Part IV: Escape from Trimalchio’s house
‘The Pleasures of the Seasons: Summer’
Johann Georg Platzer, c. 1730
The Minneapolis Institute of Art
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
- 68-70: Slaves’ antics
- 71: Trimalchio’s last will and testament
- 72-73: Trimalchio’s bath
- 74: Fortunata and Trimalchio quarrel
- 75-77: Trimalchio tells of his personal history
- 78-79: Encolpius and Ascyltos escape
- 80: Ascyltos departs
- 81-82: Encolpius alone
- 83-84: The art gallery, Eumolpus
68-70: Slaves’ antics
An interval ensuing, during which Trimalchio ordered a further course of desserts, the servants removing the tables, bringing in others, while scattering sawdust tinted with saffron and vermilion and, something I had never seen before, mica ground to a powder. Trimalchio commented immediately: ‘I might indeed rest content with this; for you have your second courses. Yet whatever there is that’s pleasant, lad, bring it on.’
Upon which, a boy from Alexandria, who was carrying round the hot water, began imitating a nightingale, until Trimalchio shouted: ‘Leave off!’ And behold, another jest: a slave who was seated at Habinnas’ feet, suddenly began to declaim, at his master’s bidding I believe, in a sing-song voice:
‘Meanwhile Aeneas, with the fleet, was holding
a fixed course in the midst of the sea………..’
No shriller sound ever struck my ear, for besides barbarous errors of emphasis in raising or lowing his voice, he mixed in lines from Atellan farce, so that even Virgil jarred on me for the very first time. Yet when he tired and, at last, desisted, Habinnas explained: ‘He was never schooled, but I educated him by sending him round the market-pedlars. As a consequence, he has no equal whenever he seeks to imitate pedlars or muleteers. He’s very clever, to the point of desperation: he’s a cobbler, a cook, a confectioner, a slave of all the talents. Still, he has two faults: he’s circumcised, and he snores. However I don’t mind that he squints, in the very manner that Venus gazes. This is why he can’t be silent, and hardly ever shuts his eyes. I bought him for twelve gold pieces.’
Scintilla cut short his eloquence by saying: ‘You’ve not quite mentioned all the slave’s skills. He’s a catamite; and I’ll see him branded yet.’ Trimalchio laughed, saying: ‘I know a Cappadocian: he denies himself nothing, but by heavens I admire him: no one relinquishes ‘that’ to honour the dead. But, don’t be jealous, Scintilla. Believe me, we know you women too. By my hopes of salvation, I too used to commit adultery with my mistress, until even the master became suspicious and, in consequence, banished me to a country stewardship. But, be silent tongue, and I’ll feed you!’
As if he had been praised, the naughty slave took a clay lamp from his pocket, and imitated a trumpet-player for more than a half-hour, Habinnas humming an accompaniment by tugging at his lower lip. Finally, he moved to the centre of the room, and now made a bunch of reeds quiver in imitation of a flute-player, now gave us the muleteer’s life, with cloak and whip, until Habinnas summoned him for a kiss, and offered him a drink, saying: ‘Much improved, Massa, I’ll make you a present of a pair of boots.’
There would have been no end to our troubles, if the last course had not arrived, fieldfares stuffed with nuts and raisins. Quinces followed too, stuck with thorns to look like sea-urchins. We could have endured it all, if a far more fantastic dish had not driven us to prefer death by starvation. What was placed on the table was a plump goose, we supposed, surrounded by fish and all kinds of birds, but: ‘My friends,’ cried Trimalchio, ‘whatever you see here, is made from a single substance.’
I, with my usual perceptiveness, guessed immediately what that might be, and glancing at Agamemnon, commented: ‘I’d be surprised if the whole thing isn’t made of wax or even clay. I’ve seen dinners of this kind served in Rome in imitation of those at the Saturnalia.’ I’d barely finished speaking when Trimalchio said: ‘As I hope to gain wealth not weight, my cook made the whole thing out of a pig. There’s no more valuable a fellow. If you wish, he’ll fashion a fish from a sow’s womb, a wood pigeon from lard, a turtledove from ham, or a fowl from a knuckle of pork. That’s what gave me the idea of bestowing the finest of names upon him; he’s called Daedalus. And because he’s so intelligent, I brought him some knives of Norican steel from Rome, as a gift.’ Trimalchio had these knives fetched immediately, and gazed at them with admiration. He even allowed us to try the edge against our cheeks.
