Juvenal, Satires. (1918). Satire 3
[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]
Quid Romae Faciam?
Though put out by the departure of my old friend, I commend his purpose to fix his home at Cumae, and to present one citizen to the Sibyl. That is the gate of Baiae, a sweet retreat upon a pleasant shore; I myself would prefer even Prochyta 1 to the Saburra! 2 For where has one ever seen a place so dismal and so lonely that one would not deem it worse to live in perpetual dread of fires and falling houses, and the thousand perils of this terrible city, and poets spouting in the month of August!
But while all his goods and chattels were being packed upon a single wagon, my friend halted at the dripping archway of the old Porta Capena. 3 Here Numa held his nightly assignations with his mistress; but now the holy fount and grove and shrine are let out to Jews, who possess a basket and a truss of hay for all their furnishings. For as every tree nowadays has to pay toll to the people, the Muses have been ejected, and the wood has to go a-begging. We go down to the Valley of Egeria, and into the caves so unlike to nature: how much more near to us would be the spirit of the fountain if its waters were fringed by a green border of grass, and there were no marble to outrage the native tufa!
Here spoke Umbritius:----" Since there is no room," quoth he, "for honest callings in this city, no reward for labour; since my means are less to-day than they were yesterday, and to-morrow will rub off something from the little that is left, I purpose to go to the place where Daedalus put off his weary wings while my white hairs are recent, while my old age is erect and fresh, while Lachesis has something left to spin, and I can support myself on my own feet without slipping a staff beneath my hand. Farewell my country! Let Artorius live there, and Catulus; let those remain who turn black into white, to whom it comes easy to take contracts for temples, rivers or harbours, for cleansing drains, or carrying corpses to the pyre, or to put up slaves for sale under the authority of the spear.4 These men once were horn-blowers, who went the round of every provincial show, and whose puffed-out cheeks were known in every village; to-day they hold shows of their own, and win applause by slaying with a turn of the thumb 5 whomsoever the mob bids them slay; from that they go back to contract for cesspools, and why not for any kind of thing, seeing that they are of the kind that Fortune raises from the gutter to the mighty places of earth whenever she wishes to enjoy a laugh?
What can I do at Rome? I cannot lie; if a book is bad, I cannot praise it, and beg for a copy; I am ignorant of the movements of the stars; I cannot, and will not, promise to a man his father's death; I have never examined the entrails of a frog; I must leave it to others to carry to a bride the presents and messages of a paramour. No man will get my help in robbery, and therefore no governor will take me on his staff: I am treated as a maimed and useless trunk that has lost the power of its hands. What man wins favour nowadays unless he be an accomplice----one whose soul seethes and burns with secrets that must never be disclosed? No one who has imparted to you an innocent secret thinks he owes you anything, or will ever bestow on you a favour; the man whom Verres loves is the man who can impeach Verres at any moment that he chooses. Ah! Let not all the sands of the shaded Tagus, and the gold which it rolls into the sea, be so precious in your eyes that you should lose your sleep, and accept gifts, to your sorrow, which you must one day lay down, and be for ever a terror to your mighty friend! "And now let me speak at once of the race which is most dear to our rich men, and which I avoid above all others; no shyness shall stand in my way. I cannot abide, Quirites, a Rome of Greeks; and yet what fraction of our dregs comes from Greece? The Syrian Orontes has long since poured into the Tiber, bringing with it its lingo and its manners, its flutes and its slanting harp-strings:6 bringing too the timbrels of the breed, and the trulls who are bidden ply their trade at the Circus. Out upon you, all ye that delight in foreign strumpets with painted headdresses! Your country clown, Quirinus, now trips to dinner in Greek-fangled slippers,7 and wears niceterian 7 ornaments upon a ceromatic 7 neck! One comes from lofty Sicyon, another from Amydon or Andros, others from Samos, Tralles or Alabanda; all making for the Esquiline, or for the hill that takes its name from osier-beds 8; all ready to worm their way into the houses of the great and become their masters. Quick of wit and of unbounded impudence, they are as ready of speech as Isaeus,9 and more torrential. Say, what do you think that fellow there to be? He has brought with him any character you please; grammarian, orator, geometrician; painter, trainer, or rope-dancer; augur, doctor or astrologer:----
In fine, the man who took to himself wings 11 was not a Moor, nor a Sarmatian, nor a Thracian, but one born in the very heart of Athens!
