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Juvenal, Satires. (1918).  Satire 5

Satire 5.

[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]

How Clients are Entertained

If you are still unashamed of your plan of life, and still deem it to be the highest bliss to live at another man's board----if you can brook indignities which neither Sarmentus nor the despicable Gabba 1 would have endured at Caesar's ill-assorted table----I should refuse to believe your testimony, even upon oath. I know of nothing so easily satisfied as the belly; but even granted that you have nothing wherewith to fill its emptiness, is there no quay vacant, no bridge? Can you find no fraction of a beggar's mat to stand upon? Is a dinner worth all the insults with which you have to pay for it? Is your hunger so importunate, when it might, with greater dignity, be shivering where you are, and munching dirty scraps of dog's bread?

First of all be sure of this----that when bidden to dinner, you receive payment in full for all your past services. A meal is the return which your grand friendship yields you; the great man scores it against you, and though it come but seldom, he scores it against you all the same. So if after a couple of months it is his pleasure to invite his forgotten client, lest the third place on the lowest couch 2 should be unoccupied, and he says to you, "Come and dine with me," you are in the seventh Heaven! what more can you desire? Now at last has Trebius 3 got the reward for which he must needs cut short his sleep, and hurry with shoe-strings untied, fearing that the whole crowd of callers may already have gone their rounds, at an hour when the stars are fading or when the chilly wain of Bootes is wheeling slowly round.

And what a dinner after all! You are given wine that fresh-clipped wool would refuse to suck up,4 and which soon converts your revellers into Corybants. Foul words are the prelude to the fray; but before long tankards will be flying about; a battle royal with Saguntine crockery will soon be raging between you and the company of freedmen, and you will be staunching your wounds with a blood-stained napkin.

The great man himself drinks wine bottled in the days when Consuls wore long hair; the juice which he holds in his hand was squeezed during the Social Wars,5 but never a glass of it will he send to a friend suffering from dyspepsia! To-morrow he will drink a vintage from the hills of Alba or Setia whose date and name have been effaced by the soot which time has gathered upon the aged jar----such wine as Thrasea 6 and Helvidius 6 used to drink with chaplets on their heads upon the birthdays of Cassius and the Bruti.

The cup in Virro's 7 hands is richly crusted with amber and rough with beryl: to you no gold is entrusted; or if it is, a watcher is posted over it to count the gems and keep an eye on your sharp finger-nails. Pardon his anxiety; that fine jasper of his is much admired! For Virro, like so many others, transfers from his fingers to his cups the jewels with which the youth 8 preferred to the jealous Iarbas used to adorn his scabbard. To you will be given a cracked cup with four nozzles that takes its name from a Beneventine cobbler,9 and calls for sulphur wherewith to repair its broken glass.

If my lord's stomach is fevered with food and wine, a decoction colder than Thracian hoar-frosts will be brought to him. Did I complain just now that you were given a different wine? Why, the water which you clients drink is not the same. It will be handed to you by a Gaetulian groom, or by the bony hand of a blackamoor whom you would rather not meet at midnight when driving past the monuments on the hilly Latin Way. Before mine host stands the very pink of Asia, a youth bought for a sum bigger than the entire fortune of the warlike Tullus or Ancus, more valuable, in short, than all the chattels of all the kings of Rome. That being so, when you are thirsty look to your swarthy Ganymede. The page who has cost so many thousands cannot mix a drink for a poor man: but then his beauty, his youth, justify his disdain! When will he get as far as you? When does he listen to your request for water, hot or cold? It is beneath him to attend to an old dependent; he is indignant that you should ask for anything, and that you should be seated while he stands. All your great houses are full of saucy slaves. See with what a grumble another of them has handed you a bit of hard bread that you can scarce break in two, or lumps of dough that have turned mouldy----stuff that will exercise your grinders and into which no tooth can gain admittance. For Virro himself a delicate loaf is reserved, white as snow, and kneaded of the finest flour. Be sure to keep your hands off it: take no liberties with the bread-basket! If you are presumptuous enough to take a piece, there will be someone to bid you put it down: "What, Sir Impudence? Will you please fill yourself from your proper tray, and learn the colour of your own bread?" "What?" you ask, "was it for this that I would so often leave my wife's side on a spring morning and hurry up the chilly Esquiline when the spring skies were rattling down the pitiless hail, and the rain was pouring in streams off my cloak? "

See now that huge lobster being served to my lord, all garnished with asparagus; see how his lordly breast distinguishes the dish; with what a tail he looks down upon the company, borne aloft in the hands of that tall attendant! Before you is placed on a tiny plate a crab hemmed in by half an egg----a fit banquet for the dead. The host souses his fish in Venafran oil; the sickly greens offered to you, poor devil, will smell of the lamp; for the stuff contained in your cruets was brought up the Tiber in a sharp-prowed Numidian canoe----stuff which prevents anyone at Rome sharing a bath with Bocchar, and which will even protect you from a black serpent's bite.

My lord will have a mullet dispatched from Corsica or the Rocks of Tauromenium:10 for in the rage for gluttony our own seas have given out; the nets of the fish-market are for ever raking our home waters, and prevent Tyrrhenian fish from attaining their full size. And so the Provinces supply our kitchens; from the Provinces come the fish for the legacy-hunter Laenas to buy, and for Aurelia to send to market.11

Virro is served with a lamprey, the finest that the Straits of Sicily can purvey; for so long as the South wind stays at home, and sits in his prison-house drying his dank wings, Charybdis has no terrors for the daring fisherman. For you is reserved an eel, first cousin to a water-snake, or perchance a pike mottled with ice-spots; he too was bred on Tiber's banks and was wont to find his way into the inmost recesses of the Subura, battening himself amid its flowing sewers.

