The poet renounces all verses of a ludicrous turn, and resolves to apply himself wholly to the study of philosophy, which teaches to bridle the desires, and to postpone every thing to virtue.
Maecenas, the subject of my earliest song, justly entitled to my latest, dost thou seek to engage me again in the old lists, having been tried sufficiently, and now presented with the foils? My age is not the same, nor is my genius. Veianius, his arms consecrated on a pillar of Hercules’ temple, lives snugly retired in the country, that he may not from the extremity of the sandy amphitheater so often supplicate the people’s favor. Some one seems frequently to ring in my purified ear: “Wisely in time dismiss the aged courser, lest, an object of derision, he miscarry at last, and break his wind.” Now therefore I lay aside both verses, and all other sportive matters; my study and inquiry is after what is true and fitting, and I am wholly engaged in this: I lay up, and collect rules which I may be able hereafter to bring into use. And lest you should perchance ask under what leader, in what house [of philosophy], I enter myself a pupil: addicted to swear implicitly to the ipse-dixits of no particular master, wherever the weather drives me, I am carried a guest. One while I become active, and am plunged in the waves of state affairs, a maintainer and a rigid partisan of strict virtue; then again I relapse insensibly into Aristippus’ maxims, and endeavor to adapt circumstances to myself, not myself to circumstances. As the night seems long to those with whom a mistress has broken her appointment, and the day slow to those who owe their labor; as the year moves lazy with minors, whom the harsh guardianship of their mothers confines; so all that time to me flows tedious and distasteful, which delays my hope and design of strenuously executing that which is of equal benefit to the poor and to the rich, which neglected will be of equal detriment to young and to old. It remains, that I conduct and comfort myself by these principles; your sight is not so piercing as that of Lynceus; you will not however therefore despise being anointed, if you are sore-eyed: nor because you despair of the muscles of the invincible Glycon, will you be careless of preserving your body from the knotty gout. There is some point to which we may reach, if we can go no further. Does your heart burn with avarice, and a wretched desire of more? Spells there are, and incantations, with which you may mitigate this pain, and rid yourself of a great part of the distemper. Do you swell with the love of praise? There are certain purgations which can restore you, a certain treatise, being perused thrice with purity of mind. The envious, the choleric, the indolent, the slave to wine, to women — none is so savage that he can not be tamed, if he will only lend a patient ear to discipline.
It is virtue, to fly vice; and the highest wisdom, to have lived free from folly. You see with what toil of mind and body you avoid those things which you believe to be the greatest evils, a small fortune and a shameful repulse. An active merchant, you run to the remotest Indies, fleeing poverty through sea, through rocks, through flames. And will you not learn, and hear, and be advised by one who is wiser, that you may no longer regard those things which you foolishly admire and wish for? What little champion of the villages and of the streets would scorn being crowned at the great Olympic games, who had the hopes and happy opportunity of victory without toil? Silver is less valuable than gold, gold than virtue. “O citizens, citizens, money is to be sought first; virtue after riches:” this the highest Janus from the lowest inculcates; young men and old repeat these maxims, having their bags and account-books hung on the left arm. You have soul, have breeding, have eloquence and honor: yet if six or seven thousand sesterces be wanting to complete your four hundred thousand, you shall be a plebeian. But boys at play cry, “You shall be king, if you will do right.” Let this be a [man’s] brazen wall, to be conscious of no ill, to turn pale with no guilt. Tell me, pray is the Roscian law best, or the boy’s song which offers the kingdom to them that do right, sung by the manly Curii and Camilli? Does he advise you best, who says, “Make a fortune; a fortune, if you can, honestly; if not, a fortune by any means”— that you may view from a nearer bench the tear-moving poems of Puppius; or he, who still animates and enables you to stand free and upright, a match for haughty fortune?
If now perchance the Roman people should ask me, why I do not enjoy the same sentiments with them, as [I do the same] porticoes, nor pursue or fly from whatever they admire or dislike; I will reply, as the cautious fox once answered the sick lion: “Because the foot-marks all looking toward you, and none from you, affright me.” Thou art a monster with many heads. For what shall I follow, or whom? One set of men delight to farm the public revenues: there are some, who would inveigle covetous widows with sweet-meats and fruits, and insnare old men, whom they would send [like fish] into their ponds: the fortunes of many grow by concealed usury. But be it, that different men are engaged in different employments and pursuits: can the same persons continue an hour together approving the same things? If the man of wealth has said, “No bay in the world outshines delightful Baiae,” the lake and the sea presently feel the eagerness of their impetuous master: to whom, if a vicious humor gives the omen, [he will cry,]—“tomorrow, workmen, ye shall convey hence your tools to Teanum.” Has he in his hall the genial bed? He says nothing is preferable to, nothing better than a single life. If he has not, he swears the married only are happy. With what noose can I hold this Proteus, varying thus his forms? What does the poor man? Laugh [at him too]: is he not forever changing his garrets, beds, baths, barbers? He is as much surfeited in a hired boat, as the rich man is, whom his own galley conveys.
If I meet you with my hair cut by an uneven barber, you laugh [at me]: if I chance to have a ragged shirt under a handsome coat, or if my disproportioned gown fits me ill, you laugh. What [do you do], when my judgment contradicts itself? it despises what it before desired; seeks for that which lately it neglected; is all in a ferment, and is inconsistent in the whole tenor of life; pulls down, builds up, changes square to round. In this case, you think I am mad in the common way, and you do not laugh, nor believe that I stand in need of a physician, or of a guardian assigned by the praetor; though you are the patron of my affairs, and are disgusted at the ill-pared nail of a friend that depends upon you, that reveres you.
In a word, the wise man is inferior to Jupiter alone, is rich, free, honorable, handsome, lastly, king of kings; above all, he is sound, unless when phlegm is troublesome.
He prefers Homer to all the philosophers, as a moral writer, and advises an early cultivation of virtue.
While you, great Lollius, declaim at Rome, I at Praeneste have perused over again the writer of the Trojan war; who teaches more clearly, and better than Chrysippus and Crantor, what is honorable, what shameful, what profitable, what not so. If nothing hinders you, hear why I have thus concluded. The story is which, on account of Paris’s intrigue, Greece is stated to be wasted in a tedious war with the barbarians, contains the tumults of foolish princes and people. Antenor gives his opinion for cutting off the cause of the war. What does Paris? He can not be brought to comply, [though it be in order] that he may reign safe, and live happy. Nestor labors to compose the differences between Achilles and Agamemnon: love inflames one; rage both in common. The Greeks suffer for what their princes act foolishly. Within the walls of Ilium, and without, enormities are committed by sedition, treachery, injustice, and lust, and rage.
Again, to show what virtue and what wisdom can do, he has propounded Ulysses an instructive pattern: who, having subdued Troy, wisely got an insight into the constitutions and customs of many nations; and, while for himself and his associates he is contriving a return, endured many hardships on the spacious sea, not to be sunk by all the waves of adversity. You are well acquainted with the songs of the Sirens, and Circe’s cups: of which, if he had foolishly and greedily drunk along with his attendants, he had been an ignominious and senseless slave under the command of a prostitute: he had lived a filthy dog, or a hog delighting in mire.
