Satire 9

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argument

Juvenal here (in dialogue with Nevolus) exposes the detestable vice then practised in Rome, and the covetousness of a rich old citizen, which so prevailed over his pleasure, that he would not gratify the drudge who had so often obliged him in the lewd enjoyment of his desire.


Juvenal.
Tell me, why, sauntering thus from place to place,
I meet thee (Nevolus) with a clouded face?
What human ills can urge to this degree?
Not vanquish’d Marsyas(1) had a brow like thee;
Nor Ravola so sneak'd and hung his head,
Catch'd with that lewd bawd, Rhodope, in bed:
Our grand beau Pollio(2) seem'd not half so sad
When not a drachma could in Rome be had:
When treble use he proffer'd for a friend,
And tempting bribes did to the scriveners send;
Yet none he found so much a fool to lend.
Hard fate! untroll'd is now the charming dye,
The playhouse and the parks unvisited must lie;
The beauteous nymph in vain he does adore,
And his gilt chariot wheels must roll no more.

But why these frightful wrinkles in thy prime?
That show old age so long before the time:
At lowest ebb of fortune when you lay,
(Contented then) how merry was the day.
But, oh! the curse of wishing to be great:
Dazzled with hope we cannot see the cheat;
Where wild ambition in the heart we find,
Farewel content and quiet of the mind.
For glittering clouds we leave the solid shore,
And wonted happiness returns no more.
Till such aspiring thoughts had fill'd thy breast,
No man so pleasant, such a cheerful guest;
So brisk, so gay, of that engaging air,
No mirth was crown'd till Nevolus was there:
The scene's now changed, that frolic genius fled,
And gloomy thought seems enter'd in its stead;
Thy clothes worn out, not hands nor linen clean,
And thy bare skin through the large rents is seen;
Thy locks uncomb'd, like a rough wood appear,
And every part seems suited to thy care.
Where's now that labour'd niceness in thy dress,
And all those arts that did the spark express?
A look so pale no quartan ever gave,
Thy dwindled legs seem crawling to a grave:
When we are touch'd with some important ill,
How vainly silence would our grief conceal!
Sorrow nor joy can be disguis'd by art,
Our foreheads blab the secrets of our heart;
By which, (alas!) 'tis evident and plain
Thy hopes are dash'd, and thy endeavours vain.
And yet ’tis strange! But lately thou wert known
For the most envied stallion of the town.
What conscious shrine(3), what cell by thee unsought,
Where love's dark pleasures might be sold and bought?
From human view you hid these deeds of lust,
But gods in brass and marble you could trust:
Ceres(4) herself not scap'd; for where can be
From bawds and prostitutes an altar free?
Nor didst thou only for the females burn,
The husband and the wife succeeded in their turn.

Nev. This life I own to some has prosperous been;
But I have no such golden minutes seen:
Right have you hit the cause of my distress,
None has earn'd more, and been rewarded less;
All I can gain is but a threadbare coat,
And that with utmost pains and drudging got:
Some single money too, but that, alas!
Broken and counterfeit, will hardly pass.
Whilst others, pamper'd in their shameless pride,
Are serv'd in plate, and in their chariots ride:
Tell me what mortal call his grief contain,
That has, like me, such reason to complain?
On fate alone man's happiness depends,
To parts conceal’d fates prying power extends:
And if our stars of their kind influence fail,
The gifts of nature, what will they avail?
The gifts of nature! Curse upon the thought,
By that alone I am to ruin brought.
Old Virro did the fatal secret hear.
(But curse on fame that bore it to his ear.)
What soft address his wooing did begin?
What oaths, what promises to draw me in?
Scarce could they fail to make a virgin sin.
Who would not then swear Nevolus had sped,
And golden showers were dropping on his head?
But oh! this wretch, this prodigy behold!
A slave at once to lechery and gold!
For in the act of his lewd brutal joy,
‘Sirrah! my rogue, (he cries) mine own dear boy!
My lad, my life! already ask for more?
I paid last bout, and you must quit the score.’
‘Poor five sestertia(5) have been all my gains,
And what is that for such detested pains?’
What is an ease and pleasure, could'st thou say
(Where nature's law forbids) to force my way
To the digested meals of yesterday?
The slave more toil'd and harass'd will be found,
Who digs his master's buttocks, than his ground:
But sure old Virro thinks himself a boy,
Whom Jove once more might languish to enjoy;
Sees not his wither'd face and grizly hair,
But would be thought smooth, charming, soft, and fair;
With female pride would have his love be sought,
And every smile with a rich present bought.

