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Juvenal, Satires. (1918).  Satire 1

Satire 1.

[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]

Difficile est Saturam non Scribere

What? Am I to be a listener only all my days? Am I never to get my word in----I that have been so often bored by the Theseid 1 of the ranting Cordus? Shall this one have spouted to me his comedies, and that one his love ditties, and I be unavenged? Shall I have no revenge on one who has taken up the whole day with an interminable Telephus,2 or with an Orestes,2 which, after filling the margin at the top of the roll and the back as well, hasn't even yet come to an end? No one knows his own house so well as I know the groves of Mars, and the cave of Vulcan near the cliffs of Aeolus. What the winds are brewing; whose souls Aeacus 3 has on the rack; from what country another worthy 4 is carrying off that stolen golden fleece; how big are the ash trees which Monychus 5 tosses about: these are the themes with which Fronto's 6 plane trees and marble halls are for ever ringing until the pillars quiver and quake under the continual recitations; such is the kind of stuff you may look for from every poet, greatest or least. Well, I too have slipped my hand from under the cane; I too have counselled Sulla to retire from public life and sleep his fill 7; it is a foolish clemency when you jostle against poets at every corner, to spare paper that will be wasted anyhow. But if you can give me time, and will listen quietly to reason, I will tell you why I prefer to run in the same course over which the great nursling ol Aurunca 8 drove his steeds.

When a soft eunuch takes to matrimony, and Maevia, with spear in hand and breasts exposed, to pig-sticking; when a fellow under whose razor my stiff youthful beard used to grate 9 challenges, with his single wealth, the whole nobility; when a guttersnipe of the Nile like Crispinus 10----a slave-born denizen of Canopus 11----hitches a Tyrian cloak on to his shoulder, whilst on his sweating finger he airs a summer ring of gold, unable to endure the weight of a heavier gem----it is hard not to write satire. For who can be so tolerant of this monstrous city, who so iron of soul, as to contain himself when the brand-new litter of lawyer Matho comes along, filled with his huge self; after him one who has informed against his noble patron and will soon despoil our pillaged nobility of what remains to them----one whom Massa 12 dreads, whom Carus 12 propitiates by a bribe, and to whom Thymele 13 was made over by the terrified Latinus;13 when you are thrust on one side by men who earn legacies by nightly performances, and are raised to heaven by that now royal road to high preferment----the favours of an aged and wealthy woman? Each of the lovers will have his share; Proculeius a twelfth part, Gillo eleven parts, each in proportion to the magnitude of his services. Let each take the price of his own blood, and turn as pale as a man who has trodden upon a snake bare-footed, or of one who awaits his turn to orate before the altar at Lugdunum.14

Why tell how my heart burns hot with rage when I see the people hustled by a mob of retainers attending on one who has defrauded and debauched his ward, or on another who has been condemned by a futile verdict----for what matters infamy if the cash be kept? The exiled Marius 15 carouses from the eighth hour of the day and revels in the wrath of Heaven, while you, poor Province, win your cause and weep!

Must I not deem these things worthy of the Venusian's 16 lamp? Must I not have my fling at them? Should I do better to tell tales about Hercules, or Diomede, or the bellowing in the Labyrinth, or about the flying carpenter 17 and the lad 18 who splashed into the sea; and that in an age when the compliant husband, if his wife may not lawfully inherit,19 takes money from her paramour, being well trained to keep his eyes upon the ceiling, or to snore with wakeful nose over his cups; an age when one who has squandered his family fortunes upon horse flesh thinks it right and proper to look for the command of a cohort? See him dashing at break-neck speed, like a very Automedon,20 along the Flaminian way, holding the reins himself, while he shows himself off to his great-coated mistress!

Would you not like to fill up a whole note-book at the street crossings when you see a forger borne along upon the necks of six porters, and exposed to view on this side and on that in his almost naked litter, and reminding you of the lounging Maecenas: one who by help of a scrap of paper and a moistened seal has converted himself into a fine and wealthy gentleman?