Two slaves suddenly entered, who it seems had quarrelled over a water-butt; at least they had water jars on their shoulders. Trimalchio therefore gave a ruling between the litigants, neither accepted his decision, and they struck out at each other’s jars. Amazed at their drunken folly, we gazed at the fight, watching scallops and oysters tip from the jars, which a lad collected in a dish and brought round to us. The ingenious cook matched their exhibition, offering snails on a silver grill, while singing in a hideous quavering voice.
I’m ashamed to repeat what followed: defying all the rules, some long-haired boys brought perfumed oil in a silver basin, and anointed out feet as we reclined, while winding little garlands round our legs and ankles. A quantity of the same oil was poured into a mixing bowl, and the lamp.
Now Fortunata showed a desire to dance; and Scintilla was already applauding more often than speaking, when Trimalchio said: ‘Philargyrus, though you famously support the Green, sit here, and tell your good woman Menophila to do the same.’ I hardly need say that we were almost pushed from the couches by all these slaves finding seats. Indeed I saw that the cook who had made a goose out of the pig, sat just above me, smelling of pickling-brine and seasoning. Not content with obtaining a seat, he at once began imitating Ephesus the tragedian, and urging his own master to bet on Green winning first prize in the upcoming games.
71: Trimalchio’s last will and testament
Becoming expansive, after the dispute: ‘My friends,’ said Trimalchio, ‘a slave is human, and drank his mother’s milk as we did, even if ill fortune has oppressed him. If I live, they shall taste the waters of freedom. In short, I am setting them all free in my will. I am bequeathing a property, and his good lady, to Philargyrus; an apartment block to Cario, and the fee for his manumission, and a bed and bedding.
I make Fortunata my heir, and commend her to all my friends. And I make all this known publicly, so that my slaves may love me now just as much as if I were dead.’ The slaves all began thanking their master for his generosity, at which point he, forgetting the details, ordered a copy of the will to be brought, and to the groans of the household, read the whole thing aloud from beginning to end.
Then glancing at Habinnas, he said: ‘Tell me, my dear friend; you will erect a monument for me, as I’ve asked? I request you, most fervently, to carve my little dog at the foot of my statue, and some garlands and perfume boxes, and all Petraites’ gladiatorial bouts, so that through your kindness I might acquire a life after death; and let my monument be a hundred feet long, moreover, and two hundred feet in depth. I would like all varieties of fruit-tree to grow about my ashes, and a wealth of vines.
It is quite wrong for a man to adorn his house when alive, while neglecting that in which he must dwell far longer. So above all things, therefore, I want inscribed upon it ‘this monument shall not descend to my heirs.’ And I shall take care also that my will warn against injury being done me after my death. I am appointing one of my freedmen to care for my tomb, lest the common people hasten to defile it. I ask you to depict ships in full sail on my monument, and myself seated on the platform in my official robes, wearing five gold rings, distributing coins publicly from a bag; for you know that I have given a free dinner worth two pieces of silver a head.
And, if you can arrange it, represent a dining room, and all the people there enjoying themselves. At my right hand, place a statue of my Fortunata, holding a dove, and leading a little dog held by a lead: and my darling lads, and large wine-jars sealed with gypsum. And have a broken urn carved, with a boy weeping over it. And a sundial in the middle, so that anyone who checks the time will, like it or not, read my name. Also consider carefully whether this inscription seems to you quite suitable: ‘Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio, freedman of Maecenas, rests here. A priesthood of Augustus was conferred on him, in absentia. Though he might have been a member of any guild in Rome, yet he refused. Pious, brave, loyal, he grew from little, left thirty million, and never paid heed to philosophy. Farewell: and you too, passer-by.’
