Satire X
by Juvenal

In all the regions which extend from Gades even to the farthest east and Ganges, there are but few that can discriminate between real blessings and those that are widely different, all the mist of error being removed. For what is there that we either fear or wish for, as reason would direct? What is there that you enter on under such favorable auspices, that you do not repent of your undertaking, and the accomplishment of your wish? The too easy gods have overthrown whole families by granting their owners' prayers. Our prayers are put up for what will injure us in peace and injure us in war. To many the copious fluency of speech, and their very eloquence, is fatal. It was owing to his strength and wondrous muscle, in which he placed his trust, that the Athlete met his death. But money heaped up with overwhelming care, and a revenue surpassing all common patrimonies as much as the whale of Britain exceeds dolphins, causes more to be strangled. Therefore it was, that in that reign of Terror, and at Nero's bidding, a whole cohort blockaded Longinus and the spacious gardens of the over-wealthy Seneca, and laid siege to the splendid mansion of the Laterani. It is but rarely that the soldier pays his visit to a garret. Though you are conveying ever so few vessels of unembossed silver, entering on your journey by night, you will dread the bandit's knife and bludgeon, and tremble at the shadow of a reed as it quivers in the moonshine. The traveler with empty pockets will sing even in the robber's face.

The prayers that are generally the first put up and best known in all the temples are, that riches, that wealth may increase; that our chest may be the largest in the whole forum. But no aconite is drunk from earthenware. It is time to dread it when you quaff jeweled cups, and the ruddy Setine blazes in the broad gold. And do you not, then, now commend the fact, that of the two sages, one used to laugh whenever he had advanced a single step from his threshold; the other, with sentiments directly contrary, used to weep. But easy enough to any one is the stern censure of a sneering laugh: the wonder is how the other's eyes could ever have a sufficient supply of tears.Democritus used to shake his sides with perpetual laughter, though in the cities of those regions there were no pretext, no trabi, no fasces, no litter, no tribunal! What, had he seen the pretor standing pre-eminent in his lofty car, and raised on high in the mid dust of the circus, dressed in the tunic of Jove, and wearing on his shoulders the Tyrian hangings of the embroidered toga; and the circlet of a ponderous crown, so heavy that no single neck could endure the weight: since the official, all in a sweat, supports it, and, that the consul may not be too elated, the slave rides in the same car. Then, add the bird that rises from his ivory sceptre: on one side the trumpeters; on the other, the long train of attendant clients, that march before him, and the Quirites, all in white togas, walking by his horses' heads; men whose friendship he has won by the sportula buried deep in his chest. Even in those days he found subject for ridicule in every place where human beings meet, whose wisdom proves that men of the highest intellect, men that will furnish noble examples, may be born in the country of wether-sheep, and in a foggy atmosphere. He used to laugh at the cares and also the joys of the common herd; sometimes even at their tears: while he himself would bid Fortune, when she frowned, "Go hang!" and point at her his finger in scorn! Superfluous therefore, or else destructive, are all those objects of our prayers, for which we think it right to cover the knees of the gods with waxen tablets.