We are a mere number and born to consume the fruits of the earth; like Penelope’s suitors, useless drones; like Alcinous’ youth, employed above measure in pampering their bodies; whose glory was to sleep till mid-day, and to lull their cares to rest by the sound of the harp. Robbers rise by night, that they may cut men’s throats; and will not you awake to save yourself? But, if you will not when you are in health, you will be forced to take exercise when you are in a dropsy; and unless before day you call for a book with a light, unless you brace your mind with study and honest employments, you will be kept awake and tormented with envy or with love. For why do you hasten to remove things that hurt your eyes, but if any thing gnaws your mind, defer the time of curing it from year to year? He has half the deed done, who has made a beginning. Boldly undertake the study of true wisdom: begin it forthwith. He who postpones the hour of living well, like the hind [in the fable], waits till [all the water in] the river be run off: whereas it flows, and will flow, ever rolling on.
Money is sought, and a wife fruitful in bearing children, and wild woodlands are reclaimed by the plow. [To what end all this?] He, that has got a competency, let him wish for no more. Not a house and farm, nor a heap of brass and gold, can remove fevers from the body of their sick master, or cares from his mind. The possessor must be well, if he thinks of enjoying the things which he has accumulated. To him that is a slave to desire or to fear, house and estate do just as much good as paintings to a sore-eyed person, fomentations to the gout, music to ears afflicted with collected matter. Unless the vessel be sweet, whatever you pour into it turns sour. Despise pleasures, pleasure bought with pain is hurtful. The covetous man is ever in want; set a certain limit to your wishes. The envious person wastes at the thriving condition of another: Sicilian tyrants never invented a greater torment than envy. He who will not curb his passion, will wish that undone which his grief and resentment suggested, while he violently plies his revenge with unsated rancor. Rage is a short madness. Rule your passion, which commands, if it do not obey; do you restrain it with a bridle, and with fetters. The groom forms the docile horse, while his neck is yet tender, to go the way which his rider directs him: the young hound, from the time that he barked at the deer’s skin in the hall, campaigns it in the woods. Now, while you are young, with an untainted mind Imbibe instruction: now apply yourself to the best [masters of morality]. A cask will long preserve the flavor, with which when new it was once impregnated. But if you lag behind, or vigorously push on before, I neither wait for the loiterer, nor strive to overtake those that precede me.
After inquiring about Claudius Tiberius Nero, and some of his friends, he exhorts Florus to the study of philosophy.
I long to know, Julius Florus, in what regions of the earth Claudius, the step-son of Augustus, is waging war. Do Thrace and Hebrus, bound with icy chains, or the narrow sea running between the neighboring towers, or Asia’s fertile plains and hills detain you? What works is the studious train planning? In this too I am anxious — who takes upon himself to write the military achievements of Augustus? Who diffuses into distant ages his deeds in war and peace? What is Titius about, who shortly will be celebrated by every Roman tongue; who dreaded not to drink of the Pindaric spring, daring to disdain common waters and open streams: how does he do? How mindful is he of me? Does he employ himself to adapt Theban measures to the Latin lyre, under the direction of his muse? Or does he storm and swell in the pompous style of traffic art? What is my Celsus doing? He has been advised, and the advice is still often to be repeated, to acquire stock of his own, and forbear to touch whatever writings the Palatine Apollo has received: lest, if it chance that the flock of birds should some time or other come to demand their feathers, he, like the daw stripped of his stolen colors, be exposed to ridicule. What do you yourself undertake? What thyme are you busy hovering about? Your genius is not small, is not uncultivated nor inelegantly rough. Whether you edge your tongue for [pleading] causes, or whether you prepare to give counsel in the civil law, or whether you compose some lovely poem; you will bear off the first prize of the victorious ivy. If now you could quit the cold fomentations of care; whithersoever heavenly wisdom would lead you, you would go. Let us, both small and great, push forward in this work, in this pursuit: if to our country, if to ourselves we would live dear.
You must also write me word of this, whether Munatiua is of as much concern to you as he ought to be? Or whether the ill-patched reconciliation in vain closes, and is rent asunder again? But, whether hot blood, or inexperience in things, exasperates you, wild as coursers with unsubdued neck, in whatever place you live, too worthy to break the fraternal bond, a devoted heifer is feeding against your return.
He declares his accomplishments; and, after proposing the thought of death, converts it into an occasion of pleasantry.
Albius, thou candid critic of my discourses, what shall I say you are now doing in the country about Pedum? Writing what may excel the works of Cassius Parmensis; or sauntering silently among the healthful groves, concerning yourself about every thing worthy a wise and good man? You were not a body without a mind. The gods have given you a beautiful form, the gods [have given] you wealth, and the faculty of enjoying it.
What greater blessing could a nurse solicit for her beloved child, than that he might be wise, and able to express his sentiments; and that respect, reputation, health might happen to him in abundance, and decent living, with a never-failing purse?
In the midst of hope and care, in the midst of fears and disquietudes, think every day that shines upon you is the last. [Thus] the hour, which shall not be expected, will come upon you an agreeable addition.
When you have a mind to laugh, you shall see me fat and sleek with good keeping, a hog of Epicurus’ herd.
He invites him to a frugal entertainment, but a cleanly and cheerful one.
If you can repose yourself as my guest upon Archias’ couches, and are not afraid to make a whole meal on all sorts of herbs from a moderate dish; I will expect you, Torquatus, at my house about sun set. You shall drink wine poured into the vessel in the second consulship of Taurus, produced between the fenny Minturnae and Petrinum of Sinuessa. If you have any thing better, send for it; or bring your commands. Bright shines my hearth, and my furniture is clean for you already. Dismiss airy hopes, and contests about riches, and Moschus’ cause. To-morrow, a festal day on account of Caesar’s birth, admits of indulgence and repose. We shall have free liberty to prolong the summer evening with friendly conversation. To what purpose have I fortune, if I may not use it? He that is sparing out of regard to his heir, and too niggardly, is next neighbor to a madman. I will begin to drink and scatter flowers, and I will endure even to be accounted foolish. What does not wine freely drunken enterprise? It discloses secrets; commands our hopes to be ratified; pushes the dastard on to the fight; removes the pressure from troubled minds; teaches the arts. Whom have not plentiful cups made eloquent? Whom have they not [made] free and easy under pinching poverty?
I, who am both the proper person and not unwilling, am charged to take care of these matters; that no dirty covering on the couch, no foul napkin contract your nose into wrinkles; and that the cup and the dish may show you to yourself; that there be no one to carry abroad what is said among faithful friends; that equals may meet and be joined with equals I will add to you Butra, and Septicius, and Sabinus, unless a better entertainment and a mistress more agreeable detain him. There is room also for many introductions: but goaty ramminess is offensive in over-crowded companies.
