Juvenal Satire 3

In Juvenal's third satire, probably his most famous work, he attacks the squalor and indignity of life as a poor citizen in the bustling metropolis, comparing it unfavourably with the carefree village life.

You can read my version by itself here, or compare my version with Juvenal's original or with the versions of Dryden (1692), Johnson (1738, in London: A Satire, an curtailed adaptation), or Gifford (1802), all of whom use heroic couplets like I do.

Jack Mitchell (2001)

Although depressed because my long-time friend
Means to depart, I no less praise his ends:
To find a spot ’mong Cumae’s vacant lots —
One citizen at least the Sibyll’s got!
It's Baiae’s gate, an idyll by the sea
(Though even bleak Prochyta’s misery
Is no Subura. What’s so wretched, then,
So drear that you’d prefer a regimen
Of fear of fires and roofs e’er poised to fall,
This savage city’s thousand possible
Perils, and poets’ rants as usual
In August?) Still meanwhile my friend was dragging
All his belongings on a single wagon;
Pausing beneath the dewy, mossy growth
Where Numa used to plight his nightly troth,
The ancient arch of the Capenan Gate
(Though now they lease the place by weekly rate,
The goddess’ shrine, the grove, the sacred spring,
To Jews, with hampered hay their furnishing:
For every tree is worth its weight in tax:
The Muses gone, the wood is crammed with packs
Of bums). Together down Egeria’s vale
We strolled, the caves where artifice prevails:
How much more tangible the water-god
Might be, were but his stream-bed rimmed with sod,
Nor limestone with outrageous marble shod.
There spake Umbricius: “Since honest trade
Can find no home and toil goes unpaid
In Rome, my budget’s less than yesterday
Today, and still tomorrow whisks away
Still more, I plan on thither journeying
Where Daedalus put off his weary wings,
While yet my greying hairs are far and few
Between, old age is still erect and new,
Lachesis still has something to spin out,
And staffless I can bear myself about.
Good-bye, my country! Be Artorius’ site,
Or Catulus’, or theirs who make black white;
Let those who’ll take the contracts here remain
For temples, rivers, harbours, scraping drains,
Cremation, auctioneering slaves for gain.
One used to play the horn at small-town shows:
His puffed-out cheeks were known not long ago
In every village; now his shows are free:
T’ indulge the mob, his thumb is referee:
They slay his choice most democratically.
He and his kind will oversee the cess:
Indeed why not? Their birthright’s nothing less:
They’re Fortune’s prototype of simpleton
From rags to riches boosted just for fun.
What should I do in Rome? I never learned
To lie, nor bury books with praise unearned,
Then beg an autograph — can’t analyse
The path of constellations through the skies,
Nor could nor would I deign to organise
Another’s father’s funeral in advance;
I’ve never studied the significance
Of frog-guts; there are better connoisseurs
Of making brides adulterers’ overtures;
I’m no lieutenant for a thief, and thus
No governor’s aide-de-camp, and so they cuss
And call my handless, useless, meaningless.
Who prospers now but he who keeps a secret
Which boils his soul, and death to him that speaks it?
You’re worth less than one favour, not a cent,
If all you know is something innocent.
Verres loves the one who, when he choose,
Can have his Verres dangling from the noose.
Let not all shaded Tagus’ sand be worth
So much, nor all the gold within the earth
It seaward rolls, that from your sleep you start
Some day, and by the crafty toady’s art
Receive your share, then play the traitor’s part!
And now it’s time to mention that one race
So welcome ’mongst our millionaires, the face
Of one of whom’s enough to chase me home:
I cannot stand, o Quirites, a Rome
Of Greeks! Yet what percentage of the scum
Is actually Greek? The dredges of the slum
Have long been pouring like the Syrian
Orontes into Father Tiber’s run:
Its speech, its customs, slanted harps and more:
The pipes and ethnic drums, the racetrack whore:
She’s yours, if you’d a shawled wog trollop score!
My Roman friend, that small-town pal of yours
Wears trechidipna, many a perfume pours
Upon a neck that’s decked with gems galore.
This one’s from hilly Sicyon, but the other
Left Amydon, that one Andros, and his brother
From Samos — Tralles — Alabanda rather?
They left, and now they swarm the Esqualine
Or climb the wickerworker’s steep incline,
Our masters’ household pets, and soon enough
Masters themselves, so smoothly witty, tough
And tried in insolence, easy of speech
As thunder-storms or e’er Isaeus preached.
