Satires by Juvenal
I.—Of Satire and its Subjects
Still shall I hear and never pay the score,
Stunned with hoarse Codrus' "Theseid" o'er and o'er?
Shall this man's elegies and the other's play
Unpunished murder a long summer day?
The poet exclaims against the dreary commonplaces in contemporary
poetry, and against recitations fit to crack the very
statues and colonnades of the neighbourhood! But he also underwent
his training in rhetoric.
So, since the world with writing is possessed,
I'll versify in spite, and do my best
To make as much wastepaper as the rest!
It may be asked, why write satire? The reason is to be found
in the ubiquitous presence of offensive men and women. It
would goad anyone into fury to note the social abuses, the mannish
women, and the wealthy upstarts of the imperial city.
When the soft eunuch weds, and the bold fair
Tilts at the Tuscan boar with bosom bare,
When all our lords are by his wealth outvied
Whose razor on my callow beard was tried,
When I behold the spawn of conquered Nile,
Crispinus, both in birth and manners vile,
Pacing in pomp with cloak of purple dye—
I cannot keep from satire, though I try!
There is an endless succession of figures to annoy: the too
successful lawyer, the treacherous spy, the legacy-hunter. How
one's anger blazes when a ward is driven to evil courses by the
unscrupulous knavery of a guardian, or when a guilty governor
gets a merely nominal sentence!
Marius, who pilled his province, 'scapes the laws,
And keeps his money, though he lost his cause:
His fine begged off, contemns his infamy,
Can rise at twelve, and get him drunk ere three—
Enjoys his exile, and, condemned in vain,
Leaves thee, victorious province, to complain!
Such villainies roused Horace into wrath,
And 'tis more noble to pursue his path
Than an old tale of Trojan brave to treat,
Or Hercules, or Labyrinth of Crete.
It is no time to write fabulous epics when cuckolds connive
at a wife's dishonour, and when horse-racing ne'er-do-wells expect
commissions in the army. One is tempted to fill volumes
in the open street about such figures as the forger carried by
his slaves in a handsome litter, or about the wealthy widow
acquainted with the mode of getting rid of a husband by poison.
Wouldst thou to honours and preferment climb?
Be bold in mischief—dare some mighty crime,
Which dungeons, death, or banishment deserves,
For virtue is but drily praised—and starves.
To crime men owe a mansion, park, and state,
Their goblets richly chased and antique plate.
Say, who can find a night's repose at need,
When a son's wife is bribed to sin for greed,
When brides are frail, and youths turn paramours?
If nature can't, then wrath our verse ensures!
Count from the time since old Deucalion's boat,
Raised by the flood, did on Parnassus float:
Whatever since that golden age was done,
What human kind desires, and what they shun,
Joy, sorrow, fear, love, hatred, transport, rage,
Shall form the motley subject of my page.
And when could Satire boast so fair a field?
Say, when did vice a richer harvest yield?
When did fell avarice so engross the mind?
Or when the lust of play so curse mankind?
O Gold, though Rome beholds no altar's flame,
No temples rise to thy pernicious name,
Such as to Victory, Virtue, Faith are reared,
Or Concord, where the clamorous stork is heard,
Yet is thy full divinity confessed,
Thy shrine established here, in every breast.
After a vigorous outburst against the degrading scramble
among impoverished clients for doles from their patrons, and
a mordant onslaught upon the gluttony of the niggardly rich,
Juvenal sees in his age the high-water mark of iniquity.
Nothing is left, nothing for future times,
To add to the full catalogue of crimes:
Vice has attained its zenith; then set sail,
Spread all thy canvas, Satire, to the gale.
II.—A Satire on Rome
This sharp indictment is put in the mouth of one Umbricius,
who is represented as leaving his native city in disgust. Rome is
no place for an honourable character, he exclaims.
Here, then, I bid my much-loved home farewell.
Ah, mine no more! There let Arturius dwell,
And Catulus; knaves, who, in truth's despite,
Can white to black transform, and black to white.
Build temples, furnish funerals, auctions hold,
Farm rivers, ports, and scour the drains for gold!
But why, my friend, should I at Rome remain?
I cannot teach my stubborn lips to feign;
Nor when I hear a great man's verses, smile,
And beg a copy, if I think them vile.
The worst feature is the predominance of crafty and cozening
Greeks, who, by their versatility and diplomacy, can oust the
I cannot rule my spleen and calmly see
A Grecian capital—in Italy!
A flattering, cringing, treacherous artful race,
Of torrent tongue, and never-blushing face;
A Protean tribe, one knows not what to call,
Which shifts to every form, and shines in all:
Grammarian, painter, augur, rhetorician,
Rope-dancer, conjurer, fiddler, and physician,
All trades his own your hungry Greekling counts;
And bid him mount the sky—the sky he mounts!
