John T. Kirby · Purdue University
For some general observations on translating poetry, and on translating Latin poetry in particular, see our Catullus page. All of what is said there applies in the case of Horace as well -- and then some. With Horace, perhaps even more so than with Catullus, it is difficult to read the Latin without sensing the strong aroma of Greek poetry; in writing his Carmina ('Odes') and Epodi ('Epodes'), Horace has been profoundly influenced by his reading of the classical Greek poets, such as Sappho, Alcaeus, and Pindar. Too, one can see the strong influence of Hellenistic philosophy on his Sermones ('Satires' written in epic meter) and Epistulae ('Epistles,' formal verse letters written somewhat in the same vein as his Satires). But there is something quintessentially Roman about the Satires and Epistles: they are, among other things, important historical sources for information about Roman life in Horace's day.
Horace was the son of a freed slave, as he himself tells us; he was not born into the same type of aristocratic environment as, say, Julius Caesar. Imagine his thrill (and trepidation) when, having made friends with Vergil, he was introduced to Augustus himself! By virtue of his poetic genius, he eventually found himself traveling in the most exalted social circles in Rome. Along with Augustus, Horace met Augustus's right-hand man, Maecenas, who gave Horace the gift of his own Sabine Farm as a means of support. This gift meant, among other things, space and time to write -- the most important gift any artist can receive.
Once again, as with Catullus, these English translations are meant only as a stopgap measure. The Latinity of Horace's Satires is subtle and peculiarly idiomatic, especially when his characters are speaking. The metrical constraints of the dactylic hexameter notwithstanding, it may be that we sometimes hear here the authentic sound of Latin as it was spoken conversationally in Rome of the first century BCE. This, combined with the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, which they purvey not in treatise format but in stories and dialogues, makes them irreplaceably valuable.
English versions of the Satires here are taken or adapted from the translation by C. Smart (Harper & Brothers, 1863).
['Horace and the Bore' is a humorous narrative, describing the sort of situation we've all found ourselves in at one time or another. Commentary on the English text can be found online at the Perseus website.]
I happened to be walking along the Via Sacra, meditating on some trifle or other, as is my custom, and totally intent upon it. A certain person, known to me by name only, runs up; and, having seized my hand, "How do you do, my dearest fellow?"
"Tolerably well," say I, "as times go; and I wish you every thing you can desire."
When he still followed me; "Would you any thing?" said I to him.
But, "You know me," says he: "I am a man of learning."
"Upon that account," says I: "you will have more of my esteem." Wanting sadly to get away from him, sometimes I walked on apace, now and then I stopped, and I whispered something to my boy. When the sweat ran down to the bottom of my ankles. O, said I to myself, Bolanus, how happy were you in a headpiece!
Meanwhile he kept prating on any thing that came uppermost, praised the streets, the city; and, when I made him no answer; "You want terribly," said he "to get away; I perceived it long ago; but you effect nothing. I shall still stick close to you; I shall follow you hence: where are you at present bound for?"
"There is no need for your being carried so much about: I want to see a person, who is unknown to you: he lives a great way off across the Tiber, just by Caesar's gardens."
"I have nothing to do, and I am not lazy; I will attend you thither." I hang down my ears like an ass of surly disposition, when a heavier load than ordinary is put upon his back.
He begins again: "If I am tolerably acquainted with myself, you will not esteem Viscus or Varius as a friend, more than me; for who can write more verses, or in a shorter time than I? Who can move his limbs with softer grace [in the dance]? And then I sing, so that even Hermogenes may envy."
Here there was an opportunity of interrupting him. "Have you a mother, [or any] relations that are interested in your welfare?"
"Not one have I; I have buried them all."
"Happy they! now I remain. Dispatch me: for the fatal moment is at hand, which an old Sabine sorceress, having shaken her divining urn, foretold when I was a boy; This child, neither shall cruel poison, nor the hostile sword, nor pleurisy, nor cough, nor the crippling gout destroy: a babbler shall one day demolish him; if he be wise, let him avoid talkative people, as soon as he comes to man's estate.
One fourth of the day being now passed, we came to Vesta's temple; and, as good luck would have it, he was obliged to appear to his recognizance; which unless he did, he must have lost his cause.
