Juvenal, Satires. (1918). Satire 8
[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]
Stemmata quid Faciunt?
What avail your pedigrees? What boots it, Ponticus, to be valued for one's ancient blood, and to display the painted visages of one's forefathers----an Aemilianus 1 standing in his car; a half-crumbled Curius; a Corvinus who has lost a shoulder, or a Galba that has neither ear nor nose? Of what profit is it to boast a Fabius on your ample family chart, and thereafter to trace kinship through many a branch with grimy Dictators and Masters of the Horse, if in presence of the Lepidi you live an evil life? What signify all these effigies of warriors if you gamble all night long before your Numantine 2 ancestors, and begin your sleep with the rise of Lucifer, at an hour when our Generals of old would be moving their standards and their camps? Why should a Fabius, born in the home of Hercules,3 take pride in the title Allobrogicus,4 and in the Great Altar,5 if he be covetous and empty-headed and more effeminate than a Euganean 6 lambkin; if his loins, rubbed smooth by Catanian 7 pumice, throw shame on his shaggy-haired grandfathers; or if, as a trafficker in poison, he dishonour his unhappy race by a statue that will have to be broken in pieces? Though you deck your hall from end to end with ancient waxen images, Virtue is the one and only true nobility. Be a Paulus, or a Cossus, or a Drusus in character; rank them before the statues of your ancestors; let them precede the fasces themselves when you are Consul. You owe me, first of all things, the virtues of the soul; prove yourself stainless in life, one who holds fast to the right both in word and deed, and I acknowledge you as a lord; all hail to you, Gaetulicus, or you, Silanus, or from whatever stock you come, if you have proved yourself to a rejoicing country a rare and illustrious citizen, we would fain cry what Egypt shouts when Osiris has been found.8 For who can be called "noble" who is unworthy of his race, and distinguished in nothing but his name? We call some one's dwarf an "Atlas," his blackamoor "a swan"; an ill-favoured, misshapen girl we call "Europa"; lazy hounds that are bald with chronic mange, and who lick the edges of a dry lamp, will bear the names of "Pard," "Tiger," "Lion," or of any other animal in the world that roars more fiercely: take you care that it be not on that principle that you are a Creticus or a Camerinus!
Who is it whom I admonish thus? It is to you, Rubellius Blandus,9 that I speak. You are puffed up with the lofty pedigree of the Drusi, as though you had done something to make you noble, and to be conceived by one glorying in the blood of Iulus, rather than by one who weaves for hire under the windy rampart. "You others are dirt," you say; "the very scum of our populace; not one of you can point to his father's birthplace; but I am one of the Cecropidae!" Long life to you! May you long enjoy the glories of your birth! And yet among the lowest rabble you will find a Roman, who has eloquence, one who will plead the cause of the unlettered noble; you must go to the toga-clad herd for a man to untie the knots and riddles of the law. From them will come the brave young soldier who marches to the Euphrates, or to the eagles that guard the conquered Batavians, while you are nothing but a Cecropid, the image of a limbless Hermes! For in no respect but one have you the advantage over him: his head is of marble, while yours is a living effigy!
Tell me, thou scion of the Trojans, who deems a dumb animal well-born unless it be strong? It is for this that we commend the swift horse whose speed sets every hand aglow, and fills the Circus with the hoarse shout of victory; that horse is noblest, on whatever pasture reared, whose rush outstrips the rest, and whose dust is foremost upon the plain. But the offspring of Coryphaeus 10 or Hirpinus 10 comes to the hammer if Victory light but seldom on his car: no respect is there paid to ancestors, no favour is shown to Shades! The slow of foot, that are fit only to turn a miller's wheel, pass, for a mere nothing, from one owner to another, and gall their necks against the collar. So, if I am to respect yourself, and not your belongings, give me something of your own to engrave among your titles, in addition to those honours which we pay, and have paid, to those to whom you owe your all.
Enough this for the youth whom report has handed down to us as proud and puffed up with his kinship to Nero: for in those high places regard for others is rarely to be found. But for you, Ponticus, I cannot wish that you should be valued for the glories of your race while doing nothing that shall bring you praise in the days to come. It is a poor thing to lean upon the fame of others, lest the pillars give way and the house fall down in ruin. The vine-shoot, trailing upon the ground, longs for the widowed elm. Be a stout soldier, a faithful guardian, and an incorruptible judge; if summoned to bear witness in some dubious and uncertain cause, though Phalaris 11 himself should bring up his bull and dictate to you a perjury, count it the greatest of all sins to prefer life to honour, and to lose, for the sake of living, all that makes life worth having. The man who merits death is already dead, though he dine off a hundred Lucrine 12 oysters, and bathe in a whole cauldron of Cosmus' 13 essences.
