THE SATIRES, EPISTLES, AND ART OF POETRY OF HORACE
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE
BY JOHN CONINGTON, M.A.
CORPUS PROFESSOR OF LATIN IN THE
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.
I. TO AUGUSTUS.
CUM TOT SUSTINEAS.
Since you, great Caesar, singly wield the charge
Of Rome's concerns, so manifold and large,
With sword and shield the commonwealth protect,
With morals grace it, and with laws correct,
The bard, methinks, would do a public wrong
Who, having gained your ear, should keep it long.
Quirinus, Bacchus, and the Jove-born pair,
Though now invoked with in cense, gifts, and prayer,
While yet on earth they civilized their kind,
Tilled lands, built cities, properties assigned,
Oft mourned for man's ingratitude, and found
The race they served less thankful than the ground.
The prince whose fated vassalage subdued
Fell Hydra's power and all the monster brood,
Soon found that envy, worse than all beside,
Could only be extinguished when he died.
He that outshines his age is like a torch,
Which, when it blazes high, is apt to scorch:
Men hate him while he lives: at last, no doubt,
He wins affection--when his light is out.
You, while in life, are honoured as divine,
And vows and oaths are taken at your shrine;
So Rome pays homage to her man of men,
Ne'er seen on earth before, ne'er to be seen again.
But this wise nation, which for once thinks true,
That nought in Greece or here can rival you,
To all things else a different test applies,
And looks on living worth with jaundiced eyes:
While, as for ancient models, take the code
Which to the ten wise men our fathers owed,
The treaties made 'twixt Gabii's kings and Home's,
The pontiffs' books, the bards' forgotten tomes,
They'll swear the Muses framed them every one
In close divan on Alba's Helicon.
But what's the argument? the bards of Greece
And those of Rome must needs be of a piece;
As there the oldest hold the foremost place,
So here, 'twould seem, the same will be the case.
Is this their reasoning? they may prove as well
An olive has no stone, a nut no shell.
Soon, flattered by such dexterous logic, we
Shall think we've gained the summit of the tree;
In art, in song our rivals we outdo,
And, spite of all their oil, in wrestling too.
Or is it said that poetry's like wine
Which age, we know, will mellow and refine?
Well, let me grant the parallel, and ask
How many years a work must be in cask.
A bard who died a hundred years ago,
With whom should he be reckoned, I would know?
The priceless early or the worthless late?
Come, draw a line which may preclude debate.
"The bard who makes his century up has stood
The test: we call him sterling, old, and good."
Well, here's a poet now, whose dying day
Fell one month later, or a twelvemonth, say:
Whom does he count with? with the old, or them
Whom we and future times alike contemn?
"Aye, call him old, by favour of the court,
Who falls a month, or e'en a twelvemonth short."
Thanks for the kind permission! I go on,
And pull out years, like horse-hairs, one by one,
While all forlorn the baffled critic stands,
Fumbling a naked stump between his hands,
Who looks for worth in registers, and knows
No inspiration but what death bestows.
Ennius, the stout and wise, in critic phrase
The analogue of Homer in these days,
Enjoys his ease, nor cares how he redeems
The gorgeous promise of his peacock dreams.
Who reads not Naevius? still he lives enshrined
A household god in every Roman mind.
So as we reckon o'er the heroic band
We call Pacuvius learned, Accius grand;
Afranius wears Menander's robe with grace;
Plautus moves on at Epicharmus' pace;
In force and weight Caecilius bears the palm;
While Terence--aye, refinement is his charm.
These are Rome's classics; these to see and hear
She throngs the bursting playhouse year by year:
'Tis these she musters, counts, reviews, displays,
From Livius' time to our degenerate days.
Sometimes the public sees like any lynx;
Sometimes, if 'tis not blind, at least it blinks.
If it extols the ancient sous of song
As though they were unrivalled, it goes wrong:
If it allows there's much that's obsolete,
Much hasty work, much rough and incomplete,
'Tis just my view; 'tis judging as one ought;
And Jove was present when that thought was thought.
Not that I'd act the zealot, and desire
To fling the works of Livius on the fire,
Which once Orbilius, old and not too mild,
Made me repeat by whipping when a child;
But when I find them deemed high art, and praised
As only not perfection, I'm amazed,
That here and there a thought not ill expressed,
A verse well turned, should carry off the rest;
Just as an unfair sample, set to catch
The heedless customer, will sell the batch.