Do you write word, what number you would be; and setting aside business, through the back-door give the slip to your client who keeps guard in your court.
That a wise man is in love with nothing but virtue.
To admire nothing is almost the one and only thing, Numicius, which can make and keep a man happy. There are who view this sun, and the stars, and the seasons retiring at certain periods, untainted with any fear. What do you think of the gifts of the earth? What of the sea, that enriches the remote Arabians and Indians? What of scenical shows, the applause and favors of the kind Roman? In what manner do you think they are to be looked upon, with what apprehensions and countenance? He that dreads the reverse of these, admires them almost in the same way as he that desires them; fear alike disturbs both ways: an unforeseen turn of things equally terrifies each of them: let a man rejoice or grieve, desire or fear; what matters it — if, whatever he perceives better or worse than his expectations, with downcast look he be stupefied in mind and body? Let the wise man bear the name of fool, the just of unjust; if he pursue virtue itself beyond proper bounds.
Go now, look with transport upon silver, and antique marble, and brazen statues, and the arts: admire gems, and Tyrian dyes: rejoice, that a thousand eyes are fixed upon you while you speak: industrious repair early to the forum, late to your house, that Mutus may not reap more grain [than you] from his lands gained in dowry, and (unbecoming, since he sprung from meaner parents) that he may not be an object of admiration to you rather than you to him. Whatever is in the earth, time will bring forth into open day light; will bury and hide things, that now shine brightest. When Agrippa’s portico, and the Appian way, shall have beheld you well known; still it remains for you to go where Numa and Ancus are arrived. If your side or your reins are afflicted with an acute disease, seek a remedy from the disease. Would you live happily? Who would not? If virtue alone can confer this, discarding pleasures, strenuously pursue it. Do you think virtue mere words, as a grove is trees? Be it your care that no other enter the port before you; that you lose not your traffic with Cibyra, with Bithynia. Let the round sum of a thousand talents be completed; as many more; further, let a third thousand succeed, and the part which may square the heap. For why, sovereign money gives a wife with a [large] portion, and credit, and friends, and family, and beauty; and [the goddesses], Persuasion and Venus, graced the well-moneyed man. The king of the Cappadocians, rich in slaves, is in want of coin; be not you like him. Lucullus, as they say, being asked if he could lend a hundred cloaks for the stage, “How can I so many?” said he: “yet I will see, and send as many as I have;” a little after he writes that he had five thousand cloaks in his house; they might take part of them, or all. It is a scanty house, where there are not many things superfluous, and which escape the owner’s notice, and are the gain of pilfering slaves. If then wealth alone can make and keep a man happy, be first in beginning this work, be last in leaving it off. If appearances and popularity make a man fortunate, let as purchase a slave to dictate [to us] the names [of the citizens], to jog us on the left-side, and to make us stretch our hand over obstacles: “This man has much interest in the Fabian, that in the Veline tribe; this will give the fasces to any one, and, indefatigably active, snatch the curule ivory from whom he pleases; add [the names of] father, brother: according as the age of each is, so courteously adopt him. If he who feasts well, lives well; it is day, let us go whither our appetite leads us: let us fish, let us hunt, as did some time Gargilius: who ordered his toils, hunting-spears, slaves, early in the morning to pass through the crowded forum and the people: that one mule among many, in the sight of the people, might return loaded with a boar purchased with money. Let us bathe with an indigested and full-swollen stomach, forgetting what is becoming, what not; deserving to be enrolled among the citizens of Caere; like the depraved crew of Ulysses of Ithaca, to whom forbidden pleasure was dearer than their country. If, as Mimnermus thinks, nothing is pleasant without love and mirth, live in love and mirth.
Live: be happy. If you know of any thing preferable to these maxims, candidly communicate it: if not, with me make use of these.
He apologizes to Maecenas for his long absence from Rome; and acknowledges his favors to him in such a manner as to declare liberty preferable to all other blessings.
Having promised you that I would be in the country but five days, false to my word, I am absent the whole of August. But, if you would have me live sound and in perfect health, the indulgence which you grant me, Maecenas, when I am ill, you will grant me [also] when I am afraid of being ill: while [the time of] the first figs, and the [autumnal] heat graces the undertaker with his black attendants; while every father and mother turn pale with fear for their children; and while over-acted diligence, and attendance at the forum, bring on fevers and unseal wills. But, if the winter shall scatter snow upon the Alban fields, your poet will go down to the seaside, and be careful of himself, and read bundled up; you, dear friend, he will revisit with the zephyrs, if you will give him leave, and with the first swallow.
You have made me rich, not in the manner in which the Calabrian host bids [his guest] eat of his pears. “Eat, pray, sir.” “I have had enough.” “But take away with you what quantity you will.” “You are very kind.” “You will carry them no disagreeable presents to your little children.” “I am as much obliged by your offer, as if I were sent away loaded.” “As you please: you leave them to be devoured today by the hogs.” The prodigal and fool gives away what he despises and hates; the reaping of favors like these has produced, and ever will produce, ungrateful men. A good and wise man professes himself ready to do kindness to the deserving; and yet is not ignorant, how true coins differ from lupines. I will also show myself deserving of the honor of being grateful. But if you would not have me depart any whither, you must restore my vigorous constitution, the black locks [that grew] on my narrow forehead: you must restore to me the power of talking pleasantly: you must restore to me the art of laughing with becoming ease, and whining over my liquor at the jilting of the wanton Cynara.
A thin field-mouse had by chance crept through a narrow cranny into a chest of grain; and, having feasted itself, in vain attempted to come out again, with its body now stuffed full. To which a weasel at a distance cries, “If you would escape thence, repair lean to the narrow hole which you entered lean.” If I be addressed with this similitude, I resign all; neither do I, sated with delicacies, cry up the calm repose of the vulgar, nor would I change my liberty and ease for the riches of the Arabians. You have often commended me for being modest; when present you heard [from me the appellations of] king and father, nor am I a word more sparing in your absence. Try whether I can cheerfully restore what you have given me. Not amiss [answered] Telemachus, son of the patient Ulysses: “The country of Ithaca is not proper for horses, as being neither extended into champaign fields, nor abounding with much grass: Atrides, I will leave behind me your gifts, [which are] more proper for yourself.” Small things best suit the small. No longer does imperial Rome please me, but unfrequented Tibur, and unwarlike Tarentum.
Philip, active and strong, and famed for pleading causes, while returning from his employment about the eighth hour, and now of a great age, complaining that the Carinae were too far distant from the forum; spied, as they say, a person clean shaven in a barber’s empty shed, composedly paring his own nails with a knife. “Demetrius,” [says he,] (this slave dexterously received his master’s orders,) “go inquire, and bring me word from what house, who he is, of what fortune, who is his father, or who is his patron.” He goes, returns, and relates, that “he is by name, Vulteius Maena, an auctioneer, of small fortune, of a character perfectly unexceptionable, that he could upon occasion ply busily, and take his ease, and get, and spend; delighting in humble companions and a settled dwelling, and (after business ended) in the shows, and the Campus Martius.”