"If you love me," said he, "step in here a little."
"May I die! if I be either able to stand it out, or have any knowledge of the civil laws: and besides, I am in a hurry, you know whither."
"I am in doubt what I shall do," said he; "whether desert you or my cause."
"Me, I beg of you."
"I will not do it," said he; and began to take the lead of me. I (as it is difficult to contend with one's master) follow him.
"How stands it with Maecenas and you?" Thus he begins his prate again. "He is one of few intimates, and of a very wise way of thinking. No man ever made use of opportunity with more cleverness. You should have a powerful assistant, who could play an underpart, if you were disposed to recommend this man; may I perish, if you should not supplant all the rest!"
"We do not live there in the manner you imagine; there is not a house that is freer or more remote from evils of this nature. It is never of any disservice to me, that any particular person is wealthier or a better scholar than I am: every individual has his proper place."
"You tell me a marvelous thing, scarcely credible."
"But it is even so."
"You the more inflame my desires to be near his person."
"You need only be inclined to it: such is your merit, you will accomplish it: and he is capable of being won; and on that account the first access to him he makes difficult."
"I will not be wanting to myself; I will corrupt his servants with presents; if I am excluded today, I will not desist; I will seek opportunities; I will meet him in the public streets; I will wait upon him home. Life allows nothing to mortals without great labor."
While he was running on at this rate, lo! Fuscus Aristius comes up, a dear friend of mine, and one who knows the fellow well. We make a stop.
"Whence come you? whither are you going?" he asks and answers. I began to twitch him [by the elbow], and to take hold of his arms [that were affectedly] passive, nodding and distorting my eyes, that he might rescue me. Cruelly arch he laughs, and pretends not to take the hint: anger galled my liver.
"Certainly," [said I, "Fuscus,] you said that you wanted to communicate something to me in private."
"I remember it very well; but will tell it you at a better opportunity: today is the thirtieth sabbath. Would you affront the circumcised Jews?"
I reply, "I have no scruple [on that account]."
"But I have: I am something weaker, one of the multitude. You must forgive me: I will speak with you on another occasion." And has this sun arisen so disastrous upon me! The wicked rogue runs away, and leaves me under the knife.
But by luck his adversary met him: and, "Whither are you going, you infamous fellow?" roars he with a loud voice: and, "Do you witness the arrest?"
I assent. He hurries him into court: there is a great clamor on both sides, a mob from all parts. Thus did Apollo rescue me.
[This satire, a meditation on the serenity and tranquility of country life as opposed to the turbulence and trouble of city living, includes the famous parable of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. Commentary on the English text can be found online at the Perseus website.]
This was what I had long dreamt of: a portion of ground, not overly large, in which was a garden, and a founain with a continual stream close to my house, and a little woodland besides. The gods have done more abundantly, and better, for me [than this]. It is well: O son of Maia, I ask nothing more save that you would render these donations lasting to me. If I have neither made my estate larger by bad means, nor am in a way to make it less by vice or misconduct; if I do not foolishly make any petition of this sort -- "Oh that that neighboring angle, which now spoils the regularity of my field, could be added! Oh that some accident would discover to me an urn [full] of money! as it did to him, who having found a treasure, bought that very ground he before tilled in the capacity of an hired servant, enriched by Hercules' being his friend;" if what I have at present satisfies me grateful, I supplicate you with this prayer: make my cattle fat for the use of their master, and every thing else, except my genius: and, as you are wont, be present as my chief guardian. Wherefore, when I have removed myself from the city to the mountains and my castle, (what can I polish, preferably to my satires and prosaic muse?) neither evil ambition destroys me, nor the heavy south wind, nor the sickly autumn, the gain of baleful Libitina.
