Juvenal and Persius/The Satires of Juvenal/Satire 12

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SATIRE XII

How Catullus escaped Shipwreck

Dearer to me, Corvinus, is this day, when my festal turf is awaiting the victims vowed to the Gods, than my own birthday. To the Queen of Heaven I offer a snow-white lamb; a fleece as white to the Goddess[1] armed with the Moorish[2] Gorgon; hard by is the frolicsome victim destined for Tarpeian Jove, shaking the tight-stretched rope and brandishing his brow; for he is a bold young steer, ripe for temple and for altar, and fit to be sprinkled with wine; it already shames him to suck his mother's milk, and with his budding horn he assails the oaks. Were my fortune large, and as ample as my love, I should have been hauling along a bull fatter than Hispulla, slow-footed from his very bulk; reared on no neighbouring herbage he, but showing in his blood the rich pastures of the Clitumnus,[3] and marching along to to offer his neck to the stroke of the stalwart priest, to celebrate the return of my still trembling friend who has lately gone through such terrors, and now marvels to find himself safe and sound.

17For besides the perils of the deep he escaped a lightning stroke. A mass of dense black cloud shut out the heavens, and down came a flash of fire upon the yards. Every man believed himself smitten by the bolt, and soon in his terror bethought him that no shipwreck could be so terrible as a ship on fire. All happened in the same way and as frightfully as when a storm arises in a poem, when lo! a new kind of peril came; hear it and give your pity once again, though the rest of the tale is all of one piece; a fearful lot, well known to many, and testified by many a votive tablet in our temples. Who knows not that it is Isis who feeds our painters?[4]

29A fate like to these befell our friend Catullus also. For when the hold was half full of water, and the waves rocked the hull from side to side, so that the white-haired skipper, with all his skill, could bring no succour to the labouring mast, he resolved to compound with the winds like the beaver, who gives up one part of his body that he may keep the rest; so conscious is he of the drug which he carries in his groin. "Overboard with everything!" shouted Catullus, ready to cast headlong his finest wares; purple garments, such as would have befitted a soft Maecenas, with other fabrics dyed on the sheep's back by the noble nature of the herbage—though doubtless the hidden virtues of the water and air of Baetica[5] also lent their aid. Nor did he hesitate to throw over pieces of silver plate-chargers wrought by Parthenius,[6] and bowls holding three gallons, fit to slake the thirst of the Centaur Pholus[7] or the wife of Fuscus. Besides these were baskets and dishes without number, and much chased work out of which the crafty purchaser of Olynthus[8] had slaked his thirst. What other man is there, in what part of the world, who would dare to value his life above his plate, or his safety above his property? Some men are so blinded and depraved that, instead of making fortunes for the sake of living, they live for their fortunes' sake.

52And now most of the cargo has gone overboard, but even these losses do not ease the vessel; so in his extremity the skipper had to fall back upon cutting away the mast, and so find a way out of his straits—a dire pass indeed when no remedy can be found but one that diminishes the ship! Go now, and commit your life to the winds! Go trust yourself to a hewn plank which parts you from death by four finger-breadths, or seven if it be extra thick! Only remember in future, besides your bread and your bread-basket and your pot-bellied flagon, to take with you axes also for use in time of storm.

62But soon the sea fell flat, and our mariners came on better times. Destiny proved stronger than wind and wave; the glad Fates, with kindly hand, spun a yarn of white wool, there sprang up what was no stronger than a gentle breeze, under which the poor ship sped on by the sorry help of out-stretched garments, and the single sail now left to her on her prow. Soon the winds abated, and out came the sun, bringing hope of life; and then there came into view the beetling height[9] so dear to Iulus, and preferred by him for his abode to his step-mother's Lavinum, a height that took its name from the white sow whose wondrous womb made glad the Phrygians' hearts, and gained fame for her thirty teats—a sight never seen before!

75And now at length the ship comes within the moles built out to enclose the sea.[10] She passes the Tyrrhenian Pharos, and those arms which stretch out and meet again in mid-ocean, leaving Italy far behind—a port more wondrous far than those of Nature's making. Then the skipper, with his crippled ship, makes for the still waters of the inner basin in which any Baian shallop may ride in safety. There the sailors shave their heads[11] and delight, in garrulous ease, to tell the story of their perils.

83Away then, ye boys, and with reverent tongues and souls hang up garlands upon the shrines, sprinkle meal upon the knives, and deck the soft altars of verdant turf. I will quickly follow, and having duly performed the greater rite, will return thence home, where my little images of shining crumbling wax are being decked with slender wreaths. Here will I entreat my own Jupiter; here will I offer incense to my paternal Lares, and scatter pansies of every hue. Here all is bright; the gateway, in token of feast, has put up trailing branches, and is worshipping with early-lighted lamps.

93Look not askance, Corvinus, upon these rejoicings. The Catullus for whose return I set up all these altars has three little heirs of his own. You may wait long enough before you find anyone to bestow a sickly hen, just closing her eyes, upon so unprofitable a friend; nay, a hen would be all too costly; no quail will ever fall for a man who is a father! But if the rich and childless Gallitta or Pacius have a touch of fever, their entire porticoes will be dressed out with tablets fastened in due form; there will be some to vow hecatombs, not elephants, indeed, seeing that elephants are not for sale, nor does that beast breed in Latium, or anywhere beneath our skies, but is fetched from the dark man's land, and fed in the Rutulian forest and the domains of Turnus.[12] The herd is Caesar's,[12] and will serve no private master, since their forefathers were wont to obey the Tyrian Hannibal and our generals and the Molossian king,[13] and to carry cohorts on their backs—no small fraction of a war—whole towers going forth to battle! Therefore Novius[14] would not hesitate, Pacuvius Hister[14] would not hesitate, to lead that ivoried monster to the altar, and offer it to Gallitta's Lares, the only victim worthy of such august divinities, and of those who hunt their gold. For the latter worthy, if permitted, will vow to sacrifice the tallest and comeliest of his slaves; he will place fillets on the brows of his slave-boys and maidservants; if he has a marriageable Iphigenia[15] at home, he will place her upon the altar, though he could never hope for the hind of tragic story to provide a secret substitute.[16]

121I commend the wisdom of my fellow townsman, nor can I compare a thousand ships to an inheritance; for if the sick man escape the Goddess of Death, he will be caught within the net, he will destroy his will, and after the prodigious services of Pacuvius will maybe by a single word, make him heir to all his possessions, and Pacuvius will strut proudly over his vanquished rivals. You see therefore how well worth while it was to slaughter that maiden at Mycenae! Long live Pacuvius! may he live, I pray, as many years as Nestor; may he possess as much as Nero plundered; may he pile up gold mountain-high; may he love no one, and be by none beloved!

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Pallas.
  2. The Gorgon (or Gorgons) were supposed to belong to Libya.
  3. Famed for their breed of white cattle.
  4. i.e. by employing them to paint votive tablets for her temples.
  5. Baetica was one of the provinces of Spain, called after the Baetis (Guadalquiver). The wool was famed for its golden colour.
  6. An engraver, otherwise unknown.
  7. The Centaurs were famed for their drinking capacity.
  8. Philip of Macedon.
  9. The Alban Mount.
  10. The port of Ostia, built by Claudius and called Portus Augusti.
  11. In fulfilment, no doubt, of a vow made in the moment of danger.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The emperors kept a herd of elephants for games, etc., at Laurentum, near the kingdom of the Rutulian Turnus.
  13. Pyrrhus.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Legacy-hunters.
  15. Sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to procure a fair wind for the Greek fleet.
  16. Later tradition pretended that a hind had been substituted for Iphigenia.