“I would inquire of him himself all this, which you report; bid him come to sup with me.” Maena can not believe it; he wonders silently within himself. Why many words? He answers, “It is kind.” “Can he deny me?” “The rascal denies, and disregards or dreads you.” In the morning Philip comes unawares upon Vulteius, as he is selling brokery-goods to the tunic’d populace, and salutes him first. He pleads to Philip his employment, and the confinement of his business, in excuse for not having waited upon him in the morning; and afterward, for not seeing him first. “Expect that I will excuse you on this condition, that you sup with me today.” “As you please.” “Then you will come after the ninth hour: now go: strenuously increase your stock.” When they were come to supper, having discoursed of things of a public and private nature, at length he is dismissed to go to sleep. When he had often been seen, to repair like a fish to the concealed hook, in the morning a client, and now as a constant guest; he is desired to accompany [Philip] to his country-seat near the city, at the proclaiming of the Latin festivals. Mounted on horseback, he ceases not to cry up the Sabine fields and air. Philip sees it, and smiles: and, while he is seeking amusement and diversion for himself out of every thing, while he makes him a present of seven thousand sesterces, and promises to lend him seven thousand more: he persuades him to purchase a farm: he purchases one. That I may not detain you with a long story beyond what is necessary, from a smart cit he becomes a downright rustic, and prates of nothing but furrows and vineyards; prepares his elms; is ready to die with eager diligence, and grows old through a passionate desire of possessing. But when his sheep were lost by theft, his goats by distemper, his harvest deceived his hopes, his ox was killed with plowing; fretted with these losses, at midnight he snatches his nag, and in a passion makes his way to Philip’s house. Whom as soon as Philip beheld, rough and unshaven, “Vulteius,” said he, “you seem to me to be too laborious and earnest.” “In truth, patron,” replied he, “you would call me a wretch, if you would apply to me my true name. I beseech and conjure you then, by your genius and your right hand and your household gods, restore me to my former life.” As soon as a man perceives, how much the things he has discarded excel those which he pursues, let him return in time, and resume those which he relinquished.
It is a truth, that every one ought to measure himself by his own proper foot and standard.
That he was neither well in body, nor in mind; that Celtics should bear his prosperity with moderation.
My muse at my request, give joy and wish success to Celsus Albinovanus, the attendant and the secretary of Nero. If he shall inquire, what I am doing, say that I, though promising many and fine things, yet live neither well [according to the rules of strict philosophy], nor agreeably; not because the hail has crushed my vines, and the heat has nipped my olives; nor because my herds are distempered in distant pastures; but because, less sound in my mind than in my whole body, I will hear nothing, learn nothing which may relieve me, diseased as I am; that I am displeased with my faithful physicians, am angry with my friends for being industrious to rouse me from a fatal lethargy; that I pursue things which have done me hurt, avoid things which I am persuaded would be of service, inconstant as the wind, at Rome am in love with Tibur, at Tibur with Rome. After this, inquire how he does; how he manages his business and himself; how he pleases the young prince and his attendants. If he shall say, well; first congratulate him, then remember to whisper this admonition in his ears: As you, Celsus, bear your fortunes, so will we bear you.
He recommends Septimius to him.
Of all the men in the world Septimius surely, O Claudius, knows how much regard you have for me. For when he requests, and by his entreaties in a manner compels me, to undertake to recommend and introduce him to you, as one worthy of the confidence and the household of Nero, who is wont to choose deserving objects, thinking I discharge the office of an intimate friend; he sees and knows better than myself what I can do. I said a great deal, indeed, in order that I might come off excused: but I was afraid, lest I should be suspected to pretend my interest was less than it is, to be a dissembler of my own power, and ready to serve myself alone. So, avoiding the reproach of a greater fault, I have put in for the prize of town-bred confidence. If then you approve of modesty being superseded at the pressing entreaties of a friend, enrol this person among your retinue, and believe him to be brave and good.
He praises a country before a city life, as more agreeable to nature, and more friendly to liberty.
We, who love the country, salute Fuscus that loves the town; in this point alone [being] much unlike, but in other things almost twins, of brotherly sentiments: whatever one denies the other too [denies]; we assent together: like old and constant doves, you keep the nest; I praise the rivulets, the rocks overgrown with moss, and the groves of the delightful country. Do you ask why? I live and reign, as soon as I have quitted those things which you extol to the skies with joyful applause. And, like a priest’s, fugitive slave I reject luscious wafers, I desire plain bread, which is more agreeable now than honied cakes.
If we must live suitably to nature, and a plot of ground is to be first sought to raise a house upon, do you know any place preferable to the blissful country? Is there any spot where the winters are more temperate? where a more agreeable breeze moderates the rage of the Dog-star, and the season of the Lion, when once that furious sign has received the scorching sun? Is there a place where envious care less disturbs our slumbers? Is the grass inferior in smell or beauty to the Libyan pebbles? Is the water, which strives to burst the lead in the streets, purer than that which trembles in murmurs down its sloping channel? Why, trees are nursed along the variegated columns [of the city]; and that house is commended, which has a prospect of distant fields. You may drive out nature with a fork, yet still she will return, and, insensibly victorious, will break through [men’s] improper disgusts.
Not he who is unable to compare the fleeces that drink up the dye of Aquinum with the Sidonian purple, will receive a more certain damage and nearer to his marrow, than he who shall not be able to distinguish false from true. He who has been overjoyed by prosperity, will be shocked by a change of circumstances. If you admire any thing [greatly], you will be unwilling to resign it. Avoid great things; under a mean roof one may outstrip kings, and the favorites of kings, in one’s life.
The stag, superior in fight, drove the horse from the common pasture, till the latter, worsted in the long contest, implored the aid of man and received the bridle; but after he had parted an exulting conqueror from his enemy, he could not shake the rider from his back, nor the bit from his mouth. So he who, afraid of poverty, forfeits his liberty, more valuable than mines, avaricious wretch, shall carry a master, and shall eternally be a slave, for not knowing how to use a little. When a man’s condition does not suit him, it will be as a shoe at any time; which, if too big for his foot, will throw him down; if too little, will pinch him. [If you are] cheerful under your lot, Aristius, you will live wisely; nor shall you let me go uncorrected, if I appear to scrape together more than enough and not have done. Accumulated money is the master or slave of each owner, and ought rather to follow than to lead the twisted rope.
These I dictated to thee behind the moldering temple of Vacuna; in all other things happy, except that thou wast not with me.
Endeavoring to recall him back to Rome from Asia, whither he had retreated through his weariness of the civil wars, he advises him to ease the disquietude of his mind not by the length of his journey, but by forming his mind into a right disposition.