Father of the morning, or Janus, if with more pleasure thou hearest thyself [called by that name], from whom men commence the toils of business, and of life (such is the will of the gods), be thou the beginning of my song. At Rome you hurry me away to be bail; "Away, dispatch, [you cry,] lest any one should be beforehand with you in doing that friendly office": I must go, at all events, whether the north wind sweep the earth, or winter contracts the snowy day into a arrower circle. After this, having uttered in a clear and determinate manner [the legal form], which may be a detriment to me, I must bustle through the crowd; and must disoblige the tardy. "What is your will, madman, and what are you about, impudent fellow?" So one accosts me with his passionate curses. "You jostle every thing that is in your way, if with an appointment full in your mind you are posting away to Maecenas." This pleases me, and is like honey: I will not tell a lie. But by the time I reach the gloomy Esquiliae, a hundred affairs of other people's encompass me on every side: "Roscius begged that you would be with him at the court-house tomorrow before the second hour." "The secretaries requested you would remember, Quintus, to return today about an affair of public concern, and of great consequence." "Get Maecenas to put his signet to these tablets." Should one say, "I will endeavor at it:" "If you will, you can," adds he; and is more earnest.
The seventh year approaching to the eighth is now elapsed, from the time that Maecenas began to reckon me in the number of his friends; only thus far, as one he would like to take along with him in his chariot, when he went a journey, and to whom he would trust such kind of trifles as these: "What is the hour?" "Is Gallina, the Thracian, a match for [the gladiator] Syrus?" "The cold morning air begins to pinch those that are ill provided against it;" -- and such things as are well enough entrusted to a leaky ear. For all this time, every day and hour, I have been more subjected to envy. Our son of fortune here, says everybody, witnessed the shows in company with [Maecenas], and played with him in the Campus Martius. Does any disheartening report spread from the rostrum through the streets, whoever comes in my way cousults me [concerning it]: "Good sir, have you (for you must know, since you approach nearer the gods) heard any thing relating to the Dacians?" "Nothing at all for my part," [I reply]. "How you ever are a sneerer!" "But may all the gods torture me, if I know any thing of the matter." "What? will Caesar give the lands he promised the soldiers, in Sicily, or in Italy?" As I am swearing I know nothing about it, they wonder at me, [thinking] me, to be sure, a creature of profound and extraordinary secrecy.
Among things of this nature the day is wasted by me, mortified as I am, not without such wishes as these: O countryside, when shall I behold thee? and when shall it be in my power to pass through the pleasing oblivion of a life full of solicitude, one while with the books of the ancients, another while in sleep and leisure? ) when shall the bean related to Pythagoras, and at the same time vegetables well larded with fat bacon, be set before me? O evenings, aad suppers fit for gods! with which I and my friends regale ourselves in the presence of my household gods; and feed my saucy slaves with viands, of which libations have been made. The guest, according to every one's inclination, takes off the glasses of different sizes, free from mad laws: whether one of a strong constitution chooses hearty bumpers; or another more joyously gets mellow with moderate ones. Then conversation arises, not concerning other people's villas and houses, nor whether Lepos dances well or not; but we debate on what is more to our purpose, and what it is pernicious not to know -- whether people are made happier by riches or by virtue; or what leads us into intimacies, interest or moral goodness; and what is the nature of good, and what its perfection. Meanwhile, my neighbor Cervius prates away old stories relative to the subject.
For, if any one ignorantly commends the troublesome riches of Aurelius, he thus begins: "Once upon a time a countrymouse is reported to have received a city-mouse into his poor cave, an old host, his old acquaintance; a blunt fellow and attentive to his acquisitions, yet so as he could [on occasion] enlarge his narrow soul in acts of hospitality. What need of many words? He neither grudged him the hoarded vetches, nor the long oats; and bringing in his mouth a dry plum, and nibbled scraps of bacon, presented them to him, being desirous by the variety of the supper to get the better of the daintiness of his guest, who hardly touched with his delicate tooth the several things: while the father of the family himself, extended on fresh straw, ate a spelt and darnel, leaving that which was better [for his guest]. At length the citizen addressing him, 'Friend,' says he, 'what delight have you to live laboriously on the ridge of a rugged thicket? Will you not prefer men and the city to the savage woods? Take my advice, and go along with me to the city: since mortal lives are allotted to all terrestrial animals, nor is there any escape from death, either for the great or the small. Wherefore, my good friend, while it is in your power, live happy in joyous circumstances: live mindful of how brief an existence you are.'