When you enter your long-expected Province as its Governor, set a curb and a limit to your passion, as also to your greed; have compassion on the impoverished provincials, whose very bones have been sucked dry of marrow; have regard to what the law ordains, what the Senate enjoins; consider what honours await the good ruler, with what a just thunderstroke the Senate hurled down Capito and Numitor,14 those plunderers 15 of the Cilicians. Yet what profit was there from their condemnation? 16 Look out for an auctioneer, Chaerippus,17 to sell your chattels, seeing that Pansa has stripped you of all that Natta left. And hold your tongue about it; when all else is gone, it is madness to throw away your passage-money.18
Very different in days of old were the wailings of our allies and the harm inflicted on them by losses, when they had been newly conquered and were wealthy still. Their houses then were all well-stored; they had piles of money, with Spartan mantles and Coan purples; beside the paintings of Parrhasius, and the statues of Myron, stood the living ivories of Phidias; everywhere the works of Polyclitus were to be seen; few tables were without a Mentor.19 But after that came now a Dolabella,20 now an Antonius,21 and now a sacrilegious Verres,22 loading big ships with secret spoils, peace-trophies more numerous than those of war. Nowadays, on capturing a farm, you may rob our allies of a few yoke of oxen, or a few mares, with the sire of the herd; or of the household gods themselves, if there be a good statue left, or a single Deity in his little shrine; such are the best and choicest things to be got now. You despise perchance, and deservedly, the unwarlike Rhodian and the scented Corinthian: what harm will their resined 23 youths do you, or the smooth legs of the entire breed? But keep clear of rugged Spain, avoid the land of Gaul and the Dalmatian shore; spare, too, those harvesters 24 who fill the belly of a city that has no leisure save for the Circus and the play: what great profit can you reap from outrages upon Libyans, seeing that Marius 25 has so lately stripped Africa to the skin? Beware above all things to do no wrong to men who are at once brave and miserable. You may take from them all the gold and silver that they have; but plundered though they be, they will still have their arms; they will still have their shields and their swords, their javelins and helmets.
What I have just propounded is no mere theme, it is the truth; you may take it that I am reading out to you one of the Sibyl's leaves. If your whole staff be incorruptible: if no long-haired Ganymede sells your judgments; if your wife be blameless; if, in your circuit through the towns and districts, there is no Harpy ready to pounce with crooked talons upon gold,----then you may trace back your race to Picus 26; if you delight in lofty names, you may count the whole array of Titans, and Prometheus himself, among your ancestors, and select for yourself a great-grandfather from whatever myth you please. But if you are carried away headlong by ambition and by lust; if you break your rods upon the bleeding backs of our allies; if you love to see your axes blunted and your headsmen weary, then the nobility of your own parents begins to rise up in judgment against you, and to hold a glaring torch over your misdeeds. The greater the sinner's name, the more signal the guiltiness of the sin. If you are wont to put your signature to forged deeds, what matters it to me that you sign them in temples built by your grandfather, or in front of the triumphal statue of your father? What does that matter, if you steal out at night for adultery, your brow concealed under a cowl of Gallic wool?
The bloated Lateranus whirls past the bones and ashes of his ancestors in a rapid car; with his own hands this muleteer 27 Consul locks the wheel with the drag. It is by night, indeed: but the moon looks on; the stars strain their eyes to see. When his time of office is over, Lateranus will take up his whip in broad daylight; not shrinking to meet a now-aged friend, he will be the first to salute him with his whip; he will unbind the trusses of hay, and deal out the fodder to his weary cattle. Meanwhile, though he slays woolly victims and tawny steers after Numa's fashion, he swears by no other deity before Jove's high altar than the Goddess of horseflesh, and the images painted on the reeking stables. And when it pleases him to go back to the all-night tavern, a Syro-Phoenician runs forth to meet him-----a denizen of the Idumaean gate 28 perpetually drenched in perfumes----and salutes him as lord and prince with all the airs of a host; and with him comes Cyane, her dress tucked up, carrying a flagon of wine for sale.
An apologist will say to me, "We too did the same as boys." Perhaps: but then you ceased from your follies and let them drop. Let your evil days be short; let some of your misdoings be cut off with your first beard.29 Boys may be pardoned; but when Lateranus frequented those hot liquor shops with their inscribed linen awnings, he was of ripe age, fit to guard in arms the Armenian and Syrian rivers, the Danube and the Rhine; fit to protect the person of his Emperor. Send your Legate to Ostia, O Caesar, but search for him in some big cookshop! There you will find him, lying cheek-by-jowl beside a cut-throat, in the company of bargees, thieves, and runaway slaves, beside hangmen and coffin-makers, or of some eunuch priest lying drunk with idle timbrels. Here is Liberty Hall! One cup serves for everybody; no one has a bed to himself, nor a table apart from the rest. What would you do, friend Ponticus, if you chanced upon a slave like this? You would send him to your Lucanian or Tuscan bridewell.30 But you gentlemen of Trojan blood find excuses for yourselves; what would disgrace a huckster sits gracefully on a Volesus or a Brutus!
