I should like to know, Naevolus, why you so often meet me with clouded brow forlorn, like Marsyas after his defeat. What have you to do with such a face as Ravola had when detected with his Rhodope? We give a slave a box on the ear, if he licks the pastry. Why! Crepereius Pollio had not a more woe-begone face than yours; he that went about ready to pay three times the ordinary interest, and could find none fools enough to trust him. Where do so many wrinkles come from all of a sudden? Why, surely before, contented with little, you used to live like a gentleman's gentleman—a witty boon-companion with your biting jest, and sharp at repartees that savor of town-life!
Now all is the reverse; your looks are dejected; your tangled hair bristles like a thicket; there is none of that sleekness over your whole skin, such as the Bruttian plaster of hot pitch used to give you; but your legs are neglected and rank with a shrubbery of hair. What means this emaciated form, like that of some old invalid parched this many a day with quartan ague and fever that has made his limbs its home? You may detect the anguish of the mind that lurks in the sickly body—and discover its joys also. For the face, the index of the mind, takes its complexion from each. You seem, therefore, to have changed your course of life, and to run counter to your former habits. For, but lately, as I well remember, you used to haunt the temple of Isis, and the statue of Ganymede in the temple of Peace, and the secret palaces of the imported mother of the gods; ay, and Ceres too (for what temple is there in which you may not find a woman)—a more notorious adulterer even than Aufidius, and under the rose, not confining your attentions to the wives!
"Yes: even this way of life is profitable to many. But I never made it worth my while: we do occasionally get greasy cloaks, that serve to save our toga, of coarse texture and indifferent dye, the clumsy workmanship of some French weaver's lay; or a small piece of silver of inferior metal. The Fates control the destinies of men: nay, there is fate even in those very parts which the lap of the toga conceals from view. For if the stars are unpropitious, your manly powers, remaining unknown, will profit you nothing, even though the liquorish Virro has seen you stripped, and seductive billets-doux, closely following each other, are forever assailing you: for such a fellow as he even entices others to sin. Yet, what monster can be worse, than one miserly as well as effeminate?" "I gave you so much, then so much, and then soon after you had more!" He reckons up and still acts the wanton. "Let us settle our accounts! Send for the slaves with my account-book! Reckon up five thousand sesterces in all! Then count up your services!" Are then my duties so light, and so little against the grain? Far less wretched will be the poor slave that digs the great man's land! But you, forsooth, thought yourself delicate, and young, and beautiful! fit to be a cup-bearer in heaven!
Will you ever bestow favors on a humble dependent, or be generous to one that pays you court, when you grudge even the money you spend on your unnatural gratifications? See the fellow! to whom you are to send a present of a green parasol and large amber bowls, as often as his birthday comes round, or rainy spring begins; or pillowed on his cushioned sofa, he fingers presents set apart for the female Kalends!
Tell me, you sparrow, for whom it is you are keeping so many hills, so many Apulian farms, so many kites wearied in flying across your pastures? Your Trifoline estate enriches you with its fruitful vines; and the hill that looks down on Cumae, and caverned Gaurus. Who seals up more casks of wine that will bear long keeping? How great a matter would it be to present the loins of your client, worn out in your service, with a few acres? Would yon rustic child, with his mother, and her hovel, and his playmate cur, more justly become the inheritance of your cymbal-beating friend? "You are a most importunate beggar!" he says: But Rent cries out to me "Beg!" My only slave calls on me to beg! loudly as Polyphemus with his one broad eye, by which the crafty Ulysses made his escape. I shall be compelled to buy a second, for this one is not enough for me; both must be fed. What shall I do in mid-winter? When the chill north wind whistles in December, what shall I say, pray, to my poor slaves' naked feet and shoulders? "Courage, my boys! and wait for the grasshoppers?" But however you may dissemble and pass by all other matters, at how much do you estimate it, that had I not been your devoted client your wife would still remain a maid? At all events, you know all about those services, how hard you begged, how much you promised! Often when your young wife was eloping, I caught her in my embrace. She had actually torn the marriage contract, and was on the point of signing a new one. It was with difficulty that I set this matter right by a whole night's work, while you stood whimpering outside the door. I appeal to the bed as my witness! nay, to yourself, who heard the noise, and the lady's cries! In many a house, when the marriage bonds were growing feeble and beginning to give way, and were almost severed, an adulterer has set all matters right. However you may shift your ground, whatever services you may reckon first or last, is it indeed no obligation, ungrateful and perfidious man! is it none, that you have an infant son or daughter born to you through me? For you bring them up as yours! and plume yourself on inserting at intervals in the public registers on your doors! You are now a father! I have given you what you may cast in slander's teeth! You have a father's privileges; through me you may inherit a legacy, yes, the whole sum left to you, not to mention some pleasant windfall! Besides, many other advantages will be added to these windfalls, if I make the number complete and add a third!"