Soon as these speeches had wrought upon the peasant, he leaps nimbly from his cave: thence they both pursue their intended journey, being desirous to come to the city walls by night. And now the night possessed the middle region of the heavens, when each of them set foot in a gorgeous palace, where carpets dyed with crimson grain glittered upon ivory couches, and many baskets of a magnificent entertainment remained, which had yesterday been set by in baskets piled upon one another. After he had placed the peasant then, stretched at ease, upon a splendid carpet; he bustles about like an adroit host, and keeps bringing up one dish close upon another, and with an affected civility performs all the ceremonies, first tasting of every thing he serves up. He, reclined, rejoices in the change of his situation, and acts the part of a boon companion in the good cheer: when on a sudden a prodigious rattling of the folding doors shook them both from their couches. Terrified they began to scamper all about the room, and more and more heartless to be in confusion, while the lofty house resounded with the barking of mastiff dogs; upon which, says the country-mouse, 'I have no desire for a life like this; and so farewell: my wood and cave, secure from surprises, shall with homely tares comfort me.'"
[This is a powerful piece whose effect is likely to stay with you long after you finish reading it. The dramatic occasion is the festival of the Saturnalia, a carnivalesque moment in the calendar during which slaves and masters temporarily changed places. In this satire, the narrator -- call him 'Horace,' though the poet may well be imagining some fictional character -- has a most revealing exchange with his slave Dauus; from a comment in the final sentence, it appears that the scene is set in Rome rather than in the countryside. In the course of this conversation comes a philosophical lesson on what it means to be truly free. Commentary on the English text can be found online at the Perseus website.]
DAVVS (a slave): I have been listening to you a long while now, and would like to say a few things in return; but, being a slave, I am afraid to.
HORACE: Dauus? Is that you?
DAVVS: Yes, Dauus, a faithful servant to his master and an honest one -- at least enough so for you to let him go on living.
HORACE: Well (since our ancestors decreed it so), use the freedom of December [i.e. the Saturnalia]: speak on.
DAVVS: Some people are dependably fond of their vices, and stick to them regularly. Some swim back and forth, clinging now to right, now to wrong. The notorious Priscus was sometimes seen wearing three rings, sometimes wearing none. He was so flighty that he would change his toga every hour; starting out from a magnificent mansion, he would soon find himself in a place from which not even a decent freedman could emerge with self-respect. One moment he was a Roman libertine; the next, an Athenian sage -- unseasonable in any season.
That buffoon, Volanerius, when (well-deserved) gout had crippled his fingers, hired a servant to take up the dice and put them into a box for him: yet by being constant in his vice, he was happier than the man who holds the reins now too tight, now too loose.
HORACE: You good-for-nothing, will you get to the point sometime today? What is all this about?
DAVVS: Why, it's about you, I say.
HORACE: About me? How so, you scoundrel?
DAVVS: You praise the good fortune and the customs of the ancient Romans; and yet, if any god were suddenly to reduce you to those conditions, you, the same man, would earnestly beg to be excused; either because you do not really feel that what you shout is right; or because you don't stand firm in defending what is right, and hesitate, hoping against hope to extract your foot from the mire.
At Rome, you long for the country; then, when you are out in the country, you extol the absent city to the skies. If it happens you are not invited out anywhere to supper, you praise your own quiet dish of vegetables -- as if you only ever go out when you are forced to -- and you declare how lucky you are, and that you love not having to go out drinking. But! Just let Maecenas invite you, at the last moment, to come that evening, and with a great roar, you splutter, 'Hurry up with that lamp oil! is everyone deaf around here?'-- and off you go. Miluius, and the other rascals who expected to be your guests, go off muttering things unfit to repeat. 'I'm willing to admit the truth,' he might say, 'I am easily seduced by my appetite; I love the smell of good food; I am weak and lazy and, what's more, a souse. But seeing you are as I am, and perhaps something worse, why do you call me to account, as if you were the better man, and disguise your own vice with euphemisms?'
What if you turn out to be a greater fool than I -- I, the slave purchased for five hundred drachmas? Don't try to to terrify me with that scowl; restrain your hand and your anger, while I tell you what Crispinus' doorman taught me.