What, Bullatius, do you think of Chios, and of celebrated Lesbos? What of neat Samos? What of Sardis, the royal residence of Croesus? What of Smyrna, and Colophon? Are they greater or less than their fame? Are they all contemptible in comparison of the Campus Martius and the river Tiber? Does one of Attalus’ cities enter into your wish? Or do you admire Lebedus, through a surfeit of the sea and of traveling? You know what Lebedus is; it is a more unfrequented town than Gabii and Fidenae; yet there would I be willing to live; and, forgetful of my friends and forgotten by them, view from land Neptune raging at a distance. But neither he who comes to Rome from Capua, bespattered with rain and mire, would wish to live in an inn; nor does he, who has contracted a cold, cry up stoves and bagnios as completely furnishing a happy life: nor, if the violent south wind has tossed you in the deep, will you therefore sell your ship on the other side of the Aegean Sea. On a man sound in mind Rhodes and beautiful Mitylene have such an effect, as a thick cloak at the summer solstice, thin drawers in snowy weather, [bathing in] the Tiber in winter, a fire in the month of August. While it is permitted, and fortune preserves a benign aspect, let absent Samos, and Chios, and Rhodes, be commended by you here at Rome. Whatever prosperous; hour Providence bestows upon you, receive it with a thankful hand: and defer not [the enjoyment of] the comforts of life, till a year be at an end; that in whatever place you are, you may say you have lived with satisfaction. For if reason and discretion, not a place that commands a prospect of the wide-extended sea, remove our cares; they change their climate, not their disposition, who run beyond the sea: a busy idleness harrasses us: by ships and by chariots we seek to live happily. What you seek is here [at home], is at Ulubrae, if a just temper of mind is not wanting to you.
Leader the appearance of praising the man’s parsimony, he archly ridicules it; introduces Grosphus to him, and concludes with a few articles of news concerning the Roman affairs.
O Iccius, if you rightly enjoy the Sicilian products, which you collect for Agrippa, it is not possible that greater affluence can be given you by Jove. Away with complaints! for that man is by no means poor, who has the use or everything, he wants. If it is well with your belly, your back, and your feet, regal wealth can add nothing greater. If perchance abstemious amid profusion you live upon salad and shell-fish, you will continue to live in such a manner, even if presently fortune shall flow upon you in a river of gold; either because money can not change the natural disposition, or because it is your opinion that all things are inferior to virtue alone. Can we wonder that cattle feed upon the meadows and corn-fields of Democritus, while his active soul is abroad [traveling] without his body? When you, amid such great impurity and infection of profit, have no taste for any thing trivial, but still mind [only] sublime things: what causes restrain the sea, what rules the year, whether the stars spontaneously or by direction wander about and are erratic, what throws obscurity on the moon, and what brings out her orb, what is the intention and power of the jarring harmony of things, whether Empedocles or the clever Stertinius be in the wrong.
However, whether you murder fishes, or onions and garlic, receive Pompeius Grosphus; and, if he asks any favor, grant it him frankly: Grosphus will desire nothing but what is right and just. The proceeds of friendship are cheap, when good men want any thing.
But that you may not be ignorant in what situation the Roman affairs are; the Cantabrians have fallen by the valor of Agrippa, the Armenians by that of Claudius Nero: Phraates has, suppliant on his knees, admitted the laws and power of Caesar. Golden plenty has poured out the fruits of Italy from a full horn.
Horace cautions him to present his poems to Augustus at a proper opportunity, and with due decorum.
As on your setting out I frequently and fully gave you instructions, Vinnius, that you would present these volumes to Augustus sealed up if he shall be in health, if in spirits, finally, if he shall ask for them: do not offend out of zeal to me, and industriously bring an odium upon my books [by being] an agent of violent officiousness. If haply the heavy load of my paper should gall you, cast it from you, rather than throw down your pack in a rough manner where you are directed to carry it, and turn your paternal name of Asina into a jest, and make yourself a common story. Make use of your vigor over the hills, the rivers, and the fens. As soon as you have achieved your enterprise, and arrived there, you must keep your burden in this position; lest you happen to carry my bundle of books under your arm, as a clown does a lamb, or as drunken Pyrrhia [in the play does] the balls of pilfered wool, or as a tribe-guest his slippers with his fuddling-cap. You must not tell publicly, how you sweated with carrying those verses, which may detain the eyes and ears of Caesar. Solicited with much entreaty, do your best. Finally, get you gone, farewell: take care you do not stumble, and break my orders.
He upbraids his levity for contemning a country life, which had been his choice, and being eager to return to Rome.
Steward of my woodlands and little farm that restores me to myself, which you despise, [though formerly] inhabited by five families, and wont to send five good senators to Varia: let us try, whether I with more fortitude pluck the thorns out of my mind, or you out of my ground: and whether Horace or his estate be in a better condition.
Though my affection and solicitude for Lamia, mourning for his brother, lamenting inconsolably for his brother’s loss, detain me; nevertheless my heart and soul carry me thither and long to break through those barriers that obstruct my way. I pronounce him the happy man who dwells in the country, you him [who lives] in the city. He to whom his neighbor’s lot is agreeable, must of consequence dislike his own. Each of us is a fool for unjustly blaming the innocent place. The mind is in fault, which never escapes from itself. When you were a drudge at every one’s beck, you tacitly prayed for the country: and now, [being appointed] my steward, you wish for the city, the shows, and the baths. You know I am consistent with myself, and loth to go, whenever disagreeable business drags me to Rome. We are not admirers of the same things: henoe you and I disagree. For what you reckon desert and inhospitable wilds, he who is of my way of thinking calls delightful places; and dislikes what you esteem pleasant. The bagnio, I perceive, and the greasy tavern raise your inclination for the city: and this, because my little spot will sooner yield frankincense and pepper than grapes; nor is there a tavern near, which can supply you with wine; nor a minstrel harlot, to whose thrumming you may dance, cumbersome to the ground: and yet you exercise with plowshares the fallows that have been a long while untouched, you take due care of the ox when unyoked, and give him his fill with leaves stripped [from the boughs]. The sluice gives an additional trouble to an idle fellow, which, if a shower fall, must be taught by many a mound to spare the sunny meadow.
Come now, attend to what hinders our agreeing. [Me,] whom fine garments and dressed locks adorned, whom you know to have pleased venal Cynara without a present, whom [you have seen] quaff flowing Falernian from noon — a short supper [now] delights, and a nap upon the green turf by the stream side; nor is it a shame to have been gay, but not to break off that gayety. There there is no one who reduces my possessions with envious eye, nor poisons them with obscure malice and biting slander; the neighbors smile at me removing clods and stones. You had rather be munching your daily allowance with the slaves in town; you earnestly pray to be of the number of these: [while my] cunning foot-boy envies you the use of the firing, the flocks and the garden. The lazy ox wishes for the horse’s trappings: the horse wishes to go to plow. But I shall be of opinion, that each of them ought contentedly to exercise that art which he understands.
Preparing to go to the baths either at Velia or Salernum, he inquires after the healthfulness and agreeableness of the places.
