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John Dryden (1631–1700).  The Poems of John Dryden.  1913.
 
Translations
From Aulus Persius Flaccus: The Second Satyr.
Dedicated to his friend Plotius Macrinus, on his Birth-day
 
        
THE ARGUMENT
  This Satyr contains a most Grave, and Philosophical Argument, concerning Prayers and Wishes. Undoubtedly it gave occasion to Juvenal’s Tenth Satyr; And both of them had their Original from one of Plato’s dialogues, called the second Alcibiades. Our Author has induc’d it with great mastery of Art, by taking his rise from the Birth-day of his Friend; on which occasions, Prayers were made, and sacrifices offer’d by the Native. Persius commending the Purity of his Friend’s Vows, descends to the Impious and Immoral Requests of others. The Satyr is divided into three parts. The first is the Exordium to Macrinus, which the Poet confines within the compass of four Verses. The second relates to the matter of the Prayers and Vows, and an enumeration of those things, wherein Men commonly Sinn’d against right Reason, and Offended in their Requests. The Third part consists in shewing the repugnancies of those Prayers and Wishes, to those of other Men, and inconsistencies, with themselves. He shews the Original of these Vows, and sharply inveighs against them: and Lastly, not only corrects the false Opinion of Mankind concerning them, but gives the True Doctrine of all Addresses made to Heaven, and how they may be made acceptable to the Pow’rs above, in excellent Precepts, and more worthy of a Christian than a Heathen.

