Juvenal, Satires. (1918). Satire 7
[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]
Learning and Letters Unprofitable
On Caesar alone hang all the hopes and prospects of the learned; he alone in these days of ours has cast a favouring glance upon the sorrowing Muses----at a time when poets of name and fame thought of hiring baths at Gabii, or bakehouses in Rome, while others felt no shame in becoming public criers, and starving Clio herself, bidding adieu to the vales of Aganippe,1 was flitting to the auction rooms. For if you see no prospect of earning a groat within the Muses' grove, you had better put up with Machaera's 2 name and profits and join in the battle of the sale-room, selling to the crowd winejars, tripods, book-cases and cupboards----the Alcithoe of Paccius, the Thebes or the Tereus 3 of Faustus! How much better that than to say before a judge "I saw" what you did not see! Leave that to the Knights of Asia,4 of Bithynia and Cappadocia----gentry that were imported bare-footed 5 from New Gaul!
But from this day forth no man who weaves the tuneful web of song and has bitten Apollo's laurel will be compelled to endure toil unworthy of his craft. To your task, young men! Your Prince is looking around and goading you on, seeking objects for his favour. If you expect patronage from any other quarter, and in that hope are filling up the parchment of your saffron tablet, you had better order faggots at once, Telesinus, and present your productions to the spouse 6 of Venus; or else put away your tomes, and let bookworms bore holes in them where they lie. Break your pen, poor wretch; destroy the battles that have robbed you of your sleep----you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust 7 wreathed with ivy! No hope have you beyond that; your rich miser has now learnt only to admire, only to commend the eloquent, just as boys admire the bird of Juno.8 Meantime the years flow by that could have endured the sea, the helmet, or the spade; the soul becomes wearied, and an eloquent but penniless old age curses itself and its own Terpsichore! 9
And now learn the devices by which the patron for whose favour you desert the temples of the Muses and Apollo seeks to avoid spending anything on you. He writes verses of his own; yielding the palm to none but Homer----and that only because of his thousand years. If the sweets of fame fire you to give a recitation, he puts at your disposal a tumbledown house in some distant quarter, the door of which is closely barred like the gate of a beleaguered city. He knows how to supply you Avith freedmen to sit at the end of the rows, and how to distribute about the room the stalwart voices of his retainers: but none of your great men will give you as much as will pay for the benches, or for the tiers of seats resting on hired beams, or for the chairs in the front rows which will have to be returned when done with. Yet for all that, we poets stick to our task; we go on drawing furrows in the thin soil, and turning up the shore with unprofitable plough. For if you would give it up, the itch for writing and making a name holds you fast as with a noose, and becomes inveterate in your distempered brain.
But your real poet, who has a vein of genius all his own----one who spins no hackneyed lays, and whose pieces are struck from no common mint----such an one as I cannot point to, and only feel----is the product of a soul free from care, that knows no bitterness, that loves the woodlands, and is fitted to drink at the Muses' spring. For how can unhappy Poverty sing songs in the Pierian cave and grasp the thyrsus when it is short of cash, which the body has need of both by night and day? Horace's stomach was well filled when he shouted his cry of Evoe! Where can genius find a place except in a heart stirred by song alone, that shuts out every thought but one, and is swept along by the lords of Cirrha and of Nysa! 10 It needs a lofty soul, not one that is dismayed at the cost of a coverlet, to have visions of chariots and horses and Gods' faces, or to tell with what a mien the Fury confounded the Rutulian 11: had Virgil possessed no slave, and no decent roof over his head, all the snakes would have fallen from the Fury's hair; no dread note would have boomed from her voiceless trumpet. Do we expect Rubrenus Lappa to be as great in the buskin as the ancients, when his Atreus has to be pawned for his cloak and crockery? Numitor, poor man, has nothing to give to a needy friend, though he is rich enough to send presents to his mistress, and he had enough, too, to buy a tamed lion that needed masses of meat for his keep. It costs less, no doubt, to keep a lion than a poet; the poet's belly is more capacious!