Check out that guy — guess his profession, please —
He’s brought a bag of personalities:
Teacher, wrestling-master, rhet’ritician,
Painter, dancer, augur, math’matician,
Or e’en astrologer, or e’en physician.
The ravenous Greekling has it all by heart:
Just say “Take off!” — he’ll to the sky depart.
(You know it was no Thracian or Sarmatian,
No Moor who first attempted aviation
But one in Athens’ alleys born.) So then,
Shall I not flee the glamour of such men?
Shall one such sign his name before my own,
At dinner sit before me, who was blown
Along with prunes and figs into this town?
Does no one care that as a babe I breathed
Th’ Aventine air, on Sabine berries teethed?
So what if these accomplished yes-men praise
An idiot’s wit, a friend’s deformèd face,
And say a sick man’s staulky neck is such
As Hercules’ own, when off the ground he clutched
Antaeus? Then they advertise delight
To hear a reedy voice just like a fight
’Twixt cock and hen! I too could try ’n ’ deceive,
The difference being, that they’re somehow believed.
Could any actor better play the schtick
Of Thais, of a wife or Doric chick
(Without a shawl, of course) — the very picture
Of womanhood — no thespian admixture —
You’d be astonished if below the belt
He had no cunt unplumbed, all tight and svelt!
For over there Antiochus fails to please,
Demetrius and even Stratocles
And supple Haemus find their fame can’t last:
Th’ entire nation’s one big slapstick cast.
You smile, at once he cackles and guffaws;
Without the slightest grief he weeps because
A friend’s in tears; if you in winter should
Suggest a fire, he dons his cloak and hood.
He starts to sweat if you declare it’s hot —
I can’t compare — what talent this guy’s got!
Anytime and anyplace to feign
Another’s mood, salute and praise th’ inane,
If e’er perchance a friend should belch concisely,
Or piss so far, so long, or so precisely,
Or someone’s golden ass should fart that nicely!
Moreover nothing’s sacred, nothing’s safe,
While yet his cock’s unleashed and free to strafe
The fam’ly: not the household matriarch,
Not virgin daughters — they’re the easy marks —
And not their future husbands, beardless still -
Then with the virtuous sons he’ll try his skill,
Or with his best friend’s grandma get a thrill
Or two, for lack of other darlings dear:
He wants the family secrets, then their fear.
And while we’re on the subject of the Greeks,
Turn to the schools, which heavier crimes bespeak:
As when the Stoic peached against his friend
And slew him, Barea, the reverend
Dottard’s own disciple, dottard nursed
Upon the river banks where the accursed
Gorgon’s winged stallion fell. Alas,
There’s no room for Romans, whilst this class
Of such Protogeneses tyrannous is,
All these Hermarchuses and Diphiluses,
Who by some national vice can never share
A friend; they hoard them, never can forbear
To drop into a ready ear an ounce
Of poison, theirs or Greece’s, and it counts:
I’m thrown out on my ass, with all the years
Of toadying down the drain at once; for ne’er
Were clients so disposable as here.
And anyway what’s the point if some poor man
Should bother hustling, dressed up spick and span
(We mustn’t spare ourselves), before the dawn,
When past the praetor drives the lictors on
And bids them run, since there’s so much at stake:
The widows twain have long been wide awake:
Lest Modia and Albina first be greeted
By his own august colleague, haste is needed!
The son of free-born folk must then give way
Before a rich man’s slave, who’ll gladly pay
A legion tribune’s salary to lay
Calvina or Catiena, though if you
Should fancy some well dressed-up whore you stew
And hesitate to help the Chio down
From her high seat — produce a man renowned
For piety to testify at Rome,
As pious as the host who ope’d his home
Unto th’ Idaean goddess — bring in Numa,
Or him who when the fire would consume a
Shine bore out Minerva safe and sound:
First of all they’ll ask him to expound
His fiscal status, last of all his morals:
How many slaves? His acreage senatoral?
The scale of silverware is paramount:
They don’t trust him, they trust his bank account.
Go on and swear by all the holy seats
Of Greece and Rome, they think a poor man cheats
Both thunderbolts and gods, who mercy mete
(The judges think) unto a laughing-stock
And butt for jokes, with torn and smudgèd smock,
A dirty toga, sandals gaping wide,
The leather torn apart on either side,
Where many a rent has oft been rectified
With stitches thick: for poverty in this
Is worst: it makes us look ridiculous.
“Get out,” he says, “for shame, this is the space
For Knights, you’re legally poor, so give this place
To sons of pimps, in any brothel bred:
The auctioneer’s best boy is billeted
Right here amidst the gladiator’s lads,
Beside the trainer’s sons”: for such was mad
Otho’s device, who classed us up ’mid ravings.