Then up comes a lordly dame who, when her husband wants a drink, mixes toad's blood with his old Calenian,21 and improving upon Lucusta 22 herself, teaches her artless neighbours to brave the talk of the town and carry forth to burial the blackened corpses of their husbands. If you want to be anybody nowadays, you must dare some crime that merits narrow Gyara 23 or a gaol; honesty is praised and starves. It is to their crimes that men owe their pleasure-grounds and high commands, their fine tables and old silver goblets with goats standing out in relief. Who can get, sleep for thinking of a money-loving daughter-in-law seduced, of brides that have lost their virtue, or of adulterers not out of their teens? Though nature say me nay, indignation will prompt my verse, of whatever kind it be----such verse as I can write, or Cluvienus! 24

From the day when the rain-clouds lifted up the waters, and Deucalion climbed that mountain in his ship to seek an oracle----that day when stones grew soft and warm with life, and Pyrrha showed maidens in nature's garb to men----all the doings of mankind, their vows, their fears, their angers and their pleasures, their joys and goings to and fro, shall form the motley subject of my page. For when was Vice more rampant? When did the maw of Avarice gape wider? When was gambling so reckless? Men come not now with purses to the hazard of the gaming table, but with a treasure-chest beside them. What battles will you there see waged with a steward for armour-bearer! Is it a simple form of madness to lose a hundred thousand sesterces, and not have a shirt to give to a shivering slave? Which of our grandfathers built such numbers of villas, or dined by himself off seven courses? Look now at the meagre dole set down upon the threshold for a toga-clad mob to scramble for! The patron first peers into your face, fearing that you may be claiming under someone else's name: once recognised, you will get your share. He then bids the crier call up the Trojan-blooded nobles----for they too besiege the door as well as we: "The Praetor first," says he, "and after him the Tribune." "But I was here first," says a freedman who stops the way; "why should I be afraid, or hesitate to keep my place? Though born on the Euphrates----a fact which the little windows in my ears would testify though I myself denied it----yet I am the owner of five shops which bring me in four hundred thousand sesterces.25 What better thing does the Broad Purple 26 bestow if a Corvinus 27 herds sheep for daily wage in the Laurentian country, while I possess more property than either a Pallas or a Licinus?" 28 So let the Tribunes await their turn; let money carry the day; let the sacred office 29 give way to one who came but yesterday with whitened 30 feet into our city. For no deity is held in such reverence amongst us as Wealth; though as yet, O baneful money, thou hast no temple of thine own; not yet have we reared altars to Money in like manner as we worship Peace and Honour, Victory and Virtue, or that Concord 31 that twitters when we salute her nest.

If then the great officers of state reckon up at the end of the year how much the dole brings in, how much it adds to their income, what shall we dependants do who, out of the self-same dole, have to find ourselves in coats and shoes, in the bread and fire of our homes? A mob of litters comes in quest of the hundred farthings; here is a husband going the round, followed by a sickly or pregnant wife; another, by a clever and well-known trick, claims for a wife that is not there, pointing, in her stead, to a closed and empty chair: "My Galla's in there," says he; "let us off quick, will you not?" "Galla, put out your head!" "Don't disturb her, she's asleep! "

The day itself is marked out by a fine round of business. First comes the dole; then the courts, and Apollo 32 learned in the law, and those triumphal statues among which some Egyptian Arabarch 33 or other has dared to set up his titles; against whose statue more than one kind of nuisance may be committed! Wearied and hopeless, the old clients leave the door, though the last hope that a man relinquishes is that of a dinner; the poor wretches must buy their cabbage and their fuel. Meanwhile their lordly patron will be devouring the choicest products of wood and sea, lying alone upon an empty couch; for off those huge and splendid antique dinner-tables he will consume a whole patrimony at a single meal. Ere long no parasites will be left! Who can bear to see luxury so mean? What a huge gullet to have a whole boar----an animal created for conviviality----served up to it! But you will soon pay for it, my friend, when you take off your clothes, and with distended stomach carry your peacock into the bath undigested! Hence a sudden death, and an intestate old age; the new and merry tale runs the round of every dinner-table, and the corpse is carried forth to burial amid the cheers of enraged friends!