"Must I not make my escape from purple-clad gentry like these? Is a man to sign his name before me, and recline upon a couch above mine, who has been wafted to Rome by the wind which brings us our damsons and our figs? Is it to go so utterly for nothing that as a babe I drank in the air of the Aventine, and was nurtured on the Sabine berry?
"What of this again, that these people are experts in flattery, and will commend the talk of an illiterate, or the beauty of a deformed, friend, and compare the scraggy neck of some weakling to the brawny throat of Hercules when holding up Antaeus 12 from the earth; or go into ecstasies over a squeaky voice not more melodious than that of a cock when he pecks his spouse the hen? We, no doubt, can praise the same things that they do; but what they say is believed. Could any actor do better when he plays the part of Thais, or of a matron, or of the nude Doris? You would never think that it was an actor that was speaking, but a very woman, complete in all her parts. Yet, in their own country, neither Antiochus 13 nor Stratocles,13 neither Demetrius 13 nor the delicate Haemus,13 will be applauded: they are a nation of play-actors. If you smile, your Greek will split his sides with laughter; if he sees his friend drop a tear, he weeps, though without grieving; if you call for a bit of fire in winter-time, he puts on his cloak; if you say 'I am hot,' he breaks into a sweat. Thus we are not upon a level, he and I; he has always the best of it, being ready at any moment, by night or by day, to take his expression from another man's face, to throw up his hands and applaud if his friend spit or hiccup nicely, or if his golden basin make a gurgle when turned upside down.
"Besides all this, there is nothing sacred to his lusts: not the matron of the family, nor the maiden daughter, not the as yet unbearded son-in-law to be, not even the as yet unpolluted son; if none of these be there, he will debauch the grandmother. These men want to discover the secrets of the family, and so make themselves feared. And now that I am speaking of the Greeks, pass on to the schools, and hear of a graver crime; the Stoic 14 who informed against and slew his own young friend and disciple 15 was born on that river bank 16 where the Gorgon's winged steed fell to earth. No: there is no room for any Roman here, where some Protogenes, or Diphilus, or Hermarchus rules the roast----one who by a defect of his race never shares a friend, but keeps him all to himself. For when once he has dropped into a facile ear one particle of his own and his country's poison, I am thrust from the door, and all my long years of servitude go for nothing. Nowhere is it so easy as at Rome to throw an old client overboard.
"And besides, not to flatter ourselves, what value is there in a poor man's serving here in Rome, even if he be at pains to hurry along in his toga before daylight, seeing that the praetor is bidding the lictor to go full speed lest his colleague should be the first to salute the childless ladies Albina and Modia, who have long ago been awake. Here in Rome the son of free-born parents has to give the wall to some rich man's slave; for that other will give as much as the whole pay of a legionary tribune to enjoy the chance favours of a Calvinal or a Catiena,17 while you, when the face of some gay-decked harlot takes your fancy, scarce venture to hand her down from her lofty chair. At Rome you may produce a witness as unimpeachable as the host of the Idaean Goddess 18----Numa himself might present himself, or he who rescued the trembling Minerva from the blazing shrine 19----the first question asked will be as to his wealth, the last about his character: 'how many slaves does he keep?' 'how many acres does he own?' 'how big and how many are his dinner dishes?' A man's word is believed in exact proportion to the amount of cash which he keeps in his strong box. Though he swear by all the altars of Samothrace or of Rome, the poor man is believed to care naught for Gods and thunderbolts, the Gods themselves forgiving him.
"And what of this, that the poor man gives food and occasion for jest if his cloak be torn and dirty; if his toga be a little soiled; if one of his shoes gapes where the leather is split, or if some fresh stitches of coarse thread reveal where not one, but many a rent has been patched? Of all the woes of luckless poverty none is harder to endure than this, that it exposes men to ridicule. 'Out you go! for very shame,' says the marshal; 'out of the Knights' stalls, all of you whose means do not satisfy the law.' Here let the sons of panders, born in any brothel, take their seats; here let the spruce son of an auctioneer clap his hands, with the smart sons of a gladiator on one side of him and the young gentlemen of a trainer on the other: such was the will of the numskull Otho who assigned to each of us his place.20 Who ever was approved as a son-in-law if he was short of cash, and no match for the money-bags of the young lady? What poor man ever gets a legacy, or is appointed assessor to an aedile? Romans without money should have marched out in a body long ago!