Power, exposed to great envy, hurls some headlong down to ruin. The long and splendid list of their titles and honors sinks into the dust. Down come their statues, and are dragged along with ropes: then the very wheels of the chariot are smashed by the vigorous stroke of the axe, and the legs of the innocent horses are demolished. Now the fires roar! Now that head, once worshiped by the mob, glows with the bellows and the furnace! Great Sejanus crackles! Then from that head, second only in the whole wide world, are made pitchers, basins, frying-pans, and platters! "Crown your doors with bays! Lead to Jove's Capitol a huge and milk-white ox! Sejanus is being dragged along by the hook! a glorious sight!" Every body is delighted. "What lips he had! and what a face! If you believe me, I never could endure this man!" "But what was the charge under which he fell! Who was the accuser? what the information laid? By whose witness did he prove it?" "Nothing of the sort! a wordy and lengthy epistle came from Capri." "That's enough! I ask no farther. But how does the mob of Remus behave!" "Why, follow Fortune, as mobs always do, and hate him that is condemned?" That self-same people, had Tuscan Nurscia smiled propitious on her countryman—had the old age of the emperor been crushed while he thought all secure—would in that very hour have saluted Sejanus as Augustus. Long ago they have thrown overboard all anxiety. For that sovereign people that once gave away military command, consulships, legions, and every thing, now bridles its desires, and limits its anxious longings to two things only—bread, and the games of the circus! "I hear that many are involved in his fall." "No doubt: the little furnace is a capacious one; I met my friend Brutidius at the altar of Mars looking a little pale!" "But I greatly fear that Ajax, being baffled, will wreak fearful vengeance, as having been inadequately defended. Let us rush headlong; and, while he still lies on the river-bank, trample on Cesar's foe? But take care that our slaves witness the act! lest any of them should deny it, and drag his master to trial with a halter round his neck!" Such were the conversations then about Sejanus; such the smothered whispers of the populace? Would you then have the same court paid to you that Sejanus had? possess as much, bestow on one the highest curule honors, give another the command of armies, be esteemed the lawful guardian of the prince that lounged away his days with his herd of Chaldean astrologers, in the rock of Capri that he made his palace? Would you have centuries and cohorts, and a picked body of cavalry, and pretorian bands at your beck? Why should you not covet these? Even those who have not the will to kill a man would gladly have the power. But what brilliant or prosperous fortune is of sufficient worth that your measure of evils should balance your good luck? Would you rather put on the pretexta of him that is being dragged along, or be the magistrate of Fidene or Gabii, and give sentence about false weights, and break up scanty measures as the ragged edile of the deserted Ulubre?

You acknowledge, therefore, that Sejanus did not know what ought to have been the object of his wishes. For he that coveted excessive honors, and prayed for excessive wealth, was but rearing up the multiplied stories of a tower raised on high, only that the fall might be the deeper, and horrible the headlong descent of his ruin once accelerated!

What overthrew the Crassi? and Pompey and his sons? and him that brought Rome's haughty citizens quailing beneath his lash? Surely it was the post of highest advancement, reached by every possible device, and prayers for greatness heard by gods who showed their malignity in granting them! Few kings go down without slaughter and wounds to Ceres' son-in-law. Few tyrants die a bloodless death!

He that as yet pays court to Minerva, purchased by a single as, that is followed by his little slave to take charge of his diminutive satchel, begins to long, and longs through all his quinquatrian holidays, for the eloquence and the renown of Demosthenes or Cicero. But it was through their eloquence that both of these orators perished: the copious and overflowing fount of talent gave over each to destruction; by talent, was his hand and head cut off! Nor did the Rostra ever reek with the blood of a contemptible pleader.

"O fortunate Rome, whose natal day may date from me as consul!" He might have scorned the swords of Antony, had all he uttered been such trash as this. I had rather write poems that excite only ridicule, than thee, divine Philippic of distinguished fame! that art unrolled next to the first! Cruel was the end that carried him off also whom Athens used to admire as his words flowed from his lips in a torrent of eloquence, and he swayed at will the passions of the crowded theatre. With adverse gods and inauspicious fate was he born, whom his father, blear-eyed with the grime of the glowing mass, sent from the coal, and pincers, and the sword-forging anvil, and sooty Vulcan, to the rhetorician's school!