72-73: Trimalchio’s bath
Having spoken these words, Trimalchio began to weep copious tears. Fortunata wept too, and Habinnas wept, and then the whole household, as if summoned to the funeral, filling the room with their lament. I had even begun to mourn, myself, when Trimalchio broke in with: ‘Yet, since we know we must die, why not live? As I think only of your happiness, let’s jump in the bath, and my life on it, you’ll not regret it. It’s as hot as a furnace.’ ‘Truly, truly’, cried Habinnas, ‘I love nothing more than making two days from one.’ And he rose, bare-footed, to follow Trimalchio, who had recovered his cheerfulness.
I looked at Ascyltos, saying: ‘What do you think? If I clap eyes on a bath I’ll perish on the spot.’ ‘Say, yes,’ he replied, ‘then while they head for the bath, we’ll slip away in the crowd.’ Once this was agreed, Giton led us through a doorway to the portico, where the dog on his chain welcomed us so vociferously that Ascyltos fell right into the fishpond. As I while terrified of even a dog painted on the wall was also drunk, in helping him in his efforts to swim, I ended up in the same deep water.
The porter saved us by his intervention, pacifying the dog and dragging us shivering to dry land. And indeed Giton had already rescued himself from the dog by a piece of cunning. He scattered in front of the creature, which was barking madly, all the scraps we had given him during dinner, and with that inducement of food quenched the animal’s fury. Cold and wet, we begged the porter to let us out by the door, but he replied: ‘You’re wrong if you think you can exit through the door you entered by. No guest is ever allowed out by the same door; one way in, another to leave.’
What could we wretched folk do, trapped in some new manner of labyrinth, to whom even bathing now began to seem attractive? So we asked him to lead us to the bath, instead, and after throwing off our wet clothes, which Giton dried in the hallway, we entered a narrow room, like a reservoir for cold water, in which Trimalchio was standing. And, even there, we were not allowed to escape his outrageous boasting; for he claimed there was nothing better than bathing free of the usual crowd, and that there had once been a water-mill on the spot.
Then, tired, he seated himself, the echoing vault of the bathroom inviting him to open his mouth, and drunkenly go on to murder Menacretes’ ballads, or so I was told by those who could interpret his singing. Others of the guests linked hands and ran around the bath, laughing noisily and making a great clamour. Some, with their hands tied behind their backs, tried to pick up rings from the floor, or knelt down and, arching backwards, tried to touch the tips of their big toes. While the rest were amusing themselves, we descended into the warm bath that was being heated for Trimalchio.
74: Fortunata and Trimalchio quarrel
Having thus rid ourselves of our inebriation, we were led into another dining room, where Fortunata had arrayed her treasures, so that, by the light of the lamps above, we saw little bronze fishermen and solid silver tables and pottery cups set with gold, and wine being filtered through a strainer before our very eyes. Then Trimalchio called out: ‘Friends, a slave of mine today celebrates the shaving off of his first beard, an honest lad, harmless and economical. So let’s drink deep and dine till dawn.’
As he was speaking, a cock crew. The sound troubled Trimalchio, and he had wine poured under the table, and even had the lamp sprinkled with pure wine. Furthermore, he transferred a ring to his right hand and said: ‘That herald didn’t signal for no reason; either there must be a fire, or someone nearby is about to die. Heavens preserve us! Anyone who catches that informer, shall have a reward.’ As he spoke, the cock was swiftly brought from somewhere in the vicinity, and Trimalchio ordered it killed, and cooked in a pan. It was therefore slaughtered by that same expert cook who had fashioned birds and fish from the little pig a while ago, and he threw it into the cooking pot, while Daedalus swallowed a very hot drink, and Fortunata ground pepper in a boxwood mill.