I chafe to hear a poem called third-rate
Not as ill written, but as written late;
To hear your critics for their ancients claim
Not charity, but honour and high fame.
Suppose I doubt if Atta's humorous show
Moves o'er the boards with best leg first or no,
The fathers of the city all declare
That shame has fled from Rome, and gone elsewhere;
"What! show no reverence to his sacred shade
Whose scenes great Roscius and Aesopus played?"
Perhaps with selfish prejudice they deem
That nought but what they like deserves esteem,
Or, jealous of their juniors, won't allow
That what they learnt in youth is rubbish now.
As for the pedant whose preposterous whim
Finds poetry in Numa's Salian hymn,
Who would be thought to have explored alone
A land to him and me alike unknown,
'Tis not that buried genius he regards:
No; 'tis mere spleen and spite to living bards.
Had Greece but been as carping and as cold
To new productions, what would now be old?
What standard works would there have been, to come
Beneath the public eye, the public thumb?
When, having done with fighting, Greece began
To care for trifles that refine the man,
And, borne aloft on Fortune's full flood-tide,
Went drifting on to luxury and pride,
Of athletes and of steeds by turns she raved,
Loved ivory, bronze, and marble deftly graved,
Hung raptured on a painting, mind and eye,
Now leant to music, now to tragedy,
Like a young child that hankers for a toy,
Then throws it down when it begins to cloy.
With change of fortune nations change their minds:
So much for happy peace and prosperous winds.
At Rome erewhile men rose by day-break, saw
Their clients at their homes, laid down the law,
Put money at good interest out to loan
Secured by names responsible and known,
Explained to younger folk, or learned from old,
How wealth might be increased, expense controlled.
Now our good town has taken a new fit:
Each man you meet by poetry is bit;
Pert boys, prim fathers dine in, wreaths of bay,
And 'twixt the courses warble out their lay.
E'en I, who vow I never write a verse,
Am found as false as Parthia, maybe worse;
Before the dawn I rouse myself, and call
For pens and parchment, writing-desk and all.
None dares be pilot who ne'er steered a craft;
No untrained nurse administers a draught;
None but skilled workmen handle workmen's tools:
But verses all men scribble, wise or fools.
And yet this scribbling is a harmless craze,
And boasts in fact some few redeeming traits.
Avarice will scarce find lodging in a heart
Whose every thought is centred on its art;
He lays no subtle schemes, your dreamy bard,
To circumvent his partner or his ward;
Content with pulse and bread of ration corn,
Mres, losses, runaways he laughs to scorn;
Useless in camp, at home he serves the state,
That is, if small can minister to great.
His lessons form the child's young lips, and wean
The boyish ear from words and tales unclean;
As years roll on, he moulds the ripening mind,
And makes it just and generous, sweet and kind;
He tells of worthy precedents, displays
The example of the past to after days,
Consoles affliction, and disease allays.
Had Rome no poets, who would teach the train
Of maids and spotless youths their ritual strain?
Schooled by the bard, they lift their voice to heaven,
And feel the wished-for aid already given,
Prom brazen skies call down abundant showers,
Are heard when sickness threats or danger lowers,
Win for a war-worn land the smiles of peace,
And crown the year with plentiful increase.
Song checks the hand of Jove in act to smite;
Song soothes the dwellers in abysmal night.
Our rustic forefathers in days of yore,
Robust though frugal, and content though poor,
When, after harvest done, they sought repair
From toils which hope of respite made them bear,
Were wont their hard-earned leisure to enjoy
With those who shared their labour, wife and boy;
With porker's blood the Earth they would appease,
With milk Silvanus, guardian of their trees,
With flowers and wine the Genius, who repeats
That life is short, and so should have its sweets.
'Twas hence Fescennia's privilege began,
Where wit had licence, and man bantered man;
And the wild sport, though countrified and rough,
Passed off each year acceptably enough;
Till jokes grew virulent, and rabid spite
Ran loose through houses, free to bark and bite.
The wounded shrieked; the unwounded came to feel
That things looked serious for the general weal:
So laws were passed with penalties and pains
To guard the lieges from abusive strains,
And poets sang thenceforth in sweeter tones,
Compelled to please by terror for their bones.
