The Satires

Satire XI – An Invitation to Dinner

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

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Satire XI: An Invitation To Dinner

SatXI:1-55 Know Yourself

If Atticus, the wealthy, dines well, he’s the height of elegance,

If Rutilus does so, he’s mad. What sparks louder laughter in

The public than a bankrupt gourmet? Every dinner-party,

Every bathhouse, square, and theatre is talking of Rutilus.

While his limbs are young, they say, and strong enough, for

Him to fight in a helmet, while his blood still burns hotly

He’s about to sign up to the code of the gladiatorial school,

With its royal decrees, free of the tribune’s pressure or veto.

You can find plenty like him, whose only reason for living

Is to satisfy their palate, whose creditors, barely eluded,

Frequently lie in wait for them at the gate of the market.

The most poverty-stricken gourmet will dine in choicest

And richest style, though facing ruin; the cracks apparent,

He’ll still be searching the four elements for appetisers,

Price no obstacle to his desire; indeed, if you watch closely,

He delights all the more in whatever proves most expensive.

He’ll not hesitate for a moment about raising liquid funds

By pawning the silver, or melting down mother’s statue.

He’ll not hesitate a moment to spend four thousand in gold

Spicing his gourmet dishes; only to eat stew with the gladiators.

It depends who holds the feast, then; Rutilus spells extravagance,

But the expense in Ventidius’ case is laudable and his wealth

Increases his fame and reputation. It’s right to despise the man

Who knows how superior Mount Atlas is in height to the other

Towering summits of Libya, yet hasn’t the least idea how small

His purse is compared with a treasure chest that’s bound in iron.

The saying gnωθι σεαυτόν: ‘know yourself’, is of heavenly origin,

It should be fixed in the memory, dwelt on in the heart, whether

You’re seeking a wife, or aim for a place in the sacred Senate;

Thersites had no wish to win the contest for Achilles’ armour,

That breastplate in which Ulysses made an exhibition of himself.

If it’s you who affect to defend a difficult and highly important

Case, then take counsel with yourself, ask yourself what you are,

A powerful orator, or merely a windbag, like Curtius or Matho?

You must know your measure, and be conscious of it in great

Things and in small, even for instance when you’re buying fish;

No point in desiring mullet, if your purse only runs to gudgeon!

Think of the fate that awaits you, as your wallet grows leaner

While your appetite increases, when you’ve sunk your paternal,

Inheritance, your property, your silver plate, all of that heavy

Stuff, with all your fields and herds, in your spacious stomach.

With spendthrift lords the last to go is the Roman knight’s gold

Ring, after which Pollio ends by begging with a naked finger.

It’s not a premature demise, an early funeral, the extravagant

Should fear, but old age, that is more to be feared than death.

There’s the usual progression: they’ll borrow money in Rome

And squander it in the lender’s face; then, while there’s still

A small amount left they’ll flee for Baiae and its oyster-beds.

It’s no worse these days to be declared bankrupt, than move

The other way, to the Esquiline from the seethe of Subura.

The only grief they experience fleeing the City, their only

Regret, is having to miss a year of races in the Circus.

There’s not a trace of a blush on their faces: Shame is

Mocked as she hastens from Rome, few seek to detain her.

SatXI:56-89 An Invitation To Dinner – The Food

Now you’ll discover, Persicus, whether I live up to this fine talk

In reality, in my style of living and my behaviour, or whether

Though singing the praises of beans, I’m really a gourmet at heart,

Ask my slave for porridge in public, but whisper ‘tart’ in his ear?

Now you’ve promised to be my guest, I’ll be your King Evander,

While you’ll be Hercules, hero of Tiryns, or that lesser guest

Aeneas, who could still count a goddess in his family tree.

Listen to what I’ll serve, without recourse to the market.

From my Tiburtine farm comes a little kid, the most tender,

The plumpest, of the herd, that’s as yet unacquainted with

Grazing, that hasn’t yet dared to nibble the hanging willow

Shoots, there’s more milk than blood in its veins; then wild

Asparagus, picked by my steward’s wife when she’s finished

Her weaving; large eggs, still warm, wrapped in wisps of hay,

Accompanying the hens themselves; and grapes kept for half

A year, still as good as they were when they hung on the vine;

Syrian and Signian pears; and in the same baskets of fruit

Fresh-smelling apples equalling those from Picenum; don’t

Fret, their autumnal juice has been tempered by frost,

And they’ve shed that dangerous lack of ripeness. In the

Old days, this would already have seemed a luxurious feast

To the Senate. Manius Curius Dentatus would cook humble

Greens, picked in the garden, on his modest hearth, now

Every squalid ditch-digger in the chain-gang would refuse it,

While reminiscing about the tripe he ate in some steaming diner. 

It was the tradition long ago to hang a side of salted pork

From the wide-barred rack ready for festive occasions, and

To serve your relations a birthday meal of bacon, with fresh

Meat too, if you received a cut from the sacrificial victim.

Even a relative, three-times consul, who’d held the office

Of dictator, and who’d commanded armies, would still

Hurry back for such a feast, earlier than usual, carrying

His spade on his shoulder, from some hillside he’d tamed.

SatXI:90-135 An Invitation To Dinner – The Surroundings

In the days when they trembled before the Fabii and Scauri,

Fabricius, and stern Cato, when the strict censor’s rigid

Moral code caused even his colleague to shiver with fear,

No one pondered, as a matter for serious consideration,

What species of tortoise swimming the Ocean’s wave,

Might make a fine and notable headrest for the elite;

Their couches were modest with bare sides, the bronze

Front displaying an ass’s head garlanded with vines,

Around which the playful rural children would frolic.