When the delicacies had been consumed, Trimalchio glanced at the slaves and asked: ‘Why have you not eaten yet? Off with you, and let others serve us. So another squadron arrived, the first crowd calling out: ‘Farewell, Gaius,’ as the fresh troops shouted: ‘Hail, Gaius. After this our hilarity was quelled for the first time; for a handsome lad appeared amongst these new waiters, whom Trimalchio embraced and began to kiss lingeringly. Fortunata, therefore, asserting her conjugal rights, began to abuse Trimalchio, calling him a vile disgrace for being unable to contain his desires; even, finally, adding: ‘You hound!’ Trimalchio, offended by this attack, hurled his drinking cup at Fortunata’s face. She shrieked, as if she had lost an eye, and raised her trembling hands to her face. Scintilla was frightened too, and clasped her in her arms. As an attentive slave held a cool jug to her cheek, Fortunata hunching over it, began to cry.
But Trimalchio opposed her, saying: ‘What’s all this? Doesn’t this flute-girl remember she’s off the auction-platform. That’s where I took her from, and made her one of ourselves. But she puffs herself up like a frog, instead of counting herself lucky; a block of wood not a woman. A household such as this is scarcely dreamed of by one born in a brothel. Bless my soul, I’ll take care this Cassandra in army boots is properly tamed. And I, a nobody then, could have married millions. You know I tell no lie.
Agatho, perfumer to the rich woman next door, took me aside recently saying: “I entreat you not to let your line perish.” But I, being a good fellow, and with no wish to seem fickle, have driven the axe into my own leg. Well, I’ll take care you’re not after me with your finger-nails. But so you know what you achieved, just now: Habinnas, I’d rather you didn’t carve a statue of her on my tomb, lest I’m still troubled by her when I’m dead. Yes, to show I can be nasty too, I’ll not have her kissing me when I’m gone.’
75-77: Trimalchio tells of his personal history
After these fulminations, Habinnas began imploring him to moderate his anger. ‘We all have our faults,’ he said. ‘We are human beings not gods. Scintilla, weeping, said the same and, calling him Gaius, begged him to be gentler. Trimalchio no longer contained his tears but cried: ‘Habinnas, as you hope to enjoy your profits: if I’ve done anything wrong, then spit in my face. I kissed that worthy lad, not because he is handsome, but because he is worthy: he can recite the ten parts of speech, read books at sight, he’s bought a Thracian gladiator’s equipment out of his daily wages, and purchased a round-backed chair and two ladles out of his own money. Is he not deserving of being treated fondly? Yet Fortunata forbids it. Is that to your liking, you, up on your high-heels? I advise you, my she-kite, to think on what you have; don’t make me furious, my little one, otherwise you’ll feel my temper. Mark me: when once I decide on something, it’s nailed down.
Still, let us consider the living. I beg you, be comfortable, friends. For I too was once as you are now, yet have arrived here by my own merit. A little common sense makes men, the rest is all nonsense: “I buy well, I sell well”; though others may tell you otherwise. I’m bursting with happiness. But you, my little snorer, are you still wailing? I’ll take care you bewail your fate. However, as I was saying, my own worth has brought me this fortune of mine.
When I came from Asia, I was only as tall as this candlestick. In short, I used to measure myself against it each day, and grease my lips from the lamp to grow a beard quicker. Even so, at fourteen I was my master’s darling. There’s no shame in doing what your master orders. I gave my mistress satisfaction too. You know what I’m saying: I’ll say no more, not being conceited.
Then, as the gods willed, I became the real master of the house, and see, I picked his brains. What more? He made me a co-heir, along with the emperor, and I inherited a fortune fit for a senator. But no one’s ever content. I conceived a passion for trade. I’ll not keep you a moment but, well, I built five ships, wine was their cargo, which was then worth its weight in gold, and I sent them to Rome. You might have thought I’d asked for it: but every ship was wrecked, fact, not fiction. Neptune devoured thirty million in a day. Do you think I lost heart? No, by heavens, I felt that loss no more than if it had never happened. I built more ships, bigger, better, and luckier, so that no one could say I was not a determined character. You know a big ship has a big heart.