"Your ground of complaint is just indeed, Naevolus; what does he allege in answer?"
"He casts me off, and looks out for some other two-legged ass to serve his turn! But remember that these secrets are intrusted to you alone; keep them to yourself, therefore, buried in the silence of your own breast; for one of these pumice-smoothed fellows is a deadly thing if he becomes your enemy. He that intrusted his secret to me but the other day, now is furious, and detests me just as though I had divulged all I know. He does not hesitate to use his dagger, to break my skull with a bludgeon, or place a firebrand at my doors: and deem it no light or contemptible matter that to men of his wealth the price of poison is never too costly. Therefore you must keep my secrets as religiously as the court of Mars at Athens."
"Oh! Corydon, poor simple Corydon! Do you think aught that a rich man does can be secret? Even though his slaves should hold their tongues, his cattle will tell the tale; and his dogs, and door-posts, and marble statues! Close the shutters, cover all the chinks with tapestry, fasten the doors, let each one keep his counsel, let not a soul lie near. Yet what he does at the second cock-crow, the next tavern-keeper will know before dawn of day; and will hear as well all the fabrications of his steward, cooks, and carvers. For what charge do they scruple to concoct against their masters, as often as they revenge themselves for their strappings by the lies they forge? Nor will there be wanting one to hunt you out against your will in the public thoroughfares, and pour his drunken tale into your miserable ears. Therefore ask them what you just now begged of me! They hold their tongues! Why they would rather blaze abroad a secret than drink as much Falernian (all the sweeter because stolen) as Saufeia used to drink, when sacrificing for the people!
"One should lead an upright life for very many reasons; but especially for this—that you may be able to despise your servants' tongues. For bad as your slave may be, his tongue is the worst part about him. Yet far worse still is he that places himself in the power of those whose body and soul he keeps together with his own bread and his own money.
"Well, the advice you have just given me to enable me to laugh to scorn my servants' tongues is very good, but too general. Now, what do you advise in my particular case, after the loss of my time and the disappointment of my hopes? For the short-lived bloom and contracted span of a brief and wretched life is fast fleeting away! While we are drinking, and calling for garlands, and perfumes, and women, old age steals on us unperceived! Do not be alarmed! So long as these seven hills stand fast you will never lack a pathic friend. Those effeminates, who scratch their heads with one finger, will flock from all quarters to these hills, in carriages and ships. You have still another and a better hope in store. All you have to do is to chew eringo vigorously." "Tell this to luckier wights! My Clotho and Lachesis are well content, if I can earn a subsistence by my vile labors. Oh! ye small Lares, that call me master, whom I supplicate with a fragment of frankincense, or meal, and a poor garland, when shall I secure a sum that may insure my old age against the beggar's mat and crutch? Twenty thousand sesterces as interest, with good security for the principal; some small vessels of silver not enchased, but such as Fabricius, if censor, would condemn; and two sturdy Moesian slaves, who, bearing me on their shoulders, might bid me stand without inconvenience in the noisy circus! Let me have besides an engraver stooping over his work, and another who may with all speed paint me a row of portraits. This is quite enough—since poor I ever shall be. A poor, wretched wish indeed! and yet I have no hope even of this! For when dame Fortune is invoked for me, she stops her ears with wax fetched from that ship which escaped the Sirens' songs with its deaf rower."
End of Woebegone by Juvenal