The insinuating flatteries of these aliens are so masterfully
contrived that the blunt Roman has no chance against such a
nation of actors.
Greece is a theatre where all are players.
For, lo! their patron smiles—they burst with mirth;
He weeps—they droop, the saddest souls on earth;
He calls for fire—they court the mantle's heat;
"'Tis warm," he cries—the Greeks dissolve in sweat!
Besides, they are dangerously immoral. Their philosophers are
perfidious. These sycophant foreigners can poison a patron
against a poor Roman client. This leads to an outburst against
poverty and its disadvantages.
The question is not put, how far extends
One's piety, but what he yearly spends.
The account is soon cast up: the judges rate
Our credit in the court by our estate.
Add that the rich have still a gibe in store,
And will be monstrous witty on the poor.
This mournful truth is everywhere confessed—
Slow rises worth by property depressed.
At Rome 'tis worse; where house-rent by the year,
And servants' bellies costs so devilish dear.
It is a city where appearance beyond one's means must he
kept up; whereas, in the country one need never spend money
even on a toga. Everything has its price in Rome. To interview
a great man, his pampered lackeys must have a fee.
Then there are risks in a great capital unknown in country
towns. There are tumble-down tenements with the buttresses
ready to give; there are top garrets where you may lose your
life in a fire. You could buy a nice rustic home for the price
at which a dingy hovel is let in Rome. Besides, the din of the
streets is killing. Rome is bad for the nerves. Folk die of
insomnia. By day you get crushed, bumped, and caked with
mud. A soldier drives his hobnails into your toe. You may be
the victim of a street accident.
Heavens! should the axle crack, which bears a weight
Of huge Ligurian stone, and pour the freight
On the pale crowd beneath, what would remain,
What joint, what bone, what atom of the slain?
The body, with the soul, would vanish quite,
Invisible, as air, to mortal sight!
Meanwhile, unconscious of their master's fate,
At home they heat the water, scour the plate,
Arrange the strigils, fill the cruse with oil,
And ply their several tasks with fruitless toil.
But he, the mangled victim, now a ghost,
Sits pale and trembling on the Stygian coast,
A stranger shivering at the novel scene,
At Charon's threatening voice and scowling mien,
Nor hopes a passage thus abruptly hurled,
Without his farthing to the nether world.
In the dark there are equal perils.
Prepare for death if here at night you roam,
And sign your will before you sup from home.
Lucky if people throw only dirty water from their windows!
Be thankful to escape without a broken skull. A drunken bully
may meet you.
There are who murder as an opiate take,
And only when no brawls await them, wake.
And what chance have you, without attendants, against a street
rough? Then there is the burglar; and the criminal classes are
regularly increased in town whenever the authorities grow active
enough to clear the main Italian roads of bandits.
The forge in fetters only is employed;
Our iron-mines exhausted and destroyed
In shackles; for these villains scarce allow
Goads for our teams or ploughshares for the plough.
Oh, happy ages of our ancestors,
Beneath the kings and tribunician powers!
One jail did all the criminals restrain,
Whom now the walls of Rome can scarce contain.
III.—A Satire on the Vanity of Human Wishes
Look round the habitable world; how few
Know their own good; or, knowing it, pursue.
To headlong ruin see whole houses driven,
Cursed with their prayers, by too indulgent heaven.
The several passions and aspirations of mankind, successively
examined in the light of legend and history, prove how hollow,
if not pernicious, are the principal objects of pursuit. Wealth is
one of the commonest aims.
But avarice spreads her deadly snare,
And hoards amassed with too successful care.
For wealth, in the black days, at Nero's word,
The ruffian bands unsheathed the murderous sword.
Cut-throats commissioned by the government
Are seldom to an empty garret sent.
The traveller freighted with a little wealth,
Sets forth at night, and wins his way by stealth:
Even then he fears the bludgeon and the blade—
Starts in the moonlight at a rush's shade,
While, void of care, the beggar trips along,
And to the robber's face will troll his song.
What would the "weeping" and the "laughing" sages of ancient
Greece have thought of the pageants of modern Rome?
Consider the vanity of ambition. It is illustrated by the downfall
of the powerful minister Sejanus. On his overthrow, the
fickle mob turned savagely upon his statues.
What think the people? They!
They follow fortune, as of old, and hate
With all their soul the victim of the state.
Yet in this very hour that self-same crowd
Had hailed Sejanus with a shout as loud,
If his designs (by fortune's favour blessed)
Had prospered, and the aged prince oppressed;
For since our votes have been no longer bought,
All public care has vanished from our thought.