"It is no easy matter, anywhere, for a man to rise when poverty stands in the way of his merits: but nowhere is the effort harder than in Rome, where you must pay a big rent for a wretched lodging, a big sum to fill the bellies of your slaves, and buy a frugal dinner for yourself. You are ashamed to dine off delf; but you would see no shame in it if transported suddenly to a Marsian or Sabine table, where you would be pleased enough to wear a cape of coarse Venetian blue.
"There are many parts of Italy, to tell the truth, in which no man puts on a toga until he is dead. Even on days of festival, when a brave show is made in a theatre of turf, and when the well-known farce steps once more upon the boards; when the rustic babe on its mother's breast shrinks back affrighted at the gaping of the pallid masks, you will see stalls and populace all dressed alike, and the worshipful aediles content with white tunics as vesture for their high office. In Rome, everyone dresses above his means, and sometimes something more than what is enough is taken out of another man's pocket. This failing is universal here: we all live in a state of pretentious poverty. To put it shortly, nothing can be had in Rome for nothing. How much does it cost you to be able now and then to make your bow to Cossus? Or to be vouchsafed one glance, with lip firmly closed, from Veiento? One of these great men is cutting off his beard; another is dedicating the locks of a favourite; the house is full of cakes----which you will have to pay for. Take your cake,21 and let this thought rankle in your heart: we clients are compelled to pay tribute and add to a shaved menial's perquisites.22
"Who at cool Praeneste, or at Volsinii amid its leafy hills, was ever afraid of his house tumbling down? Who in modest Gabii, or on the sloping heights of Tivoli? But here we inhabit a city propped up for the most part by slender flute-players:23 for that is how the bailiff patches up the cracks in the old wall, bidding the inmates sleep at ease under a roof ready to tumble about their ears. No, no, I must live where there are no fires, no nightly alarms. Ucalegon 24 below is already shouting for water and shifting his chattels; smoke is pouring out of your third-floor attic above, but you know nothing of it; for if the alarm begins in the ground-floor, the last man to burn will be he who has nothing to shelter him from the rain but the tiles, where the gentle doves lay their eggs. Codrus possessed a bed too small for the dwarf Procula, a marble slab adorned by six pipkins, with a small drinking cup, and a recumbent Chiron below, and an old chest containing Greek books whose divine lays were being gnawed by unlettered mice. Poor Codrus had nothing, it is true: but he lost that nothing, which was his all; and the last straw in his heap of misery is this, that though he is destitute and begging for a bite, no one will help him with a meal, no one offer him board or shelter.
"But if the grand house of Asturicus be destroyed, the matrons go dishevelled, your great men put on mourning, the praetor adjourns his court: then indeed do we deplore the calamities of the city, and bewail its fires! Before the house has ceased to burn, up comes one with a gift of marble or of building materials, another offers nude and glistening statues, a third some notable work of Euphranor or Polyclitus,25 or bronzes that had been the glory of old Asian shrines. Others will offer books and bookcases, or a bust of Minerva, or a hundredweight of silver-plate. Thus does Persicus, that most sumptuous of childless men, replace what he has lost with more and better things, and with good reason incurs the suspicion of having set his own house on fire.
"If you can tear yourself away from the games of the Circus, you can buy an excellent house at Sora, at Fabrateria or Frusino, for what you now pay in Rome to rent a dark garret for one year. And you will there have a little garden, with a shallow well from which you can easily draw water, without need of a rope, to bedew your weakly plants. There make your abode, mattock in hand, tending a trim garden fit to feast a hundred Pythagoreans.26 It is something, in whatever spot, however remote, to have become the possessor of a single lizard!
