More terrible still is the termagant, who loves to lash her poor neighbours; when a dog disturbs her slumbers, she orders the owner to be thrashed first, and then the dog. She enters the baths noisily by night, works at the dumbbells till she is wearied, and then submits herself to the bathman for massage. Meanwhile her famished guests have been wearying for their dinner; when at last she arrives, she slakes her thirst with bumpers of Falernian, which soon find their way back on to the floor. No less of a nuisance is your learned lady, who discourses on poetry, and pits Homer and Virgil against each other.
She outbawls all the rhetoricians with her din; she could unaided bring succour to the labouring moon. She lays down definitions like a philosopher; she should tuck up her skirts half-leg high, sacrifice a pig to Silvanus, and take a penny bath! Take no such wife to your bosom!
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Still more unbearable is the wealthy wife, who thinks that everything is permitted to her. Her neck, her ears, are resplendent with precious stones; she plasters her face with bread-poultices and Poppaean pastes which stick to her husband's lips when he gives her a kiss. She never cares to look well at home; it is for lovers only that a clean skin and Indian perfumes are reserved.
In due time she washes off the layers with asses' milk, and the face can be recognised as a face instead of as a sore! If the husband has been neglectful, the maids will suffer for it; the slightest fault will bring down a thrashing on them with whip or cane; some women engage their floggers by the year.
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The lady meanwhile is making up her face, or chatting with her friends, or examining a piece of embroidery, or reading the Gazette: not less cruel than Phalaris, she keeps her flogger at it all the time. If in a hurry to keep an assignation, she wreaks her vengeance on her tirewoman with a thong of bull's hide for every curl out of place, while the second maid builds up the lofty erection on her head: so serious is the art of beautification!
Not a thought for the husband all this time; he is only a little nearer to her than a next-door neighbour; she heeds not what she costs him. Another is the prey of every superstition. In come the noisy crew of the frantic Bellona and the Good Goddess, clanging their cymbals; they pay reverence to the huge emasculated priest; to avert his prophecies of evil, she presents him with a hundred eggs, and some cast-off clothing: these carry off the threatened peril and purify her for the entire year.
In winter-time she breaks the ice for a plunge into the Tiber, and then crawls with bleeding knees over the Campus Martius. At Io's bidding--for she believes that the Goddess herself holds commune with her--she would go on a pilgrimage to Egypt to bring water from Lake Meroe with which to besprinkle the shrine of Isis. She pays reverence to the dog-headed Anubis, with his close-cropped and linen-clad followers; a fat goose and a thin cake will obtain from Osiris absolution for all her peccadilloes. Next comes a Jewish hag, leaving her basket and her hay, who whispers secrets into her ear, expounding the holy laws of her tribe: she interprets or invents dreams for the smallest of coins.
An Armenian or Syrian soothsayer, manipulating a pigeon's liver, promises her a youthful lover, or the inheritance of some rich and childless man. He probes the entrails of a dog, sometimes even of a boy, committing a crime that he may himself turn informer. But most trusted of all is the Chaldaean, whose words come direct from the fount of Hammon--more especially if he have done something to deserve exile and narrowly escaped death.
Your virtuous Tanaquil consults him about the too long delayed death of her mother or her uncle--having first enquired about your own death. Such a one knows nothing about the stars; but beware of the woman in whose hand you see a well-thumbed almanack, and who claims to be an expert; she is herself consulted, and regulates her whole life after the dictates of the occult science.
Rich women consult a Phrygian or an Indian augur; the poor woman looks for a diviner in the Circus, of whom she enquires whether she shall marry the tavern-keeper or the old-clothesman.
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Poor women will bear the pangs of childbirth; but you will rarely find a woman lying-in who sleeps in a gilded bed. So potent are the draughts of the abortionist! Hand the potion to her yourself, my man, and rejoice in the murder of your unborn children: you might otherwise find yourself the father of a blackamoor. If an heir be wanted for some great house, roguish Fortune knows where to look for one: she takes her stand by night at the foundling pool, dandles a chance infant in her arms, and spirits it away into some lordly house to become a Pontifex or a Priest of Mars!
Instructed by Thessalian witches, a wife will make her husband imbecile or raving mad with a magical love philtre: just as Caesonia's potion robbed Nero's uncle of his senses. More guilty she than Agrippina: for Agrippina did but "send down to heaven" a slobbering dotard, whereas Caesonia's medicament slew knights and senators together, and turned the whole world upside down with fire and the sword. To kill a stepson is now thought quite in order; beware, ye wards, if ye have wealth: keep an eye upon your stepmother's cakes, and let her cup be tasted before you put it to your lips.
Do you suppose that I am telling mere idle tales, breathing forth mouthings like a tragedian? Would to heaven it were so!