Another man's wife captivates you; a prostitute titillates Dauus: so which of us more deserves crucifixion? When my sharp urges drive me, she -- naked in the lamplight, whoever she may be -- takes the lashes of my swollen tail; or, with me on my back, she -- horny herself -- rides me like a horse between her thighs. But then she sends me on my way, neither dishonored, nor caring whether a richer or a handsomer man pisses in the same spot. But you, when you have cast off the insignia of your rank, your equestrian ring and your Roman habit, turn from a magistrate into a wretched slave, hiding with a hooded cape your perfumed head: are you not really what you impersonate? You are brought inside, trembling, your bones shaking both with desire and with fear.
What is the difference whether you go bound as a gladiator, to be galled with scourges and slain with the sword; or closed up in a filthy chest, where the maid, conscious of her mistress' misconduct, has stowed you? Doesn't the husband of the offending woman have a just power over both of you? Or even more so over the seducer? But she has changed neither her clothing nor her place, nor offends more than you do; since the woman is in dread of you, nor gives any credit to you, though you profess to love her. You must go under the yoke knowingly, and put all your fortune, your life, and reputation, together with your body, into the power of a furious husband. Have you escaped? I suppose, then, you will be afraid for the future; and, being warned, will be cautious. No, you will look for your next chance to be in terror, to be in danger of death.
O so often a slave! What beast, when it has once broken free of its chains, absurdly hands itself over to them again? You say, 'I am no adulterer.' Fine -- so then, by Hercules, I am not a thief, when I'm smart enough to resist swiping your silver vases. But just take away the danger, and vagrant nature will spring forth, when restraints are removed. Are you my master, subject as you are to the dominion of so many things and people? You whom the rod of manumission, though it be tapped on you three or four times, could never free from this wretched anxiety?
And another thing, just as important: whether the slave of a slave is an 'underling,' as you like to put it, or just a fellow-slave, -- what am I to you? You, for example, who have the command of me, are the wretched slave of another, and are led about, like a puppet movable by means of wires not its own.
*** Who then is free? The wise man, who has dominion over himself; whom neither poverty, nor death, nor chains can frighten; strong enough to defy his own passions and to scorn prestige; and, complete in himself, smooth as a sphere onto which nothing external can fasten; a man against whom Fortuna, attempting harm, can harm only herself.
Can you see yourself in any of these qualities? ... Your woman asks you for five talenta, badgers you, turns you out of the house, and douses you with cold water: then she calls you back in. Take your neck out of that vile yoke! Come on, say, 'I am free, I am free!' But you can't; a harsh master oppresses your mind, and claps the sharp spurs to your jaded appetite, and forces you on, though you try to resist.
You madman! When you are mesmerised by the paintings of Pausias, how are you less to blame than I am when, standing on tiptoe, I marvel at gladiator posters? Combats of Fuluius and Rutuba and Pacideianus drawn in red chalk or charcoal, as if real men were actually fighting, parrying and thrusting, wielding their weapons? Oh, Dauus is a useless loiterer, but you have the character of an exquisite and expert connoisseur in antiquities.
If I am allured by the aroma of a steaming hot pastry, I'm a good-for-nothing: does your great virtue and soul resist delicate entertainments? Why is it worse for me to satisfy the desires of my belly? My back will pay for it, to be sure. But how do you get off more lightly, since you hanker after such delicacies as cannot be had cheaply? Those morsels, constantly taken, turn bitter, and your feet, misled about their own powers, refuse to carry your sickly body. Is that boy guilty, who by night swaps a stolen strigil for a bunch of grapes? Is there nothing slavish about the man who sells his own land to satisfy his belly?
Add to this, that you cannot stand to be alone with yourself for one hour, nor spend your free time in a good way; you shun yourself like a fugitive and vagabond, trying to cheat your cares now with wine, now with sleep -- but all in vain: for the shadowy Companion presses upon you, and pursues you as you flee.
HORACE (enraged): Where can I get a stone?
DAVVS: What for?
HORACE: Where are my arrows?
DAVVS: Either he's crazy, or he's writing poetry.
HORACE: If you do not get out of here, this instant, you shall become the ninth laborer at my Sabine farm.