Horace: The Satires
Book I: Satire IV
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Whenever anyone deserved to be shown as a crook
A thief, a libertine, a murderer, or merely notorious
In some other way, the true poets, those who powered
Cratinus, used to mark such a man out quite freely.
Lucilius derives from them, as a follower
Who only changed rhythm and metre: witty
With a sharp nose, true, but the verse he wrote was rough.
Thatís where the fault lay: often, epically, heíd dictate
Two hundred lines, do it standing on one foot even!
A lot should have been dredged from his murky stream.
He was garrulous, hated the labour involved in writing,
Writing well, I mean: I donít care for mere quantity.
Watch Crispinus offer me long odds: ĎNow, if you please,
Take your tablets and Iíll take mine: pick a time, a place,
The judges: letís see which of us can scribble the most.í
Thank the gods Iím a man of few ideas, with no spirit,
One who speaks only rarely, and then says little.
But if itís what you prefer, then you imitate air shut
In a goat-skin
Makes the iron melt. Blessed be Fannius who offers
His books and a bust unasked, while no one reads
What I write, and Iím afraid to recite it aloud
Since some care little for that sort of thing, and most
Men deserve censure. Choose any man from the crowd:
Heíll be bothered by avarice or some wretched ambition.
This man is crazy for married women, another for boys:
That manís captivated by gleaming silver: Albius
Marvels at bronze: this man trades his goods from the east
To the lands warmed by the evening rays, rushes headlong
Just like the dust caught up by the wind, full of fear
Lest he loses his capital or the chance of a profit.
All of them dread our verses and hate the poets.
ĎHeís dangerous, flee, heís marked by hay tied to his horns!
He wonít spare a single friend to get a laugh for himself:
And whatever heís scribbled all over his parchments
Heís eager for all the slaves and old women to know,
On their way from the well or the bake-house.í Well listen
To these few words of reply. First Iíd cut my own name
From those I listed as poets: itís not enough merely
To turn out a verse, and you canít call someone a poet
Who writes like me in a style close to everyday speech.
Give the honour owed to that name to a man of talent,
One with a soul divine, and a powerful gift of song.
Thatís why some people have doubted if Comedy
Is true poetry, since in words and content it lacks
Inspired force and fire, and except that it differs
From prose in its regular beat, is merely prose.
ĎBut it highlights a father there in a raging
Because his son, a spendthrift whose madly in love
With his mistress, a slut, shuns a girl with an ample dowry,
Reels around drunk, and causes a scandal, with torches
At even-tide.í Yes, but wouldnít Pomponius get
A lecture no less severe from a real father? So,
Itís not nearly enough to write out a line in plain speech,
That if you arranged it, would allow any father to fume
Like the one in the play. Take the regular rhythm
From this that Iím writing now, or Lucilius wrote,
Putting the first words last, placing the last ones first,
Itís not like transposing Enniusí, ĎWhen hideous Discord
Shattered the iron posts and the gateways of War.í
Even dismembered youíll find there the limbs of a poet.
Enough! Weíll ask some other time if itís poetry.
The only question for now is whether youíre right
To view such things with suspicion. Sulcius
And Caprius prowl about zealously armed with writs:
And, terribly hoarse, are a terror to thieves: but a man
With clean hands who lives decently, scorns them both.
No stall or pillar will offer up my little books
To the sweaty hands of the mob, and Hermogenes:
I only recite them to friends, and only when pressed,
Not anywhere, not to anyone. There are plenty
Who read out their works in the Forum, or baths:
(How nicely the vaulted space resonates to the voice!)
It delights the inane, who
Time and taste are right. ĎBut you take
And you work your evil zealously.í Where did you find
That spear to throw? Is anyone I know the author
Of that? The man who will slander an absent friend,
And fails to defend him from othersí attacks,
Whoís after othersí laughter, and the name of a wit,
And invents things heís never seen, and canít keep
A secret: beware of him,
When thereís a party of four and only three couches,
Often thereís one guest who likes to besprinkle the rest
Excluding his host who supplies the water: his host too
Though later when, drunk, truthful Liber unlocks the heart.
Yet you, hating blackguards, consider him charming,
If I laughed because stupid Rufillus smells of pastils,
Gargonius of goat? If someone while you were there
Gave a hint of Petillius Capitolinusí thefts,
Youíd be sure to defend him as is your habit:
ĎCapitolinus has been a dear friend and companion
Since childhood: heís done me many a favour when asked,
But Iím still amazed at how he escaped that trial.í
Thatís the black ink a cuttlefish squirts, now, thatís
Pure venom. Let such nastiness be far from my work,
And well before that from my heart: if thereís anything
I can truly promise, Iíll promise you that. If I
Speak too freely, too lightly perhaps, youíll allow me
That liberty, please. The best of fathers formed me:
So Iíd flee from vice, heíd point it out by example.
When he exhorted me to be thrifty and careful,
So as to live in content on what heíd leave me:
Heíd say: ĎDonít you see how badly young Albius
Is doing, how poor Baius is? A clear warning: donít
Wilfully squander your birthright.í Or steering me
From base love of a whore: ĎDonít take after Scetanus.í
Or from chasing an adulteress where I might enjoy
Free sex: ĎNot nice, Treboniusí name now heís caught:
Or avoid something: itís enough for me that I follow
The code our ancestors handed down, and while you
Need a guardian Iíll keep your reputation and health
From harm: then when age has strengthened your body
And mind, you can swim free of the float.í With words
Such as these he formed the child, whether
If I acted, with ĎYouíve an authority for doing this,í
Or forbidding it, with ĎCan you really be doubtful
Whether itís wrong or harmful, when scandalís ablaze
About that man and this?í As a neighbourís funeral scares
The sick glutton, and makes him diet, fearful of dying,
So tender spirits are often deterred from doing wrong
By othersí shame. Thatís why Iím free of whatever vices
Bring ruin, though Iím guilty of lesser failings, ones
You might pardon. Perhaps growing older will largely
Erase even these, or honest friends, or self-reflection:
Since when my armchair welcomes me, or a stroll
In the portico, alert to myself: ĎItís more honest,í
Iíll say, Ďif I do that my life will be better: that way Iíll
Make good friends: what he did wasnít nice: could I ever
Unthinkingly do something similar one day?í So
I advise myself with my lips tight closed: and when Iím free
I toy with my writings. Itís one of the minor failings
I mentioned: and if itís something you canít accept,
A vast crowd of poets will flock to my aid (for we
Are by far the majority), and just as the Jews do
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