Greece, conquered Greece, her conqueror subdued,
And Rome grew polished, who till then was rude;
The rough Saturnian measure had its day,
And gentler arts made savagery give way:
Yet traces of the uncouth past lived on
For many a year, nor are they wholly gone,
For 'twas not till the Punic wars were o'er
That Rome found time Greek authors to explore,
And try, by digging in that virgin field,
What Sophocles and Aeschylus could yield.
Nay, she essayed a venture of her own,
And liked to think she'd caught the tragic tone;
And so she has:--the afflatus comes on hot;
But out, alas! she deems it shame to blot.
'Tis thought that comedy, because its source
Is common life, must be a thing of course,
Whereas there's nought so difficult, because
There's nowhere less allowance made for flaws.
See Plautus now: what ill-sustained affairs
Are his close fathers and his love-sick heirs!
How farcical his parasites! how loose
And down at heel he wears his comic shoes!
For, so he fills his pockets, nought he heeds
Whether the play's a failure or succeeds.
Drawn to the house in glory's car, the bard
Is made by interest, by indifference marred:
So slight the cause that prostrates or restores
A mind that lives for plaudits and encores.
Nay, I forswear the drama, if to win
Or lose the prize can make me plump or thin.
Then too it tries an author's nerve, to find
The class in numbers strong, though weak in mind,
The brutal brainless mob, who, if a knight
Disputes their judgment, bluster and show fight,
Call in the middle of a play for bears
Or boxers;--'tis for such the rabble cares.
But e'en the knights have changed, and now they prize
Delighted ears far less than dazzled eyes.
The curtain is kept down four hours or more,
While horse and foot go hurrying o'er the floor,
While crownless majesty is dragged in chains,
Chariots succeed to chariots, wains to wains,
Whole fleets of ships in long procession pass,
And captive ivory follows captive brass.
O, could Democritus return to earth,
In truth 'twould wake his wildest peals of mirth,
To see a milkwhite elephant, or shape
Half pard, half camel, set the crowd agape!
He'd eye the mob more keenly than the shows,
And find less food for sport in these than those;
While the poor authors--he'd suppose their play
Addressed to a deaf ass that can but bray.
For where's the voice so strong as to o'ercome
A Roman theatre's discordant hum?
You'd think you heard the Gargan forest roar
Or Tuscan billows break upon the shore,
So loud the tumult waxes, when they see
The show, the pomp, the foreign finery.
Soon as the actor, thus bedizened, stands
In public view, clap go ten thousand hands.
"What said he?" Nought. "Then what's the attraction? "Why,
That woollen mantle with the violet dye.
But lest you think 'tis niggard praise I fling
To bards who soar where I ne'er stretched a wing,
That man I hold true master of his art
Who with fictitious woes can wring my heart,
Can rouse me, soothe me, pierce me with the thrill
Of vain alarm, and, as by magic skill,
Bear me to Thebes, to Athens, where he will.
Now turn to us shy mortals, who, instead
Of being hissed and acted, would be read:
We claim your favour, if with worthy gear
You'd fill the temple Phoebus holds so dear,
And give poor bards the stimulus of hope
To aid their progress up Parnassus' slope.
Poor bards! much harm to our own cause we do
(It tells against myself, but yet 'tis true),
When, wanting you to read us, we intrude
On times of business or of lassitude,
When we lose temper if a friend thinks fit
To find a fault or two with what we've writ,
When, unrequested, we again go o'er
A passage we recited once, before,
When we complain, forsooth, our laboured strokes,
Our dexterous turns, are lost on careless folks,
When we expect, so soon as you're informed
That ours are hearts by would-be genius warmed,
You'll send for us instanter, end our woes
With a high hand, and make us all compose.
Yet greatness, proved in war and peace divine,
Had best be jealous who should keep its shrine:
The sacred functions of the temple-ward
Were ill conferred on an inferior bard.
A blunderer was Choerilus; and yet
This blunderer was Alexander's pet,
And for the ill-stamped lines that left his mint
Received good money with the royal print.
Ink spoils what touches it: indifferent lays
Blot out the exploits they pretend to praise.
Yet the same king who bought bad verse so dear
In other walks of art saw true and clear;
None but Lysippus, so he willed by law,
Might model him, none but Apelles draw.