LET this auspicious Morning be exprest
With a white Stone, 1 distinguish’d from the rest:
White as thy Fame, and as thy Honour clear;
And let new Joys attend on thy new added year.
Indulge thy Genius, and o’reflow thy Soul,        5
Till thy Wit sparkle, like the chearful Bowl.
Pray; for thy Pray’rs the Test of Heav’n will bear;
Nor need’st thou take the Gods aside, to hear:
While others, ev’n the Mighty Men of Rome,
Big swell’d with Mischief, to the Temples come;        10
And in low Murmurs, and with costly Smoak,
Heav’ns Help, to prosper their black Vows, invoke.
So boldly to the Gods Mankind reveal,
What from each other they, for shame, conceal.
  Give me Good Fame, ye Pow’rs, and make me Just:        15
Thus much the Rogue to Publick Ears will trust:
In private then:—When wilt thou, mighty Jove,
My Wealthy Uncle from this World remove?
Or—O thou Thund’rer’s son, great Hercules, 2
That once thy bounteous Deity wou’d please        20
To guide my Rake, upon the chinking sound
Of some vast Treasure, hidden underground!
  O were my Pupil fairly knock’d o’ th’ head;
I should possess th’ Estate, if he were dead!
He’s so far gone with Rickets, and with th’ Evil,        25
That one small Dose wou’d send him to the Devil.
  This is my Neighbour Nerius his third Spouse,
Of whom in happy time he rids his House.
But my Eternal Wife!—Grant Heav’n I may
Survive to see the Fellow of his 3 Day!        30
Thus, that thou may’st the better bring about
Thy Wishes, thou art wickedly devout:
In Tiber ducking thrice, by break of day,
To wash th’ Obscenities of Night 4 away.
But prithee tell me, (’tis a small Request)        35
With what ill thoughts of Jove art thou possest?
Wou’dst thou prefer him to some Man? Suppose
I dip’d among the worst, and Staius chose?
Which of the two wou’d thy wise Head declare
The trustier Tutor to an Orphan Heir?        40
Or, put it thus:—Unfold to Staius, straight,
What to Jove’s Ear thou didst impart of late:
He’ll stare, and, O Good Jupiter! will cry;
Can’st thou indulge him in this Villany?
And think’st thou, Jove himself, with patience, then,        45
Can hear a Pray’r condemn’d by wicked men?
That, void of Care, he lolls supine in state,
And leaves his Bus’ness to be done by Fate?
Because his Thunder splits some burly Tree,
And is not darted at thy House and Thee?        50
Or that his Vengeance falls not at the time,
Just at the Perpetration of thy Crime;
And makes Thee a sad Object of our Eyes,
Fit for Ergenna’s 5 Pray’r and Sacrifice?
What well-fed Off’ring to appease the God,        55
What pow’rful Present to procure a Nod,
Hast thou in store? What Bribe hast thou prepar’d,
To pull him, thus unpunish’d, by the Beard?
  Our Superstitions with our life begin:
Th’ Obscene old Grandam, or the next of Kin,        60
The New-born Infant from the Cradle takes,
And first of Spettle a Lustration 6 makes:
Then in the Spawl her Middle Finger dips,
Anoints the Temples, Forehead, and the Lips,
Pretending force of Witchcraft 7 to prevent,        65
By virtue of her nasty Excrement.
Then dandles him with many a mutter’d Pray’r,
That Heav’n wou’d make him some rich Miser’s Heir,
Lucky to Ladies, and, in time, a King,
Which to insure, she adds a length of Navel-string.        70
But no fond Nurse is fit to make a Pray’r:
And Jove, if Jove be wise, will never hear;
Not tho’ she prays in white, with lifted hands:
A Body made of Brass the Crone demands
For her lov’d Nurseling, strung with Nerves of Wire,        75
Tough to the last, and with no toil to tire:
Unconscionable Vows! which when we use,
We teach the Gods, in Reason, to refuse.
Suppose They were indulgent to thy Wish:
Yet the fat Entrails, in the spatious Dish,        80
Wou’d stop the Grant: The very overcare,
And nauseous pomp, wou’d hinder half the Pray’r.
Thou hop’st with Sacrifice of Oxen slain
To compass Wealth, and bribe the God of Gain,
To give thee Flocks and Herds, with large increase;        85
Fool! to expect ’em from a Bullock’s Grease!
And think’st, that when the fatten’d Flames aspire,
Thou seest th’ accomplishment of thy desire!
Now, now, my bearded Harvest gilds the plain,
The scanty Folds can scarce my Sheep contain,        90
And show’rs of Gold come pouring in amain!
Thus dreams the Wretch, and vainly thus dreams on,
Till his lank Purse declares his Money gone.
  Shou’d I present thee with rare figur’d Plate,
Or Gold as rich in Workmanship as Weight;        95
O how thy rising heart wou’d throb and beat,
And thy left side, with trembling pleasure, sweat!
Thou measur’st by thy self the Pow’rs Divine;
Thy Gods are burnish’d Gold, and Silver is their Shrine.
Thy puny Godlings of inferior Race,        100
Whose humble Statues are content with Brass,
Should some of These, in Visions purg’d from fleam, 8
Foretel Events, or in a Morning Dream;
Ev’n those thou wou’dst in Veneration hold;
And, if not Faces, give ’em Beards of Gold.        105
The Priests, in Temples, now no longer care
For Saturn’s Brass, 9 or Numa’s Earthen-ware; 10
Or Vestal Urns, in each Religious Rite:
This wicked Gold has put ’em all to flight.
O Souls, in whom no heav’nly Fire is found,        110
Fat Minds, and ever groveling on the ground!
We bring our Manners to the blest Abodes,
And think what pleases us, must please the Gods.
Of Oyl and Casia one th’ Ingredients takes,
And, of the Mixture, a rich Ointment makes:        115
Another finds the way to dye in Grain:
And make Calabrian Wool 11 receive the Tyrian Stain:
Or from the Shells their Orient Treasure takes,
Or, for their golden Ore, in Rivers rakes;
Then melts the Mass: All these are Vanities!        120
Yet still some Profit from their Pains may rise:
But tell me, Priest, if I may be so bold,
What are the Gods the better for this Gold?
The Wretch that offers from his wealthy Store
These Presents, bribes the Pow’rs to give him more:        125
As maids to Venus 12 offer Baby-Toys,
To bless the Marriage-Bed with Girls and Boys.
But let us for the Gods a Gift prepare,
Which the Great Man’s great Chargers cannot bear:
A Soul, where Laws both Humane and Divine,        130
In Practice more than Speculation shine:
A genuine Virtue, of a vigorous kind,
Pure in the last recesses of the Mind:
When with such Off’rings to the Gods I come,
A Cake, thus giv’n, 13 is worth a Hecatomb.

