Sed veluti pueris absinthia taetra medentes
cum dare conantur, prius oras pocula circum
contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore,
ut puerorum aetas improvida ludificetur
labrorum tenus, interea perpotet amarum
absinthi laticem deceptaque non capiatur,
sed potius tali facto recreata valescat,
sic ego nunc, quoniam haec ratio plerumque videtur
tristior esse quibus non est tractata, retroque
volgus abhorret ab hac, volui tibi suaviloquenti
carmine Pierio rationem exponere nostram
et quasi musaeo dulci contingere melle,
si tibi forte animum tali ratione tenere
versibus in nostris possem, dum perspicis omnem
naturam rerum, qua constet compta figura.
(Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 1.936-950)
But as with children, when physicians try to administer rank wormwood, they first touch the rims about the cups with the sweet yellow fluid of honey, that unthinking childhood be deluded as far as the lips, and meanwhile may drink up the bitter juice of wormwood, and though beguiled be not betrayed, but rather by such means be restored and regain health, so now do I: since this doctrine commonly seems somewhat harsh to those who have not used it, and the people shrink back from it, I have chosen to set forth my doctrine to you in sweet-speaking Pierian song, and as it were to touch it with the Muses’ delicious honey, if by chance in such a way I might engage your mind in my verses, while you are learning to see in what shape is framed the whole nature of things. (tr. William Henry Denham Rouse, revised by Martin Ferguson Smith)
Tam magnus ex Asia veni, quam hic candelabrus est. ad summam, quotidie me solebam ad illum metiri, et ut celerius rostrum barbatum haberem, labra de lucerna ungebam. tamen ad delicias ipsimi annos quattuordecim fui. nec turpe est quod dominus iubet. ego tamen et ipsimae satis faciebam. scitis, quid dicam.
(Petronius, Sat. 75.10-11)
When I came from Asia I was the size of this here lampstand. In fact, every day I used to measure myself next to it, and so I’d get a beard on my beak faster, I smeared my lips with lamp oil. Still I was the toyboy of the Mister for 14 years. It’s not disgusting, what your owner orders. But me, I was satisfying the Mrs, too. You all know what I mean. (tr. Amy Richlin)
He pressed Chloe to give him all that he wanted and to lie together naked for longer than they used to before, since this was the last untried step in Philetas’ instructions, so that the sole antidote for love could take effect. She asked what more there was than kissing, hugging, and actually lying down, and what he meant to do once they were lying together naked. “What the rams are doing to the ewes,” he replied, “and the he-goats to the she-goats. Do you notice that after they do that, the females no longer run away from the males and the males no longer wear themselves out chasing the females, but instead they graze together afterwards as if having shared a mutual pleasure? Apparently this behavior has a sweetness that overcomes the bitterness of love.” “Don’t you also notice, Daphnis, that the rams and the he-goats stand when they do this, and the ewes and the she-goats stand when they have it done, the males hopping onto the females and the females carrying them on their backs? And you ask me to lie down with you, and naked to boot? Yet how much woollier these females are than I am, even with my clothes on!” Daphnis agreed. Reclining with her, he lay there a long time, and not knowing how to do any of what he grew taut for, he stood her up and clung to her from behind, imitating the he-goats. But much more frustrated than before, he sat down and started to weep, for being more inept than he-goats in making love. (tr. Jeffrey Henderson)
Would that all of time may, in this way, keep his prosperity and the gift of wealth on a straight course, and bring forgetfulness of troubles. Indeed he might remember in what kind of battles of war he stood his ground with an enduring soul, when, by the gods’ devising, they found honor such as no other Greek can pluck, a proud garland of wealth. But now he has gone to battle in the manner of Philoctetes; and under compulsion even a haughty man fawned on him for his friendship. They say that the god-like heroes went to bring from Lemnos that man afflicted with a wound, the archer son of Poeas, who sacked the city of Priam and brought an end to the toils of the Danaans; he went with a weak body, but it was fated. (tr. Diane Arnson Svarlien)
Primitias egomet lacrimarum et caedis acerbae,
ante tubas ferrumque, tuli, dum deside cura
credo sinus fidos altricis et ubera mando.
quidni ego? narrabat servatum fraude parentem
insontesque manus. en quam ferale putemus
abiurasse sacrum et Lemni gentilibus unam
immunem furiis! haec illa (et creditis) ausa,
haec pietate potens solis abiecit in arvis,
non regem dominumque, alienos impia partus,
hoc tantum, silvaeque infamis tramite liquit,
quem non anguis atrox (quid enim hac opus, ei mihi, leti
mole fuit?), tantum caeli violentior aura
impulsaeque noto frondes cassusque valeret
(Statius, Theb. 6.146-159)
I bore the first fruit of tears and untimely death before trumpet and sword, as caring but lazily I believed in a nurse’s trusty bosom and handed over my suckling. But why not? She told me how she had saved her father by cunning and kept her hands innocent. Look at her, this woman who we are to think abjured the deadly covenant, alone immune from the madness of her fellow Lemnians; this woman who thus dared (and you believe her), this woman, so strong in her devotion, undutifully cast off in a lonely field – I say not king or master but another’s child, just that, and left him on a track in an ill-famed wood. No frightful snake – what need, alas, for such a mass of death? – but merely a breeze blowing strong or leaves shaken by the wind or idle terror might have been enough to cause his end. (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)
Sertorius had a white fawn that was tame and allowed to move about freely. When this fawn was not in sight Sertorius considered it a bad omen. He became low-spirited and abstained from fighting; nor did he mind the enemy’s scoffing at him about the fawn. When she made her appearance running through the woods Sertorius would run to meet her, and, as though he were consecrating the first-fruits of a sacrifice to her, he would at once direct a hail of javelins at the enemy. (tr. Horace White)
And when Hephaestus heard the grievous tale*, he went his way to his smithy, pondering evil in the deep of his heart, and set on the anvil block the great anvil and forged bonds which might not be broken or loosed, that the lovers might bide fast where they were. But when he had fashioned the snare in his wrath against Ares, he went to his chamber where lay his bed, and everywhere round about the bed-posts he spread the bonds, and many too were hung from above, from the roof-beams, fine as spiders’ webs, so that no one even of the blessed gods could see them, so exceeding craftily were they fashioned. But when he had spread all his snare about the couch, he made as though he would go to Lemnos, that well-built citadel, which is in his eyes far the dearest of all lands.
* of the minstrel Demodocus, who sang how Aphrodite cheated on Hephaestus with Ares.