Juvenal and Persius/The Satires of Juvenal/Satire 11

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SATIRE XI

Extravagance and Simplicity of Living

If Atticus dines sumptuously, he is thought a fine gentleman; if Rutilus does the same, people say he has lost his senses; for at what does the public laugh so loudly as at an Apicius[1] reduced to poverty? Every dinner table, all the baths, lounging-places and theatres have their fling at Rutilus; for while still young, active, and warm-blooded, and fit to wear a helmet, he plunges on till he will have to enrol himself—not compelled indeed, but not forbidden by the Tribune[2]—under the rules and royal mandates of a trainer of gladiators. You may see many of these gentry being waited for by an oft-eluded creditor at the entrance to the meat-market—men whose sole reason for living lies in their palate. The greater their straits—though the house is ready to fall, and the daylight begins to show between the cracks—the more luxuriously and daintily do they dine. Meanwhile they ransack all the elements for new relishes; no cost ever stands in their way; if you look closely into it, the greater the price, the greater the pleasure. So when they want to raise money to go after the rest, they think nothing of pawning their plate, or breaking up the image of their mother; and having thus seasoned their gluttonous delf at a cost of four hundred sesterces, they come down at last to the hotch-potch of the gladiatorial school. It matters much therefore who provides the feast; what is extravagant in Rutilus, gets a fine name in Ventidius, and takes its character from his means.

23Rightly do I despise a man who knows how much higher Atlas is than all the other mountains of Africa, and yet knows not the difference between a purse and an iron-bound money-box. The maxim "Know thyself" comes down to us from the skies; it should be imprinted in the heart, and stored in the memory, whether you are looking for a wife, or wishing for a seat in the sacred Senate: even Thersites never asked for that breastplate of Achilles in which Ulysses cut such a sorry figure.[3] If you are preparing to conduct a great and difficult cause, take counsel of yourself and tell yourself what you are—are you a great orator, or just a spouter like Curtius and Matho? Let a man take his own measure and have regard to it in things great or small, even in the buying of a fish, that he set not his heart upon a mullet, when he has only a gudgeon in his purse. For if your purse is getting empty while your maw is expanding, what will be your end when you have sunk your paternal fortune and all your belongings in a belly which can hold capital and solid silver as well as flocks and lands? With such owners the last thing to go is the ring; poor Pollio, his finger stripped, has to go a-begging! It is not an early death or an untimely grave that extravagance has to dread; old age is more terrible to it than death.

46The regular stages are these; money is borrowed in Rome and squandered before the owner's eyes; when some little of it is still left, and the lender's face grows pale, these gentlemen give leg bail, and make off for Baiae and its oyster-beds—for in these days people think no more of absconding from the Forum than of flitting from the stuffy Subura to the Esquiline. One pang, one sorrow only, afflicts these exiles, that they must, for one season, miss the Circensian games! No drop of blood lingers in their cheek; Shame is ridiculed as she flees from the city, and few would bid her stay.

56To-day, friend Persicus, you will discover whether I make good, in deed and in my ways ot life, the fair maxims which I preach, or whether, while commending beans, I am at heart a glutton: openly bidding my slave to bring me porridge, but whispering "cheese-cakes" in his ear. For now that you have promised to be my guest, you will find in me an Evander[4]; you yourself will be the Tirynthian, or the guest less great than he,[5] though he too came of blood divine—the one by water, the other borne by fire,[6] to the stars. And now hear my feast, which no meat-market shall adorn. From my Tiburtine farm there will come a plump kid, tenderest of the flock, innocent of grass, that has never yet dared to nibble the twigs of the dwarf willow, and has more of milk in him than blood; some wild asparagus, gathered by the bailiff's wife when done with her spindle, and some lordly eggs, warm in their wisps of hay, together with the hens that laid them. There will be grapes too, kept half the year, as fresh as when they hung upon the tree; pears from Signia and Syria, and in the same baskets fresh-smelling apples that rival those of Picenum, and of which you need not be afraid, seeing that winter's cold has dried up their autumnal juice, and removed the perils of unripeness.

