Vilius argentum est auro, virtutibus aurum.
‘o cives, cives, quaerenda pecunia primum est;
virtus post nummos!’ haec Ianus summus ab imo
prodocet, haec recinunt iuvenes dictata senesque
laevo suspensi loculos tabulamque lacerto.
est animus tibi, sunt mores, est lingua fidesque,
sed quadringentis sex septem milia desunt:
plebs eris. at pueri ludentes: ‘rex eris’ aiunt,
‘si recte facies’: hic murus aëneus esto
nil conscire sibi, nulla pallescere culpa.
Roscia, dic sodes, melior lex an puerorum est
nenia, quae regnum recte facientibus offert,
et maribus Curiis et decantata Camillis?
isne tibi melius suadet, qui ‘rem facias, rem,
si possis, recte, si non, quocumque modo rem,’
ut propius spectes lacrimosa poëmata Pupi,
an qui Fortunae te responsare superbae
liberum et erectum praesens hortatur et aptat?
(Horace, Ep. 1.1.52-69)
Of less worth than gold is silver, than virtue gold. “O citizens, citizens, money you first must seek; virtue after pelf.” This rule the Janus arcade proclaims from top to bottom; this is the lesson the old as well as the young are singing, “with slate and satchel slung over the left arm.” You have sense, you have morals, eloquence and honour, but there are six or seven thousands short of the four hundred*; you will be in the crowd. Yet boys at play cry; “You’ll be king, if you do right.”** Be this our wall of bronze, to have no guilt at heart, no wrongdoing to turn us pale. Tell me, pray, which is better, the Roscian law or the children’s jingle which offers a kingdom to those who “do right” — a jingle once trolled by the manly Curii and Camilli? Does he advise you better, who bids you “make money, money by fair means if you can, if not, by any means money,” and all that you may have a nearer view of the doleful plays of Pupius; or he who, an ever present help, urges and fits you to stand free and erect, and defy scornful Fortune ?
* Enrolment in the equites implied a fortune of 400,000 sesterces.
** The Scholiast gives the verse, which children sang in their game, thus:
réx erit quí recte faciet; quí non faciet, nón erit.
There is a pun in rex and recte.
(tr. Henry Rushton Fairclough, with some of his notes)