Juvenal, Satires. (1918). Satire 9
[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]
The Sorrows of a Reprobate
I should like to know, Naevolus, why you so often look gloomy when I meet you, knitting your brow like a vanquished Marsyas.1 What have you to do with the look that Ravola wore when caught playing that dirty trick with Rhodope? If a slave takes a lick at the pastry, he gets a thrashing for his pains! Why do you look as woe-begone as Crepereius Pollio when he goes round offering a triple rate of interest, and can find no fool to trust him? Why have you suddenly developed those wrinkles? You used to be an easily contented person, who passed as a home-bred knight that could make biting jests at the dinner-table and tell witty town-bred stories. But now you are a different man. You have a hang-dog look; your head is a forest of unkempt, unanointed hair; your skin has lost all the gloss that it got from swathes of hot Bruttian pitch, and your legs are dirty and rough with sprouting hair. Why are you as thin as a chronic invalid in whom a quartan fever has long made its home? One can detect in a sickly body the secret torments of the soul, as also its joys: the face takes on the stamp of either. You seem, therefore, to have changed your mode of life, and to be going in a way opposite to your past. Not long ago, as I remember, you were a gallant more notorious than Aundius; you used to frequent the Temple of Isis and that of Peace with its Ganymede, and the secret courts of the Foreign Mother----for in what temple are there not frail fair ones to be found?
"Many men have found profit in my mode of life; but I have made nothing substantial out of my labours. I sometimes have a greasy cloak given me that will save my toga----a coarse and crudely dyed garment that has been ill-combed by the Gallic weaver----or some trifle in silver of an inferior quality. Man is ruled by destiny; even those parts of him that lie beneath his clothes. . . . What greater monster is there in the world than a miserly debauchee? 'I gave you this,' says he, 'and then that; and later again ever so much more.' Thus he makes a reckoning with his lusts. Well, set out the counters, call in the lads with the reckoning board, count out five thousand sesterces all told, and then enumerate my services. ... I am less accounted of than the poor hind who ploughs his master's field. You used to deem yourself a delicate and good-looking youth, fit to be Jove's own cup-bearer; but will men like you, who are unwilling to pay for your own morbid pleasures, ever show a kindness to a poor follower or a slave? A pretty fellow to have presents sent him of green sunshades or big amber balls on a birthday, or on the first day of showery spring, when he lolls at full length in a huge easy chair counting over the secret gifts he has received upon the Matron's Day! 2
"Tell me, you sparrow, for whose benefit are you keeping all those hills and farms in Apulia, all those pasture-lands that tire out the kites? Your stores are filled with rich grapes from your Trifoline vineyard, or from the slopes that look down upon Cumae, or the unpeopled Gaurus; whose vats seal up more vintages destined for long life than yours? Would it be a great matter to present a few acres to the loins of an exhausted client? Is it better, think you, that this country woman, with her cottage and her babe and her pet dog, should be bequeathed to a friend who plays the timbrels? 'You're an impudent beggar,' you say. Yes, but my rent cries on me to beg; and so does my single slave-lad----as single as that big eye of Polyphemus which helped the wily Ulysses to make his escape. And one slave is not enough; I shall have to buy a second and feed them both. What shall I do, pray, when the winter howls? What shall I say to their shivering feet and shoulders when December's north wind blows? Shall I say 'Hold on, and wait till the grasshoppers arrive'?
"And though you ignore and pass by my other services, what price do you put on this, that were I not your true and devoted client, your wife would still be a maid? You know how often, and in what ways, you have asked that service of me, and what promises you made to me. . . . There's many a household in which a union that was unstable, ready to break up, and all but dissolved, has been saved by the intervention of a lover. Which way can you turn? Which service do you put first, which last? Is it to be no merit, you thankless and perfidious man, none at all, that I have presented you with a little son or daughter? For you rear the children, and love to spread abroad in the gazette the proofs of your virility. Hang up garlands over your door! You are now a father; I have given you something to set up against ill fame. You have now parental rights; through me you can be entered as an heir, and receive a legacy entire, with a nice little extra into the bargain; to all which perquisites many more will be added if I make up your family to the full number of three."
Indeed, Naevolus, you have just cause of complaint. But what has he got to say on the other side? "He takes no notice, and looks out for another two-legged donkey like myself. But remember, my secrets are for your ears alone; keep my complaints fast locked up in your own bosom. It is a fatal thing to have for your enemy a man who keeps himself smooth by pumice-stone! The man who has lately entrusted me with a secret has a consuming hatred of me, believing I have revealed everything that I know; he will not hesitate to take up a sword, or to lay open my head with a club, or to put a lighted candle against my door. Nor can you disregard or make nothing of the fact that for a man of his means the price of poison is never high. So keep my secrets close----as close as did the Council of Areopagus!"
O my poor Corydon! Do you suppose that a rich man has any secrets? Though his slaves hold their tongues, his beasts of burden and his dog will talk; his door posts and his marble columns will tell tales. Let him shut the windows, and close every chink with curtains; let him fasten the doors, remove the light, turn everyone out of the house, and permit no one to sleep in it----yet the tavern-keeper close by will know before dawn what he was doing at the second cock-crow; he will hear also all the tales invented by the pastry-man, by the head cook and the carver. For what calumny will they hesitate to concoct against their masters when a slander will avenge them for their strappings? Nor will some tippling friend be wanting to look for you at the crossways, and, do what you will, pour his drunken story into your ear. So just ask those people to hold their tongues about the things you questioned me about just now! Why, they would rather blab out a secret than drink as much stolen wine as Saufeia used to swill when conducting a public sacrifice. There are many reasons for right living; but the chiefest of them all is this, that you need pay no attention to the talk of your slaves. For the tongue is the worst part of a bad slave; and yet worse still is the plight of a man who cannot escape from the talk of those whom he supports with his own bread and money.
"Your advice is excellent, but it is vague. What do you advise me to do now, after all my lost time and disappointed hopes? for the short span of our poor unhappy life is hurrying swiftly on, like a flower, to its close: while we drink, and call for chaplets, for unguents, and for maidens, old age is creeping on us unperceived."
Be not afraid; so long as these seven hills of ours stand fast, pathic friends will never fail you: from every quarter, in carriages and in ships, those gentry who scratch their heads with one finger will flock in. And you have always a further and better ground of hope----if you fit your diet to your trade.
"Such maxims are for the fortunate; my Clotho and Lachesis are well pleased if I can fill my belly with my labours. O my own little Lares, whom I am wont to supplicate with a pinch of frankincense or corn, or with a tiny garland, when can I assure myself of what will keep my old days from the beggar's staff and mat? Twenty thousand sesterces, well secured; some vessels of plain silver----yet such as Censor Fabricius would have condemned----and a couple of stout Moesian porters on whose hired necks I may be taken comfortably to my place in the bawling circus. Let me have besides a stooping engraver, and a painter who will quickly dash off any number of likenesses. Enough this for a poor man like me. It is a pitiful prayer, and I have little hope even of that; for whenever Fortune is supplicated on my behalf, she plugs her ears with wax fetched from that selfsame ship which escaped from the Sicilian songstresses through the deafness of her crew." 3
1. Flayed by Apollo when beaten in a musical contest.
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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