offer to poor you stinks of the lamp.

The oil provided for all your dishes is brought upstream

In one of those beak-nosed craft, of Numidian reeds,

Which is why the Romans won’t bathe with Africans,

Since their oil protects them from the black snakes too.

That mullet the patron eats comes from Corsica or from

The cliffs below Taormina, since our waters are already

Quite fished-out, totally exhausted by raging gluttony;

The market-makers so continually raking the shallows

With their nets, that the fry are never allowed to mature.

So the provinces stock our kitchens, they’re the source

Of what Laenas the legacy-hunter buys, and Aemilia sells.

Virro, our patron’s served with a lamprey, the largest

Out of Messina’s straits; for when the south-wind rests

And squats there in his cave, drying his dripping wings,

The nets defy Charybdis, the whirlpool, with temerity.

But what awaits you is an eel, the stringy snake’s relative,

Or a fish from the Tiber, covered with grey-green blotches,

Slave of its shores like you, fed from the flowing sewer,

And a denizen of that drain beneath the heart of Subura.

I’d like a word with the patron, if only he’d lend a willing ear.

No one expects those gifts any more Seneca used to send

To his humble friends, that good Piso or Cotta Maximus

Would dispense, for the honour of giving was once prized

More highly than the symbols and titles of public office:

All we ask is that you treat us courteously. Do that and be

As lavish with yourself as others, stingy with your friends.

A huge goose-liver is set before the patron, a fat fowl

As big as a goose, and a frothing boar worthy of blond

Meleager’s spear. After that he’ll eat truffles, if it’s spring,

When hoped-for thunderstorms swell them and the menu.

‘You can keep your corn,’ Alledius says, ‘Libya, unyoke

Your team, just as long as you keep sending these truffles.’

Meanwhile, not to spare your indignation, you can watch

The carver flourish his knife, and dance about, and mime,

While he acts out every one of his master’s instructions.

And, no doubt, it’s a matter of no little importance

To carve the hare or chicken with appropriate gestures.

If you’re ever tempted to open your mouth, as if owning

To a free man’s first, last and middle name, you’ll be hauled

Out feet first, and ejected, as Cacus was handled by Hercules.

Why should Virro accept a cup tainted by your lips, to drink

Your health? Who’s so mad or reckless he’ll call out

‘Cheers!’ to a patron? There’s many a thing a man won’t

Dare to say, while he’s wearing a coat that’s full of holes.

But if some god, or godlike figure, kinder than fate, gave you

Four thousand in gold, a knight’s fortune, how swiftly then

You’d turn from a nobody into one of Virro’s dear friends!

‘Serve Trebius, give Trebius some! Would you like a little

Of this loin, brother?’ Oh, Mammon, the honour’s yours,

It’s you who are his brother. And if you want to be a lord

Or an overlord, don’t cherish a little Aeneas playing about

Your hall, or a little daughter even dearer to you than him.

A barren wife will render you a nearer and sweeter friend.

Yet nowadays it’s fine if your Mycale gives birth, and spills

Three sons at a time into their father’s lap, your patron will

Delight in your noisy nest. He’ll provide a chariot-team

Jersey, in green; the neatest of nuts; and pennies if asked,

Whenever your infant parasite approaches him at dinner.

Lowly friends are served dubious fungi, while the master

Eats mushrooms, though of the type Claudius ate before

The kind his wife served, after which he ate nothing more.

Virro will call for apples for himself and the other Virros,

Apples whose scent is a meal on its own, the kind of fruit

That the perpetual autumn of Homer’s Phaeacia produced,

Stolen you might think from the Hesperides’ golden bough:

Your treat’s a scabby apple, like one gnawed by that creature,

That monkey on the Embankment, in helm and shield, that fear

Of the whip taught how to hurl spears, from a hairy goat’s back.

SatV:156-173 What Humiliation!

Perhaps you think Virro’s intent on saving money. No,

He does it to grieve you; for what comedy, what mime

Is better than a groaning stomach? So his whole aim,

If you’d know, is to see you vent your anger in tears,

And make sure you’ll never stop gnashing your teeth.

You see yourself as a free man, as your lord’s guest:

While he thinks you’re enslaved by the smell of food;

And he’s not wrong; for what free-born child that’s worn

The gold Etruscan amulet, or the pauper’s knotted thong,

Could be so nakedly desperate as to endure him twice,

Unless the hope of dining well ensnared them. ‘Behold,

Now he sends us half-eaten hare, or a bit of boar-haunch,

Now a puny bird’s on the way.’ So you all wait in silence,

Clasping your untouched bread. Oh, he understands it all,

He who treats you like this. If you’ll suffer it, then you

Deserve it too. Soon, you’ll be offering your head to be

Slapped and shaved, and you won’t be afraid to endure

The whip: that’s the dinner and friend you’re worthy of!

End of Satire V