I loaded fresh cargo; wine, bacon, beans, perfume, slaves. Fortunata did a fine thing, at that time; she sold all her jewellery, all her clothes, and placed a hundred gold pieces in my hand. They were the seeds of my fortune. What the gods wish, soon arrives. I cleared ten million in a single voyage. I, at once, purchased all the estates that belonged to my patron. I built a house, bought slaves and cattle; whatever I touched waxed greater, like honey in a honeycomb. When I’d amassed more wealth than my whole country, I gave up the game. I retired from business, and started financing freedmen.
An astrologer, a little Greek, named Serapa, who consults the heavens, encouraged me to take up business again, though I was quite unwilling. He chanced to visit our town and told me things even I had forgotten; explained everything to me, needle and thread, knew me inside-out, the only thing he couldn’t say was what I’d had for dinner the day before. You’d have thought he’d known me all my life. Habinnas, remember – I think you were there – Serapa said to me: “You acquired a wife from the profits. You are somewhat unfortunate in your friends. No one is ever as grateful to you as you deserve. You possess a large estate. You are nourishing a viper in your bosom,” and, something I should not repeat to you, I now have exactly thirty years, four months, and two days left to live. Moreover I shall soon come into an inheritance. My oracle tells me so.
If I could only extend my estate to the borders of Apulia, I’d have done well enough in a lifetime. Meanwhile, with Mercury, god of trade, watching over me, I rebuilt this place. As you know it was a mere cottage; now it’s a temple. It has four dining-rooms, twenty bedrooms, two marble colonnades, an upper dining area, a bedroom where I myself sleep, a chamber for this viper here, an excellent room for the porter, and rooms for a host of guests. In fact when Scaurus visited, there’s nowhere he’d rather have stayed, and he has a family house by the sea.
And there are other things I’ll reveal to you in a moment. Believe me: if you only have a bit of brass that’s what you’re worth; you’re judged by what you own. Thus your friend, who was a frog, is a now a king. Meanwhile Stichus, bring me the funeral garments in which I wish to be carried out. Bring me some perfumed unguent, and a taste from that jar which I’ve ordered to be poured over my bones.’
78-79: Encolpius and Ascyltos escape
Without delay, Stichus brought a white shroud and a purple-bordered toga into the dining-room, and Trimalchio asked us to feel the quality of the wool. Then, giving a little laugh, he said: ‘Stichus, make sure no mouse or moth gets at them: or I’ll have you burnt alive. I wish to be carried out in splendour, so that the whole crowd appreciate me.’ He immediately opened a flask of nard, and anointed us all, saying: ‘I hope I delight in this as much when I’m dead.’ Moreover he ordered wine to be poured into a bowl, and said: ‘Now, pretend you’ve been invited to a feast in honour of my ancestors.’
The whole thing had reached the heights of nausea, when Trimalchio, most unpleasantly inebriated, ordered a fresh set of performers, trumpeters, to be admitted to the dining room, propped himself on a host of cushions, and stretched himself out as if on his deathbed, saying: ‘Now imagine I’m dead. Deliver something fine. The trumpeters broke into a loud funeral march. One slave in particular, belonging to the undertaker, who was the most respectable man among us, blew so hard he roused the whole neighbourhood. Thus, the watch, who were patrolling the streets nearby, though Trimalchio’s house was on fire, and suddenly burst through the doorway, and began to create a rumpus on their own account, to the accompaniment of water and axes. We seized the opportunity, delivered a few words of apology to Agamemnon, and fled as quickly as if there were a real fire….
There was no torch-bearer in attendance to show us the way as we wandered, nor did the midnight silence hold promise of meeting anyone with a lamp. Besides, we were drunk, and our ignorance of that quarter would have bemused us even during the daytime. So after nearly an hour dragging our bleeding feet over the sharp stones and the broken bits of pottery projecting from the roadway, we were at last rescued by Giton’s cleverness. The cautious lad, afraid of losing his way even in broad sunlight, had marked all the posts and columns with a stick of chalk, whose traces gleamed from the darkest shadows, its brilliant whiteness showing us wanderers the way.
