Cum prorepserunt primis animalia terris,
mutum et turpe pecus, glandem atque cubilia propter
unguibus et pugnis, dein fustibus atque ita porro
pugnabant armis, quae post fabricaverat usus,
donec verba, quibus voces sensusque notarent,
nominaque invenere; dehinc absistere bello,
oppida coeperunt munire et ponere leges,
ne quis fur esset neu latro neu quis adulter.
nam fuit ante Helenam cunnus taeterrima belli
causa, sed ignotis perierunt mortibus illi,
quos venerem incertam rapientis more ferarum
viribus editior caedebat ut in grege taurus.
iura inventa metu iniusti fateare necesse est,
tempora si fastosque velis evolvere mundi.
nec natura potest iusto secernere iniquum,
dividit ut bona diversis, fugienda petendis,
nec vincet ratio hoc, tantundem ut peccet idemque,
qui teneros caules alieni fregerit horti
et qui nocturnus sacra divum legerit. adsit
regula, peccatis quae poenas irroget aequas,
ne scutica dignum horribili sectere flagello.
(Horace, Serm. 1.3.99-109)
When the first living creatures crawled on primeval Earth,
mute, formless beasts, they fought for their food and shelter
with claws and fists, and then with sticks, and so on up
fighting with the weapons that experience had forged,
until they found words, to give meaning to feelings
and cries, and then names. They began to shun war,
they started to lay out towns and to lay down laws,
by which no man might be thief, brigand, or adulterer.
Even before Helen’s day cunts were a dire cause for battle,
but those who snatched promiscuous love like beasts
and were killed like a bull in the herd by a stronger bull,
died an unsung death. If you want to study the record
of those past ages of the world, you’ll be forced to accept
that justice was created out of the fear of injustice.
Nature doesn’t, can’t, distinguish between right and wrong,
as she does between sweet and sour, attractive and hostile:
and Reason can never show its the same offence
to cull fresh cabbages out of a neighbour’s garden
as to steal the god’s sacred emblems by night: let’s have
rules, to lay down a fair punishment for every crime,
lest we flay with the terrible whip what merits the strap.
(tr. Tony Kline)