Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.

Rome, Streets of

Via Sacra

By Horace (65–8 B.C.)

Satire IX

Translated by Philip Francis

MUSING, as wont, on this and that,

Such trifles as I know not what,

When late the street I sauntered through,

A wight, whose name I hardly knew,

Approaching pertly, makes me stand,

And thus accosts me, hand in hand:

“How do you do, my sweetest man?”

Quoth I, “As well as mortal can,

And my best wishes yours, when he

Would follow. What ’s your will with me?”

“That one of your profound discerning

Should know me: I ’m a man of learning.”

“Why, then, be sure upon that score

You merit my regard the more.”

Impatient to discard the fop,

One while I run, another stop,

And whisper, as he presses near,

Some nothing in my servant’s ear.

But while at every pore I sweated,

And thus in muttering silence fretted,—

“Bolanus, happy in a skull

Of proof, impenetrably dull,

O for a portion of thy brains!”—

He on the town and streets and lanes

His prating, praising talent tried,

And, when I answered not, he cried:

“Ay, ’t is too plain; you can’t deceive me,

You miserably wish to leave me,

But I shall never quit you so;

Command me,—whither would you go?”

“You do me honor, but, in short,

There ’s not the least occasion for ’t.

I visit one,—to cut the strife,—

You never saw him in your life;

Nor would I lead you such a round,—

He lives above a mile of ground

Beyond the Tiber.” “Never talk

Of distance, for I love a walk.

I never have the least enjoyment

In idleness: I want employment.

Come on; I must and will attend

Your person to your journey’s end.”

Like vicious ass, that fretting bears

A wicked load, I hang my ears,

While he, renewing his civilities,

“If well I know my own abilities,

Not Viscus, though your friend of yore,

Not Varius could engage you more;

For who can write melodious lays

With greater elegance or ease?

Who moves with smoother grace his limbs

While through the mazy dance he swims?

Besides, I sing to that degree,

Hermogenes might envy me.”

“Have you no mother, sister, friends,

Whose welfare on your health depends?”

“Not one; I saw them all by turns

Securely settled in their urns.”

“Thrice happy they, secure from pain!

And I thy victim now remain:

Despatch me; for my goody-nurse

Early presaged this heavy curse:

She conned it by the sieve and shears,

And now it falls upon my ears,—

Nor poison fell, with ruin stored,

Nor horrid point of hostile sword,

Nor pleurisy, nor asthma-cough,

Nor cripple-gout shall cut him off;

A noisy tongue and babbling breath

Shall tease and talk my child to death.

But if he would avert his fate,

When he arrives at man’s estate,

Let him avoid, as he would hanging,

Your folks long-winded in haranguing.

We came to Vesta’s about ten,

And he was bound in person then

To stand a suit, or by the laws

He must have forfeited his cause.

“Sir, if you love me, step aside

A little into court,” he cried.

“If I can stand it out,” quoth I,

“Or know the practice, let me die;

Besides, I am obliged to go

Precisely to the place you know.”

“I am divided what to do,

Whether to leave my cause or you.”

“Sir, I beseech you spare your pains.

Your humble servant.” “By no means.”

I follow, for he leads the way;

’T is death; but captives must obey.

Then he renews his plaguy strain, as,

“How stands your friendship with Mæcenas?”

“For friendships, he contracts but few,

And shows in that his judgment true.”

“Commend me to your brother-bard,

No man has played a surer card.

But you should have a man of art;

One who might act an under-part.

If you were pleased to recommend

The man I mention, to your friend,

Sir, may I never see the light

But you shall rout your rivals quite!”

“We live not there, as you suppose,

On such precarious terms as those:

No family was ever purer;

From such infections none securer.

It never hurts me in the least,

That one excels in wealth or taste;

Each person there of course inherits

A place proportioned to his merits.”

“’T is wonderful, and, to be brief,

A thing almost beyond belief.”

“But whether you believe, or no,

The matter is exactly so.”

“This adds but fuel to the fire,

The more you kindle my desire

To kiss his hand, and pay my court.”

“Assail, and you shall take the fort.

Such is the vigor of your wit,

And he is one that can submit;

The first attack is therefore nice,

The matter is to break the ice.”

“I sha’ n’t be wanting there,” he cried,

“I ’ll bribe his servants to my side;

To-day shut out, still onward press,

And watch the seasons of access;

In private haunt, in public meet,

Salute, escort him through the street.

There ’s nothing gotten in this life

Without a world of toil and strife!”

While thus he racks my tortured ears,

A much-loved friend of mine appears,

Aristius Fuscus, one who knew

My sweet companion through and through.

We stop, exchanging “so and so”:

“Whence come, and whither do you go?”

I then began in woful wise

To nod my head, distort my eyes,

And pull his renegado sleeve,

That he would grant me a reprieve;

But he was absent all the while,

Malicious with a leering smile.

Provoked at his dissimulation,

I burst with spleen and indignation.

“I know not what you had to tell

In private.” “I remember well:

But shall a day of business choose,

This is the Sabbath of the Jews;

You would not thus offend the leathern

Curtailed assemblies of the brethren.”

“I have no scruples, by your leave,

On that account.” “But, sir, I have:

I am a little superstitious,

Like many of the crowd capricious:

Forgive me, if it be a crime,

And I shall talk another time.”

O that so black a sun should rise!

Away the cruel creature flies,

And leaves me panting for my life

Aghast beneath the butcher’s knife.

At last, by special act of grace,

The plaintiff meets him face to face,

And bawls as loud as he could bellow:

“Ha! whither now, thou vilest fellow?

Sir, will you witness to my capture?”

I signified, I would with rapture;

And then, to magnify the sport,

He drags my prattler into court;

And thus, amidst the noise and rabble,

Apollo saved me in the squabble.