The Satires

Satire VII – Patronage

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.


Satire VII: Patronage

SatVII:1-52 It’s The Emperor Or Nothing

The hopes, the whole business of letters depend on Caesar;

He’s the only one who cares for the sad Muses, these days,

When even famous and notable poets have begun applying

For a lease on a bathhouse at Gabii, or a bakery in Rome;

When others no longer think it vile or shameful to act as public

Criers, when Clio, the Muse, from starvation quits the valleys

Of Helicon, Aganippe’s spring, and flees to the market-place.

Because if you’re offered never a farthing in the Pierian grove,

You’re better off stealing Machaera’s name and profession,

Selling the crowd whatever’s at stake in the auctions’ tussles;

Wine jars, three-legged tables, bookcases, trunks, those books,

Paccius’s tragedy of Alcathoe, Faustus’s Thebes and Tereus.

After all, it’s better than being a paid witness, telling the judge

‘I saw it’ when you didn’t; leave that to the knights of Asia,

The ones betrayed by a slave’s fetter-mark, on a bare ankle.

Now, however, no one needs to submit to labour unworthy

Of their writings; no one, who weaves melodious measures

In an Eloquent voice; no one, who ever chewed on laurel.

To work, O young men! Our Leader views all with indulgence,

He’s urging you on to find fit matter, to exercise your talents.

Telesinus, if you’re still seeking support for your income from

Anyone else, if that’s what makes you fill the yellow parchment,

You may as well gather firewood straight away, and offer your

Compositions to Vulcan, husband of Venus, and god of fire,

Or shut the sheets in the cupboard, let the bookworms gnaw them.

Break your stylus, you wretch, erase those battles you sat there

Penning all night, scribbling sublime verse in your tiny attic,

Just to win yourself the prize of an ivy-wreath, and meagre bust.

Don’t expect anything more; the miserly rich learned long ago

To offer the eloquent, admiration only; to offer them praise,

As boys do Juno’s peacock. The years have flown by, in which

You might have toyed with the sail, the helmet, the hoe. Now

Boredom invades the mind, it’s now that experienced but naked

Old age comes to hate itself, and Terpsichore, Muse of the lyre.

Let me tell you the ruses he, you fawn on, adopts, to avoid

Aiding you: spurning the shrine of Apollo and the Muses.

He writes verse himself, and yields to Homer alone, due to

His thousand-year glory, but if you, fired by the sweetness

Of fame, give a recitation, he’ll lend you a down-at-heel room.

He’ll order a far-off iron-barred hall placed at your service,

The doors of which echo the squealing of sows. He’ll place

His freedmen in seats at the end of the rows, and knows how

To scatter his friends about, those with high-pitched voices.

But none of the nobles will give you the price of their seats,

Or the price of the raised platforms held up by rented beams,

Or those chairs in the front row, due to be given back later.

Still we labour away, marking our furrows in the fine dust,

Turning the sands of the shore with our ineffectual ploughs.

Try to stop: the itch for writing holds you fast in ambition’s

Noose, grows old along with you in your sorrowful heart.

SatVII: 53-97 What Room Is There For Genius?

Yet the outstanding poet, with no ordinary vein of talent,

Who’s accustomed to weaving nothing that is vulgar,

Who coins never a trivial song from the public mint,

Whose like I cannot point out but can only imagine,

He’s the result of a mind free from care, devoid of

All bitterness, full of longing for nature, fit to drink

From the Muses’ spring. Sad poverty, you see, cannot

Sing in the Pierian cave, or grasp the thyrsus, lacking

The means to live that the body needs, night and day. 

Horace had wealth enough, as he gave the Bacchic cry.

What room is there for genius, unless your heart has

Only a single care, troubles itself over poetry alone,

Swept away by Apollo of Cirrha, Dionysus of Nysa?

A mighty soul is needed, not one terrified of buying a

New blanket, if you’re to envisage chariots and horses,

The face of the god, and the Fury who crazed Turnus.

If Virgil had lacked a slave-boy and decent lodgings,

All the snakes would have slid from the Fury’s hair,

There’d have been no fierce blast from her war-trumpet.

How can we expect Rubrenus Lappa, to vie with ancient

Tragedians, if he’s pawning Atreus for a dish and a cloak?

Unhappily, Numitor lacks the cash to help out a friend,

Yet he sends it to Quintilla, and was rich enough to buy

A tame lion, that surely consumes vast piles of meat;

Are we asked to believe the creature costs less to feed,

While a poet’s intestines possess a greater capacity?

Lucan may rest content with fame, in his marble-filled

Gardens, but what good does glory do Saleius Bassus

Or starving Serranus, if it’s glory and nothing else?