It is your part, Vala, to write to me (and mine to give credit to your information) what sort of a winter is it at Velia, what the air at Salernum, what kind of inhabitants the country consists of, and how the road is (for Antonius Musa [pronounces] Baiae to be of no service to me; yet makes me obnoxious to the place, when I am bathed in cold water even in the midst of the frost [by his prescription]. In truth the village murmers at their myrtle-groves being deserted and the sulphurous waters, said to expel lingering disorders from the nerves, despised; envying those invalids, who have the courage to expose their head and breast to the Clusian springs, and retire to Gabii and [such] cold countries. My course must be altered, and my horse driven beyond his accustomed stages. Whither are you going? will the angry rider say, pulling in the left-hand rein, I am not bound for Cumae or Baiae:— but the horse’s ear is in the bit.) [You must inform me likewise] which of the two people is supported by the greatest abundance of corn; whether they drink rainwater collected [in reservoirs], or from perennial wells of never-failing water (for as to the wine of that part I give myself no trouble; at my country-seat I can dispense and bear with any thing: but when I have arrived at a sea-port, I insist upon that which is generous and mellow, such as may drive away my cares, such as may flow into my veins and animal spirits with a rich supply of hope, such as may supply me with words, such as may make me appear young to my Lucanian mistress). Which tract of land produces most hares, which boars: which seas harbor the most fishes and sea-urchins, that I may be able to return home thence in good case, and like a Phaeacian.
When Maenius, having bravely made away with his paternal and maternal estates, began to be accounted a merry fellow — a vagabond droll, who had no certain place of living; who, when dinnerless, could not distinguish a fellow-citizen from an enemy; unmerciful in forging any scandal against any person; the pest, and hurricane, and gulf of the market; whatever he could get, he gave to his greedy gut. This fellow, when he had extorted little or nothing from the favorers of his iniquity, or those that dreaded it, would eat up whole dishes of coarse tripe and lamb’s entrails; as much as would have sufficed three bears; then truly, [like] reformer Bestius, would he say, that the bellies of extravagant fellows ought to be branded with a red-hot iron. The same man [however], when he had reduced to smoke and ashes whatever more considerable booty he had gotten; ‘Faith, said he, I do not wonder if some persons eat up their estates; since nothing is better than a fat thrush, nothing finer than a lage sow’s paunch. In fact, I am just such another myself; for, when matters are a little deficient, I commend, the snug and homely fare, of sufficient resolution amid mean provisions; but, if any thing be offered better and more delicate, I, the same individual, cry out, that ye are wise and alone live well, whose wealth and estate are conspicuous from the elegance of your villas.
He describes to Quinctius the form, situation, and advantages of his country house: then declares that probity consists in the consciousness of good works; liberty, in probity.
Ask me not, my best Quinctius, whether my farm maintains its master with corn-fields, or enriches him with olives, or with fruits, or meadow land, or the elm tree clothed with vines: the shape and situation of my ground shall be described to you at large.
There is a continued range of mountains, except where they are separated by a shadowy vale; but in such a manner, that the approaching sun views it on the right side, and departing in his flying car warms the left. You would commend its temperature. What? If my [very] briers produce in abundance the ruddy cornels and damsens? If my oak and holm tree accommodate my cattle with plenty of acorns, and their master with a copious shade? You would say that Tarentum, brought nearer [to Rome], shone in its verdant beauty. A fountain too, deserving to give name to a river, insomuch that Hebrus does not surround Thrace more cool or more limpid, flows salubrious to the infirm head, salubrious to the bowels. These sweet, yea now (if you will credit me) these delightful retreats preserve me to you in a state of health [even] in the September season.
You live well, if you take care to support the character which you bear. Long ago, all Rome has proclaimed you happy: but I am apprehensive, lest you should give more credit concerning yourself to any one than yourself; and lest you should imagine a man happy, who differs from the wise and good; or, because the people pronounce you sound and perfectly well, lest you dissemble the lurking fever at meal-times, until a trembling seize your greased hands. The false modesty of fools conceals ulcers [rather than have them cured]. If any one should mention battles which you had fought by land and sea, and in such expressions as these should soothe your listening ears: “May Jupiter, who consults the safety both of you and of the city, keep it in doubt, whether the people be more solicitous for your welfare, or you for the people’s;” you might perceive these encomiums to belong [only] to Augustus when you suffer yourself to be termed a philosopher, and one of a refined life; say, pr’ythee, would you answer [to these appellations] in your own name? To be sure — I like to be called a wise and good man, as well as you. He who gave this character today, if he will, can take it away tomorrow: as the same people, if they have conferred the consulship on an unworthy person, may take it away from him: “Resign; it is ours,” they cry: I do resign it accordingly, and chagrined withdraw. Thus if they should call me rogue, deny me to be temperate, assert that I had strangled my own father with a halter; shall I be stung, and change color at these false reproaches? Whom does false honor delight, or lying calumny terrify, except the vicious and sickly-minded? Who then is a good man? He who observes the decrees of the senate, the laws and rules of justice; by whose arbitration many and important disputes are decided; by whose surety private property, and by whose testimony causes are safe. Yet [perhaps] his own family and all the neighborhood observe this man, specious in a fair outside, [to be] polluted within. If a slave should say to me, “I have not committed a robbery, nor run away:” “You have your reward; you are not galled with the lash,” I reply. “I have not killed any man:” “You shall not [therefore] feed the carrion crows on the cross.” I am a good man, and thrifty: your Sabine friend denies, and contradicts the fact. For the wary wolf dreads the pitfall, and the hawk the suspected snares, and the kite the concealed hook. The good, [on the contrary,] hate to sin from the love of virtue; you will commit no crime merely for the fear of punishment. Let there be a prospect of escaping, you will confound sacred and profane things together. For, when from a thousand bushels of beans you filch one, the loss in that case to me is less, but not your villainy. The honest man, whom every forum and every court of justice looks upon with reverence, whenever he makes an atonement to the gods with a wine or an ox; after he has pronounced in a clear distinguishable voice, “O father Janus, O Apollo;” moves his lips as one afraid of being heard; “O fair Laverna put it in my power to deceive; grant me the appearance of a just and upright man: throw a cloud of night over my frauds.” I do not see how a covetous man can be better, how more free than a slave, when he stoops down for the sake of a penny, stuck in the road [for sport]. For he who will be covetous, will also be anxious: but he that lives in a state of anxiety, will never in my estimation be free. He who is always in a hurry, and immersed in the study of augmenting his fortune, has lost the arms, and deserted the post of virtue. Do not kill your captive, if you can sell him: he will serve you advantageously: let him, being inured to drudgery, feed [your cattle], and plow; let him go to sea, and winter in the midst of the waves; let him be of use to the market, and import corn and provisions. A good and wise man will have courage to say, “Pentheus, king of Thebes, what indignities will you compel me to suffer and endure. ‘I will take away your goods:’ my cattle, I suppose, my land, my movables and money: you may take them. ‘I will confine you with handcuffs and fetters under a merciless jailer.’ The deity himself will discharge me, whenever I please.” In my opinion, this is his meaning; I will die. Death is the ultimate boundary of human matters.
That a life of business is preferable to a private and inactive one; the friendship of great men is a laudable acquisition, yet their favors are ever to be solicited with modesty and caution.