"Most sick people here in Rome perish for want of sleep, the illness itself having been produced by food lying undigested on a fevered stomach. For what sleep is possible in a lodging? Who but the wealthy get sleep in Rome? There lies the root of the disorder. The crossing of wagons in the narrow winding streets, the slanging of drovers when brought to a stand, would make sleep impossible for a Drusus 27 ----or a sea-calf. When the rich man has a call of social duty, the mob makes way for him as he is borne swiftly over their heads in a huge Liburnian car. He writes or reads or sleeps as he goes along, for the closed window of the litter induces slumber. Yet he will arrive before us; hurry as we may, we are blocked by a surging crowd in front, and by a dense mass of people pressing in on us from behind: one man digs an elbow into me, another a sedan-pole; one bangs a beam, another a wine-cask, against my head. My legs are be-plastered with mud; huge feet trample on me from every side, and a soldier plants his hobnails firmly on my toe.
"See now the smoke rising from that crowd which hurries for the daily dole: there are a hundred guests, each followed by a kitchener of his own.28 Corbulo 29 himself could scarce bear the weight of all the big vessels and other gear which that poor little slave is carrying with head erect, fanning the flame as he runs along. Newly-patched tunics are torn in two; up comes a huge log swaying on a wagon, and then a second dray carrying a whole pine-tree, towering aloft and threatening the people. For if that axle with its load of Ligurian marble breaks down, and pours its spilt contents on to the crowd, what is left of their bodies? Who can identify the limbs, who the bones? The poor man's crushed corpse disappears, just like his soul. At home meanwhile the folk, unwitting, are washing the dishes, blowing up the fire with distended cheek, clattering over the greasy flesh-scrapers, filling the oil-flasks and laying out the towels. And while each of them is thus busy over his own task, their master is already sitting, a new arrival, upon the bank, and shuddering at the grim ferryman: he has no copper in his mouth to tender for his fare, and no hope of a passage over the murky flood.
"And now regard the different and diverse perils of the night. See what a height it is to that towering roof from which a potsherd comes crack upon my head every time that some broken or leaky vessel is pitched out of the window! See with what a smash it strikes and dints the pavement! There's death in every open window as you pass along at night; you may well be deemed a fool, improvident of sudden accident, if you go out to dinner without having made your will. You can but hope, and put up a piteous prayer in your heart, that they may be content to pour down on you the contents of their slop-pails!
"Your drunken bully who has by chance not slain his man passes a night of torture like that of Achilles when he bemoaned his friend, lying now upon his face, and now upon his back; he will get no rest in any other way, since some men can only sleep after a brawl. Yet however reckless the fellow may be, however hot with wine and young blood, he gives a wide berth to one whose scarlet cloak and long-retinue of attendants, with torches and brass lamps in their hands, bid him keep his distance. But to me, who am wont to be escorted home by the moon, or by the scant light of a candle whose wick I husband with due care, he pays no respect. Hear how the wretched fray begins----if fray it can be called when you do all the thrashing and I get all the blows! The fellow stands up against me, and bids me halt; obey I must. What else can you do when attacked by a madman stronger than yourself? 'Where are you from?' shouts he; 'whose swipes, whose beans have blown you out? With what cobbler have you been munching cut leeks 30 and boiled sheep's head?----What, sirrah, no answer? Speak out, or take that upon your shins! Where is your stand? In what prayer-shop 31 shall I find you?' Whether you venture to say anything, or make off silently, it's all one: he will thrash you just the same, and then, in a rage, take bail from you. Such is the liberty of the poor man: having been pounded and cuffed into a jelly, he begs and. prays to be allowed to return home with a few teeth in his head!
"Nor are these your only terrors. When your house is shut, when bar and chain have made fast your shop, and all is silent, you will be robbed by a burglar; or perhaps a cut-throat will do for you quickly with cold steel. For whenever the Pontine marshes and the Gallinarian forest are secured by an armed guard, all that tribe flocks into Rome as into a fish-preserve. What furnaces, what anvils, are not groaning with the forging of chains? That is how our iron is mostly used; and you may well fear that ere long none will be left for plough-shares, none for hoes and mattocks. Happy were the forbears of our great-grandfathers, happy the days of old which under Kings and Tribunes beheld Rome satisfied with a single gaol!
"To these I might add more and different reasons; but my cattle call, the sun is sloping and I must away: my muleteer has long been signalling to me with his whip. And so farewell; forget me not. And if ever you run over from Rome to your own Aquinum 32 to recruit, summon me too from Cumae to your Helvine 33 Ceres and Diana; I will come over to your cold country in my thick boots to hear your Satires, if they think me worthy of that honour."
1. 1 A small island off
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2008. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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