The Satires, Epistles & Art of Poetry of Horace/Sat2-3

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Sic raro scribis.

Damasippus. Horace.



SO seldom do you write, we scarcely hear
Your tablets called for four times in the year:
And even then, as fast as you compose,
You quarrel with the thing, and out it goes,
Vexed that, in spite of bottle and of bed,
You turn out nothing worthy to be read.
How is it all to end? Here you've come down,
Avoiding a December spent in town:
Your brains are clear: begin, and charm our ears
With something worth your boasting.—Nought appears.
You blame your pens, and the poor wall, accurst
From birth by gods and poets, comes off worst.
Yet you looked bold, and talked of what you'd do,
Could you lie snug for one free day or two.
What boot Menander, Plato, and the rest
You carried down from town to stock your nest?
Think you by turning lazy to exempt
Your life from envy? No, you'll earn contempt.

Then stop your ears to sloth's enchanting voice,
Or give up your best hopes: there lies your choice.
H. Good Damasippus, may the immortals grant,
For your sage counsel, the one thing you want,
A barber! but pray tell me how you came
To know so well what scarce is known to fame?
D. Why, ever since my hapless all went down
'Neath the mid arch, I go about the town,
And make my neighbours' matters my sole care,
Seeing my own are damaged past repair.
Once I was anxious on a bronze to light
Where Sisyphus had washed his feet at night;
Each work of art I criticized and classed,
Called this ill chiselled, that too roughly cast;
Prized that at fifty thousand: then I knew
To buy at profit grounds and houses too,
With a sure instinct: till the whole town o'er
"The pet of Mercury" was the name I bore.
H. I know your case, and am surprised to see
So clear a cure of such a malady.
D. Ay, but my old complaint (though strange, 'tis true)
Was banished from my system by a new:
Just as diseases of the side or head
Fly to the stomach or the chest instead,
Like your lethargic patient, when he tears
Himself from bed, and at the doctor squares.
H. Spare me but that, I'll trust you.
D.Don't be blind;

You're mad yourself, and so are all mankind,
If truth is in Stertinius, from whose speech
I learned the precious lessons that I teach,
What time he bade me grow a wise man's beard,
And sent me from the bridge, consoled and cheered.
For once, when, bankrupt and forlorn, I stood
With muffled head, just plunging in the flood,
"Don't do yourself a mischief," so he cried
In friendly tones, appearing at my side:
"'Tis all false shame: you fear to be thought mad,
Not knowing that the world are just as bad.
What constitutes a madman? if 'tis shown
The marks are found in you and you alone,
Trust me, I'll add no word to thwart your plan,
But leave you free to perish like a man.
The wight who drives through life with bandaged eyes,
Ignorant of truth and credulous of lies,
He in the judgment of Chrysippus' school
And the whole porch is tabled as a fool.
Monarchs and people, every rank and age,
That sweeping clause includes,—except the sage.
"Now listen while I show you, how the rest
Who call you madman, are themselves possessed.
Just as in woods, when travellers step aside
From the true path for want of some good guide,
This to the right, that to the left hand strays,
And all are wrong, but wrong in different ways,
So, though you're mad, yet he who banters you

Is not more wise, but wears his pigtail too.
One class of fools sees reason for alarm
In trivial matters, innocent of harm:
Stroll in the open plain, you'll hear them talk
Of fires, rocks, torrents, that obstruct their walk:
Another, unlike these, but not more sane,
Takes fires and torrents for the open plain:
Let mother, sister, father, wife combined
Cry 'There's a pitfall! there's a rock! pray mind!'
They'll hear no more than drunken Fufius, he
Who slept the part of queen Ilione,
While Catienus, shouting in his ear,
Roared like a Stentor, 'Hearken, mother dear!'
"Well, now, I'll prove the mass of humankind
Have judgments just as jaundiced, just as blind.
That Damasippus shows himself insane
By buying ancient statues, all think plain:
But he that lends him money, is he free
From the same charge? 'O, surely.' Let us see.
I bid you take a sum you won't return:
You take it: is this madness, I would learn?
Were it not greater madness to renounce
The prey that Mercury puts within your pounce?
Secure him with ten bonds; a hundred; nay,
Clap on a thousand; still he'll slip away,
This Protean scoundrel: drag him into court,
You'll only find yourself the more his sport:
He'll laugh till scarce you'd think his jaws his own,
And turn to boar or bird, to tree or stone.
If prudence in affairs denotes men sane