The spoils of war, the cuirass fastened to the truncated trophy, the cheek-piece hanging from the battered helm, the car shorn of its pole, the streamer of the captured galley, and the sad captive on the triumphal arch-top, are held to be goods exceeding all human blessings. For these each general, Roman, or Greek, or Barbarian, strains as his prize! Full compensation for his dangers and his toils he sees in these! So much greater is the thirst after fame than virtue. For who would embrace virtue herself, if you took away the rewards of virtue? And yet, ere now, the glory of a few has been the ruin of their native land; that longing for renown, and those inscriptions that are to live on the marble that guards their ashes; and yet to burst asunder this, the mischievous strength of the barren fig-tree has power enough. Since even to sepulchres themselves are fates assigned. Weigh the remains of Hannibal! How many pounds will you find in that most consummate general! This is the man whom not even Africa, lashed by the Mauritanian ocean, and stretching even to the steaming Nile, and then again to the races of the ethiopes and their tall elephants, can contain! Spain is annexed to Carthage's domain. He bounds across the Pyrenees. Nature opposed in vain the Alps with all their snows; he cleaves the rocks and rives the mountains with vinegar. Now he is lord of Italy! Yet still he presses on. "Naught is achieved," he says, "unless we burst through the gates of Rome with the soldiery of Carthage, and I plant my standard in the heart of the Suburra!" Oh what a face! and worthy what a picture! when the huge Getulian beast bore on his back the one-eyed general! What then was the issue? Oh glory! This self-made man is conquered, and flees with headlong haste to exile, and there, a great and much-to-be-admired client, sits at the palace of the king, until his Bithynian majesty be pleased to wake! To that soul, that once shook the very world's base, it is not sword, nor stone, nor javelin, that shall give the final stroke; but, that which atoned for Canne, and avenged such mighty carnage, a ring! Go then, madman, and hurry over the rugged Alps, that you may be the delight of boys, and furnish subjects for declamations!

Oneworld is not enough for the youth of Pella! He chafes within the narrow limits of the universe, poor soul, as though confined in Gyarus' small rock, or scanty Seriphös. Yet when he shall have entered the city that the brickmakers fortified, he will be content with a sarcophagus! Death alone discloses how very small are the puny bodies of men! Men do believe that Athos was sailed through of yore; and all the bold assertions that lying Greeks hazard in history—that the sea was bridged over by the same fleets, and formed into a solid pavement for the transit of wheels. We believe that deep rivers failed, and streams were drunk dry when the Persian dined; and all the flights of Sostratus' song, when his wings are moistened by the god of wine. And yet, in what guise did he return after quitting Salamis, who, like a true barbarian as he was, used to vent his rage in scourges on Corus and Eurus, that had never suffered in this sort in eolus' prison; and bound in gyves Ennosigeus himself. It was, in fact, an act of clemency that he did not think he deserved branding also. Would any of the gods choose to serve such a man as this? But how did he return? Why, in a single ship; through waves dyed with blood, and with his galley retarded by the shoals of corpses. Such was the penalty that glory, for which he had so often prayed, exacted.

"Grant length of life, great Jove, and many years!" This is your only prayer in health and sickness. But with what unremitting and grievous ills is old age crowded! First of all, its face is hideous, loathsome, and altered from its former self; instead of skin a hideous hide and flaccid cheeks; and see! such wrinkles, as, where Tabraca extends her shady dells, the antiquated ape scratches on her wizened jowl! There are many points of difference in the young: this youth is handsomer than that; and he again than a third: one is far sturdier than another. Old mens faces are all alike—limbs tottering and voice feeble,a smooth bald pate, and the second childhood of a driveling nose; the poor wretch must mumble his bread with toothless gums; so loathsome to his wife, his children, and even to himself, that he would excite the disgust even of the legacy-hunter Cossus! His palate is grown dull; his relish for his food and wine no more the same; the joys of love are long ago forgotten; and in spite of all efforts to reinvigorate them, all manly energies are hopelessly extinct. Has this depraved and hoary lechery aught else to hope? Do we not look with just suspicion on the lust that covets the sin but lacks the power?