Though, Scaeva, you have sufficient prudence of your own, and well know how to demean yourself toward your superiors; [yet] hear what are the sentiments of your old crony, who himself still requires teaching, just as if a blind man should undertake to show the way: however see, if even I can advance any thing, which you may think worth your while to adopt as your own.
If pleasant rest, and sleep till seven o’clock, delight you; if dust and the rumbling of wheels, if the tavern offend you, I shall order you off for Ferentinum. For joys are not the property of the rich alone: nor has he lived ill, who at his birth and at his death has passed unnoticed. If you are disposed to be of service to your friends, and to treat yourself with somewhat more indulgence, you, being poor, must pay your respects to the great. Aristippus, if he could dine to his satisfaction on herbs, would never frequent [the tables] of the great. If he who blames me, [replies Aristippus,] knew how to live with the great, he would scorn his vegetables. Tell me, which maxim and conduct of the two you approve; or, since you are my junior, hear the reason why Aristippus’ opinion is preferable; for thus, as they report, he baffled the snarling cynic: “I play the buffoon for my own advantage, you [to please] the populace. This [conduct of mine] is better and far more honorable; that a horse may carry and a great man feed me, pay court to the great: you beg for refuse, an inferior to the [poor] giver; though you pretend you are in want of nothing.” As for Aristippus, every complexion of life, every station and circumstance sat gracefully upon him, aspiring in general to greater things, yet equal to the present: on the other hand, I shall be much surprised, if a contrary way of life should become [this cynic], whom obstinacy clothes with a double rag. The one will not wait for his purple robe; but dressed in any thing, will go through the most frequented places, and without awkwardness support either character: the other will shun the cloak wrought at Miletus with greater aversion than [the bite of] dog or viper; he will die with cold, unless you restore him his ragged garment; restore it, and let him live like a fool as he is. To perform exploits, and show the citizens their foes in chains, reaches the throne of Jupiter, and aims at celestial honors. To have been acceptable to the great, is not the last of praises. It is not every man’s lot to gain Corinth. He [prudently] sat still who was afraid lest he should not succeed: be it so; what then? Was it not bravely done by him, who carried his point? Either here therefore, or nowhere, is what we are investigating. The one dreads the burden, as too much for a pusillanimous soul and a weak constitution; the other under takes, and carries it through. Either virtue is an empty name, or the man who makes the experiment deservedly claims the honor and the reward.
Those who mention nothing of their poverty before their lord, will gain more than the importunate. There is a great difference between modestly accepting, or seizing by violence But this was the principle and source of every thing [which I alleged]. He who says, “My sister is without a portion, my mother poor, and my estate neither salable nor sufficient for my support,” cries out [in effect], “Give me a morsel of bread:” another whines, “And let the platter be carved out for me with half a share of the bounty.” But if the crow could have fed in silence, he would have had better fare, and much less of quarreling and of envy.
A companion taken [by his lord] to Brundusium, or the pleasant Surrentum, who complains of the ruggedness of the roads and the bitter cold and rains, or laments that his chest is broken open and his provisions stolen; resembles the well-known tricks of a harlot, weeping frequently for her necklace, frequently for a garter forcibly taken from her; so that at length no credit is given to her real griefs and losses. Nor does he, who has been once ridiculed in the streets, care to lift up a vagrant with a [pretended] broken leg; though abundant tears should flow from him; though, swearing by holy Osiris, he says, “Believe me, I do not impose upon you; O cruel, take up the lame.” “Seek out for a stranger,” cries the hoarse neighborhood.
He treats at large upon the cultivation of the favor of great men; and concludes with a few words concerning the acquirement of peace of mind.
If I rightly know your temper, most ingenuous Lollius, you will beware of imitating a flatterer, while you profess yourself a friend. As a matron is unlike and of a different aspect from a strumpet, so will a true friend differ from the toad-eater. There is an opposite vice to this, rather the greater [of the two]; a clownish, inelegant, and disagreeable bluntness, which would recommend itself by an unshaven face and black teeth; while it desires to be termed pure freedom and true sincerity. Virtue is the medium of the two vices; and equally remote from either. The one is over-prone to complaisance, and a jester of the lowest, couch, he so reverences the rich man’s nod, so repeats his speeches, and catches up his falling words; that you would take him for a school-boy saying his lesson to a rigid master, or a player acting an underpart; another often wrangles about a goat’s hair, and armed engages for any trifle: “That I, truly, should not have the first credit; and that I should not boldly speak aloud, what is my real sentiment —[upon such terms], another life would be of no value.” But what is the subject of this controversy? Why, whether [the gladiator] Castor or Dolichos be the cleverer fellow; whether the Minucian, or the Appian, be the better road to Brundusium.
Him whom pernicious lust, whom quick-dispatching dice strips, whom vanity dresses out and perfumes beyond his abilities, whom insatiable hunger and thirst after money, Whom a shame and aversion to poverty possess, his rich friend (though furnished with a half-score more vices) hates and abhors; or if he does not hate, governs him; and, like a pious mother, would have him more wise and virtuous than himself; and says what is nearly true: “My riches (think not to emulate me) admit of extravagance; your income is but small: a scanty gown becomes a prudent dependant: cease to vie with me.” Whomsoever Eutrapelus had a mind to punish, he presented with costly garments. For now [said he] happy in his fine clothes, he will assume new schemes and hopes; he will sleep till daylight; prefer a harlot to his honest-calling; run into debt; and at last become a gladiator, or drive a gardener’s hack for hire.
Do not you at any time pry into his secrets; and keep close what is intrusted to you, though put to the torture, by wine or passion. Neither commend your own inclinations, nor find fault with those of others; nor, when he is disposed to hunt, do you make verses. For by such means the amity of the twins Zethus and Amphion, broke off; till the lyre, disliked by the austere brother, was silent. Amphion is thought to have given way to his brother’s humors; so do you yield to the gentle dictates of your friend in power: as often as he leads forth his dogs into the fields and his cattle laden with Aetolian nets, arise and lay aside the peevishness of your unmannerly muse, that you may sup together on the delicious fare purchased by your labor; an exercise habitual to the manly Romans, of service to their fame and life and limbs: especially when you are in health, and are able either to excel the dog in swiftness, or the boar in strength. Add [to this], that there is no one who handles martial weapons more gracefully. You well know, with what acclamations of the spectators you sustain the combats in the Campus Marcius: in fine, as yet a boy, you endured a bloody campaign and the Cantabrian wars, beneath a commander, who is now replacing the standards [recovered] from the Parthian temples: and, if any thing is wanting, assigns it to the Roman arms. And that you may not withdraw yourself, and inexcusably be absent; though you are careful to do nothing out of measure, and moderation, yet you sometimes amuse yourself at your country-seat. The [mock] fleet divides the little boats [into two squadrons]: the Actian sea-fight is represented by boys under your direction in a hostile form: your brother is the foe, your lake the Adriatic; till rapid victory crowns the one or the other with her bays. Your patron, who will perceive that you come into his taste, will applaud your sports with both his hands.