Lucan,12 indeed, reclining amid the statues of his gardens, may be content with fame; but what will ever so much glory bring in to Serranus, or to the starving Saleius, if it be glory only? When Statius 13 has gladdened the city by promising a day, people flock to hear his pleasing voice and his loved Thebais; so charmed are their souls by his sweetness, with such rapture does the multitude listen to him. But when his verses have brought down the house, poor Statius will starve if he does not sell his virgin Agave to Paris 14: for it is Paris who appoints men to military commands; it is Paris who puts the golden ring round the poet's finger after six months of service.15 You can get from a stage-player what no great man will give you: why frequent the spacious antechambers of the Bareae or the Camerini? It is Pelopea 4 that appoints our Prefects, and Philomela 16 our Tribunes! Yet you need not begrudge the bard who gains his living from the play-house: who nowadays will be a Maecenas 17 to you, a Proculeius, or a Fabius? who another Cotta, or a second Lentulus? Genius in those days met with its due reward; many then found their profit in pale cheeks and in abjuring potations all through December.18
And is your labour more remunerative, ye writers of history? More time, more oil, is wasted here; regardless of all limit, the pages run up to thousands; the pile of paper is ever mounting to your ruin. So ordains the vast array of facts, and the rules of the craft. But what harvest will you gather, what fruit, from the tilling of your land? Who will give to an historian as much as he gives to the man who reads out the news?
"O but historians are a lazy crew, that delight in lounging and the shade." Tell me then what do pleaders get for their services in the courts, and for those huge bundles of papers which they bring with them? They talk big enough, especially if a creditor 19 of their own happens to be listening: or if, more urgent still, they get poked in the ribs by one who has brought a huge ledger to claim a doubtful debt. Then indeed do their capacious bellows pant forth prodigious lies! Then are their breasts be-slobbered! 20 and yet, if you want to discover their real gains, you may put on one side the fortunes of a hundred lawyers, on the other that of a single jockey of the Red! 21 The great men are seated; you rise, a pale-faced Ajax,22 to declaim before a bumpkin judge in a case of contested liberty. Strain your lungs, poor fool, until they burst, that when exhausted by your labours some green palm-branches may be put up to adorn your garret.23 What fee will your voice bring in? A dried-up ham 24; a jar of sprats; some veteran onions which would serve as rations for a Moor, or five flagons of wine that has sailed down the Tiber.25 If you have pled on four occasions, and been lucky enough to get a gold piece, a bit of it, as part of the compact, will go to the attorney. Aemilius will get the maximum legal fee,26 though he did not plead so well as we did; but then he has a bronze chariot in his forecourt, with four stately steeds, and an effigy of himself, seated on a gallant charger, brandishing from afar a bending spear, and practising for battle with one eye closed. That is how Pedo 27 becomes bankrupt, and how Matho 27 fails; and such will be the end of Tongilius, who frequents the baths with a huge oil-flask of rhinoceros horn, and disturbs the bathers with a mob of dirty retainers. His Maedian bearers are weighed down by the long poles of his litter as he passes through the Forum on his way to buy slaves or plate, agate vases or country houses; for that foreign robe of his, with its Tyrian purple, gains him credit. These gentlemen get profit out of this display; the purple or the violet robe brings practice to a lawyer; it pays him to live with a racket and an appearance beyond his means, and wasteful Rome sets no limits to extravagance.
Trust in eloquence, indeed? Why, no one would give Cicero himself two hundred pence nowadays unless a huge ring were blazing on his finger. The first thing that a litigant looks to is, Have you eight slaves and a dozen retainers? Have you a litter to wait on you, and gowned citizens to walk before you? That is why Paulus used to hire a sardonyx ring; that is why he earned a higher fee than Gallus or Basilus. When is eloquence ever found beneath a shabby coat? When does Basilus get the chance of producing in court a weeping mother? Who would listen to him, however well he spoke? Better go to Gaul or to Africa,28 that nursing mother of lawyers, if you would make a living by your tongue!
Or do you teach rhetoric? O Vettius! what iron bowels must you have when your troop of scholars slays 29 the cruel tyrant: when each in turn stands up, and repeats what he has just been conning in his seat, reciting the self-same things in the self-same verses! Served up again and again, the cabbage is the death of the unhappy master! What complexion 30 should be put on the case; within what category it falls; what is the crucial point; what hits will be made on the other side----these are things which everyone wants to know, but for which no one is willing to pay. "Pay indeed? Why, what have I learnt?" asks the scholar. It is the teacher's fault, of course, that the Arcadian youth feels no flutter in his left breast when he dins his "dire Hannibal" into my unfortunate head on every sixth day of the week, whatever be the question which he is pondering: whether he should make straight for the city from the field of Cannae, or whether, after the rain and thunder, he should lead around his cohorts, all dripping after the storm. Name any sum you please and you shall have it: what would I give 31 that the lad's father might listen to him as often as I do! So cry half-a-dozen or more of our sophists 32 in one breath, entering upon real lawsuits 33 of their own, abandoning "The Ravisher" and forgetting all about "The Poisoner" or "The wicked and thankless Husband," or the drugs that restore sight to the chronic blind.
