This is part 2 of 2. Part 1 is here.

“Quo didicisse, nisi hoc fermentum et quae semel intus
innata est rupto iecore exierit caprificus?”
en pallor seniumque! o mores, usque adeone
scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter?
“at pulchrum est digito monstrari et dicier ‘hic est.’
ten cirratorum centum dictata fuisse
pro nihilo pendes?” ecce inter pocula quaerunt
Romulidae saturi quid dia poemata narrent.
hic aliquis, cui circum umeros hyacinthina laena est,
rancidulum quiddam balba de nare locutus
Phyllidas, Hypsipylas, vatum et plorabile siquid,
eliquat ac tenero subplantat verba palato.
adsensere viri: nunc non cinis ille poetae
felix? non levior cippus nunc inprimit ossa?
laudant convivae: nunc non e manibus illis,
nunc non e tumulo fortunataque favilla
nascentur violae? “rides” ait “et nimis uncis
naribus indulges. an erit qui velle recuset
os populi meruisse et cedro digna locutus
linquere nec scombros metuentia carmina nec tus?”
(Persius, Sat. 1.24-43)

[INTERLOCUTOR] What’s the point of studying, if this yeast, this wild fig tree*,  once it’s taken root inside, can’t rupture the liver and burst out?
[POET] So that’s why you are so pale and decrepit! Appalling! Is your knowledge so worthless unless someone else knows that you know it?
[INTERLOCUTOR] But it’s splendid to be pointed out and to hear people say: “That’s him!” Is it worth nothing to you to be the dictation text of a hundred curly-headed boys?
[POET] Look—the sons of Romulus, stuffed full, are enquiring over their cups what’s new from divine poesy. At this point, someone with a hyacinth wrap around his shoulders, snorting and lisping some nauseating stuff, filters his Phyllises and Hypsipyles**, the typical tear-jerking stuff of bards, tripping up the words on the roof of his delicate mouth. The great men nod in approval. Are your poet’s ashes not blissful now? Does the tombstone not rest more lightly on his bones now? The guests applaud: will violets not spring from those remains, from that tomb and from that blessed ash now?
[INTERLOCUTOR] You’re mocking me, he says, and letting your nostrils sneer too much. Is there anyone who would disown the desire to earn the praise of the people?—or, when he’s produced compositions good enough for cedar oil***, to leave behind him poetry which has nothing to fear from mackerels or incense****? 

* The wild fig tree was renowned for the power of its roots to dislodge stones.
** Two inconsolable heroines.
*** Cedar oil was used to preserve books.
**** A reference to the traditional fate of bad poetry (cf. Cat. 95.9, Hor. Ep. 2.1.269-270): to be used as wrapping paper by shopkeepers.

(tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with her notes)


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.
[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.
** Attius Labeo was a poet under Nero who translated Homer’s Iliad.
*** Titus designates an ordinary Roman.

(tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with some of her notes)


“Mens bona, fama, fides,” haec clare et ut audiat hospes;
illa sibi introrsum et sub lingua murmurat: “o si
ebulliat patruus, praeclarum funus!” et “o si
sub rastro crepet argenti mihi seria dextro
Hercule! pupillumve utinam, quem proximus heres
impello, expungam! nam et est scabiosus et acri
bile tumet. Nerio iam tertia conditur uxor.”
haec sancte ut poscas, Tiberino in gurgite mergis
mane caput bis terque et noctem flumine purgas.
heus age, responde (minimum est quod scire laboro)
de Iove quid sentis?
(Persius, Sat. 2.8-17)

“Good sense, reputation, credit” – that’s what he says out loud, even for strangers to hear, but this is what he mutters to himself under his tongue: “Oh, if only uncle would pop off, I’d give him a splendid funeral!” and “If only Hercules would favour me and make a pot of silver chink beneath my hoe!”* Or “I wish I could wipe out my ward – I’m right behind him, the next to inherit. After all, he suffers from eczema and is swollen with jaundice. Nerius is already burying his third wife.” To make these requests piously, you plunge your head twice and three times in the morning in Tiber’s flow and clean away the night’s thoughts in river water. Hey then, tell me (it’s a tiny thing I strive to know), what is your view of God?”

* Hercules was the god associated with hidden treasure.

(tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with her note)



“‘Inspice, nescio quid trepidat mihi pectus et aegris
faucibus exsuperat gravis halitus, inspice sodes’
qui dicit medico, iussus requiescere, postquam
tertia compositas vidit nox currere venas,
de maiore domo modice sitiente lagoena
lenia loturo sibi Surrentina rogabit.
‘heus bone, tu palles.’ ‘nihil est.’ ‘videas tamen istuc,
quidquid id est. surgit tacite tibi lutea pellis.’
‘at tu deterius palles, ne sis mihi tutor.
iam pridem hunc sepeli; tu restas.’ ‘perge, tacebo.’
turgidus hic epulis atque albo ventre lavatur,
gutture sulpureas lente exhalante mefites.
sed tremor inter vina subit calidumque trientem
excutit e manibus, dentes crepuere retecti,
uncta cadunt laxis tunc pulmentaria labris.
hinc tuba, candelae, tandemque beatulus alto
compositus lecto crassisque lutatus amomis
in portam rigidas calces extendit. at illum
hesterni capite induto subiere Quirites.”
(Persius, Sat. 3.88-106)

“‘Examine me. I’ve got strange palpitations in my chest, a sore throat, and my breathing comes hard. Please examine me.’ That’s what he says to his doctor. He’s ordered to take it easy, but when the third night sees his veins running steady, he’ll be round at a rich friend’s house with a pretty thirsty flagon, asking for mild Sorrentine1 to drink at the baths. ‘Hey, you’re looking pale, my friend.’ ‘It’s nothing.’ ‘Well, you should see to it, whatever it is. Your hide’s going puffy and yellow on you.’ ‘Well, ‘I’m not as pale as you. Don’t play the guardian. I buried mine a long time ago, but you’re still here.’ ‘OK, carry on, I’ll shut up.’ Stuffed from his feast this one goes to bathe, his belly white, his throat emitting long sulphurous stenches. But as he drinks, a fit of shivers comes over him and knocks the hot glass out of his hands, his bared teeth chatter, then the lavish flavourings slide from his slack lips. Then come the trumpet and candles, and finally the dear deceased, laid out on a high bier and plastered thick with perfumed balm, sticks out his stiff heels towards the door. And it’s yesterday’s new citizens2 wearing their new hats that carry him out.”

1 A light wine from Sorrento, recommended for invalids.
2 I.e. the slaves given their freedom and citizenship in the dead man’s will. They wear the cap of liberty (pilleum), cf. 5.82

(tr. Susanna Morton Braund, with her notes)