And bungling argues a disordered brain,
The man who lends the cash is far more fond
Than you, who at his bidding sign the bond.
"Now give attention and your gowns refold,
Who thirst for fame, grow yellow after gold,
Victims to luxury, superstition blind,
Or other ailment natural to the mind:
Come close to me and listen, while I teach
That you're a pack of madmen, all and each.
"Of all the hellebore that nature breeds,
The largest share by far the miser needs:
In fact, I know not but Anticyra's juice
Was all intended for his single use.
When old Staberius died, his heirs engraved
Upon his monument the sum he'd saved:
For, had they failed to do it, they were tied
A hundred pair of fencers to provide,
A feast at Arrius' pleasure, not too cheap,
And corn, as much as Afric's farmers reap.
'I may be right, I may be wrong,' said he,
'Who cares? 'tis not for you to lecture me.'
Well, one who knew Staberius would suppose
He was a man that looked beyond his nose:
Why did he wish, then, that his funeral stone
Should make the sum he left behind him known?
Why, while he lived, he dreaded nothing more
Than that great sin, the sin of being poor,
And, had he left one farthing less in purse,
The man, as man, had thought himself the worse:
For all things human and divine, renown,

Honour, and worth at money's shrine bow down:
And he who has made money, fool or knave,
Becomes that moment noble, just, and brave.
A sage, you ask me? yes, a sage, a king,
Whate'er he chooses; briefly, everything.
So good Staberius hoped each extra pound
His virtue saved would to his praise redound.
Now look at Aristippus, who, in haste
To make his journey through the Libyan waste,
Bade the stout slaves who bore his treasure throw
Their load away, because it made them slow.
Which was more mad? Excuse me: 'twill not do
To shut one question up by opening two.
"If one buys fiddles, hoards them up when bought,
Though music's study ne'er engaged his thought,
One lasts and awls, unversed in cobbler's craft,
One sails for ships, not knowing fore from aft,
You'd call them mad: but tell me, if you please,
How that man's case is different from these,
Who, as he gets it, stows away his gain,
And thinks to touch a farthing were profane?
Yet if a man beside a huge corn-heap
Lies watching with a cudgel, ne'er asleep,
And dares not touch one grain, but makes his meat
Of bitter leaves, as though he found them sweet:
If, with a thousand wine-casks—call the hoard
A million rather—in his cellars stored,
He drinks sharp vinegar: nay, if, when nigh

A century old, on straw he yet will lie,
While in his chest rich coverlets, the prey
Of moth and canker, moulder and decay,
Few men can see much madness in his whim,
Because the mass of mortals ail like him.
"O heaven-abandoned wretch! is all this care
To save your stores for some degenerate heir,
A son, or e'en a freedman, who will pour
All down his throttle, ere a year is o'er?
You fear to come to want yourself, you say?
Come, calculate how small the loss per day,
If henceforth to your cabbage you allow
And your own head the oil you grudge them now.
If anything's sufficient, why forswear,
Embezzle, swindle, pilfer everywhere?
Can you be sane? suppose you choose to throw
Stones at the crowd, as by your door they go,
Or at the slaves, your chattels, every lad
And every girl will hoot yon down as mad:
When with a rope you kill your wife, with bane
Your aged mother, are you right in brain?
Why not? Orestes did it with the blade,
And 'twas in Argos that the scene was laid.
Think you that madness only then begun
To seize him, when the impious deed was done,
And not that Furies spurred him on, before
The sword grew purple with a parent's gore?
Nay, from the time they reckon him insane,
He did no deed of which you could complain:
No stroke this madman at Electra aims

Or Pylades: he only calls them names,
Fury or other monster, in the style
Which people use when stirred by tragic bile.
"Opimius, who, with gold and silver store
Lodged in his coffers, ne'ertheless was poor
(The man would drink from earthen nipperkin
Flat wine on working-days, on feast-days thin),
Once fell into a lethargy so deep
That his next heir supposed it more than sleep,
And entering on possession at his ease,
Went round the coffers and applied the keys.
The doctor had a conscience and a head:
He had a table moved beside the bed,
Poured out a money-bag, and bade men come
And ring the coin and reckon o'er the sum:
Then, lifting up his patient, he began:
'That heir of yours is plundering you, good man.
'What? while I live?' 'You wish to live? then take
The necessary steps: be wide awake.'
'What steps d'ye mean?' 'Your strength will soon run short,
Unless your stomach have some strong support.
Come, rouse yourself: take this ptisane of rice.'
'The price?' 'A trifle.' 'I will know the price.'
'Eight-pence.' 'O dear! what matters it if I
Die by disease or robbery? still I die.'
"'Who then is sane?' He that's no fool, in troth.
'Then what's a miser?' Fool and madman both.

