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Juvenal, Satires. (1918).  Satire 13

Satire 13.

[Translated by G. G. Ramsay]

The Terrors of a Guilty Conscience

No deed that sets an example of evil brings joy to the doer of it. The first punishment is this: that no guilty man is acquitted at the bar of his own conscience, though he have won his cause by a juggling urn, and the corrupt favour of the judge. What do you suppose, Calvinus, that people are now thinking about the recent villainy and the charge of trust betrayed? Your means are not so small that the weight of a slight loss will weigh you down; nor is your misfortune rare. Such a mishap has been known to many; it is one of the common kind, plucked at random out of Fortune's heap. Away with undue lamentations! a man's wrath should not be hotter than is fit, nor greater than the loss sustained. You are scarce able to bear, the very smallest particle of misfortune; your bowels foam hot within you because your friend will not give up to you the sacred trust committed to him; does this amaze one who was born in the Consulship of Fonteius,1 and has left sixty years behind him? Have you gained nothing from all your experience?

Great indeed is Philosophy, the conqueror of Fortune, and sacred are her precepts; but they too are to be deemed happy who have learnt under the schooling of life to endure its ills without fretting against the yoke. What day is there, however festal, which fails to disclose theft, treachery and fraud: gain made out of every kind of crime, and money won by the dagger or the bowl? 2 For honest men are scarce; hardly so numerous as the gates of Thebes, or the mouths of the enriching Nile.3 We are living in a ninth age; an age more evil than that of iron----one for whose wickedness Nature herself can find no name, no metal from which to call it. We summon Gods and men to our aid with cries as loud as that with which the vocal dole 4 applauds Faesidius when he pleads. Tell me, you old gentleman, that should be wearing the bulla 5 of childhood, do you know nothing of the charm of other people's money? Are you ignorant of how the world laughs at your simplicity when you demand of any man that he shall not perjure himself, and believe that some divinity is to be found in temples or in altars red with blood? Primitive men lived thus in the olden days, before Saturn laid down his diadem and fled, betaking himself to the rustic sickle; in the days when Juno was a little maid, and Jupiter still a private gentleman in the caves of Ida.6 In those days there were no banquets of the heavenly host above the clouds, there was no Trojan youth, no fair wife of Hercules 7 for cup-bearer, no Vulcan wiping arms begrimed by the Liparaean 8 forge after tossing off his nectar. Each God then dined by himself; there was no such mob of deities as there is to-day; the stars were satisfied with a few divinities, and pressed with a lighter load upon the hapless Atlas. No monarch had as yet had the gloomy realms below allotted to him; there was no grim Pluto with a Sicilian spouse; there was no wheel,9 no rock,10 no Furies, no black torturing Vulture;11 the shades led a merry life, with no kings over their nether world. Dishonesty was a prodigy in those days; men deemed it a heinous sin, worthy of death, if a youth did not rise before his elders, or a boy before any bearded man, though he himself might see more strawberries, and bigger heaps of acorns, in his own home. So worshipful was it to be older by four years, so equal to reverend age was the first down of manhood!

But nowadays, if a friend does not disavow a sum entrusted to him, if he restore the old purse with all its rust, his good faith is deemed a portent calling for the sacred books of Etruria, and to be expiated by a lamb decked with garlands. If I discover an upright and blameless man, I liken him to a boy born with double limbs, or to fishes found by a marvelling rustic under the plough, or to a pregnant mule: I am as concerned as though it had rained stones, or a swarm of bees had settled in a long cluster on a temple-roof, or as though some river had poured down wondrous floods of milk into the sea. You complain, do you, that by an impious fraud you have been robbed of ten thousand sesterces? What if someone else has by a like fraud lost a secret deposit of two hundred thousand sesterces? A third a still greater sum, which could scarce find room in the corners of his ample treasure-chest? So simple and easy a thing is it to disregard heavenly witnesses, if no mortal man is privy to the secret! Hear how loudly the fellow denies the charge! See the assurance of his perfidious face! He swears by the rays of the sun and the Tarpeian thunderbolts; by the lance of Mars and the arrows of the Cirrhaean Seer; by the shafts and quiver of the maiden huntress, and by thine own trident, O Neptune, thou lord of the Aegaean sea. He throws in besides the bow of Hercules, and Minerva's spear, and all the weapons contained in all the armouries of Heaven; if he be a father, "May I eat," he tearfully declares, "my own son's head boiled, and dripping with Egyptian vinegar!"