Now turn your eyes to the loss of another sense. For what pleasure has he in a singer, however eminent a harper it may be; nay, even Seleucus himself; or those whose habit it is to glitter in a cloak of gold? What matters it in what part of the wide theatre he sits, who can scarcely hear the horn-blowers, and the general clang of trumpets? You must bawl out loud before his ear can distinguish who it is his slave says has called, or tells him what o'clock it is.Besides, the scanty blood that flows in his chill body is warmed by fever only. Diseases of every kind dance round him in full choir. If you were to ask their names, I could sooner tell you how many lovers Hippia had; how many patients Themison killed in one autumn; how many allies Basilus plundered; how many wards Hirrus defrauded; how many lovers long Maura received in the day; how many pupils Hamillus corrupts. I could sooner run through the list of villas owned by him now, beneath whose razor my stiff beard resounded when I was in my prime. One is weak in the shoulder; another in the loins; another in the hip. Another has lost both eyes, and envies the one-eyed. Another's bloodless lips receive their food from others' fingers. He that was wont to relax his features to a smile at the sight of his dinner, now only gapes like the young swallow to whom the parent bird, herself fasting, flies with full beak. But worse than all debility of limb is that idiocy which recollects neither the names of his slaves nor the face of the friend with whom he supped the evening before; not even those whom he begot and brought up! For by a heartless will he disinherits them; and all his property is made over to Phiale:—such power has the breath of her artificial mouth, that stood for hire so many years in the brothel's dungeon.

Even though the powers of intellect retain their vigor, yet he must lead forth the funerals of his children; must gaze upon the pyre of a beloved wife, and the urns filled with all that remains of his brother and sisters. This is the penalty imposed on the long-lived, that they must grow old with the death-blow in their house forever falling fresh—in oft-recurring sorrow—in unremitting mourning, and a suit of black. The king of Pylos, if you put any faith in great Homer, was an instance of life inferior in duration only to the crow's. Happy, no doubt! was he who for so many years put off his hour of death; and now begins to count his years on his right hand, and has drunk so often of the new-made wine. I pray you, lend me your ear a little space; and hear how sadly he himself complains of the decrees of fate, and too great powers of life, when he watches the blazing beard of Antilochus in his bloom, and asks of every friend that stands near, why it is he lingers on to this day; what crime he has committed to deserve so long a life! Such, too, is Peleus' strain, when he mourns for Achilles prematurely snatched from him: and that other, whose lot it was to grieve for the shipwrecked Ithacensian.

Priam would have joined the shade of Assaracus with Troy still standing, with high solemnities, with Hector and his brothers supporting his bier on their shoulders, amid the weeping Troades, so that Cassandra would lead off the wail, and Polyxena with mantle rent, had he but died at any time but that, after that Paris had begun to build his audacious ships. What then did length of days confer on him? He saw his all o'erthrown: Asia laid low by flame and sword. Then the poor tottering warrior laid down his diadem and donned his arms, and fell before the altar of supreme Jove; like some old ox that yields his attenuated and miserable neck to his owner's knife, long ago scorned by the ungrateful plow.

That was at all events the death of a human being: but his wife who survived him barked fiercely from the jaws of a bitch.