When Statius made Rome happy, and fixed on a date,

Everyone rushed to hear his fine voice, and the lines

Of his dear Thebaid: the crowd’s hearts were captured

By the sweetness he affected, listening there, in ecstasy.

And yet, when he’d stunned the audience with his verses,

He’d starve, unless he sold his virgin Agave to Paris,

The actor who generously appointed to military office,

And set the six-month gold ring on the fingers of poets.

A dancer who gave what princes wouldn’t. If you visited

The great halls of the noblemen, the Barea and Camerini,

Pelops and Philomela appointed the prefects and tribunes.

But don’t go envying the poets such a theatre nourished.

Who now will be your Maecenas, Fabius or Proculeius,

Who’ll prove your second Cotta, or be another Lentulus?

Then reward matched genius, many found it worthwhile

To look pale, and go without wine, for all of December.

SatVII: 98-149 Historians And Advocates Do No Better

Is your labour any more profitable, you writers of histories?

They too consume even more time, and more midnight oil.

There’s no limit to them, indeed, the thousandth page tops

The growing pile, bankrupts you with that heap of papyrus,

As the vast number of facts, and the laws of the genre dictate.

Yet what’s the harvest, what’s the fruit of your ploughed soil?

Who’ll pay a historian what they pay him who reads the news?

‘A lazy tribe,’ they’ll say, ‘who love their couch in the shade.’

And tell me what advocates earn from their representations,

And the huge bundle of briefs that accompany them to court.

They talk big, especially when a creditor might hear them,

Or when one, more pressingly still, nudges them in the side,

Clutching his large account book, to claim some dubious debt.

That’s when their mighty bellows breathe out immense lies,

And they cover themselves with spit; but if you want to know

Their true harvest, the wealth of a hundred such advocates

Weighs less than that of Lizard, the charioteer of the Reds.

The lords are seated, and you rise, a pale Ajax, to support

Your client’s contested liberty in front of a boorish judge.

Strain and rupture your liver, you wretch, so, exhausted,

You can decorate your stairs with victory’s green palm.

What’s the reward for your speech? A tiny dried-up leg

Of pork, a jar of tunny fry, or ancient onions, a month’s

Ration for a Moor, or wine brought down the Tiber, five

Flasks for your four cases. If you come by one gold piece,

Part of that vanishes, by your contract with the lawyers.

‘Yet Aemilius names his fee, even when our work’s better.’

That’s because a bronze chariot with four great horses sits

In his vestibule, his ancestor himself on a fierce charger,

Looking menacing from the high saddle, with lowered

Spear, a one-eyed statue contemplating battle. Thus

Pedo is embarrassed, and Matho fails, and it’s the end

For Tongilius, who disturbs the baths with his filthy crew,

And washes away with his great rhinoceros horn, weighs

Down his young Maedians’ long litter-poles on his way

Through the Forum to buy slave-boys, silver plate, agate

Vases or villas; and yet his efforts work. His purple and

Violet robes sell advocacy; it pays him to live with a stir

And appearance, that cost well beyond his true income,

His seaborne purple of Tyrian weave acts as guarantor.

But prodigal Rome sets no limits to your expenditure.

In eloquence our trust? No one these days would give

Cicero two hundred, unless a huge ring lit his finger.

The first thing a litigant looks for, is whether you run

Eight slaves, possess ten clients, a litter to follow you,

Togas to walk in front. That’s why Paulus for court hired

A sardonyx ring, and earned a higher fee than Basilus, or

Gallus. Eloquence rarely appears dressed in flimsy rags.

When is Basilus allowed to bring on a tearful mother?

Who can stand Basilus however well he speaks? If you

Make the decision to earn your living with your tongue,

Try Gaul, or better still Africa, the nurturer of advocacy.

SatVII: 150-215 Nor Do Teachers Of Rhetoric

Do you teach rhetoric? O Vettius, what a mind of iron,

You need, when a crowded class slays ‘the cruel tyrant!’

For, whatever they’ve just read, sitting, each in turn

Gives standing, chants the same thing in identical lines.

Such stale greens are simply murder for the poor teacher.

They all want to know about style, what sort of cases,

And the summing up, and the shots that are likely to be

Fired by the other side, but not a single one wants to pay.

‘You’re asking me to pay? But what have I learned?’

‘It’s surely the teacher’s fault, if our young dunce feels

Nothing stir in the left side of his chest, as he fills my

Poor head for five days with his ‘dreadful Hannibal’.

It hardly matters what the set topic is: whether to march

From Cannae to Rome, or after the thunder and lightning

Cautiously hold the troops back, drenched from the storm.