What if I can never cite any example so foul and shameful that there is not something worse behind? Your means exhausted, Damasippus, you hired out your voice to the stage,31 taking the part of the Clamorous Ghost of Catullus.32 The nimble Lentulus acted famously the part of Laureolus 33: deserving, in my judgment, to be really and truly crucified. Nor can the spectators themselves be forgiven: the populace that with brazen front sits and beholds the triple buffooneries of our patricians, that can listen to a bare-footed 34 Fabius, and laugh to see the Mamerci cuffing each other. What matters it at what price they sell their deaths? 35 No Nero compels them to sell; yet they hesitate not to sell themselves at the games of the exalted Praetor. And yet suppose that on one side of you were placed a sword, on the other the stage: which were the better choice? Was ever any man so afraid of death that he would choose to be the jealous husband of a Thymele, or the colleague of the clown Corinthus? Yet when an Emperor 36 has taken to harp-playing, it is not so very strange that a noble should act in a mime. Beyond this, what will be left but the gladiatorial school? And that scandal too you have seen in our city: a Gracchus fighting, not indeed as a murmillo, nor with the round shield and scimitar 37: such accoutrements he rejects, ay rejects and detests; nor does a helmet shroud his face. See how he wields his trident! and when with poised right hand he has cast the trailing net in vain, he lifts up his bare face to the benches and flies, for all to recognise, from one end of the arena to the other.38 We cannot mistake the golden tunic that flutters from his throat, and the twisted cord that dangles from the high-crowned cap 39; and so the pursuer who was pitted against Gracchus endured a shame more grievous than any wound.
If free suffrage were granted to the people, who would be so abandoned as not to prefer Seneca 40 to Nero----Nero, for whose chastisement no single ape or adder, no solitary sack,41 should have been provided? His crime was like that of Agamemnon's son 42; but the case was not the same, seeing that Orestes, at the bidding of the Gods, was avenging a father slain in his cups.43 Orestes never stained himself with Electra's blood, or with that of his Spartan wife 44; he never mixed poison-drafts for his own kin; he never sang upon the stage,45 he never wrote an Epic upon Troy! For of all the deeds of Nero's cruel and bloody tyranny, which was there that more deserved to be avenged by the arms of a Verginius,46 of a Vindex 47 or a Galba? These were the deeds, these the graces of our high-born Prince, whose delight it was to prostitute himself by unseemly singing upon a foreign stage, and to earn a chaplet of Greek parsley! Let thy ancestral images be decked with the trophies of thy voice! Place thou at the feet of a Domitius 48 the trailing robe of Thyestes 49 or Antigone,49 or the mask of Melanippa,49 and hang up thy harp on a colossus 50 of marble!
Where can be found, O Catiline, nobler ancestors than thine, or than thine, Cethegus? 51 Yet you plot a night attack, you prepare to give our houses and temples to the flames as though you were the sons of trousered 52 Gauls, or sprung from the Senones,53 daring deeds that deserved the shirt of torture.54 But our Consul 55 is awake, and beats back your hosts. Born at Arpinum, of ignoble blood, a municipal knight new to Rome, he posts helmeted men at every point to guard the affrighted citizens, and is alert on every hill. Thus within the walls his toga won for him as much name and honour as Octavius gained by battle in Leucas 56; as much as Octavius won by his blood-dripping sword on the plains of Thessaly 57; but then Rome was yet free when she styled him the Parent and Father of his country! Another son of Arpinum 58 used to work for hire upon the Volscian hills, toiling behind a plough not his own; after that, a centurion's knotty staff would be broken over his head 59 if his pick were slow and sluggish in the trench. Yet it is he who faces the Cimbri,60 and the mightiest perils; alone he saves the trembling city. And so when the ravens, who had never before seen such huge carcasses, flew down upon the slaughtered Cimbri, his high-born colleague is decorated with the second bay.
Plebeian were the souls of the Decii,61 plebeian were their names; yet they were accepted by the Gods beneath and by Mother Earth in lieu of all the Legions and the allies, and all the youth of Latium, for the Decii were more precious than the hosts whom they saved.
It was one born of a slave who won the robe and diadem and fasces of Quirinus----the last he of our good Kings 62----whereas the Consul's own sons, who should have dared some great thing for endangered liberty----some deed to be marvelled at by Mucius or Cocles,63 or by the maiden 64 who swam across the river-boundary of our realm----were for traitorously loosing the bolts of the city gates to the exiled tyrants. It was a slave----well worthy he to be bewailed by matrons----who revealed the secret plot to the Fathers, while the sons met their just punishment from scourging and from the axe then first used in the cause of Law.
I would rather that Thersites were your father if only you were like the grandson of Aeacus,65 and could wield the arms of Vulcan, than that you should have been begotten by Achilles and be like Thersites. Yet, after all, however far you may trace back your name, however long the roll, you derive your race from an ill-famed asylum: the first of your ancestors, whoever he was, was either a shepherd or something that I would rather not name.
1. Alluding to the younger Scipio, son of L. Aemilius
Paulus, who according to rule took the name of Aemilianus after his adoption by P. Cornelius Scipio (son of Scipio Africanus major).
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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