Census

Pile of golden coins isolated on white

Heu misera in nimios hominum petulantia census!
caecus inutilium quo ruit ardor opum,
auri dira fames et non expleta libido
ferali pretio vendat ut omne nefas!
sic latebras Eriphyla viri patefecit, ubi aurum
accepit, turpis materiam sceleris;
sic quondam Acrisiae in gremium per claustra puellae
corruptore auro fluxit adulterium.
o quam mendose votum insaturabile habendi
imbuit infami pectora nostra malo!
quamlibet immenso dives vigil incubet auro,
aestuat augendae dira cupido rei.
heu mala paupertas numquam locupletis avari!
dum struere immodice quod tenet optat, eget.
quis metus hic legum quaeve est reverentia veri,
crescenti nummo si mage cura subest?
cognatorum animas promptum est patrumque cruorem
fundier: affectus vincit avara fames.
divitis est, semper fragiles male quaerere gazas:
nulla huic in lucro cura pudoris erit.
istud templorum damno excidioque requirit;
hoc caelo iubeas ut petat: inde petet.
mirum ni pulchras artes Romana iuventus
discat et egregio sudet in eloquio,
ut post iurisonae famosa stipendia linguae
barbaricae ingeniis anteferantur opes.
at qui sunt, quos propter honestum rumpere foedus
audeat illicite pallida avaritia?
Romani sermonis egent, ridendaque verba
frangit ad horrificos turbida lingua sonos.
sed tamen ex cultu appetitur spes grata nepotum?
saltem istud nostri forsan honoris habent?
ambusti torris species, exesaque saeclo
amblant ut priscis corpora de tumulis!
perplexi crines, frons improba, tempora pressa,
exstantes malae deficiente gena,
simataeque iacent pando sinuamine nares,
territat os nudum caesaque labra tument.
defossum in ventrem propulso pondere tergum
frangitur et vacuo crure tument genua.
decolor in malis species, hoc turpius illud,
quod cutis obscure pallet in invidiam.
(Sulpicius Lupercus Servasius Junior, De Cupiditate)

Alas for the wretched craving after excessive incomes! What is the end on which the blind passion for useless wealth rushes, so that the cursed hunger for gold and greed unsatisfied may barter any enormity for a recompense fraught with destruction? Thus it was that Eriphyla betrayed her husband’s hiding-place when she received the gold that was the cause of her foul crime: thus it was that long ago through prison-bars there rained in corrupting gold an adulterous stream on the lap of Acrisius’ daughter. How culpably the unquenchable longing for possession stains our hearts with scandalous wickedness! However boundless the gold o’er which Dives broods wakefully, within there seethes the accursed lust for adding to his wealth. Alas for the baleful poverty of the miser who is never rich! His desire for a limitless heap of what he holds makes him a beggar. What fear is here of laws, what respect for what is fair, if ‘neath his growing bullion-heap there lurk still more the pains of greed? Taking the lives of kinsmen, shedding a father’s blood comes readily to his mind: miserly hunger masters feeling. An evil quest after frail treasures is ever the rich man’s way: in the matter of gain he will have no qualms of shame. Such gain it is he pursues, though it mean loss or destruction to temples: bid him seek this in heaven and from heaven he will fetch it. It is not unlikely that the young men of Rome learn fine accomplishments and sweat at distinguished rhetoric only in order that, after the glorious campaigns of an eloquent lawyer’s tongue, they may prize barbaric wealth above talent. Yet who are those (glib pleaders) thanks to whom pale avarice ventures on the forbidden crime of breaking an honourable compact ? They are beggared of Latin style, and their confused jargon minces ridiculous words to an accompaniment of shocking sounds. Yet does their dress prompt the younger generation to indulge pleasing hopes (of legacies)? Have they mayhap such a share at least of our Roman dignity? No, theirs is the appearance of a burnt-out firebrand: they walk like skeletons gnawed by time from ancient graves! Their hair is tangled, forehead impudent, temples thin, jaws protruding while their cheeks are sunken, and their flattened nostrils rest on a tip-tilted curve: the toothless mouth is a terror and the chapped lips are swollen. Forced down by the impetus of weight, back sinks to belly; and the knees swell on a shrunken leg. Sallow is the look of their jaws, and it is an uglier feature that the skin wears a mysterious pallor suggestive of envy. (tr. John Wight Duff & Arnold M. Duff)

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