I hasten on to our own countrymen, and pass by the king of Pontus, and Crœsus, whom the eloquent voice of the right-judging Solon bade look at the closing scene of a life however long. Banishment, and the jail, and the marshes of Minturne, and his bread begged in conquered Carthage, took their rise from this. What could all nature, what could Rome, have produced more blessed in the wide world than that citizen, had he breathed forth his soul glutted with spoils, while the captive train followed around his chariot, in all the pomp and circumstance of war, when he was about to alight from his Teutonic car! Campania, in her foresight for Pompey, had given him a fever he should have prayed for. But the many cities and their public prayers prevailed. Therefore his own malignant fortune and that of Rome preserved him only that conquered he should lose his head. Lentulus escaped this torment; Cethegus paid not this penalty, but fell unmutilated; and Catiline lay with corpse entire. The anxious mother, when she visits Venus' temple, prays for beauty for her boys with subdued whisper; with louder voice for her girls, carrying her fond wishes even to the verge of trifling. "But why should you chide me?" she says; "Latona delights in the beauty of Diana." But, Lucretia forbids a face like hers to be the subject of your prayers: Virginia would gladly give hers to Rutila, and receive her wen in exchange. But, a son possessed of exquisite person keeps his parents in a constant state of misery and alarm. So rare is the union of beauty with chastity. Though the house, austere in virtue, and emulating the Sabines of old, may have handed down, like an inheritance, purity of morals, and bounteous Nature with benignant hand may give, besides, a chaste mind and a face glowing with modest blood (for what greater boon can Nature bestow on a youth? Nature, more powerful than any guardian, or any watchful care!), still they are not allowed to attain to manhood. For the villainy of the corrupter, prodigal in its guilt, dares to assail with tempting offers the parents themselves. So great is their confidence in the success of bribes! No tyrant in his cruel palace ever castrated a youth that was deformed; nor did even Nero carry off a stripling if club-footed, or disfigured by wens, pot-bellied, and humpbacked! Go then, and exult in the beauty of your darling boy! Yet for whom are there greater perils in store? He will become the adulterer of the city, and dread all the punishments that angry husbands inflict. Nor will he be more lucky than the star of Mars, even though he never fall like Mars into the net. But sometimes that bitter wrath exacts even more than any law permits, to satisfy the husband's rage. One dispatches the adulterer with the sword; another cuts him in two with bloody lashes; some have the punishment of the mullet. But your Endymion, forsooth, will of course become the lover of some lady of his affections! But soon, when Servilia has bribed him, he will serve her whom he loves not, and will despoil her of all her ornaments. For what will any woman refuse, to get her passions gratified? whether she be an Oppia, or a Catulla. A depraved woman has all her morality concentred there. "But what harm does beauty do one that is chaste?" Nay, what did his virtuous resolve avail Hippolytus, or what Bellerophon? Surely she fired at the rejection of her suit, as though treated with indignity. Nor did Sthenobea burn less fiercely than the Cretan; and both lashed themselves into fury. A woman is then most ruthless, when shame sets sharper spurs to her hate. Choose what course you think should be recommended him to whom Cesar's wife purposes to marry herself. This most noble and most beautiful of the patrician race is hurried off, poor wretched man, a sacrifice to the lewd eyes of Messalina. She is long since seated with her bridal veil all ready: the nuptial bed with Tyrian hangings is openly prepared in the gardens, and, according to the antique rites, a dowry of a million sesterces will be given; the soothsayer and the witnesses to the settlement will be there! Do you suppose these acts are kept secret; intrusted only to a few? She will not be married otherwise than with all legal forms. Tell me which alternative you choose. If you refuse to comply, you must die before nightfall.If you do commit the crime, some brief delay will be afforded you, until the thing, known to the city and the people, shall reach the prince's ears. He will be the last to learn the disgrace of his house! Do you meanwhile obey her behests, if you set so high a value on a few days' existence. Whichever you hold the better and the safer course, that white and beauteous neck must be presented to the sword!

Is there then nothing for which men shall pray? If you will take advice, you will allow the deities themselves to determine what may be expedient for us, and suitable to our condition. For instead of pleasant things, the gods will give us all that is most fitting. Man is dearer to them than to himself. We, led on by the impulse of our minds, by blind and headstrong passions, pray for wedlock, and issue by our wives; but it is known to them what our children will prove; of what character our wife will be! Still, that you may have somewhat to pray for, and vow to their shrines the entrails and consecrated mincemeat of the white porker, your prayer must be that you may have a sound mind in a sound body. Pray for a bold spirit, free from all dread of death; that reckons the closing scene of life among Nature's kindly boons; that can endure labor, whatever it be; that deems the gnawing cares of Hercules, and all his cruel toils, far preferable to the joys of Venus, rich banquets, and the downy couch of Sardanapalus. I show thee what thou canst confer upon thyself. The only path that surely leads to a life of peace lies through virtue. If we have wise foresight, thou, Fortune, hast no divinity. It is we that make thee a deity, and place thy throne in heaven!

End of Satire X by Juvenal