Some think that all things are subject to the chances of Fortune; these believe that the world has no governor to move it, but that Nature rolls along the changes of day and year; they will therefore lay their hands on any altar you please without a tremor. Another fears that punishment will follow crime; he believes that there are Gods, but perjures himself all the same, reasoning thus within himself: "Let Isis deal with my body as she wills, and blast my sight with her avenging rattle, provided only that even when blind I may keep the money which I disavow; it is worth having phthisis or running ulcers or losing half one's leg at the price! Ladas 12 himself, if not needing treatment at Anticyra 13 or by Archigenes, would not hesitate to accept the rich man's gout; for what is to be got out of fame for swiftness of foot, or from a hungry branch of the Pisaean Olive 14? The wrath of the Gods may be great, but it assuredly is slow; if then they charge themselves with punishing all the guilty, when will they get my length? And besides I may perchance find the God placable; he is wont to forgive things like this. Many commit the same crime and fare differently: one man gets a gibbet, another a crown, as the reward of crime."

That is how they reassure their minds when in terror for some deadly guilt. If you summon them then to the holy shrine, they will be there before you; nay, they will themselves drag you thither, and dare you to the proof; for when a bad cause is well backed by a bold face, the man gets credit for self-confidence. Such a one plays a part, like the runaway buffoon of the witty Catullus,15 but you, poor wretch, may shout so as to out-do Stentor,16 or rather as loudly as the Mars of Homer, "Do you hear all this, O Jupiter, with lip unmoved, when you ought to have been making yourself heard, whether you be made of marble or of bronze? Else why do I open my packet of holy incense, and place it on your blazing altar? Why offer slices of a calf's liver or the fat of a white pig? So far as I can see, there is nothing to choose between your images and the statue of Vagellius!"

And now hear what consolations can be offered on the other side by one who has not embraced the doctrines either of the Cynics, or of the Stoics----who only differ from the Cynics by a shirt 17----nor yet reverenced Epicurus, so proud of the herbs in his tiny garden. Let doubtful maladies be tended by doctors of repute; your veins may be entrusted to a disciple of Philippus.18 If in all the world you cannot show me so abominable a crime, I hold my peace; I will not forbid you to smite your breast with your fists, or to pummel your face with open palm, seeing that after so great a loss you must close your doors, and that a household bewails the loss of money with louder lamentations than a death. In such a misfortune no grief is simulated; no one is content to rend the top of his garment, or to squeeze forced moisture from his eyes; unfeigned are the tears which lament the loss of wealth.

But if you see every court beset with complaints like to yours; if after a bond has been read over ten times by the opposing party, they declare the document to be waste paper, though convicted by their own handwriting, and. by the signet ring, most choice of sardonyx stones, kept in an ivory case----do you, my fine fellow, suppose that you are to be placed outside the common lot, because you were born of a white hen, while we are common chickens, hatched out of unlucky eggs? Your loss is a modest one, to be endured with a moderate amount of choler, if you cast an eye on grosser wrongs. Compare with your case the hired robber, or the fire purposely started by sulphur, the flame bursting out at your front door; think too of those who carry off from ancient temples splendid cups of venerable antiquity, that were the gift of nations, or crowns dedicated by some ancient monarch! If such things are not to be had, a petty desecrator will be found to scrape off the gilding from the thigh of Hercules, or from the very face of Neptune, or to strip Castor of his beaten gold. And why should he hesitate, when he has been used to melt down an entire Thunderer? Compare too the manufacturers and sellers of poison, and the man who should be cast into the sea inside an ox's hide, with whom a luckless destiny encloses a harmless ape.19 What a mere fraction these of the crimes which Gallicus,20 the guardian of our city, has to listen to from dawn to eve! If you would know what mankind is like, that one court-house will suffice; spend a few days in it, and when you come out, dare to call yourself unfortunate. Who marvels at a swollen throat in the Alps? or in Meroe 21 at a woman's breast bigger than her sturdy babe? Who is amazed to see a German with blue eyes and yellow hair, twisting his greasy curls into a horn? We marvel not, clearly because this one nature is common to them all. The Pygmy warrior marches forth in his tiny arms to encounter the sudden swoop and clamorous cloud of Thracian birds; but soon, no match for his foe, he is snatched up by the savage crane and borne in his crooked talons through the air.22 If you saw this in our own country, you would shake with laughter; but in that land, where the whole host is only one foot high, though like battles are witnessed every day, no one laughs! "What? Is there to be no punishment for that perjured soul and his impious fraud?" Well, suppose him to have been hurried off in heavy chains, and slain (what more could anger ask?) at our good pleasure; yet your loss still remains, your deposit will not be saved; and the smallest drop of blood from that headless body will bring you hatred along with your consolation. "O! but vengeance is good, sweeter than life itself." Yes; so say the ignorant, whose passionate hearts you may see ablaze at the slightest cause, sometimes for no cause at all; any occasion, indeed, however small it be, suffices for their wrath. But so will not Chrysippus 23 say, or the gentle Thales,24 or the old man 25 who dwelt near sweet Hymettus, who would have given to his accuser no drop of the hemlock-draught which was administered to him in that cruel bondage. Benign Philosophy, by degrees, strips from us most of our vices, and all our mistakes; it is she that first teaches us the right. For vengeance is always the delight of a little, weak, and petty mind; of which you may straightway draw proof from this----that no one so rejoices in vengeance as a woman.