To these ways of ours Posterity will have nothing to add; our grandchildren will do the same things, and desire the same things, that we do. All vice is at its acme;34 up with your sails and shake out every stitch of canvas! Here perhaps you will say, "Where find the talent to match the theme? Where find that freedom of our forefathers to write whatever the burning soul desired? 'What man is there that I dare not name? What matters it whether Mucius forgives my words or no?35'" But just describe Tigellinus 36 and you will blaze amid those faggots in which men, with their throats tightly gripped, stand and burn and smoke, and you 37 trace a broad furrow through the middle of the arena.

What? Is a man who has administered aconite to half a dozen uncles to ride by and look down upon me from his swaying cushions? "Yes; and when he comes near you, put your finger to your lip: he who but says the word, 'That's the man!' will be counted an informer. You may set Aeneas and the brave Rutulian 38 a-fighting with an easy mind; it will hurt no one's feelings to hear how Achilles was slain, or how Hylas 39 was searched for when he tumbled after his pitcher. But when Lucilius roars and rages as if with sword in hand, the hearer, whose soul was cold with crime, grows red; he sweats with the secret consciousness of sin. Hence wrath and tears. So turn these things over in your mind before the trumpet sounds; the helmet once donned, it is too late to repent you of the battle." Then I will try what I may say of those worthies whose ashes lie under the Flaminian and Latin 40 roads.

1. 1 An epic poem.
2. 2 Names of tragedies.
3. 3 One of the judges in Hades.
4. 4 Jason. 
5. 5 A Centaur, alluding to the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapithae.
6. 6 A rich patron who lends his house for recitations.
7. 1  Referring to the retirement of Sulla from public life in B.C. 79. Such themes would be prescribed to schoolboys as rhetorical exercises, of the kind called suasoriae. See Mayor's n. and Sat. vii. 150-170.
8. 2  Lucilius, the first Roman satirist, B.C. 148-103.
9. 3  Some barber who had made a fortune. The line is repeated in x. 226.
10. 4 A favourite aversion of Juvenal's as a rich Egyptian parvenu who had risen to be princeps equitum. See iv. 1, 31, 108.           
11. 5 A city in the Nile Delta.
12. 6  Notorious informers under Domitian.
13. 7  Both actors: the allusion is not known.
14. 1  Alluding to a rhetorical contest instituted at Lyons by Caligula (Suet. Cal. 20). Severe and humiliating punishments were inflicted on those defeated in these contests.
15. 2  Condemned for extortion in Africa in A.D. 100.
16. 3  Horace was born at Venusia B.C. 65.
17. 4  Daedalus.
18. 5 Icarus.
19. 6 i.e. be legally incapacitated from taking an inheritance. 
20. 7 The charioteer of Achilles.
21. 1  Calenian and Falernian were two of the most famous Roman wines.
22. 2  A notorious poisoner under Nero.
23. 3  A small island in the Aegean Sea on which criminals were confined.
24. 4 Unknown; some scribbler of the day.
25. 1  The fortune required of a knight (the census equestris) was 400,000 sesterces.
26. 2  The broad purple stripe (latus clavus) on the tunic of senators.
27. 3 One of an ancient Roman family.
28. 4  Pallas and Licinus were wealthy freedmen.
29. 5  The persons of the Tribunes of the Plebs were sacrosanct.
30. 6  Slaves imported for sale had white chalk-marks on their feet.
31. 1  The temple of Concord, near the Capitol. Storks built their nests on the temple.
32. 2  A statue of Apollo in the Forum Augusti.
33. 3  Probably an allusion to Julius Alexander, a Jew who was Prefect of Egypt A.D. 67-70.
34. 1  The phrase is difficult. Duff translates ''Vice always stands above a sheer descent," and therefore soon reaches its extreme point.
35. 2  Apparently a quotation from Lucilius, being an attack on P. Mucius Scaevola.
36. 3  An infamous favourite of Nero's.
37. 4  i.e. "your body." The passage refers to the burning of the early Christians, and the dragging of their remains across the arena.
38. 1  Turnus, king of the Rutulians.
39. 2  A favourite of Hercules, who was drawn into a well by the Naids.
40. 3  The sides of the great roads leading out from Rome were lined with monuments to the dead.

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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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