But take this mind, in paintings and in bronze
So ready to distinguish geese from swans,
And bid it judge of poetry, you'd swear
"Twas born and nurtured in Boeotian air.
Still, bards there are whose excellence commends
The sovereign judgment that esteems them friends,
Virgil and Varius; when your hand confers
Its princely bounty, all the world concurs.
And, trust me, human features never shone
With livelier truth through brass or breathing stone
Than the great genius of a hero shines
Through the clear mirror of a poet's lines.
Nor is it choice (ah, would that choice were all!)
Makes my dull Muse in prose-like numbers crawl,
When she might sing of rivers and strange towns,
Of mountain fastnesses and barbarous crowns,
Of battles through the world compelled to cease,
Of bolts that guard the God who guards the peace,
And haughty Parthia through defeat and shame
By Caesar taught to fear the Roman name:
'Tis strength that lacks: your dignity disdains
The mean support of ineffectual strains,
And modesty forbids me to essay
A theme whose weight would make my powers give way.
Officious zeal is apt to be a curse
To those it loves, especially in verse;
For easier 'tis to learn and recollect
What moves derision than what claims respect.
He's not my friend who hawks in every place
A waxwork parody of my poor face;
Nor were I flattered if some silly wight
A stupid poem in my praise should write:
The gift would make me blush, and I should dread
To travel with my poet, all unread,
Down to the street where spice and pepper's sold,
And all the wares waste paper's used to fold.
II. TO JULIUS FLORUS.
FLORE BONO CLAROQUE.
Dear Florus, justly high in the good grace
Of noble Nero, let's suppose a case;
A man accosts you with a slave for sale,
Born, say, at Gabii, and begins his tale:
"See, here's a lad who's comely, fair, and sound;
I'll sell him, if you will, for sixty pound.
He's quick, and answers to his master's look,
Knows Greek enough to read a simple book
Set him to what you like, he'll learn with ease;
Soft clay, you know, takes any form you please;
His voice is quite untrained, but still, I think,
You'll like his singing, as you sit and drink.
Excuse professions; they're but stale affairs,
Which chapmen use for getting off their waves.
I'm quite indifferent if you buy or no:
Though I'm but poor, there's nothing that I owe.
No dealer'd use you thus; nay, truth to tell,
I don't treat all my customers so well.
He loitered once, and fearing whipping, did
As boys will do, sneaked to the stairs and hid.
So, if this running off be not a, vice
Too bad to pardon, let me have my price."
The man would get his money, I should say,
Without a risk of having to repay.
You make the bargain knowing of the flaw;
'Twere mere vexatiousness to take the law.
'Tis so with me; before you left, I said
That correspondence was my rock ahead,
Lest, when you found that ne'er an answer came
To all your letters, you should call it shame.
But where's my vantage if you won't agree
To go by law, because the law's with me?
Nay more, you say I'm faithless to my vow
In sending you no verses. Listen now:
A soldier of Lucullus's, they say,
Worn out at night by marching all the day,
Lay down to sleep, and, while at ease he snored,
Lost to a farthing all his little hoard.
This woke the wolf in him;--'tis strange how keen
The teeth will grow with but the tongue between;--
Mad with the foe and with himself, off-hand
He stormed a treasure-city, walled and manned,
Destroys the garrison, becomes renowned,
Gets decorations and two hundred pound.
Soon after this the general had in view
To take some fortress, where I never knew;
He singles out our friend, and makes a speech
That e'en might drive a coward to the breach:
"Go, my fine fellow! go where valour calls!
There's fame and money too inside those walls."
"I'm not your man," returned the rustic wit:
"He makes a hero who has lost his kit."
At Rome I had my schooling, and was taught
Achilles' wrath, and all the woes it brought;
At classic Athens, where I went erelong,
I learnt to draw the line 'twixt right and wrong,
And search for truth, if so she might be seen,
In academic groves of blissful green;
But soon the stress of civil strife removed
My adolescence from the scenes it loved,
And ranged me with a force that could not stand
Before the might of Caesar's conquering hand.
Then when Philippi turned me all adrift
A poor plucked fledgeling, for myself to shift,
Bereft of property, impaired in purse,
Sheer penury drove me into scribbling verse:
But now, when times are altered, having got
Enough, thank heaven, at least to boil my pot,
I were the veriest madman if I chose
To write a poem rather than to doze.