The End of the Second Satyr.
        135
 
Note 1. White Stone. The Romans were us’d to mark their Fortunate Days, or any thing that luckily befell ’em, with a White Stone which they had from the Island Creta; and their Unfortunate with a Coal. [back]
Note 2. Hercules was thought to have the Key and Power of bestowing all hidden Treasure. [back]
Note 3. his] Some editors wrongly give this. [back]
Note 4. The Antients thought themselves tainted and polluted by Night it self, as well as bad Dreams in the Night, and therefore purifi’d themselves by washing their Heads and Hands every Morning; which Custom the Turks observe to this day. [back]
Note 5. When any one was Thunderstruck, the Sooth-sayer (who is here call’d Ergenna) immediately repair’d to the place to expiate the displeasure of the Gods, by sacrificing two Sheep. [back]
Note 6. The Poets laughs at the superstitious Ceremonies, which the Old Women made use of in their Lustration or Purification Days, when they nam’d their Children, which was done on the Eighth day to Females and on the Ninth to Males. [back]
Note 7. Witchcraft] The editors strangely give Magic. [back]
Note 8. In Visions purg’d from Fleam, &c. It was the Opinion both of Grecians and Romans that the Gods, in Visions or Dreams, often reveal’d to their Favourites a Cure for their Diseases, and sometimes those of others. Thus Alexander dreamt of an Herb which cur’d Ptolomy. These Gods were principally Apollo and Esculapius; but, in after times, the same Virtue and Good-will was attributed to Isis and Osiris. Which brings to my remembrance an odd passage in Sir Tho. Brown’s Religio Medici, or in his vulgar Errours; the sense whereof is, That we are beholding, for many of our Discoveries in Physick, to the courteous Revelation of Spirits. By the Expression of Visions purg’d from Phlegm our Author means such Dreams or Visions as proceed not from Natural Causes, or Humours of the Body; but such as are sent from Heaven, and are therefore certain Remedies. [back]
Note 9. For Saturn’s Brass, &c. Brazen Vessels, in which the Publick Treasure (Treasures 1700.) of the Romans was kept. It may be the Poet means only old Vessels which were all call’d Kpovia, from the Greek Name of Saturn. Note also that the Roman Treasury was in the Temple of Saturn. [back]
Note 10. Numa’s Earthen-ware. Under Numa, the second King of Rome, and for a long time after him, the Holy Vessels for Sacrifice were of Earthen Ware: according to the Superstitious Rites, which were introduc’d by the same Numa: Tho’ afterwards, when Memmius had taken Corinth, and Paulus Æmilius had conquer’d Macedonia, Luxury began amongst the Romans, and then their Utensils of Devotion were of Gold and Silver, &c. [back]
Note 11. And make Calabrian Wooll, &c. The Wooll of Calabria was of the finest sort in Italy, as Juvenal also tells us. The Tyrian Stain is the Purple Colour dy’d at Tyrus, and I suppose, but dare not positively affirm, that the richest of that Dye was nearest our Crimson, and not Scarlet, or that other Colour more approaching to the Blue. I have not room to justifie my Conjecture. [back]
Note 12. As maids to Venus, &c. Those Baby-Toys were little Babies, or Poppets, as we call them; in Latin Pupæ; which the girls, when they came to the Age of puberty, or Child-bearing, offer’d to Venus; as the Boys at Fourteen or Fifteen years of age offer’d their Bullæ, or Bosses. [back]
Note 13. A Cake thus given, &c. A Cake of Barley, or course Wheat-meal, with the Bran in it: The meaning is that God is pleas’d with the pure and spotless heart of the Offerer; and not with the Riches of the offering. Laberius in the Fragments of his Mimes has a Verse like this: Puras Deus, non plenas, aspicit Manus.—What I had forgotten before in its due place, I must here tell the Reader: That the first half of this Satyr was translated by one of my Sons, now in Italy: But I thought so well of it, that I let it pass without any Alteration. [back]
 
 
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