A couple of thoughts on translations of Juvenal – Roger Pearse
I gave aconite to my boys. Tragedy, indeed, tells us of the crimes of Procne and the Colchian; I seek not to deny them. But they sinned in wrath, not for filthy lucre's sake: what I cannot abide is the calculated crime, committed calmly in cold blood. Women flock to see Alcestis dying for her husband; but your modern woman would let her husband go to Hades if she could save her lapdog! Daughters of Danaus are to be found in plenty among us; every street in Rome contains its Clytemnestra; the only difference is that she made use of a clumsy two-bladed axe, while these women do the trick with the liver of a toad--and perhaps with a knife, if their lord have fortified himself with antidotes!
The 7th Satire promises a good time for letters and learning from the expected patronage of the new emperor, and is mainly taken up with bewailing the miserable prospects of all the literary professions. The good old days of patronage are gone; the wealthy pay no respect to letters, or assist them only in ways that involve no cost to themselves; the only patronage worth having nowadays is the favour of a popular play-actor. The poet, the historian, the advocate, the rhetorician, the grammarian-all have the same tale of neglect and poverty to tell, whereas singers and jockeys are splendidly rewarded.
The teacher's profession, which is the noblest, and the most deserving of respect, of all the professions, fares worst of all; there is no money that a father grudges so much as that spent in the education of his son. The 8th Satire is an attack upon pride of birth. Though there is no one who has more respect for the blood of the great old Roman houses than Juvenal himself, he discourses eloquently on the theme nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus. No man, no animal, can be called high-born whose breeding is not proclaimed by the possession of high qualities.
A man must stand or fall by his own qualities, not by those of his ancestors.
Juvenal and Persius
Be a stout soldier, an honest guardian, and an impartial arbiter; prefer honour to life; if called to govern a province, be just and tender-hearted to the provincials. If your wife be blameless, and you have no corrupt favourite in your suite, you may trace your lineage to the loftiest source you please; but if you are carried headlong by ambition, lust and cruelty, the noble blood of your ancestors rises up in judgment against you, and throws a dazzling light upon your misdeeds. What think you of the noble Lateranus, who drives his own chariot along the public way unabashed, and frequents low taverns, where he consorts with thieves, coffin-makers, and cut-throats?
And what are we to say of a Damasippus or a Lentulus, who hire out their voices to the stage?
See how he has missed his cast, and lifts his face for all to see as he flies along the arena! Orestes, you say, was a parricide, like Nero; but Orestes slew no wife, no sister: he never sang upon the stage, he never wrote an epic upon Troy! And of all his crimes, which deserved greater punishment than that? Whose blood could be nobler than that of Catiline or Cethegus?
Yet they conspired to destroy the city; and it was the plebeian Cicero that preserved it. The plebeian Marius saved her from the Cimbri and the Teutones; the plebeian Decii saved our legions from the hosts of Latium; and the best king of Rome was a slave-girl's son. The 9th Satire deals with a disgusting offence, one of the main sources of corruption in the ancient world.
The 10th Satire has been often called Juvenal's masterpiece; it has had the honour of being paraphrased by Johnson in his "Vanity of Human Wishes," and it has all the merits of a full-blown rhetorical declamation. It has some magnificent descriptions, especially that of the fall of the favourite Sejanus. But it is a profoundly depressing and pessimistic poem. Except in the last few lines, there is not a word of hope or encouragement for the ordinary human being; no sense that any kind of life can be worth living; not one word of counterpoise to the long, dismal catalogue of human failures; no suggestion that in great lives which have ended in disaster there may have been moments of noble action, high endeavour and inspiration.
The description of old age is revolting in its minuteness, and it is not relieved by a single touch of sympathy or kindliness. The text of the whole is. Quid tam dextro pede concipis ut te Conatus non paeniteat votique peracti? Our wishes, our prayers, are all equally vain.
If you lust for riches, think of the fate of a Lateranus, a Seneca, or a Longinus; even in days of primitive simplicity, man's follies provoked the tears of Heracleitus and the laughter of Democritus. Some men are brought to ruin by their lust of place and power, like Pompey, the Crassi, and Sejanus; others, like Cicero and Demosthenes, by the fatal gift of eloquence. The glories of war end in misery and disaster--look at the calamitous ends of Hannibal, of Xerxes, and Alexander!
Men pray for long life; but old age does but bring with it a host of miseries and infirmities, ending in the loss of reason. What calamities had Nestor, Peleus, and Priam to go through because of their length of days! What disasters would have been escaped by Marius and Pompey, what glory might not have been theirs, had they died earlier!
The loving mother prays that her children may have beauty; but when did modesty and beauty go together? The fair maiden, the fair youth, live in a world of peril and of snares. Hippolytus and Bellerophon warn us that even purity has its dangers; and what was the end of the fair and high-born youth who became a victim to the passion of Messalina?
Better leave it to the Gods to determine what is best for you and for your state; man is dearer to them than he is to himself.