Their homes and their furniture matched their cuisine.

Then soldiers were simple men, ignorant of Greek art,

And they’d break up cups made by great craftsmen,

Their share of the spoils from some conquered city,

So their horses could be decked with the trappings,

And their helmets be studded with scenes their foes

Might gaze at, as they died; fate commanding the wolf

To be tame, that sucked Romulus; or the twins in the cave;

Or their father, Mars, descending, no shield or spear.

And thus they served their porridge in Tuscan bowls:

Their silver served solely to make their armour gleam.

You could envy all that, if you were the envious sort!

And the power of the shrines was more tangible then,

A voice in the depths of night echoed in silent Rome,

When the Gauls were on the march from the Ocean shore,

And the gods acting as prophets. Such, Jupiter’s warning,

Such the protection he offered Latium, when his image

Was fashioned from pottery, not tarnished by gold.

In those days you saw home-made tables crafted from

Our own trees; the wood was stacked for use, if some

Ancient walnut tree was overturned by an easterly wind.

But now the rich get no pleasure from dining; the turbot,

The venison are tasteless; the roses and fragrances foul,

Unless the great round tabletop is held up by a massive

Ivory pillar, a rampant snarling leopard made of tusks

Imported from Aswan, Gate of Syene, by the swift

Moors, or the Indian traders, even more dark-skinned;

Tusks that the elephants drop in the glades of Nabatea,

When they prove too large and heavy. It stirs the appetite,

And strengthens the stomach; a pedestal made of silver,

Would be like a plebeian iron ring on the finger. So I

Avoid the snobbish guest, who compares me to himself,

And despises my meagre resources. I own not an ounce

Of ivory, neither dice nor abacus beads made of the stuff,

Even the handles of my knives are fashioned out of bone.

Yet they’ve never made the fish or bread I serve rancid,

Nor is the chicken I carve any the worse for that reason.

SatXI:136-182 An Invitation To Dinner – The Entertainment

And I won’t have a carver to whom the whole school

Of carvers has to bow down, a disciple of Trypherus

The learned, in whose classroom they blunt steel, slicing

Sows, huge hares, wild boar, gazelle, Scythian pheasants,

Enormous flamingos, Gaetulian oryx, sumptuous fare,

Till the elm-wood chopping board’s echoes fill the Subura.

Nor has my novice servant learnt how to purloin a hunk

Of venison, or slice of Guinea fowl, untutored all his days,

And only initiated as yet in the stealing of tiniest scraps.

An uncultured boy will hand round the commonest cups,

Bought for a few pennies; he’ll be wrapped against the cold;

He’s no Phrygian, or Lycian slave obtained from the dealer

At great expense: when you want something, ask him in Latin.

All my slaves dress alike, their hair is cut short and straight,

And it’s only been combed today because of the dinner I give.

This one’s a tough shepherd’s son, this one’s father’s a drover.

That one sighs for the mother he’s not seen for so many days,

Pines for his little cottage, and the goats that he knew so well,

He’s a noble face, and his sense of honour is noble, both are

Fit to adorn those who are clothed in the glowing purple toga;

His voice hasn’t broken, he doesn’t display his teenage balls

At the baths, he hasn’t yet offered his armpits for plucking,

Nor does he nervously hide his swollen cock with an oil-flask.

The wine he’ll serve you was casked in the very same hills

He comes from, and below whose summits he played.

Perhaps you’re expecting the sound of tunes from Cadiz,

To set you going, dancing girls shimmying to the floor,

Wiggling their bottoms around to appreciative applause.

Young wives watch such, reclining beside their spouses,

Even though you may be too embarrassed to describe it.

It has the effect of arousing jaded desire, fiercely too,

Like stinging nettles; swelling more and more, until

With its sights and sounds, the pent up liquid flows.

My humble home excludes such nonsense. Let the man

Enjoy the clacking castanets; words from which even

The naked slave, for sale in a rank brothel, will abstain;

Let him delight in filthy language and pornographic art;

Whose spat out wine-dregs oil his Spartan marble floor;

My dinner today will offer another kind of enjoyment:

We’ll have recitations from Homer, and Virgil’s verse

Resonating on high, each challenging for supremacy.

What matter whose voice delivers such words as those?

SatXI:183-208 Leave Your Cares Behind

But now relinquish care, put business aside, and treat

Yourself to a pleasant interlude, in which you may

Idle the whole day away. There’ll be not a mention

Of payments due; nor shall you let your wife arouse

Your silent anger, though she’s out from dawn to dusk,

Though she comes back in the dark, her flimsy dress

Clinging to her, and suspiciously wrinkled, her hair

All over the place, and her face and ears still aglow.

Throw off whatever annoys you at my door, leave

House and slaves behind, whatever they’ve smashed

Or lost, and forget above all your friends’ ingratitude.

Here the rows of spectators celebrate the Idaean rites,

And the Megalesia’s starting flag; the praetor’s already

Seated there in triumph: he’s paid for the teams, and if I

Dare say so, without offending the vast, the excessive

Crowd, the Circus contains the whole of Rome today;

That ear-splitting noise tells me the Greens have won.

For if they’d lost you’d see this City of ours muted

And in mourning, as when the consuls lost their battle

In Cannae’s dust. Let the youngsters watch, theirs is

The clamour, the daring bets, a stylish girl at their side:

My wrinkled hide would rather drink the spring sunlight,

And shed its toga. You can head for the baths already,

With a clear conscience, though it’s an hour till noon.

It’s not something you will do every day of the week,

Since even this sort of life grows excessively boring:

Our pleasures are deepened by less frequent indulgence.

End of Satire XI