'Well, if a man's no miser, is he sane
That moment?' No. 'Why, Stoic?' I'll explain.
The stomach here is sound as any bell,
Craterus may say: then is the patient well?
May he get up? Why no; there still are pains
That need attention in the side or reins.
You're not forsworn nor miserly: go kill
A porker to the gods who ward off ill.
You're headlong and ambitious: take a trip
To Madman's Island by the next swift ship.
For where's the difference, down the rabble's throat
To pour your gold, or never spend a groat?
Servius Oppidius, so the story runs,
Rich for his time, bequeathed to his two sons
Two good-sized farms, and calling to his bed
The hopeful youths, in faltering accents said:
'E'er since I saw you, Aulus, give away
Your nuts and taws, or squander them at play,
While you, Tiberius, careful and morose,
Would count them over, hide them, keep them close,
I've feared lest both should err in different ways,
And one have Cassius', one Cicuta's craze.
So now I beg you by the household powers
Who guard, and still shall guard, this roof of ours,
That you diminish not, nor you augment
What I and nature fix for your content.
To bar ambition too, I lay an oath

Of heaviest weight upon the souls of both;
Should either be an ædile, or, still worse,
A prætor, let him feel a father's curse.
What? would you wish to lavish my bequest
In vetches, beech-nuts, lupines and the rest,
You, that in public you may strut, or stand
All bronze, when stripped of money, stripped of land;
You, that Agrippa's plaudits you may win,
A sneaking fox in a brave lion's skin?'
"What moves you, Agamemnon, thus to fling
Great Ajax to the dogs? 'I am a king.'
And I a subject: therefore I forbear
More questions. 'Right; for what I will is fair:
Yet, if there be who fancy me unjust,
I give my conduct up to be discussed.'
Mightiest of mighty kings, may proud success
And safe return your conquering army bless!
May I ask questions then, and shortly speak
When you have answered? 'Take the leave you seek.'
Then why should Ajax, though so oft renowned
For patriot service, rot above the ground,
Your bravest next Achilles, just that Troy
And envious Priam may the scene enjoy,
Beholding him, through whom their children came
To feed the dogs, himself cast out to shame?
'A flock the madman slew, and cried that he
Had killed my brother, Ithacus, and me.'
Well, when you offered in a heifer's stead

Your child, and strewed salt meal upon her head,
Then were you sane, I ask you? 'Why not sane?'
Why, what did Ajax when the flock was slain?
He did no violence to his wife or child:
He cursed the Atridæ, true; his words were wild;
But against Teucer ne'er a hand he raised,
Nor e'en Ulysses: yet you call him crazed.
'But I, of purpose, soothed the gods with blood,
To gain our fleet free passage o'er the flood.'
Blood! ay, your own, you madman. 'Nay, not so:
My own, I grant it: but a madman's, no.'
"He that sees things amiss, his mind distraught
By guilty deeds, a madman will be thought;
And, so the path of reason once be missed,
Who cares if rage or folly gave the twist?
When Ajax falls with fury on the fold,
He shows himself a madman, let us hold:
When you, of purpose, do a crime to gain
A meed of empty glory, are you sane?
The heart that air-blown vanities dilate,
Will medicine say 'tis in its normal state?
Suppose a man in public chose to ride
With a white lambkin nestling at his side,
Called it his daughter, had it richly clothed,
And did his best to get it well betrothed,
The law would call him madman, and the care
Of him and of his goods would pass elsewhere.
You offer up your daughter for a lamb;
And are you rational? Don't say, I am.

No; when a man's a fool, he's then insane:
The man that's guilty, he's a maniac plain:
The dupe of bubble glory, war's grim queen
Has dinned away his senses, clear and clean.
"Cassius and luxury! hunt that game with me;
For spendthrifts are insane, the world shall see.
Soon as the youngster had received at last
The thousand talents that his sire amassed,
He sent round word to all the sharking clan,
Perfumer, fowler, fruiterer, fisherman,
Velabrum's refuse, Tuscan Alley's scum,
To come to him. next morning. Well, they come.
First speaks the pimp: 'Whatever I or these
Possess, is yours: command it when you please.'
Now hear his answer, and admire the mind
That thus could speak, so generous and so kind.
'You sleep in Umbrian snow-fields, booted o'er
The hips, that I may banquet on a boar;
You scour the sea for fish in winter's cold,
And I do nought; I don't deserve this gold:
Here, take it; you a hundred, you as much,
But you, the spokesman, thrice that sum shall
"Æsopus' son took from his lady dear
A splendid pearl that glittered in her ear,
Then melted it in vinegar, and quaffed
(Such was his boast) a thousand at a draught:
How say you? had the act been more insane
To fling it in a river or a drain?
"Arrius' two sons, twin brothers, of a piece