Yet even when we reached our lodgings, we were no less anxious, for the old woman had spent the night carousing with her lodgers, and wouldn’t have noticed if you’d set her alight. We might have had to spend the night on the doorstep if Trimalchio’s wealthy courier had not arrived with his transport-wagons. After making a noise for a while he broke down the house-door and gave us entrance…
What a night that was, gods and goddesses,
how soft the bed. We clung in warm embrace,
and, with kisses everywhere, our wandering
souls communed. Farewell, earthly troubles.
Thus, my downfall began.
80: Ascyltos departs
For, I congratulated myself prematurely. Now while I was overcome, drunk on the wine, my hands shaking, Ascyltos, that source of all wickedness, stole my lad away in the night, took him to his own bed, and taking liberties with one who was no comrade of his, who considered it no injury or hid his feelings, fell asleep clutching another man’s lover, forgetting all human justice. When I woke and felt around in the bed despoiled of its joy, doubting if there was any loyalty in love, I debated whether to run a sword through them both, and unite sleep with death.
But I came to a wiser resolution, and rousing Giton with my blows, gazed angrily at Ascyltos. ‘Since you’ve wickedly broken an agreement forged in friendship, ‘I said, ‘gather your things together quickly, find some other place to corrupt.’ He made no resistance but, after we’d divided the spoils in all good faith, he said: ‘Now then, we’ll divide the boy.’ I thought this a parting jest, but he drew his sword murderously, and cried: ‘You’ll not enjoy this treasure, you brood over, alone. Slighted, I meant to carve out my share with this sword.’
So, for my part, I did the same, wrapping my cloak round my arm, and adopting a fighting stance. In the midst of this mad foolishness, the poor lad clasped our knees, and besought us, humbly, in tears, not to let this lowly tavern witness a Theban duel, or stain the sacredness of a beautiful friendship with each other’s blood. ‘If you must commit your crime,’ he cried, ‘behold my bare throat, turn your hands on me and wet your blades. I deserve to die, for breaking the oath of friendship.’
At this prayer, we sheathed our swords, and Ascyltos spoke first: ‘I’ll put an end to our quarrel. Let the lad himself follow whom he wishes, and be free at least to choose his comrade.’ I, thinking that long-standing familiarity had become a kind of blood-tie, had no fear, on the contrary I accepted the suggestion post haste, and referred the decision to our judge, who not even deliberating, without pretence of delay, immediately rose as I finished speaking, and chose Ascyltos as his comrade. I was struck, by his decision, as if by lightning, and fell on the bed just as I was forgetting my sword, and would have committed suicide, if I had not grudged my enemy that triumph.
Ascyltos exited proudly with his prize, leaving his companion, whom he’d loved dearly a little while ago, and whose fortunes were so similar to his own, cast down in a strange place.
Friendship’s a thing endures while it serves;
the counter on the board leads a fickle life.
While luck holds, you dote on me, my friends;
when it fails, you shamefully turn in flight.
The company acts the farce on stage: one plays
the father, one the son, and the rich man’s here.
Soon the comic roles are shut away in the book,
true faces show, while the sham ones disappear.
81-82: Encolpius alone
However I spent little time weeping, afraid lest, among my other ills, Menelaus, the assistant tutor, might find me alone in the lodgings, so I collected my various parcels, and gloomily rented a secluded room near the beach. I shut myself up there for three days, with the perpetual thought of being lonely and despised, beating my breast, already bruised by blows, and, amidst groans of the deepest kind, even repeatedly crying aloud: ‘Why has the earth not opened and swallowed me up? Or the waves that rage against even the innocent? I fled from justice, cheated death in the arena, killed my host, only to end up, despite all these titles to courage, a beggar, an exile, in solitary lodgings in a wretched Greek town. And who has condemned me to this solitude? A youngster, tainted by every excess and, by his own admission too, deserving of exile, free in his lewdness, innately lewd, whose youth was available at the toss of a dice, and whom even those who thought him a boy made use of like a girl.