And now one word with the great man himself, if he will lend his ear. "No one asks of you such lordly gifts as Seneca, or the good Piso or Cotta, used to send to their humble friends: for in the days of old, the glory of giving was deemed grander than titles or fasces. All we ask of you is that you should dine with us as a fellow-citizen 12: do this and remain, like so many others nowadays, rich for yourself and poor to your friends."

Before Virro is put a huge goose's liver; a capon as big as a goose, and a boar, piping hot, worthy of yellow-haired Meleager's 13 steel. Then will come truffles, if it be spring-time and the longed-for thunder have enlarged our dinners.14 "Keep your corn to yourself, O Libya!" says Alledius; "unyoke your oxen, if only you send us truffles!"

During all this time, lest any occasion for disgust should be wanting, you may behold the carver capering and gesticulating with knife in air, and carrying out all the instructions of his preceptor: for it makes a mighty difference with what gestures a hare or a hen be carved! If you ever dare to utter one word as though you were possessed of three names,15 you will be dragged by the heels and thrust out of doors as Cacus was, after the drubbing he got from Hercules. When will Virro offer to drink wine with you? or take a cup that has been polluted by your lips? Which one of you would be so foolhardy, so lost to shame, as to say to your patron "A glass with you, Sir"? No, no: there's many a thing which a man whose coat has holes in it cannot say! But if some God, or god-like manikin more kindly than the fates, should present you with four hundred thousand sesterces,16 O how great a personage would you become, from being a nobody; how dear a friend to Virro! "Pray help Trebius to this!" "Let Trebius have some of that!" "Would you like a cut just from the loin, good brother?" O money, money! It is to you that he pays this honour, it is you that are his brother! Nevertheless, if you wish to be yourself a great man, and a great man's lord, let there be no little Aeneas playing about your halls, nor yet a little daughter, more sweet than he; nothing will so endear you to your friend as a barren wife.17 But as things now are, though your Mycale pour into your paternal bosom three boys at a birth, Virro will be charmed with the chattering brood, and will order cuirasses of green rushes to be given them, and little nuts, and pennies too if they be asked for, when the little parasites present themselves at his table.

Before the guests will be placed toadstools of doubtful quality, before my lord a noble mushroom, such a one as Claudius ate before that mushroom of his wife's 18----after which he ate nothing more. To himself and the rest of the Virros he will order apples to be served whose scent alone would be a feast----apples such as grew in the never-failing Autumn of the Phaeacians, and which you might believe to have been filched from the African sisters;19 you are treated to a rotten apple like those munched on the ramparts by a monkey equipped with spear and shield who learns, in terror of the whip, to hurl a javelin from the back of a shaggy goat.

You may perhaps suppose that Virro grudges the expense; not a bit of it! His object is to give you pain. For what comedy, what mime, is so amusing as a disappointed belly? His one object, let me tell you, is to compel you to pour out your wrath in tears, and to keep gnashing your molars against each other. You think yourself a free man, and guest of a grandee; he thinks----and he is not far wrong----that you have been captured by the savoury odours of his kitchen. For who that had ever worn the Etruscan bulla 20 in his boyhood,----or even the poor man's leather badge----could tolerate such a patron for a second time, however destitute he might be? It is the hope of a good dinner that beguiles you: "Surely he will give us," you say, "what is left of a hare, or some scraps of a boar's haunch; the remains of a capon will come our way by and by." And so you all sit in dumb silence, your bread clutched, untasted, and ready for action. In treating you thus, the great man shows his wisdom. If you can endure such things, you deserve them; some day you will be offering your head to be shaved and slapped: nor will you flinch from a stroke of the whip, well worthy of such a feast and such a friend.

1.  Sarmentus and Gabba are representatives of the lowest parasite class.
2. i.e. the least honourable place on the least honourable of the three couches of the triclinium.
3.  The name of the client whom he is addressing.
4. i.e. the wine was not good enough to be used even for fomentations.
5.  The Social Wars, after which the Italians gained the Roman franchise, were fought between B.C. 91 and 88.
6.  Two famous Stoics whose outspoken freedom cost them their lives under Nero and Vespasian respectively.
7.  The patron who gives the dinner.
8.  Aeneas. Aen. iv. 36.
9. Vatinius, a man with a long nose.
10. Tauromenium, on the E. coast of Sicily.
11.  Juvenal and other Roman writers are full of allusions to captatores, legacy-hunters, who showered presents of all kinds upon rich and childless old men or women. Aurelia sells the fish she has received as a present from Laenas.
12.  The word civiliter, from which our word "civil" comes, meant " as a citizen and an equal."
13.  The Aetolian hero who slew the Calydonian boar.
14.  Thunder was supposed to be favourable to the growth of truffles.
15. i.e., as if you were a free-born Roman with the three necessary names----the praenomen, the nomen, and the cognomen.
16. i e. the fortune of an eques. See note on iii. 154-5.
17.  It was the childless that were courted for their money.
18.  Agrippina the younger. She poisoned her husband, the emperor, with a mushroom.
19.  The Hesperides.
20. The golden bulla, enclosing a charm, was the sign of free birth (ingenuitas).

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2008. This file and all material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

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