Our years keep taking toll as they move on;
My feasts, my frolics are already gone,
And now, it seems, my verses must go too:
Bestead so sorely, what's a man to do?
Aye, and besides, my friends who'd have me chant
Are not agreed upon the thing they want:
You like an ode; for epodes others cry,
While some love satire spiced and seasoned high.
Three guests, I find, for different dishes call,
And how's one host to satisfy them all?
I bring your neighbour what he asks, you glower:
Obliging you, I turn two stomachs sour.
Think too of Rome: can I write verses here,
Where there's so much to tease and interfere?
One wants me for his surety; one, still worse,
Bids me leave work to hear him just rehearse;
One's ill on Aventine, the farthest end,
One on Quirinal; both must see their friend.
Observe the distance. "What of that?" you say,
"The streets are clear; make verses by the way."
There goes a builder's gang, all haste and steam;
Yon crane lifts granite, or perhaps a beam;
Waggons and funerals jostle; a mad dog
Ran by just now; that splash was from a hog:
Go now, abstract yourself from outward things,
And "hearken what the inner spirit sings."
Bards fly from town and haunt the wood and glade;
Bacchus, their chief, likes sleeping in the shade;
And how should I, with noises all about,
Tread where they tread and make their footprints out?
Take idle Athens now; a wit who's spent
Seven years in studying there, on books intent,
Turns out as stupid as a stone, and shakes
The crowd with laughter at his odd mistakes:
Here, in this roaring, tossing, weltering sea,
To tune sweet lyrics, is that work for me?
Two brothers, counsellor and pleader, went
Through life on terms of mutual compliment;
That thought the other Gracchus, this supposed
His brother Mucius; so they praised and prosed.
Our tuneful race the selfsame madness goads:
My friend writes elegies, and I write odes:
O how we puff each other! "'Tis divine;
The Muses had a hand in every line."
Remark our swagger as we pass the dome
Built to receive the future bards of Rome;
Then follow us and listen what we say,
How each by turns awards and takes the bay.
Like Samnite fencers, with elaborate art
We hit in tierce to be hit back in quart.
I'm dubbed Alcaeus, and retire in force:
And who is he? Callimachus of course:
Or, if 'tis not enough, I bid him rise
Mimnermus, and he swells to twice his size.
Writing myself, I'm tortured to appease
Those wasp-like creatures, our poetic bees:
But when my pen's laid down, my sense restored,
I rest from boring, rest from being bored.
Bad poets are our jest: yet they delight,
Just like their betters, in whate'er they write,
Hug their fool's paradise, and if you're slack
To give them praise, themselves supply the lack.
But he who meditates a work of art,
Oft as he writes, will act the censor's part:
Is there a word wants nobleness and grace,
Devoid of weight, unworthy of high place?
He bids it go, though stiffly it decline,
And cling and cling, like suppliant to a shrine:
Choice terms, long hidden from the general view,
He brings to day and dignifies anew,
Which, once on Cato's and Cethegus' lips,
Now pale their light and suffer dim eclipse;
New phrases, in the world of books unknown,
So use but father them, he makes his own:
Fluent and limpid, like a crystal stream,
He makes Rome's soil with genial produce teem:
He checks redundance, harshnesses improves
By wise refinement, idle weeds removes;
Like an accomplished dancer, he will seem
By turns a Satyr and a Polypheme;
Yet all the while 'twill be a game of skill,
Where sport means toil, and muscle bends to will.
Yet, after all, I'd rather far be blind
To my own faults, though patent to mankind,
Nay, live in the belief that foul is fair,
Than see and grin in impotent despair.
There was an Argive nobleman, 'tis said,
Who all day long had acting in his head:
Great characters on shadowy boards appeared,
While he looked on and listened, clapped and cheered:
In all things else he fairly filled his post,
Friendly as neighbour, amiable as host;
Kind to his wife, indulgent to his slave,
He'd find a bottle sweated and not rave;
He'd scorn to run his head against a wall;
Show him a pit, and he'd avoid the fall.
At last, when quarts of hellebore drunk neat,
Thanks to his kin, had wrought a cure complete,
Brought to himself again, "Good friends," quoth he,
"Call you this saving? why, 'tis murdering me;
Your stupid zeal has spoilt my golden days,
And robbed me of a most delicious craze."
