This is part 1 of 2. Part 2 is here.
O curas hominum! o quantum est in rebus inane!
“quis leget haec?” min tu istud ais? nemo hercule.
“nemo?” vel duo vel nemo. “turpe et miserabile.” quare?
ne mihi Polydamas et Troiades Labeonem
praetulerint? nugae. non, si quid turbida Roma
elevet, accedas examenve inprobum in illa
castiges trutina nec te quaesiveris extra.
nam Romae quis non—a, si fas dicere—sed fas
tum cum ad canitiem et nostrum istud vivere triste
aspexi ac nucibus facimus quaecumque relictis,
cum sapimus patruos. tunc tunc—ignoscite (nolo,
quid faciam?) sed sum petulanti splene—cachinno.
scribimus inclusi, numeros ille, hic pede liber,
grande aliquid quod pulmo animae praelargus anhelet.
scilicet haec populo pexusque togaque recenti
et natalicia tandem cum sardonyche albus
sede leges celsa, liquido cum plasmate guttur
mobile collueris, patranti fractus ocello.
tunc neque more probo videas nec voce serena
ingentis trepidare Titos, cum carmina lumbum
intrant et tremulo scalpuntur ubi intima versu.
tun, vetule, auriculis alienis colligis escas,
articulis quibus et dicas cute perditus “ohe”?
(Persius, Sat. 1.1-23)
[POET] “How troubled is humanity! How very empty is life!”
[INTERLOCUTOR] Who’ll read that?
[POET] Are you talking to me? No one, for God’s sake.
[INTERLOCUTOR] No one?
[POET] Perhaps one or two.
[INTERLOCUTOR] That’s disgraceful and pathetic.
[POET] Why’s that? Because Polydamas and the Trojan dames* might prefer Labeo** to me? Rubbish! If muddled Rome disparages something, don’t step in to correct the faulty balance in those scales and don’t search outside yourself. The reason? Is there anyone at Rome who doesn’t—oh, if only I could say it—but I may, when I look at our grey heads and that gloomy life of ours and everything we’ve been doing since we gave up our toys, since we started sounding like strict uncles. Then, then—excuse me (I don’t want to, I can’t help it), but I’ve got a cheeky temper—I cackle.
We shut ourselves away and write some grand stuff, one in verse, another in prose, stuff which only a generous lung of breath can gasp out. And of course that’s what you will finally read to the public from your seat on the platform, neatly combed and in your fresh toga, all dressed in white and wearing your birthday ring of sardonyx, after you have rinsed your supple throat with a liquid warble, in a state of enervation with your orgasmic eye. Then, as the poetry enters their backsides and as their inmost parts are tickled by verse vibrations, you can see huge Tituses*** quivering, both their respectable manner and their calm voice gone. What, you old reprobate, do you compose morsels for other people’s ears, morsels which would make even you, with your joints and skin decayed, say, “Enough!”?
* I.e. his critics: an allusion to Hom. Il. 22.99-130 where Hector fears criticism from Polydamas and the Trojan men and women. “Dames” is a sneer at the alleged Trojan ancestry of some of the Roman elite.(tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with some of her notes)
** Attius Labeo was a poet under Nero who translated Homer’s Iliad.
*** Titus designates an ordinary Roman.