What son-in-law finds favour whose life-savings
Can’t match his girlfriend’s purse? What pauper named
An heir, or ever aedile-clerk acclaimed?
Rank on rank and file and row on row
Poor Romans should have left Rome long ago.
Of course advancement’s tough when energy
Suffers from impecuniosity,
But here at Rome it’s sheer futility.
Your wretched flat, your hungry slaves, and then
A frugal meal — you pay, you pay again,
You pay; you feel ashamed of your clay dishes,
Though actually your alter ego wishes
Nothing better at the Sabine table
Or Marsi, thanks the gods that he is able
T’ afford a rough blue cloak. If truth be told,
In most of Italy, ’tis only the stone cold
Corpses that wear the toga. Majesty
Itself! When holiday festivity
Brings people to the grassy theatre-glen,
With everybody’s favourite farce again
Taking the stage, and at the actor’s mask
The country baby cowers back aghast
T’ its mother’s lap — in such a place you’ll see
All dressed alike, cheap seats and V.I.P.,
Aediles themselves content with tunics white
To mark their sacred majesty and might.
But here by contrast Fashion reigns supreme:
The fashion-conscious person’s coffers teem
With heavy bills, the universal flaw:
For all ambitious poverty’s the law.
Yes, everything at Rome involves expense.
What’ll you pay to show your deference
To Cossus, or to get a second look
From old Veiento, with a smile crooked?
“It’s Beard- or Hair-Trim Day!” Come be regaled:
The house is teeming with hors d’oeurves - for sale;
The client wants a beer? Then suck on this:
We’re forced to subsidise the benefice,
Contribute to their cheeky servile chaps!
Whoever feared his building would collapse
At cool Praenest’, Volsinii’s woody site,
Or simple Gabii, or Tibur’s heights?
This town we call our home is mostly propped
With toothpicks: thus the landlord says he’s stopped
The toppling, tapes up cracks in th’ ancient wall,
And bids us never mind th’ impending fall.
Better from fire and nightly fear withdrawn
To live: already poor Ucalegon
Rescues his stuff and tries in vain to soak
The blaze; the third floor’s going up in smoke —
Meanwhile in ignorant bliss you’ve yet to learn —
Th’ alarm goes up from floor to floor in turn:
The topmost tenant’s soon the last to burn,
Whom from the wind and rain the rick’tiest
Clay tiles protect, where soft doves have their nest.
Codrus possessed a midget’s bed, six cups
To liven his poor marble shelving up,
A Chiron stretched beneath, a meagre jug,
And last of all a well-worn chest well snug
With little scrolls of Greek, though none too long:
For savage mice would gnaw th’ immortal songs.
Codrus had nothing — who’d deny it? Still,
He lost all that whole nothing, still downhill
His luck runs out: for though he beg and plead,
None will with food or shelter fill his need.
And yet should now Astoricus’ mansion tumble,
The princes mourn, the matron dresses humble,
And courts adjourn, and everybody mumbles
Against the city’s perils and hateful fire.
The place is still ablaze: some worthy sire
Arrives to offer marble by the cart;
Another will contribute works of art,
Bright likenesses; another something more
From Polyclitus’ hand or Euphranor’s,
Reserved for white-shoe’d deities heretofore;
The next provides a library complete
With wise Minerva’s bust, the next a neat
Sackful of silver; Persicus walks away
A rather richer man than yesterday:
The richest heirless man we’ve ever known,
Though ’bout himself he’s (true) suspicion sown
Of burning down the mansion on his own.
If you can bear to tear yourself away
From Circus-races, you might buy today
A villa near Frusino, even at
Fabrateria, Sora; here your flat
Your lightless hole, costs no less every year;
There you’ll have a garden, small and dear,
A shallow pool, its water simply drawn
Without a rope to wet the modest lawn:
Live there a hearty lover of the hoe,
Chief of a garden planted row on row,
With which you might a hundred feasts bestow
Upon the Pythagorians: for, you know,
Howe’er reclused, ’tis no minute reward
T’ have made yourself a single lizard’s lord.
Here many an invalid insomnia kills —
The undigested food will cause such ills
Itself, which up a heart-burned throat will leap -
What residence permits a good night’s sleep?
In town it costs a fortune just to snag an
Hour or two - hence sickness - with the wagons
Rumbling by through jammed up intersections,
The gridlocked shepherd’s foul-tongued interjections -
All told it’d plunder peace somniferous
From sea-cows, e’en from sleepy Claudius.
