Satires (Horace)/Eupolis atque Cratinus

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Cratinus, Aristophanes, and all
The elder comic poets, great and small,
If e'er a worthy in those ancient times
Deserved peculiar notice for his crimes,
Adulterer, cut-throat, ne'er-do-well, or thief,
Portrayed him without fear in strong relief.
From these, as lineal heir, Lucilius springs,
The same in all points save the tune he sings,
A shrewd keen satirist, yet somewhat hard
And rugged, if you view him as a bard.
For this was his mistake: he liked to stand,
One leg before him, leaning on one hand,
Pour forth two hundred verses in an hour,
And think such readiness a proof of power.
When like a torrent he bore down, you'd find
He left a load of refuse still behind:
Fluent, yet indolent, he would rebel
Against the toil of writing, writing well,
Not writing much; for that I grant you. See,
Here comes Crispinus, wants to bet with me,
And offers odds: "A meeting, if you please:
Take we our tablets each, you those, I these:
Name place, and time, and umpires: let us try
Who can compose the faster, you or I."
Thank Heaven, that formed me of unfertile mind,
My speech not copious, and my thoughts confined!
But you, be like the bellows, if you choose,
Still puffing, puffing, till the metal fuse,
And vent your windy nothings with a sound
That makes the depth they come from seem profound.

Happy is Fannius, with immortals classed,
His bust and bookcase canonized at last,
While, as for me, none reads the things I write.
Loath as I am in public to recite,
Knowing that satire finds small favour, since
Most men want whipping, and who want it, wince.
Choose from the crowd a casual wight, 'tis seen
He's place-hunter or miser, vain or mean:
One raves of others' wives: one stands agaze
At silver dishes: bronze is Albius' craze:
Another barters goods the whole world o'er,
From distant east to furthest western shore,
Driving along like dust-cloud through the air
To increase his capital or not impair:
These, one and all, the clink of metre fly,
And look on poets with a dragon's eye.
"Beware! he's vicious: so he gains his end,
A selfish laugh, he will not spare a friend:
Whate'er he scrawls, the mean malignant rogue
Is all alive to get it into vogue:
Give him a handle, and your tale is known
To every giggling boy and maundering crone."
A weighty accusation! now, permit
Some few brief words, and I will answer it:
First, be it understood, I make no claim
To rank with those who bear a poet's name:
'Tis not enough to turn out lines complete,
Each with its proper quantum of five feet;
Colloquial verse a man may write like me,
But (trust an author)'tis not poetry.
No; keep that name for genius, for a soul
Of Heaven's own fire, for words that grandly roll.
Hence some have questioned if the Muse we call
The Comic Muse be really one at all:
Her subject ne'er aspires, her style ne'er glows,
And, save that she talks metre, she talks prose.
"Aye, but the angry father shakes the stage,
When on his graceless son he pours his rage,
Who, smitten with the mistress of the hour,
Rejects a well-born wife with ample dower,
Gets drunk, and (worst of all) in public sight
Keels with a blazing flambeau while 'tis light."
Well, could Pomponius' sire to life return,
Think you he'd rate his son in tones less stern?
So then 'tis not sufficient to combine
Well-chosen words in a well-ordered line,
When, take away the rhythm, the self-same words
Would suit an angry father off the boards.
Strip what I write, or what Lucilius wrote,
Of cadence and succession, time and note,
Reverse the order, put those words behind
That went before, no poetry you'll find:
But break up this, "When Battle's brazen door
Blood-boltered Discord from its fastenings tore,"
'Tis Orpheus mangled by the Maenads: still
The bard remains, unlimb him as you will.

