Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
 
On Praise and Punishments
By Horace (65–8 B.C.)
 
From “Satires,” translated by John Conington

ALL singers have a fault: if asked to use
Their talent among friends, they never choose;
Unask’d, they ne’er leave off. Just such a one
Tigellius was, Sardinia’s famous son.
Cæsar, who could have forced him to obey,        5
By his sire’s friendship and his own might pray,
Yet not draw forth a note; then, if the whim
Took him, he’d troll a bacchanalian hymn
From top to bottom of the tetrachord,
Till the last course was set upon the board.        10
One mass of inconsistence, oft he’d fly
As if the foe were following in full cry,
While oft he’d stalk with a majestic gait,
Like Juno’s priest in ceremonial state.
Now, he would keep two hundred serving-men,        15
And now, a bare establishment of ten.
Of kings and tetrarchs with an equal’s air
He’d talk; next day he’d breathe the hermit’s prayer:
“A table with three legs, a shell to hold
My salt, and clothes, though coarse, to keep out cold.”        20
Yet give this man, so frugal, so content,
A thousand, in a week ’twould all be spent.
All night he would sit up, all day would snore;
So strange a jumble ne’er was seen before.
  “Hold!” some one cries, “have you no failings?” Yes,        25
Failings enough, but different, maybe less.
One day when Mænius happened to attack
Novius the usurer behind his back,
“Do you not know yourself?” said one, “or think
That if you play the stranger, we shall wink?”        30
“Not know myself!” he answered; “you say true:
I do not; so I take a stranger’s due.”
Self-love like this is knavish and absurd,
And well deserves a damnatory word.
You glance at your own faults—your eyes are blear;        35
You eye your neighbor’s—straightway you see clear,
Like hawk or basilisk; your neighbors pry
Into your frailties with as keen an eye.
A man is passionate, perhaps misplaced
In social circles of fastidious taste;        40
His ill-trimmed beard, his dress of uncouth style,
His shoes ill-fitting, may provoke a smile;
But he’s the soul of virtue; but he’s kind;
But that coarse body hides a mighty mind.
Now, having scanned his breast, inspect your own,        45
And see if there no failings have been sown
By Nature or by habit, as the fern
Springs in neglected fields, for men to burn.
  True love, we know, is blind; defects that blight
The loved one’s charms escape the lover’s sight—        50
Nay, pass for beauties, as Balbinus glows
With admiration of his Hagna’s nose.
Ah, if in friendship we e’en did the same,
And virtue cloaked the error with her name!
Come, let us learn how friends at friends should look,        55
By a leaf taken from a father’s book.
Has the dear child a squint? at home he’s classed
With Venus’ self: “Her eyes have just that cast.”
Is he a dwarf, like Sisyphus? His sire
Calls him “Sweet pet,” and would not have him higher;        60
Gives Varus’ name to knock-kneed boys, and dubs
His club-foot youngster, Scaurus, king of clubs.
E’en so let us our neighbors’ frailties scan:
A friend is close—call him a careful man;
Another’s vain, and fond of boasting—say        65
He talks in an engaging, friendly way;
A third is a barbarian, rude and free—
Straightforward and courageous let him be;
A fourth is apt to break into a flame—
An ardent spirit, make we that his name.        70
This is the sovereign recipe, be sure,
To win men’s hearts, and, having won, secure.
  But we put virtue down to vice’s score,
And foul the vessel that was clean before.
See, here’s a modest man, who ranks too low        75
In his own judgment; him we nickname slow.
Another, ever on his guard, takes care
No enemy shall catch him unaware
(Small wonder, truly, in a world like this,
Beset with dogs that growl and snakes that hiss);        80
We turn his merit to a fault, and style
His prudence mere disguise, his caution guile.
Or take some honest soul, who, full of glee,
Breaks on a patron’s solitude, like me,
Finds his Mæcenas book in hand or dumb,        85
And pokes him with remarks, the first that come;
We cry, “He lacks e’en common tact!” Alas!
What hasty laws against ourselves we pass!
For none is born without his faults; the best
But bears a lighter wallet than the rest.        90
A man of genial nature, as is fair,
My virtues with my vices will compare,