Say, goat, for whom this mass of wealth you heap?
For whom thy hoarded bag, in silence sleep?
Apulian farms, for the rich soil admir'd?
And thy large fields where falcons may be tir'd?
Thy fruitful vineyards on Campanian hills?
(Though none drink less, yet none more vessels fills)
From such a store 'tis barbarous to grudge
A small relief to your exhausted drudge.
Weigh well the matter, wer’t not fitter much
The poor inhabitants of yonder thatch
Call'd me their lord (who to extremes am driven)
Than to some worthless sycophant be given?
(Yet what smooth sycophant by thee can gain?
When lust itself strikes thy flint-heart in vain?)
‘A beggar! Fie! 'tis impudence,’ (he cried)
And such mean shifting answers still replied:
But rent unpaid says, beg till Virro grant;
(How ill does modesty consist with want!)
My single boy (like Polyphemus' eye(6))
Mourns his harsh fate, and weeps for a supply.
One will not do, hard labour’d and hard fed,
How then shall hungry two expect their bread?
What shall I say, when rough December storms?
When frosts and snow have cramp’d their naked arms?
What comforts without money can I bring?
Will they be satisfied to think on spring?

These motives urged to his obdurate mind,
Is casting water to the adverse wind:
But one thing yet, base wretch, I must impart,
Thyself shalt own, ungrateful as thou art.
At your entreaties, had not I obey'd,
Still your deluded wife had been a maid:
Down on the bridal-bed a maid she lay,
A maid she rose at the approaching day.
Another night thy lumpish love she tried,
But still she rose a virgin and a bride.
What could have touch'd her more! away she flung,
And every street of thy lost manhood rung.
Her speaking eyes were full of thy disgrace;
And her vex'd thoughts abhor'd the cold embrace.
Such wrongs, what wishing woman could have borne?
In rage the marriage-articles were torn:
Yet when she vow'd to see thy face no more,
And, heartless, thou stood'st whining at the door,
I met the angry fair, all over charms,
And catch'd her flying from thy frozen arms.
Much pains it cost to right the injur'd dame;
A whole night's vigour to repair thy shame:
Witness yourself, who heard the labouring bed,
And shrieks at the departing maidenhead:
Thus many a spouse, who would her choice recant,
Is kept obedient, by a kind gallant.
Now could you shift all this, and pass it o'er,
Yet (monster) I have left one instance more.
Think, if so well her business I have done,
As that night's service may produce a son;
Our Roman laws great privilege afford
To him that stands a father on record:
Thyself, 'tis true, a cuckold thou must own,
But that reproach is in my breast alone;
To me the pleasure be, to thee the fame,
My brat shalt thy abilities proclaim;
And free thee ever from inglorious shame.
Let circling wreaths adorn thy crowded door,
Matrons, and girls, shalt hoot at thee no more,
But stories to thy lasting credit raise,
While fumbling fribbles grudge thy borrow'd praise.

Juv. True, Nevolus, most aptly you complain;
But though your griefs are just, they are in vain:
Your service past, he does with scorn forget,
And seeks some other fool, like thee, to cheat.