77Such were the banquets of our Senate in days of old, when already grown luxurious; when Curius,[7] with his own hands, would lay upon his modest hearth the simple herbs he had gathered in his little garden—herbs scoffed at nowadays by the dirty ditcher who works in chains, and remembers the savour of tripe in the reeking cookshop. For feast days, in olden times, they would keep a side of dried pork, hanging from an open rack, or put before the relations a flitch of birthday bacon, with the addition of some fresh meat, if there happened to be a sacrifice to supply it. A kinsman who had thrice been hailed as Consul, who had commanded armies, and filled the office of Dictator, would come home earlier than was his wont for such a feast, shouldering the spade with which he had been subduing the hillside. For when men quailed before a Fabius or a stern Cato, before a Scaurus or a Fabricius—when even a Censor might dread the severe verdict of his colleague[8]—no one deemed it a matter of grave and serious concern what kind of tortoise-shell was swimming in the waves of Ocean to form a head-rest for our Troy-born grandees. Couches in those days were small, their sides unadorned; a simple headpiece of bronze would display the head of a be-garlanded ass, beside which would romp in play the children of the village. Thus house and furniture were all in keeping with the fare.

100The rude soldier of those days had no taste for, or knowledge of, Greek art; if allotted cups made by great artists as his share in the booty of a captured city, he would break them up to provide gay trappings for his horse, or to chase a helmet that should display to the dying foe an image of the Romulean beast bidden by Rome's destiny to grow tame, with the twin Quirini beneath a rock, and the nude effigy of the God[9] swooping down with spear and shield. Their messes of spelt were then served on platters of earthenware; such silver as there was glittered only on their arms—all which things you may envy if you are at all inclined that way. The majesty of the temples also was more near to help us; it was then that was heard through the entire city that midnight voice telling how the Gauls were advancing from the shores of Ocean, the Gods taking on them the part of prophecy. Such were the warnings of Jupiter, such the care which he bestowed on the concerns of Latium when he was made of clay, and undefiled by gold.

117In those days our tables were home-grown, made of our own trees; for such use was kept some aged chestnut blown down perchance by the South-western blast. But nowadays a rich man takes no pleasure in his dinner—his turbot and his venison have no taste, his unguents and his roses no perfume—unless the broad slabs of his dinner-table rest upon a ramping, gaping leopard of solid ivory, made of the tusks sent to us by the swift-footed Moor from the portal of Syene,[10] or by the still duskier Indian—or perhaps shed by the monstrous beast in the Nabataean[11] forest when too big and too heavy for his head. These are the things that give good appetite and good digestion; for to these gentlemen a table with a leg of silver is like a finger with an iron ring. For this reason I will have none of your haughty guests to make comparisons between himself and me, and look down upon my humble state. So destitute am I of ivory that neither my dice nor counters are made of it; even my knife-handles are of bone. Yet are not the viands tainted thereby, nor does the pullet cut up any the worse on that account. Nor shall I have a carver to whom the whole carving-school must bow, a pupil of the learned Trypherus, in whose school is cut up, with blunt knives, a magnificent feast of hares and sow's paunches, of boars and antelopes, of Scythian fowls and tall flamingoes and Gaetulian gazelles, until the whole Subura rings with the clatter of the elm-wood banquet. My raw youngster, untutored all his days, has never learnt how to filch a slice of kid or the wing of a guinea-fowl, unpractised save in the theft of scraps. Cups of common ware, bought for a few pence, will be handed round by an unpolished lad, clad so as to keep out the cold. No Phrygian or Lycian youth, none bought from a dealer at a huge price, will you find; when you want anything, ask for it in Latin. They are all dressed alike; their hair cut close and uncurled, and only combed to-day because of the company. One is the son of a hardy shepherd; another of the cattle-man; he sighs for the mother whom he has not seen for so long, and thinks wistfully of the little cottage and the kids he knew so well; a lad of open countenance and simple modesty, such as those ought to be who are clothed in glowing purple.[12] No noisy frequenter he of baths, presenting his armpits to be cleared of hair, and with only an oil-flask to conceal his nudity. He will hand you a wine that was bottled on the hills among which he was born, and beneath whose tops he played—for wine and servant alike have one and the same fatherland.