And, as with good or bad he fills the scale,
Lean to the better side, should that prevail.
So, when he seeks my friendship, I will trim        95
The wavering balance in my turn for him.
He that has fears his blotches may offend,
Speaks gently of the pimples of his friend;
For reciprocity exacts her dues,
And they that need excuse must needs excuse.        100
  Now, since resentment, spite of all we do,
Will haunt us fools, and other vices too,
Why should not reason use her own just sense,
And square her punishments to each offense?
Suppose a slave, as he removes the dish,        105
Licks the warm gravy or remains of fish,
Should his vexed master gibbet the poor lad,
He’d be a second Labeo, staring mad.
Now take another instance, and remark
A case of madness, grosser and more stark.        110
A friend has crossed you: ’tis a slight affair;
Not to forgive it writes you down a bear.
You hate the man, and his acquaintance fly,
As Ruso’s debtors hide from Ruso’s eye—
Poor victims, doomed, when that black pay-day’s come,        115
Unless by hook or crook they raise the sum,
To stretch their necks, like captives to the knife,
And listen to dull histories for dear life.
Say, he has drunk too much, or smashed some ware,
Evander’s once, inestimably rare,        120
Or stretched before me, in his zeal to dine,
To snatch a chicken I had meant for mine.
What then? Is that a reason he should seem
Less pleasant, less deserving my esteem?
How could I treat him worse, were he to thieve,        125
Betray a secret, or a trust deceive?
  Your men of words, who rate all crimes alike,
Collapse and founder when on fact they strike;
Sense, custom, all, cry out against the thing,
And high expedience, right’s perennial spring.        130
When men first crept from out earth’s womb, like worms,
Dumb, speechless creatures, with scarce human forms,
With nails or doubled fists they used to fight
For acorns or for sleeping-holes at night;
Clubs followed next; at last to arms they came,        135
Which growing practise taught them how to frame,
Till words and names were found wherewith to mold
The sounds they uttered, and their thoughts unfold.
Thenceforth they left off fighting, and began
To build them cities, guarding man from man,        140
And set up laws as barriers against strife
That threatened person, property, or wife.
’Twas fear of wrong gave birth to right, you’ll find,
If you but search the records of mankind.
Nature knows good and evil, joy and grief,        145
But just and unjust are beyond her brief.
Nor can philosophy, though finely spun,
By stress of logic prove the two things one,
To strip your neighbor’s garden of a flower,
And rob a shrine at midnight’s solemn hour.        150
A rule is needed to apportion pain,
Nor let you scourge, when you should only cane.
For that you’re likely to be overmild,
And treat a ruffian like a naughty child,
Of this there seems small danger, when you say        155
That theft’s as bad as robbery in its way,
And vow all villains, great and small, shall swing
From the same tree, if men will make you king.
  But tell me, Stoic, if the wise, you teach,
Is king, Adonis, cobbler, all and each,        160
Why wish for what you’ve got? “You fail to see
What great Chrysippus means by that,” says he.
“What though the wise ne’er shoe nor slipper made,
The wise is still a brother of the trade;
Just as Hermogenes, when silent, still        165
Remains a singer of consummate skill;
As sly Alfenius, when he had let drop
His implements of art and shut up shop,
Was still a barber, so the wise is best
In every craft, a king’s among the rest.”        170
Hail to your Majesty! Yet, ne’ertheless,
Rude boys are pulling at your beard, I guess;
And now, unless your cudgel keeps them off,
The mob begins to hustle, push, and scoff;
You, all forlorn, attempt to stand at bay,        175
And roar till your imperial lungs give way.
Well, so we part; each takes his separate path.
You make your progress to your farthing bath,
A king, with ne’er a follower in your train,
Except Crispinus, that distempered brain;        180
While I find pleasant friends to screen me, when
I chance to err, like other foolish men;
Bearing and borne with, so the change we ring,
More blest as private folks than you as king.
 
 
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