And so, if my counsel goes for anything, I would advise the man who comes down from his rhetorical shade to fight for a sum that would buy a trumpery corn-ticket 34----for that's the most handsome fee he will ever get----to present himself with a discharge,35 and enter upon some other walk of life. If you ask what fees Chrysogonus and Pollio 36 get for teaching music to the sons of our great men, you will tear up the Rhetoric of Theodorus.37
Your great man will spend six hundred thousand sesterces upon his baths, and something more on the colonnade in which he is to drive on rainy days. What? Is he to wait for a clear sky, and bespatter his horses with fresh mud? How much better to drive where their hoofs will remain bright and spotless! Elsewhere let a banqueting hall arise, supported on lofty pillars of African marble, to catch the winter sun. And cost the house what it may, there will come a man to arrange the courses skilfully, and the man who makes up the tasty dishes. Amidst expenditure such as this two thousand sesterces will be enough, and more than enough, for Quintilian: there is nothing on which a father will not spend more money than on his son. "How then," you ask, "does Quintilian possess those vast domains?" Pass by cases of rare good fortune: the lucky man 38 is both beautiful and brave, he is wise and noble and high-born; he sews on to his black shoe the crescent of the Senator. He is a great orator too, a good javelin-man, and if he chance to have caught a cold, he sings divinely. For it makes all the difference by what stars you are welcomed when you utter your first cry, and are still red from your mother's womb. If Fortune so choose, you will become a Consul from being a rhetor; if again she so wills, you will become a rhetor from being a Consul.
What of Ventidius 39 and Tullius? 40 What made their fortunes but the stars and the wondrous potency of secret Fate? The Fates will give kingdoms to a slave, and triumphs to a captive! Nevertheless that fortunate man is rare----rarer than a white crow. Many have repented them of the Professor's vain and unprofitable chair; witness the ends of Thrasymachus 41 and Secundus Carrinas.41 Him too didst thou see in poverty on whom thou, O Athens, hadst nothing better to bestow than a cup of cold hemlock! 42 Grant, O Gods, that the earth may lie soft and light upon the shades of our forefathers: may the sweet-scented crocus and a perpetual spring-time bloom over their ashes; who deemed that the teacher should hold the place of a revered parent! Achilles trembled for fear of the rod when already of full age, singing songs in his native hills; nor would he then have dared to laugh at the tail of his musical instructor.43 But Rufus and the rest are cudgelled each by his own pupils----that Rufus 44 whom they have so often styled "the Allobrogian Cicero."
Who pours into the lap of Celadus, or of the learned Palaemon,45 as much as their grammatical labours deserve? And yet, small as the fee is----and it is smaller than the rhetor's wage----the pupil's unfeeling 46 attendant nibbles off a bit of it for himself; so too does the steward. But never mind, Palaemon; suffer some diminution of your wage, like the hawker who sells rags and white Gallic blankets for winter wear, if only it do not go for nothing that you have sat from early dawn in a hole which no blacksmith would put up with, no workman who teaches how to card wool with slanting tool: that it do not go for nothing to have snuffed up the odour of as many lamps as you had scholars in your class thumbing a discoloured Horace or a begrimed Virgil.
But it is seldom that the fee can be recovered without a judgment of the Court. And yet be sure, ye parents, to impose the strictest laws upon the teacher: he must never be at fault in his grammar; he must know all history, and have all the authorities at his finger-tips. If asked a chance question on his way to the baths, or to the establishment of Phoebus,47 he must at once tell you who was the nurse of Anchises, what was the name and birth-place of Anchemolus' 48 step-mother, to what age Acestes lived, how many flagons of Sicilian wine he presented to the Trojans.49 Require of him that he shall mould the young minds as a man moulds a face out of wax with his thumb; insist that he shall be a father to the whole brood, so that they shall play no nasty game, and do no nasty trick----no easy matter to watch the hands and sparkling eyes of so many youngsters! "See to all this," you say, "and then, when the year comes round, receive the golden piece which the mob demands for a winning jockey."
1. An inspiring spring on Mt. Helicon,
sacred to the Muses.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2008. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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