Horace: The Satires
Book II: Satire I
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved
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There are those who think my satire’s too sharp, that I
Push the form beyond its proper limits: others
Think what I write is tame, that a thousand verses
A day could be churned out just like mine. Trebatius
Advise me what to do. ‘Rest.’ You mean I should write
Nothing? ‘I do.’ Perish me, if that wouldn’t be best:
But you know I can’t sleep. ‘Whoever needs sound sleep,
Should rub themselves with oil, swim the Tiber thrice,
Then, as evening falls, refresh themselves with wine.
Or if love of scribbling possesses you, bravely
Tell of invincible Caesar’s battles, you’ll win
Many a prize for your pains.’ I
But I lack the power: not everyone can describe
Lines of bristling lances, Gauls dying, spears broken,
Or a wounded Parthian slipping off his horse.
‘You could write of the man himself, brave and just,
If that chance occurs: but unless the moment’s right
A Flaccus’ words won’t find Caesar’s ears attentive,
Stroke him wrongly, and he’ll lash out in self-defence.
With bitter verses, or that wastrel Nomentanus,
Till all the unsung fear for themselves, and hate you.’
What then? When the warmth mounts to his drunken brain,
And his eyes see double, Milonius likes to dance:
Castor loves horses, his brother born from the same egg
Loves boxing: a thousand men have a thousand different
Pastimes: my joy’s imprisoning words in poetic metre,
Like Lucilius, a better man than either of us.
He used to entrust his secrets to his books, like faithful
Went well or badly: so the old man’s whole life lies open
To view, as if it were depicted on a votive tablet.
Since colonists in Venusia plough the border,
Sent there, as the old tale goes, when the Samnites
Were expelled, so no enemy could attack Rome
Across the gap if Apulian or Lucanian folk
Threatened violent war. But my stylus will
Harm a living soul, of my free will, only defend me,
My blade’s sheathed: why would I try to draw it, when I’m
Safe from wild attacks? O Jupiter, king and father,
Let my weapon rest there, and let it rust away,
Let no one injure me, a lover of peace! But he
Who provokes me (better not touch, I cry!) will suffer,
And his blemishes will be sung throughout the City.
When he’s angry, Cervius threatens law and jury,
Turius a hefty fine if he’s the judge in court.
All use their strongest weapon to intimidate
Those they fear: forceful Nature herself requires it:
Doesn’t the wolf bare its fangs, the bull toss its horns:
How, except by instinct? Trust an elderly mother
To wastrel Scaeva: his pious hand won’t touch her:
No surprise, wolves don’t use their paws, or oxen teeth:
Honey mixed with fatal hemlock will carry her off!
To be brief: whether a tranquil old age awaits me,
Or dark-winged Death comes hovering round me,
Rich, poor, in
Whatever the nature of my life, I’ll write. ‘Lad,
I fear for your life, lest one of your powerful
Friends freeze you dead.’ Why? When Lucilius dared
To scribble the first poems penned in a style like this,
Stripping the shining surface in which men strut,
Though foul inside, was Laelius troubled by his wit,
By slanderous verses? Yet Lucilius satirised
The leading citizens, the people tribe by tribe,
Only truly favouring Virtue and her friends.
Why, when good Scipio and wise, gentle Laelius,
Retired to privacy from life’s crowded theatre,
They’d talk nonsense with him, relaxing freely,
While the cabbage boiled. Whatever I chance to be,
However far, in rank or wit, below Lucilius,
Envy, reluctantly, must admit I lived among
Great men, and trying to bite on something soft
She’ll sink her teeth in what’s solid. Or do you differ
Let me warn you to be careful lest by chance
You find trouble through ignorance of the sacred law:
If a man trots out false verses, then there are rights
And courts of justice.’ Yes if they are false: but suppose
They are sound and praised by Caesar? If he’s snapped
At one who deserves disgrace, he himself blameless?
‘The score will be wiped clean, you’ll be discharged.’
End of Book II Satire I
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