Wise men betimes will bid adieu to toys,
And give up idle games to idle boys;
Not now to string the Latian lyre, but learn
The harmony of life, is my concern.
So, when I commune with myself, I state
In words like these my side in the debate:
"If no amount of water quenched your thirst,
You'd tell the doctor, not go on and burst:
Experience shows you, as your riches swell
Your wants increase; have you no friend to tell?
A healing simple for a wound you try;
It does no good; you put the simple by:
You're told that silly folk whom heaven may bless
With ample means get rid of silliness;
You test it, find 'tis not the case with you:
Then why not change your Mentor for a new?
Did riches make you wiser, set you free
From idle fear, insane cupidity,
You'd blush, and rightly too, if earth contained
Another man more fond of what he gained.
Now put the matter thus: whate'er is bought
And duly paid for, is our own, we're taught:
Consult a lawyer, and he'll soon produce
A case where property accrues from use.
The land by which you live is yours; most true,
And Orbius' bailiff really works for you;
He, while he ploughs the acres that afford
Flour for your table, owns you for his lord;
You pay your price, whate'er the man may ask,
Get grapes and poultry, eggs and wine in cask;
Thus, by degrees, proceeding at this rate,
You purchase first and last the whole estate,
Which, when it last was in the market, bore
A good stiff price, two thousand say, or more.
What matters it if, when you eat your snack,
'Twas paid for yesterday, or ten years back?
There's yonder landlord, living like a prince
On manors near Aricia, bought long since;
He eats bought cabbage, though he knows it not;
He burns bought sticks at night to boil his pot;
Yet all the plain, he fancies, to the stone
That stands beside the poplars, is his own.
But who can talk of property in lands
Exposed to ceaseless risk of changing hands,
Whose owner purchase, favour, lawless power,
And lastly death, may alter in an hour?
So, with heirs following heirs like waves at sea,
And no such thing as perpetuity,
What good are farmsteads, granaries, pasture-grounds
That stretch long leagues beyond Calabria's bounds,
If Death, unbribed by riches, mows down all
With his unsparing sickle, great and small?
"Gems, marbles, ivory, Tuscan statuettes,
Pictures, gold plate, Gaetulian coverlets,
There are who have not; one there is, I trow,
Who cares not greatly if he has or no.
This brother loves soft couches, perfumes, wine,
More than the groves of palmy Palestine;
That toils all day, ambitious to reclaim
A rugged wilderness with axe and flame;
And none but he who watches them from birth,
The Genius, guardian of each child of earth,
Born when we're born and dying when we die,
Now storm, now sunshine, knows the reason why
I will not hoard, but, though my heap be scant,
Will take on each occasion what I want,
Nor fear what my next heir may think, to find
There's less than he expected left behind;
While, ne'ertheless, I draw a line between
Mirth and excess, the frugal and the mean.
'Tis not extravagance, but plain good sense,
To cease from getting, grudge no fair expense,
And, like a schoolboy out on holiday,
Take pleasure as it comes, and snatch one's play.
"So 'twill not sink, what matter if my boat
Be big or little? still I keep afloat,
And voyage on contented, with the wind
Not always contrary, nor always kind,
In strength, wit, worth, rank, prestige, money-bags,
Behind the first, yet not among the lags.
"You're not a miser: has all other vice
Departed in the train of avarice,
Or do ambitious longings, angry fret,
The terror of the grave, torment you yet?
Can you make sport of portents, gipsy crones,
Hobgoblins, dreams, raw head and bloody bones?
Do you count up your birthdays year by year,
And thank the gods with gladness and blithe cheer,
O'erlook the failings of your friends, and grow
Gentler and better as your sand runs low?
Where is the gain in pulling from the mind
One thorn, if all the rest remain behind?
If live you cannot as befits a man,
Make room, at least, you may for those that can.
You've frolicked, eaten, drunk to the content
Of human appetite; 'tis time you went,
Lest, when you've tippled freely, youth, that wears
Its motley better, hustle you down stairs."
Introduction to the Satires and Epistles of Horace
| Satires II
| Epistles I
| Epistles II
| Art of Poetry
Notes to the Satires and Epistles