162You may look perhaps for a troop of Spanish maidens to win applause by immodest dance and song, sinking down with quivering thighs to the floor—such sights as brides behold seated beside their husbands, though it were a shame to speak of such things in their presence. . . . My humble home has no place for follies such as these. The clatter of castanets, words too foul for the strumpet that stands naked in a reeking archway, with all the arts and language of lust, may be left to him who spits wine upon floors of Lacedaemonian marble; such men we pardon because of their high station. In men of moderate position gaming and adultery are shameful; but when those others do these same things, they are called gay fellows and fine gentlemen. My feast to-day will provide other performances than these. The bard of the Iliad will be sung, and the lays of the lofty-toned Maro that contest the palm with his. What matters it with what voice strains like these are read?

183And now put away cares and cast business to the winds! Present yourself with a welcome holiday, now that you may be idle for the entire day. Let there be no talk of money, and let there be no secret wrath or suspicion in your heart because your wife is wont to go forth at dawn and to come home at night with crumpled hair and flushed face and ears. Cast off straightway before my threshold all that troubles you, all thought of house and slaves, with all that slaves break or lose, and above all put away all thought of thankless friends.

193Meantime the solemn Idaean rite of the Megalesian napkin[13] is being held; there sits the Praetor in his triumphal state, the prey of horse-flesh; and (if I may say so without offence to the vast unnumbered mob) all Rome to-day is in the Circus. A roar strikes upon my ear which tells me that the Green[14] has won; for had it lost, Rome would be as sad and dismayed as when the Consuls were vanquished in the dust of Cannae. Such sights are for the young, whom it befits to shout and make bold wagers with a smart damsel by their side; but let my shrivelled skin drink in the vernal sun, and escape the toga. You may go at once to your bath with no shame on your brow, though it wants a whole hour of mid-day.[15] That you could not do for five days continuously, since even such a life has weariness. It is rarity that gives zest to pleasure.[16]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. A notorious and wealthy glutton; see iv. 23.
  2. i.e. a tribunus plebis, whose permission would be necessary.
  3. Referring to his contest with Ajax for the arms of Achilles.
  4. Alluding to the entertainment of Hercules by Evander (Virg. Aen. viii. 359-365).
  5. Aeneas.
  6. Both heroes were deified; Hercules met his death by burning, Aeneas by drowning.
  7. Manius Curius Dentatus, the conqueror of Pyrrhus, type of the simple noble Roman of early times.
  8. For the quarrel between the censors, see Livy, xxix. 37.
  9. i.e. the god Mars.
  10. Now Assouan, on the Roman frontier. The phrase "portal of Syene" means "the portal consisting of Syene," Syene itself constituting the portal.
  11. The Nabataei were an Arabian tribe. But there are no elephants in Arabia.
  12. Referring to the purple stripe on the toga praetexta worn by all free-born boys.
  13. The Megalesian games (April 4–10) were held in honour of Cybele (μεγάλη μήτη); the praetor gave the signal for starting the chariot-race by dropping a napkin.
  14. There were four factions in the Circus, consisting of the supporters of the four charioteering colours, White, Red, Green, and Blue. The Green it seems was the popular colour, being usually favoured by the emperor.
  15. The bath was usually not taken till the eighth hour.
  16. This would seem to be almost a translation from Epictetus (Flor. 6. 59). "The rarest pleasures give most delight."