Romans, who once with unresisted sway,
Gave armies, empire, everything, away,
For two poor claims have long renounced the whole
And only ask—the circus and a dole.
Would you rather be an instance of fallen greatness, or enjoy
some safe post in an obscure Italian town? What ruined a
Crassus? Or a Pompey? Or a victorious Cęsar? Why, the
realisation of their own soaring desires.
Another vain aspiration covets fame in eloquence. But the
gift of oratory overthrew the two greatest orators of Greece
and Rome—Demosthenes and Cicero. If Cicero had only stuck
to his bad verses, he would never have earned Antony's deadly
hatred by his "Second Philippic" (see Vol. IX, p. 155).
"I do congratulate the Roman state
Which my great consulate did recreate!"
If he had always used such jingling words
He might have scorned Mark Antony's swords.
A different passion is for renown in war. What is the end of
it all? Only an epitaph on a tombstone, and tombstones themselves
perish; for even a tree may split them!
Produce the urn that Hannibal contains,
And weigh the paltry dust which yet remains.
And is this all? Yet this was once the bold,
The aspiring chief, whom Afric could not hold.
Spain conquered, o'er the Pyrenees he bounds;
Nature opposed her everlasting mounds,
Her Alps and snows. O'er these with torrent force
He pours, and rends through rocks his dreadful course.
Already at his feet Italia lies.
Yet, thundering on, "Think nothing done," he cries,
"Till Rome, proud Rome, beneath my fury falls,
And Afric's standards float without her walls!"
But what ensued? Illusive glory, say.
Subdued on Zama's memorable day,
He flies in exile to a petty state,
With headlong haste; and, at a despot's gate,
Sits, mighty suppliant, of his life in doubt,
Till the Bithynian monarch's nap be out!
Nor swords, nor spears, nor stones from engines hurled,
Shall quell the man whose frown alarmed the world:
The vengeance due to Cannę's fatal field,
And floods of gore, a poisoned ring shall yield!
Fly, madman, fly! At toil and danger mock,
Pierce the deep snow, and scale the eternal rock,
To please the rhetoricians, and become
A declamation—for the boys of Rome!
Consider next the yearning after long life.
Pernicious prayer! for mark what ills attend
Still on the old, as to the grave they bend:
A ghastly visage, to themselves unknown;
For a smooth skin, a hide with scurf o'ergrown;
And such a cheek, as many a grandam ape
In Tabraca's thick woods is seen to scrape.
The old man rouses feelings of impatient loathing in those
around him; his physical strength and faculties for enjoyment
are gone. Even if he remain hale, he may suffer harrowing
bereavements. Nestor, Peleus, and Priam had to lament the
death of heroic sons; and in Roman history Marius and Pompey
outlived their good fortune.
Campania, prescient of her Pompey's fate,
Sent a kind fever to arrest his date:
When lo! a thousand suppliant altars rise,
And public prayers obtain him of the skies.
The city's fate and his conspired to save
His head, to perish near the Egyptian wave.
Again, there is the frequent prayer for good looks. But beauty
is a danger. If linked with unchastity, it leads to evil courses.
Even if linked with chastity, it may draw on its possessor the
tragic fate of a Lucretia, a Virginia, a Hippolytus, or a Bellerophon.
What is a Roman knight to do if an empress sets her
heart on him?
Amid all such vanities, then, is there nothing left for which
men may reasonably pray?
Say, then, shall man, deprived all power of choice,
Ne'er raise to Heaven the supplicating voice?
Not so; but to the gods his fortunes trust.
Their thoughts are wise, their dispensations just.
What best may profit or delight they know,
And real good for fancied bliss bestow;
With eyes of pity they our frailties scan;
More dear to them than to himself is man.
By blind desire, by headlong passion driven,
For wife and heirs we daily weary Heaven;
Yet still 'tis Heaven's prerogative to know,
If heirs, or wife, will bring us weal or woe.
But (for 'tis good our humble hope to prove),
That thou mayst still ask something from above,
Thy pious offerings to the temple bear,
And, while the altars blaze, be this thy prayer:
O Thou, who know'st the wants of human kind,
Vouchsafe me health of body, health of mind;
A soul prepared to meet the frown of fate,
And look undaunted on a future state;
That reckons death a blessing, yet can bear
Existence nobly, with its weight of care;
That anger and desire alike restrains,
And counts Alcides' toils, and cruel pains,
Superior far to banquets, wanton nights,
And all the Assyrian monarch's soft delights!
Here bound, at length, thy wishes. I but teach
What blessings man, by his own powers, may reach.
The Path to Peace is Virtue. We should see,
If wise, O Fortune, nought divine in thee:
But we have deified a name alone,
And fixed in heaven thy visionary throne!