These were the things I hoped my prayers would bring:
some land, a kitchen garden and a spring
that’s always flowing by a house below
a modest stand of trees. The gods bestow
on me far more and better; I am content.
Except to make these blessings permanent,
O son of Maia, I won’t try to gain
by asking more of you. If I refrain
from adding assets by malevolence
or causing losses through my negligence
and waste; if I don’t offer prayers like these:
“O let me own abutting properties
intruding into mine; for they distort
the borders of my farm!”
“O let some sort
of lucky break provide me with a pot
of silver, like that guy who, when he got
his treasure, bought and plowed the very land
on which he labored as a hired hand,
and so became enriched by being tied
If I am satisfied,
and grateful for my personal possessions,
I beseech you for these intercessions:
fatten up my flocks and the domain
that I am master of—except my brain—
and, as you have invariably been,
remain my most important guardian.
So when I’ve left the city life to stay
secure within my mountain hideaway,
how should I first illuminate my views
through satire with my heavy-footed Muse?
My vain ambitions haven’t brought me low,
and neither have the southern winds that blow
oppressively as autumn’s bleakness offers
vicious Libitina fuller coffers.
Father of dawn or, as you would prefer
to be called, “Ianus,” for whom people stir
while starting labors, as the gods decree,
when I begin this lyric, sing with me!
In Rome you send me off to testify
about some friend:
“Move! Others could reply
before you! Keep on pushing!”
One must go
despite the fact a northern wind may blow
or winter drags the snowy days in arcs
of smaller size. My pain and clear remarks
may haunt me someday when I feel the crush
of people in the street and have to brush
aside the slow.
“What do you mean by that,
you madman?” and “What are you driving at?”
(a dirtbag curses me and vents his wrath)
“Must everything be shoved out of your path
if you’re returning to Maecenas filled
with memories of him?”
For sure, I’m thrilled,
and it’s like honey, but when I return
to the grim Esquiline, the people churn
around me with their hundreds of requests
for business guidance:
tomorrow you should meet him at the Well
before the second hour”
at Treasury request you not forget,
Quintus, to come back for a meeting set
for later in this day about some new,
important business critical to you
“Have Maecenas certify
this stack of forms!”
If you respond, “I’ll try!”
he adds, “With work you can!” and will not bend.
The seventh year—almost the eighth—will end
before long if it’s measured from the date
Maecenas started to assimilate
me in his group—like someone you would take
along while on a carriage ride to make
some chit-chat such as:
“Is this sundial right?”
“So, is the Thracian Chicken a fair fight
“These new morning frosts will freeze
you if you let them!”
and the pleasantries
we safely drop into a leaky ear.
Through every day and hour of the year,
he feels more jealousy from everyone.
The people call him “Fortune’s favored son”
for joining “him” at games or Campus play.
A chilling bit of gossip makes its way
from Rostra to the streets; if I’m around,
the passers-by will ask me to expound.
“Dear fellow, you must know! What have you heard?
You hang with gods—you must have gotten word
about the Dacians!”
“I have nothing. No.”
“You’re such a joker!”
“If it is not so,
the gods may strike me dumb!”
“What? Will there be
land grants in Italy or Sicily
when Caesar gives the veterans their due?”
When I assert my ignorance, it’s true
they marvel at the only mortal man
who holds his tongue as often as he can.
These kinds of useless things consume my days,
which aren’t devoid of prayers:
“When will I gaze
on you, O country house, and can devour
the books of ancient authors, waste an hour,
and sleep so I, oblivious to strife
connected with an ordinary life,
“O when will they serve the beans
(Pythagoras’ relatives) and greens
with bacon grease in adequate supply?”
O nights and feasts of gods! My friends and I
would feed ourselves before my Lar and make
a gift to them from what we ate, then take
the rest to shameless servants. With insane
restrictions loosened, any guest could drain
a cup of any strength as he saw fit
so any one of them could guzzle it
unwatered, while a wimp could marinate
more sweetly, which thus would provoke debate—
though not about some mansion or retreat
or whether Lepos lacks a dancer’s feet—
but things of more significant concern
and which are detrimental not to learn:
Does wealth or virtue give men satisfaction?
What leads to friendship—calculated action
or correct actions?
And what will reveal
the nature of the good and its ideal?
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 26 Number 3, on page 42
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