Moreover, that I may advise you (if in aught you stand in need of an adviser), take great circumspection what you say to any man, and to whom. Avoid an inquisitive impertinent, for such a one is also a tattler, nor do open ears faithfully retain what is intrusted to them; and a word, once sent abroad, flies irrevocably.
Let no slave within the marble threshold of your honored friend inflame your heart; lest the owner of the beloved damsel gratify you with so trifling a present, or, mortifying [to your wishes], torment you [with a refusal].
Look over and over again [into the merits of] such a one, as you recommend; lest afterward the faults of others strike you with shame. We are sometimes imposed upon, and now and then introduce an unworthy person. Wherefore, once deceived, forbear to defend one who suffers by his own bad conduct; but protect one whom you entirely know, and with confidence guard him with your patronage, if false accusations attack him: who being bitten with the tooth of calumny, do you not perceive that the same danger is threatening you? For it is your own concern, when the adjoining wall is on fire: and flames neglected are wont to gain strength.
The attending of the levee of a friend in power seems delightful to the unexperienced; the experienced dreads it. Do you, while your vessel is in the main, ply your business, lest a changing gale bear you back again.
The melancholy hate the merry, and the jocose the melancholy; the volatile [dislike] the sedate, the indolent the stirring and vivacious: the quaffers of pure Falernian from midnight hate one who shirks his turn; notwithstanding you swear you are afraid of the fumes of wine by night. Dispel gloominess from your forehead: the modest man generally carries the look of a sullen one; the reserved, of a churl.
In every thing you must read and consult the learned, by what means you may be enabled to pass your life in an agreeable manner: that insatiable desire may not agitate and torment you, nor the fear and hope of things that are but of little account: whether learning acquires virtue, or nature bestows it? What lessens cares, what may endear you to yourself? What perfectly renders the temper calm; honor or enticing lucre, or a secret passage and the path of an unnoticed life?
For my part, as often as the cooling rivulet Digentia refreshes me (Digentia, of which Mandela drinks, a village wrinkled with cold); what, my friend, do you think are my sentiments, what do you imagine I pray for? Why, that my fortune may remain as it is now; or even [if it be something] less: and that I may live to myself, what remains of my time, if the gods will that aught do remain: that I may have a good store of books, and corn provided for the year; lest I fluctuate in suspense of each uncertain hour. But it is sufficient to sue Jove [for these externals], which he gives and takes away [at pleasure]; let him grant life, let him grant wealth: I myself will provide equanimity of temper.
He shows the folly of some persons who would imitate; and the envy of others who would censure him.
O learned Maecenas, if you believe old Gratinus, no verses which are written by water-drinkers can please, or be long-lived. Ever since Bacchus enlisted the brain-sick poets among the Satyrs and the Fauns, the sweet muses have usually smelt of wine in the morning. Homer, by his excessive praises of wine, is convicted as a booser: father Ennius himself never sallied forth to sing of arms, unless in drink. “I will condemn the sober to the bar and the prater’s bench, and deprive the abstemious of the power of singing.”
As soon as he gave out this edict, the poets did not cease to contend in midnight cups, and to smell of them by day. What! if any savage, by a stern countenance and bare feet, and the texture of a scanty gown, should imitate Cato; will he represent the virtue and morals of Cato? The tongue that imitated Timagenes was the destruction of the Moor, while he affected to be humorous, and attempted to seem eloquent. The example that is imitable in its faults, deceives [the ignorant]. Soh! if I was to grow up pale by accident, [these poetasters] would drink the blood-thinning cumin. O ye imitators, ye servile herd, how often your bustlings have stirred my bile, how often my mirth!
I was the original, who set my free footsteps upon the vacant sod; I trod not in the steps of others. He who depends upon himself, as leader, commands the swarm. I first showed to Italy the Parian iambics: following the numbers and spirit of Archilochus, but not his subject and style, which afflicted Lycambes. You must not, however, crown me with a more sparing wreath, because I was afraid to alter the measure and structure of his verse: for the manly Sappho governs her muse by the measures of Archilochus, so does Alcaeus; but differing from him in the materials and disposition [of his lines], neither does he seek for a father-inlaw whom he may defame with his fatal lampoons, nor does he tie a rope for his betrothed spouse in scandalous verse. Him too, never celebrated by any other tongue, I the Roman lyrist first made known. It delights me, as I bring out new productions, to be perused by the eyes, and held in the hands of the ingenuous.
Would you know why the ungrateful reader extols and is fond of many works at home, unjustly decries them without doors? I hunt not after the applause of the inconstant vulgar, at the expense of entertainments, and for the bribe of a worn-out colt: I am not an auditor of noble writers, nor a vindictive reciter, nor condescend to court the tribes and desks of the grammarians. Hence are these tears. If I say that “I am ashamed to repeat my worthless writings to crowded theatres, and give an air of consequence to trifles:” “You ridicule us,” says [one of them], “and you reserve those pieces for the ears of Jove: you are confident that it is you alone that can distill the poetic honey, beautiful in your own eyes.” At these words I am afraid to turn up my nose; and lest I should be torn by the acute nails of my adversary, “This place is disagreeable,” I cry out, “and I demand a prorogation of the contest.” For contest is wont to beget trembling emulation and strife, and strife cruel enmities and funereal war.
In vain he endeavors to retain his book, desirous of getting abroad; tells it what trouble it is to undergo, and imparts some things to be said of him to posterity.
You seem, my book, to look wistfully at Janus and Vertumnus; to the end that you may be set out for sale, neatly polished by the pumice-stone of the Sosii. You hate keys and seals, which are agreeable to a modest [volume]; you grieve that you are shown but to a few, and extol public places; though educated in another manner. Away with you, whither you are so solicitous of going down: there will be no returning for you, when you are once sent out. “Wretch that I am, what have I done? What did I want?”— you will say: when any one gives you ill treatment, and you know that you will be squeezed into small compass, as soon as the eager reader is satiated. But, if the augur be not prejudiced by resentment of your error, you shall be caressed at Rome [only] till your youth be passed. When, thumbed by the hands of the vulgar, you begin to grow dirty; either you shall in silence feed the grovelling book-worms, or you shall make your escape to Utica, or shall be sent bound to Ilerda. Your disregarded adviser shall then laugh [at you]: as he, who in a passion pushed his refractory ass over the precipice. For who would save [an ass] against his will? This too awaits you, that faltering dotage shall seize on you, to teach boys their rudiments in the skirts of the city. But when the abating warmth of the sun shall attract more ears, you shall tell them, that I was the son of a freedman, and extended my wings beyond my nest; so that, as much as you take away from my family, you may add to my merit: that I was in favor with the first men in the state, both in war and peace; of a short stature, gray before my time, calculated for sustaining heat, prone to passion, yet so as to be soon appeased. If any one should chance to inquire my age; let him know that I had completed four times eleven Decembers, in the year in which Lollius admitted Lepidus as his colleague.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51