In vice, perverseness, folly, and caprice,
Would lunch off nightingales: well, what's their mark?
Shall it be chalk or charcoal, white or dark?
"To ride a stick, to build a paper house,
Play odd and even, harness mouse and mouse,
If a grown man professed to find delight
In things like these, you'd call him mad outright.
"Well now, should reason force you to admit
That love is just as childish, every whit;
To own that whimpering at your mistress' door
Is e'en as weak as building on the floor;
Say, will you put conviction into act,
And, like young Polemo, at once retract;
Take off the signs and trappings of disease,
Your leg-bands, tippets, furs, and muffatees,
As he slipped off his chaplets, when the word
Of sober wisdom all his being stirred?
"Give a cross child an apple: 'Take it, pet:'
He sulks and will not: hold it back, he'll fret.
Just so the shut-out lover, who debates
And parleys near the door he vows he hates,
In doubt, when sent for, to go back or no,
Though, if not sent for, he'd be sure to go.
'She calls me: ought I to obey her call,
Or end this long infliction once for all?
The door was shut:'tis open: ah, that door!
Go back? I won't, however she implore.'
So he. Now listen while the slave replies,
And say if of the two he's not more wise:

'Sir, if a thing is senseless, to bring sense
To bear upon it is a mere pretence;
Now love is such a thing, the more's the shame;
First war, then peace, 'tis never twice the same,
For ever heaving, like a sea in storm,
And taking every hour some different form.
You think to fix it? why, the job's as bad
As if you tried by reason to be mad.'
"When you pick apple-pips, and try to hit
The ceiling with them, are you sound of wit?
When with your withered lips you bill and coo,
Is he that builds card-houses worse than you?
Then, too, the blood that's spilt by fond desires,
The swords that men will use to poke their fires!
When Marius killed his mistress t'other day
And broke his neck, was he demented, say?
Or would you call him criminal instead,
And stigmatize his heart to save his head,
Following the common fallacy, which founds
A different meaning upon different sounds?
"There was an aged freedman, who would run
From shrine to shrine at rising of the sun,
Sober and purified for prayer, and cry
'Save me, me only! sure I need not die;
Heaven can do all things:' ay, the man was sane
In ears and eyes: but how about his brain?
Why, that his master, if not bent to plead
Before a court, could scarce have guaranteed.
Him and all such Chrysippus would assign
To mad Menenius' most prolific line.

"'Almighty Jove, who giv'st and tak'st away
The pains we mortals suffer, hear me pray!'
(So cries the mother of a child whose cold,
Or ague rather, now is five months old)
'Cure my poor boy, and he shall stand all bare
In Tiber, on thy fast, in morning air.'
So if, by chance or treatment, the attack
Should pass away, the wretch will bring it back,
And give the child his death: 'tis madness clear;
But what produced it? superstitious fear."
Such were the arms Stertinius, next in sense
To the seven sages, gave me for defence.
Now he that calls me mad gets paid in kind,
And told to feel the pigtail stuck behind.
H. Good Stoic, may you mend your loss, and sell
All your enormous bargains twice as well.
But pray, since folly's various, just explain
What type is mine? for I believe I'm sane.
D. What? is Agave conscious that she's mad
When she holds up the head of her poor lad?
H. I own I'm foolish--truth must have her will--
Nay, mad: but tell me, what's my form of ill?
D. I'll tell you. First, you build, which means you try
To ape great men, yourself some two feet high,
And yet you laugh to see poor Turbo fight,
When he looks big and strains beyond his height.
What? if Mæcenas does a thing, must you,
His weaker every way, attempt it too?

A calf set foot on some young frogs, they say,
Once when the mother chanced to be away:
One 'scapes, and tells his dam with bated breath
How a huge beast had crushed the rest to death:
"How big?" quoth she: "is this as big?" and here
She swelled her body out. "No, nothing near."
Then, seeing her still fain to puff and puff,
"You'll burst," gays he, "before you're large enough."
Methinks the story fits you. Now then, throw
Your verses in, like oil to feed the glow.
If ever poet yet was sane, no doubt,
You may put in your plea, but not without.
Your dreadful temper—
D.The sums you spend
Beyond your income—
H.Mind yourself, my friend.
D. And then, those thousand flames no power can cool.
H. O mighty senior, spare a junior fool!


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