Just state your price, you can have it now: what wouldn’t

I give to make the father hear him as often I must?’ That’s

What six professors or more cry out with a single voice,

As they abandon ‘the rapist’ to take part in some real case;

The ‘dosing with poison’ is silent; the ‘wicked ungrateful

Husband’; the pounding out of a ‘cure for chronic blindness’.

So whoever descends from the grove of rhetoric to compete

In the fight, lest he lose the he pitiful reward that purchases

His ticket for the handout, which after all is the most he can

Expect, if he’ll follow my advice, he should definitely retire

And find himself an alternative path in life. If you discover

The tiny fee for which Chrysogonus or Pollio teach the sons

Of the rich, you’ll tear Theodorus’s Rhetoric in tiny pieces.

Building the nobleman’s baths costs him six thousand in gold,

More for the portico where he rides on rainy days. How can

He wait for blue skies, or spatter his equipage with fresh mud!

It’s better here, the hooves of his mule stay bright and clean.

And he’ll raise a dining hall elsewhere, resting on tall pillars

Made of Numidian marble, trapping sunshine when it’s cold.

However much the place costs, someone will still be there to

Arrange the dishes skilfully, someone there to spice the food.

Twenty gold pieces, of all this show, will be fortune enough

For Quintilian: a son will cost his father less than nothing.

‘So how come Quintilian owns so much land?’ You have to

Make an exception for freaks of fate. The fortunate man is

Handsome and brave, wise and noble and generous as well,

On his black shoe is sewn the ivory crescent of the patrician.

The fortunate man is the greatest orator and javelin-thrower,

And, unless he has a cold, sings beautifully. It makes a huge

Difference you know what stars chance to greet you as you

Give your first cries, red-faced from your mother’s womb.

If Fortune wishes, she’ll make a teacher of rhetoric, consul;

If she wishes, she’ll make a consul a teacher of rhetoric too.

What about Servius Tullius? Ventidius Bassus? What else

Was that but the stars, the strange mysterious power of fate?

Fate makes kings of slaves, and grants prisoners triumphs.

Nevertheless the fortunate man is rarer than a white crow.

Many teachers have regretted their idle and barren chairs

Of Rhetoric, as Thrasymachus’ suicide proves, and Carrinas

Secundus’: you saw his poverty, Athens, yet only chose

To offer him cold hemlock. May the gods make the earth

On our ancestor’s graves weigh lightly, may they have

Flowering crocuses, and everlasting spring, in the tomb.

They thought a teacher held the sacred role of a parent.

When Achilles as a young man learnt music in his native

Hills, he went in fear of the cane, and was careful not to

Mock at the horse’s tail of Chiron the Centaur, his teacher;

But now Rufus and the rest are beaten by their young pupils,

Rufus, so often called a Cicero, though only a Gallic one.

SatVII: 216-243 Or Schoolmasters

When do Celadus, and learned Palaemon, pocket the rewards

A schoolteacher’s labour merits? Yet whatever it amounts to,

And it’s less than a teacher of rhetoric’s pay, even from that

The pupil’s unfeeling attendant nibbles a chunk for himself

As does the cashier who pays it. Yield to them, Palaemon,

Be prepared to see some part of it vanish, as a pedlar does

When he haggles over a mat and a snow-white quilt for winter.

But make sure you get something, for sitting from midnight

Onwards where no blacksmith would sit, or a carder of wool

Used to drawing the staple out fine with a slant steel comb;

Make sure you get something, for breathing in the stench

Of as many lamps as boys, while your Horace grows wholly

Discoloured, and soot clings tight to your blackened Virgil.

Though it’s rare to get paid without a tribune’s investigation.

Yet you parents lay down savage laws for the schoolmaster,

Demand he should stick to the rules in his use of grammar,

Should read the histories, and know all the authors as well

As he knows his fingernails. If by chance he’s asked a question

As he heads for the warm baths or the freeman Phoebus’s spa,

He must know the name of Anchises’ nurse, of Anchemolus’s

Stepmother, and her birthplace, how many years Acestes lived,

And how many jars of Sicilian wine he handed to the Trojans.

You’ll demand he forms tender characters under his thumb,

As if he were moulding faces from wax; you’ll demand he acts

Like a father to that crowd, forbids them to play dubious games,

Or mutually indulge. It’s no light thing to keep watch on all

Those boys, with their hands and eyes quivering with purpose.

‘That’s your job,’ the parents say, yet come the turn of the year

You’ll get, in gold, what the crowd grants for one gladiatorial win. 

End of Satire VII