Horace: The Satires

Book II: Satire I

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved

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BkIISatI:1-23 Advise me what to write

There are those who think my satire’s too sharp, that I

Push the form beyond its proper limits: others

Think what I write is tame, that a thousand verses

A day could be churned out just like mine. Trebatius

Advise me what to do. ‘Rest.’ You mean I should write

Nothing? ‘I do.’ Perish me, if that wouldn’t be best:

But you know I can’t sleep. ‘Whoever needs sound sleep,

Should rub themselves with oil, swim the Tiber thrice,

Then, as evening falls, refresh themselves with wine.

Or if love of scribbling possesses you, bravely

Tell of invincible Caesar’s battles, you’ll win

Many a prize for your pains.’ I wish I could, dear man,

But I lack the power: not everyone can describe

Lines of bristling lances, Gauls dying, spears broken,

Or a wounded Parthian slipping off his horse.

‘You could write of the man himself, brave and just,

As wise Lucilius did of Scipio.’ I won’t fail

If that chance occurs: but unless the moment’s right

A Flaccus’ words won’t find Caesar’s ears attentive,

Stroke him wrongly, and he’ll lash out in self-defence.

‘It’s still wiser than wounding that joker Pantolabus

With bitter verses, or that wastrel Nomentanus,

Till all the unsung fear for themselves, and hate you.’

The continence of Scipio

‘The continence of Scipio’
Jan van Noordt (Dutch, 1623 - 1676)
The Rijksmuseum

BkIISatI:24-46 It’s my delight to write: it’s self-defence

What then? When the warmth mounts to his drunken brain,

And his eyes see double, Milonius likes to dance:

Castor loves horses, his brother born from the same egg

Loves boxing: a thousand men have a thousand different

Pastimes: my joy’s imprisoning words in poetic metre,

Like Lucilius, a better man than either of us.

He used to entrust his secrets to his books, like faithful

Friends, never seeking recourse elsewhere whether things

Went well or badly: so the old man’s whole life lies open

To view, as if it were depicted on a votive tablet.

I’m his follower, Lucanian or Apulian, or both:

Since colonists in Venusia plough the border,

Sent there, as the old tale goes, when the Samnites

Were expelled, so no enemy could attack Rome

Across the gap if Apulian or Lucanian folk

Threatened violent war. But my stylus will never

Harm a living soul, of my free will, only defend me,

My blade’s sheathed: why would I try to draw it, when I’m

Safe from wild attacks? O Jupiter, king and father,

Let my weapon rest there, and let it rust away,

Let no one injure me, a lover of peace! But he

Who provokes me (better not touch, I cry!) will suffer,

And his blemishes will be sung throughout the City.

BkIISatI:47-86 I must use the weapons I have

When he’s angry, Cervius threatens law and jury,

Canidia the poison that finished off Albucius,

Turius a hefty fine if he’s the judge in court.

All use their strongest weapon to intimidate

Those they fear: forceful Nature herself requires it:

Doesn’t the wolf bare its fangs, the bull toss its horns:

How, except by instinct? Trust an elderly mother

To wastrel Scaeva: his pious hand won’t touch her:

No surprise, wolves don’t use their paws, or oxen teeth:

Honey mixed with fatal hemlock will carry her off!

To be brief: whether a tranquil old age awaits me,

Or dark-winged Death comes hovering round me,

Rich, poor, in Rome, or banished perhaps, in exile,

Whatever the nature of my life, I’ll write. ‘Lad,

I fear for your life, lest one of your powerful

Friends freeze you dead.’ Why? When Lucilius dared

To scribble the first poems penned in a style like this,

Stripping the shining surface in which men strut,

Though foul inside, was Laelius troubled by his wit,

Or Scipio who won his name at beaten Carthage?

Did they grieve for wounded Metellus, Lupus buried

By slanderous verses? Yet Lucilius satirised

The leading citizens, the people tribe by tribe,

Only truly favouring Virtue and her friends.

Why, when good Scipio and wise, gentle Laelius,

Retired to privacy from life’s crowded theatre,

They’d talk nonsense with him, relaxing freely,

While the cabbage boiled. Whatever I chance to be,

However far, in rank or wit, below Lucilius,

Envy, reluctantly, must admit I lived among

Great men, and trying to bite on something soft

She’ll sink her teeth in what’s solid. Or do you differ

Wise Trebatius? ‘No I don’t disagree, but still

Let me warn you to be careful lest by chance

You find trouble through ignorance of the sacred law:

If a man trots out false verses, then there are rights

And courts of justice.’ Yes if they are false: but suppose

They are sound and praised by Caesar? If he’s snapped

At one who deserves disgrace, he himself blameless?

‘The score will be wiped clean, you’ll be discharged.’

End of Book II Satire I