John Dryden (16311700). The Poems of John Dryden. 1913.
From Aulus Persius Flaccus: The Fourth Satyr
Argument of the Fourth Satyr
Our Author, living in the time of Nero, was Contemporary and Friend to the Noble Poet Lucan; both of them were sufficiently sensible, with all Good Men, how Unskilfully he managd the Commonwealth: And perhaps might guess at his future Tyranny, by some Passages, during the latter part of his first five years; tho he broke not out, into his great Excesses, while he was restraind by the Counsels and Authority of Seneca. Lucan has not spard him in the Poem of his Pharsalia: for his very Complement lookd asquint, as well as Nero. Persius has been bolder, but with Caution likewise. For here, in the Person of young Alcibiades, he arraigns his Ambition of meddling with State Affairs, without Judgment or Experience. Tis probable that he makes Seneca, in this Satyr, sustain the part of Socrates, under a borrowd Name. And, withal, discovers some secret Vices of Nero, concerning his Lust, his Drunkenness, and his Effeminacy, which had not yet arrivd to publick Notice. He also reprehends the Flattery of his Courtiers, who endeavourd to make all his Vices pass for Virtues. Covetousness was undoubtedly none of his Faults; but it is here described as a Veil cast over the True Meaning of the Poet, which was to Satyrize his Prodigality and Voluptuousness: to which he makes a transition. I find no Instance in History of that Emperors being a Pathique, though Persius seems to brand him with it. From the two dialogues of Plato, both calld Alcibiades, the Poet took the Arguments of the Second and Third Satyr, but he inverted the order of them: For the Third Satyr is taken from the first of those Dialogues.
The Commentatours before Casaubon were ignorant of our Authors secret meaning; and thought he had only written against Young Noblemen in General, who were too forward in aspiring to publick Magistracy: But this Excellent Scholiast has unravelld the whole Mystery: And made it apparent, that the Sting of this Satyr was particularly aimd at Nero.
Note 1. Socrates, whom the Oracle of Delphos praisd as the wisest Man of his Age, livd in the time of the Peloponnesian War. He, finding the Uncertainty of Natural Philosophy, applid himself wholly to the Moral. He was Master to Xenophon and Plato, and to many of the Athenian Young Noblemen; amongst the rest to Alcibiades, the most lovely Youth then living; Afterwards a Famous Captain, whose Life is written by Plutarch. [back]
Note 2. Pericles was Tutor, or rather Overseer of the Will of Clinias, Father to Alcibiades. While Pericles livd, who was a wise Man, and an Excellent Orator, as well as a Great General, the Athenians had the better of the War. [back]
Note 4. Canst punish Crimes, &c. That is by Death. When the Judges would Condemn a Male-factor, they cast their Votes into an Urn; as according to the Modern Custom, a Ballotting-Box. If the Suffrages were markd with [Theta] they signifyd the Sentence of Death to the Offendor, as being the first Letter of [Greek], which in English is Death. [back]
Note 5. Drink Hellebore, &c. The Poet woud say, that such an ignorant Young Man, as he here describes, is fitter to be governd himself, than to govern others. He therefore advises him to drink Hellebore, which purges the Brain. [back]
Note 6. Say, dost thou know Vectidius, &c. The Name of Vectidius is here usd Appellatively to signifie any Rich Covetous Man; though perhaps there might be a Man of that Name then living. I have Translated this passage paraphrastically, and loosely: And leave it to those to look on, who are not unlike the Picture. [back]
Note 8. When He shoud thanks, &c. Pan the God of Shepherds, and Pales the Goddess presiding over rural Affairs; whom Virgil invocates in the beginning of his Second Georgique. I give the Epithete of Better to Ceres, because she first taught the Use of Corn for Bread, as the Poets tell us; Men, in the first rude Ages, feeding only on Acorns or Mast instead of Bread. [back]
Note 10. Not five the Strongest, &c. The Learned Holiday, (who has made us amends for his bad Poetry in this and the rest of these Satyrs with his excellent Illustrations,) here tells us, from good Authority, that the Number Five does not allude to the Five Fingers of one Man, who usd them all in taking off the Hairs before mentiond; but to Five Strong Men, such as were skillful in the five robust Exercises then in Practice at Rome, and were performd in the Circus, or publick place, ordaind for them. These five he reckons up in this manner. 1 The Cæstus, or Whirlbatts, describd by Virgil, in his fifth Eneid: And this was the most dangerous of all the rest. The 2d was the Foot-race. The Third the Discus, like the throwing a weighty Ball, a sport now usd in Cornwall, and other parts of England: We may see it daily practisd in Red-Lyon-Fields. The Fourth was the Saltus, or Leaping: And the fifth Wrastling Naked and besmeard with Oyl. They who were Practisd in these five Manly Exercises were calld [Greek]. [back]
Note 12. If, with thy Guards, &c. Persius durst not have been so bold with Nero, as I dare now; and therefore there is only an intimation of that in him, which I publickly speak; I mean of Neros walking the Streets by Night in disguise; and committing all sorts of Outrages: For which he was sometimes well beaten. [back]
Note 13. Survey thy Soul, &c. That is, look into thy self, and examine thy own Conscience, there thou shalt find, that how wealthy soever thou appearst to the World, yet thou art but a Beggar: because thou art destitute of all Virtues, which are the Riches of the Soul. This also was a Paradox of the Stoick School. [back]