If he’s expected, then the rich man rides
Across the scrambling multitude, astride
His tall Liburnians, racing o’er our heads;
Inside, the curtains shut, it’s like a bed:
He reads, or writes, or sleeps, just as he likes,
And then arrives in time. Meanwhile we hike
Through seas of people in the way, amassed,
Crushing the heels of those ahead: one casts
His elbows to and fro, another swings
A solid cowlstaff back and forth while things
Are falling everywhere: one drops a plank
Upon my head, the next a teeming tank
Of wine, my shins are sloshed with mud that’s rank,
From every side they often crunch my foot,
The soldier’s hobnail ’pon my toe is put.
You understand the scale on which the dole
Is celebrated? Look how they’ll enroll
A hundred guests: a kitchen follows each,
And Corbulo himself might well beseech
You for a lightening of the load — such pots,
So huge, borne on the head, and fiery-hot,
Which some poor slave must, running by, contrive
To keep upright and puff the flame alive.
’Tis well-patched tunics which worse rents incur:
A wagon laden with the long-trunk’d fir
Rolls past, or with a pine-tree specimen
With teeters o’er the pale pedestrian;
If th’ axel with the Lunan marbl’ endowed
Should snap and dump its mountain on the crowd,
Whoever could distinguish corpse from corpse,
Produce a bone or limb, when th’ av’lanche warps
The poor man’s body like his soul? Still yet
At home the household, uninformed, will set
The table, light the stove, oil serviettes,
And have their bath; the slaves are occupied;
Meanwhile their master walks the riverside,
A stranger in the underworld, and quakes
To meet the dreadful boatman (he who takes
The souls across), can never rest among
His fellow dead, no coin beneath his tongue.
Now take the various other risks at night:
The pots which plummet from the giddy height
Of fourth-floor lodgings, blocked but by my brains —
With what deafening power a heavy rain
Of pitchers falls to gouge the sidewalk stones:
While you’ll be idly walking on your own
To dine, unmindful what the Fates have sown,
Your will unmade, you’ll face as many foes
As cops who walk the nightly beat: windows!
Select some good-luck charm, so that instead
Of pots mere bedpan crap may hit your head.
And if the drunken punk should somehow fail
To take somebody out, all night he’ll wail
Like Peleus’ son his friend; to no avail
He’ll toss and turn; for him no other kind
Of fun but fighting makes for peace of mind.
And yet however young and insolent
And raging drunk, he’s still obedient
If now a purple cloak should chance to pass
With lengthy train and flaming lamps of brass;
To me, who’s forced by candlelight to pick
My way, most careful with the del’cate wick,
Or yet to trust the moon, to me he’ll snarl:
Behold the opening battle of our quarrel,
battle’s an expression made to fit
A scene in which he punches me to bits.
H’ appears and bids me go my way no more;
I must obey (what else? How to ignore
A stronger man ferocious as a boar?):
“Where’ve you come from?” he growls. “Whose beans,
Whose wine have you been downing? Whose cuisine
Of boiled wether lips and leeks new sprung?
You and the cobbler? Eh? Cat got your tongue?
Talk or I’ll beat you up. Just where, you dog,
’S your spot for begging? Where’s your synagogue?”
You slink aside or find something to say;
It’s all the same, they’ll smash you anyway,
And then self-righteously demand their day
In court! For it’s the poor man’s legal right
Knocked black and blue, found guilty for the fight,
To swear he’s telling nothing but the truth
In vain, and plea deprived a many a tooth.
You’re still not safe: no lack of men to mug
You once the tavern doors are fastened snug
With heavy chains: the best of brigandhood
Will get to work, whene’er they purge the wood
Of Gallinaria, or sweep the marsh
Of Pomptina with armed policemen harsh:
Then all the vagabonds rush off to Rome
With sharpened knives, and make themselves at home;
So many fit for chains, you’d be afraid
We’d lack for wheelbarrows and hoes and spades;
You’d envy the forefathers of our sires,
You’d envy ancient centuries entire
Which, ere the kings’ and tribunes’ power failed,
Saw Rome content to keep a single jail.
And that’s not all; I might go on and on;
But look! The sunset sinks — I must be gone;
The mules are restless, and the muleteer
Shows with his whip he wants us out of here.
And so farewell, my friend! Remember me
Whenever you should come down hurriedly
From Rome to visit your Aquinum dear
And Ceres and Diana to revere;
Just send me word at Cumae, I’ll appear
In gardening boots, amid the great outdoors,
And humbly hear those
Satires of yours.