Enough of this: some other time we'll see
If Satire is or is not poetry:
Today I take the question, if 'tis just
That men like you should view it with distrust.
Sulcius and Caprius promenade in force,
Each with his papers, virulently hoarse,
Bugbears to robbers both: but he that's true
And decent-living may defy the two.
Say, you're first cousin to that goodly pair
Caelius and Birrius, and their foibles share:
No Sulcius nor yet Caprius here you see
In your unworthy servant: why fear me?
No books of mine on stall or counter stand,
To tempt Tigellius' or some clammier hand,
Nor read I save to friends, and that when pressed,
Not to chance auditor or casual guest.
Others are less fastidious: some will air
Their last production in the public square:
Some choose the bathroom, for the walls all round
Make the voice sweeter and improve the sound:
Weak brains, to whom the question ne'er occurred
If what they do be vain, ill-timed, absurd.
"But you give pain: your habit is to bite,"
Rejoins the foe, "of sot deliberate spite."
Who broached that slander? of the men I know,
With whom I live, have any told you so?
He who maligns an absent friend's fair fame,
Who says no word for him when others blame,
Who courts a reckless laugh by random hits,
Just for the sake of ranking among wits,
Who feigns what he ne'er saw, a secret blabs,
Beware him, Roman! that man steals or stabs!
Oft you may see three couches, four on each,
Where all are wincing under one man's speech,
All, save the host: his turn too comes at last,
When wine lets loose the humour shame held fast:
And you, who hate malignity, can see
Nought here but pleasant talk, well-bred and free.
I, if I chance in laughing vein to note
Rufillus' civet and Gargonius' goat,
Must I be toad or scorpion? Look at home:
Suppose Petillius' theft, the talk of Rome,
Named in your presence, mark how yon defend
In your accustomed strain your absent friend:
"Petillius? yes, I know him well: in truth
We have been friends, companions, e'en from youth:
A thousand times he's served me, and I joy
That he can walk the streets without annoy:
Yet 'tis a puzzle, I confess, to me
How from that same affair he got off free."
Here is the poison-bag of malice, here
The gall of fell detraction, pure and sheer:
And these, I'swear, if man such pledge may give,
My pen and heart shall keep from, while I live.

But if I still seem personal and bold,
Perhaps you'll pardon, when my story's told.
When my good father taught me to be good,
Scarecrows he took of living flesh and blood.
Thus, if he warned me not to spend but spare
The moderate means I owe to his wise care,
'Twas, "See the life that son of Albius leads!
Observe that Barrus, vilest of ill weeds!
Plain beacons these for heedless youth, whose taste
Might lead them else a fair estate to waste:"
If lawless love were what he bade me shun,
"Avoid Scetanius' slough," his words would run:
"Wise men," he'd add, "the reasons will explain
Why you should follow this, from that refrain:
For me, if I can train you in the ways
Trod by the worthy folks of earlier days,
And, while you need direction, keep your name
And life unspotted, I've attained my aim:
When riper years have seasoned brain and limb,
You'll drop your corks, and like a Triton swim."
'Twas thus he formed my boyhood: if he sought
To make me do some action that I ought,
"You see your warrant there," he'd say, and clench
His word with some grave member of the bench:
So too with things forbidden: "can you doubt
The deed's a deed an honest man should scout,
When, just for this same matter, these and those,
Like open drains, are stinking 'neath your nose?"
Sick gluttons of a next-door funeral hear,
And learn self-mastery in the school of fear:
And so a neighbour's scandal many a time
Has kept young minds from running into crime.

Thus I grew up, unstained by serious ill,
Though venial faults, I grant you, haunt me still:
Yet items I could name retrenched e'en there
By time, plain speaking, individual care;
For, when I chance to stroll or lounge alone,
I'm not without a Mentor of my own:
"This course were better: that might help to mend
My daily life, improve me as a friend:
There some one showed ill-breeding: can I say
I might not fall into the like one day?"
So with closed lips I ruminate, and then
In leisure moments play with ink and pen:
For that's an instance, I must needs avow,
Of those small faults I hinted at just now:
Grant it your prompt indulgence, or a throng
Of poets shall come up, some hundred strong,
And by mere numbers, in your own despite,
Force you, like Jews, to be our proselyte.