And what of that other? A lad who on the day when he was to assume the manly toga, put on a dress, persuaded by his mother never to grow up, who played the woman in a slave prison, who embarrassed for money and merely adding to his vices, relinquished old ties of friendship, and shamelessly sold his all, in a single night’s transaction, like a street-walker. Now these lovers are tied together all night and, worn out by mutual passion, perhaps mocking my loneliness. But not with impunity. If I don’t avenge my injuries with their vile blood, I am no man and no free citizen.’
So saying, I girded on my sword and, so as not to lose the fight through weakness, roused my strength with a decent meal. Next I rushed outside, and ran about the colonnades like a madman. But while I raged with a face like fury, dreaming of nothing but blood and slaughter, repeatedly toying with the hilt of the sword I’d devoted to the task, a soldier saw me, he being either a swindler or a night-prowler, and cried: ‘Why now, comrade, of what regiment and company are you?’ As I was lying steadfastly about my company and regiment, he said: ‘So, do the men in your troop march about in white leather boots?’ When my face, with its look of alarm, revealed that I was lying, he ordered me to hand over my weapon, and beware misfortune.
Thus, despoiled, or rather thwarted in my vengeance, I returned to my lodgings, where my rashness gradually faded, and I began to bless the prowler’s audacity…
Unhappy Tantalus, by the water, can never drink,
or grasp the fruit above him, tormented by desire.
So the rich and great man, seeing all before him,
who fears starvation, and suffers it dry-mouthed.
Don’t put your faith in planning, since Fate has her own way of working…
83-84: The art gallery, Eumolpus
Entering an art gallery, later, with a varied collection of wonderful paintings, I saw works by Zeuxis, not yet conquered by the ravages of time, and studied, not without a degree of awe, sketches by Protogenes rivalling nature’s reality. But I truly adored that piece by Apelles, the one the Greeks term ‘showing one lower leg’, for the extremities of the figure were defined so subtly and accurately you might believe he had depicted the soul too.
Here, the eagle was aloft carrying Ganymede, the shepherd-boy of Ida, into the sky; there, handsome Hylas resisted the persistent Naiad. Apollo adorned his unstrung lyre with the newly-created hyacinth flower, condemning his own misthrow of the discus. Amongst these portraits of lovers, even though they were mere paint, I yet cried out, as if in despair: ‘So love afflicts even the gods!’ Jupiter in his heavens could not find what he desired, so adventured on earth, though he harmed no one. The Nymph who ravished Hylas, would have restrained her passion, if she had believed Hercules might come to dispute her claim. Apollo summoned again the ghost of a boy in a flower, and all enjoyed love’s embrace without a rival. But I accepted as a lover a friend harsher than Lycurgus!’
Yet behold, as I fought with the empty air, an elderly white-haired man entered the gallery. His face was troubled but seemed to hold the promise of I know not what greatness, though he was not in consequence well turned-out, so that it was readily apparent he was a man of letters, whom rich men customarily despise. He therefore came and stood by me.
‘I’ he said, ‘am a poet, Eumolpus, and one I hope of no mean inspiration if laurel-crowns are to be reckoned, with which regard is accustomed to honour even the unworthy. Why then, you may ask, am I so badly dressed? For that very reason. Admiration for genius never made anyone rich.
He who trusts the sea, carries off great riches;
he who follows war is girded about with gold;
the vile flatterer lies, tipsy, on a purple couch,
while seducers of wives, gain a reward for sin.
but eloquence alone, shivers in rags in the cold,
invoking neglected arts with profitless tongue.
Yes, that is indeed true: those who are hostile to every vice, who go on to tread the straight path in life, are hated, chiefly because of their stricter morals; for who approves of what differs from themselves? And besides, whoever cares only for acquiring wealth never wishes anything mortal to be thought superior to what they possess. So they seduce lovers of literature, whenever they reasonably can, into also regarding it as inferior to cash. Somehow or other poverty is a sister to fine intellect.’
‘I wish,’ I replied, ‘that the enemy to my frugality was so unselfish as to be capable of being seduced. As it is he’s a veteran thief, and more cunning than many a pimp.’
End of the Satyricon: Part IV