Nev. Beware, my friend, and what I now reveal,
As the great secret of thy life conceal;
A lustful pathic, when he turns a foe,
He gives, like destiny, a wardless blow:
His crimes are such, they will not bear a jest,
And fire and sword pursue the conscious breast.
For sweet revenge no drugs will be too dear;
In lust, a miser; but a spendthrift here.
Then slight him not, nor with his scandal sport,
But be as mute as was the’ Athenian court(7):

Juv. Dull Corydon(8)! Art thou so stupid grown,
To think a rich man's faults can be unknown?
Has he not slaves about him? Would not they
Rejoice and laugh, such secrets to betray?
What more effectual to revenge their wrongs,
Than the unbounded freedom of their tongues?
Or grant it possible to silence those,
Dumb beasts and statues would his crimes expose;
Try to imprison the resistless wind,
So swift is guilt, so hard to be confin'd;
Though crafty tears should cast a veil between,
Yet in the dark his vices would be seen:
And there’s a lust in man no charm can tame,
Of loudly publishing our neighbour’s shame:
On eagle-wings immortal scandals fly,
While virtuous actions are but born, and die.

Let us live well, were it alone for this,—
The baneful tongues of servants to despise.
Slander (the worst of poisons) ever finds
An easy entrance to ignoble minds;
And they whose vicious lives such abject foes must fear,
More mean and wretched far than their own slaves appear.

Nev. Your counsel’s good and useful, ’tis confess'd;
But (oh) to me it is in vain address’d:
Let the great man, whom gaping crowds attend,
Fear a scourg'd slave, or a dissembling friend;
No matter what I do, or what I say,
I have no spies about me to betray:
And you advise me now my time is lost,
And all my hopes of prosperous hours are cross’d;
My full-blown youth already fades apace,
(Of our short being, ’tis the shortest space!)
While melting pleasures in our arms are found,
While lovers smile, and while the bowl goes round;
While in surprising joys entranc'd we lie,
Old age creeps on us, ere we think it nigh.

Juv. Fear not; thy trade will never find an end;
While yon hills(9) stand thou can'st not want a friend:
By land and sea, from every point they come,
Then dread no dearth of prostitutes at Rome.

Nev. Tell this to happier men, for I am sped,
If all my drudging can procure me bread.

Ye deities! The substitutes of Heav'n!
To whom the guide of human life is giv'n;
At whose lov'd altars, with an ample zeal,
(Though slender sacrifice) I daily kneel;
His ebbing hours let your poor suppliant see,
From the mean crutch, and a thatch'd cottage, free;
No shameful want, nor troublesome disease,
But easy death approaching by degrees:
Necessity supplied, would comfort bring;
Yet constant store would be a glorious thing.
To treat a friend, methinks, I would afford,
While silver bowls stand smiling on my board;
And when the cares of Rome to pleasure yield,
Two Mæsian(10) slaves should bear me to the field;
Where, on their brawny shoulders mounted high,
While the brave youth their various manhood try,
I would the thrones of emperors defy.
Superfluous wealth, and pomp, I not desire;
But what content and decency require.
Then might I live by my own surly rules,
Not forc'd to worship knaves, nor flatter fools:
And thus, secur'd of ease, by shunning strife,
With pleasure would I sail down the swift stream of life.

But oh! ridiculous vain wish, for one
Already lost, and doom'd to be undone.
Alas! what hope remains! for to my pray'rs
Regardless fortune stops her wounded ears:
As to the Syrens' charms(11), Ulysses' mariners.

Footnotes[edit]

(1) A Phrygian, who, challenging Apollo at music, was overcome, and flayed alive for his presumption.

(2) A fop in Rome, that had run out his estate.

(3) The temples and images of their gods were (by night) the common places of assignation.

(4) To the temple of Ceres only the chaste and strictest matrons were admitted, &c.

(5) A small coin among the Romans.

(6) A giant of Sicily, and one of the Cyclops who had but one eye and that in his forehead, which Ulysses by craft put out, and escaped from him, &c.

(7) The Areopagus, or court of Justice at Athens; where they gave sentence by characters and signs, &c.

(8) The common name of a shepherd, which he applies to Nevolus, for his ignorance and simplicity, in thinking the vices of great men can be concealed.

(9) The seven hills on which Rome was built.

(10) Mæsia, a place near Tuscany, famous for the great size and strength of the inhabitants.

(11) Mermaids on the coast of Sicily, whose charms Ulysses (being forewarned) avoided, by stopping his mariners' ears with wax, and so sailed by them securely; at which disappointment they threw themselves into the sea, and were turned into rocks, &c. Hom. Odyssey, l. 12.