But why should you suppose that a man escapes punishment whose mind is ever kept in terror by the consciousness of an evil deed which lashes him with unheard blows, his own soul ever shaking over him the unseen whip of torture? It is a grievous punishment, more cruel far than any devised by the stern Caedicius 26 or by Rhadamanthus, to carry in one's breast by night and by day one's own accusing witness. The Pythian prophetess once made answer to a Spartan that it would not pass unpunished in after time that he had thought of keeping back a sum entrusted to him supporting the wrong by perjury; for he asked what was the mind of the Deity, and whether Apollo counselled him to do the deed. He therefore restored the money, through fear, and not from honesty; nevertheless he found all the words of the Oracle to be true and worthy of the shrine, being destroyed with his whole race and family and relations, however far removed. Such are the penalties endured by the mere wish to sin; for he who secretly meditates a crime within his breast has all the guiltiness of the deed.

What then if the purposed deed be done? His disquiet never ceases, not even at the festal board; his throat is as dry as in a fever; he can scarcely take his food, it swells between his teeth; he spits out the wine, poor wretch; he cannot abide the choicest old Albanian, and if you bring out something finer still, wrinkles gather upon his brow as though it had been puckered up by some Falernian turned sour. In the night, if his troubles grant him a short slumber, and his limbs, after tossing upon the bed, are sinking into repose, he straightway beholds the temple and the altar of the God whom he has outraged; and what weighs with chiefest terror on his soul, he sees you in his dreams; your awful form, larger than life, frightens his quaking heart and wrings confession from him. These are the men who tremble and grow pale at every lightning-flash; when it thunders, they quail at the first rumbling in the heavens; not as though it were an affair of chance or brought about by the raging of the winds, but as though the flame had fallen in wrath and as a judgment upon the earth. If one storm pass harmless by, they look more anxiously for the next, as though this calm were only a reprieve. If, again, they suffer from pains in the side, with a fever that robs them of their sleep, they believe that the sickness has been inflicted on them by the offended Deity: these they deem to be the missiles, these the arrows of the Gods. They dare not vow a bleating victim to a shrine, or offer a crested cock to the Lares; for what hope is permitted to the guilty sick? What victim is not more worthy of life than they? Inconstant and shifty, for the most part, is the nature of bad men. In committing a crime, they have courage enough and to spare; they only begin to feel what is right and what wrong when it has been committed. Yet nature, firm and changeless, returns to the ways which it has condemned. For who ever fixed a term to his own offending? When did a hardened brow ever recover the banished blush? What man have you ever seen that was satisfied with one act of villainy? Our scoundrel will yet put his feet into the snare; he will have to endure the dark prison-house and the staple, or one of those crags in the Aegaean sea that are crowded with our noble exiles. You will exult over the stern punishment of a hated name, and at length admit with joy that none of the Gods is deaf or like unto Tiresias.27

1.  C. Fonteius Capito, consul A.D. 67. That fixes the date of this Satire to the year A.D. 127.
2. Pyxis is any bowl made of boxwood.
3.  Thebes had seven gates, the Nile seven mouths.
4.  The dole (sportula) is called " vocal" because it secures to the patron the applause of his client when he pleads in court.
5.  The bulla was a case of gold containing an amulet against the evil eye, worn by all free-born boys until they put on the toga virilis.
Mount Ida in Crete where Zeus was born.
7. Hebe.
8. Lipari, the group of islands elsewhere called Aeolian (i. 7), where Vulcan's forge was placed.
9.  The wheel of Ixion.
10.  The stone of Sisyphus.
11.  Tityus was preyed upon by a vulture.
12.  A famous Greek runner.
13.  An island on which hellebore, the remedy for madness, was grown.
14.  An olive-wreath was the prize at the Olympian games.
15.  See viii. 180.
16.  See Hom. Il. v. 785.
17.  The Cynics discarded the tunic.
18.  Some inferior doctor; unknown.
19.  See note on viii. 214.
20.  Rutilius Gallicus, prefect of the city under Domitian.
21.  An island in Upper Egypt formed by two branches of the Nile.
22.  Legends of battles between cranes and pygmies are found in Homer (Il. iii. 3-6), Aristotle, and elsewhere.
23.  The great Stoic philosopher, B.C. 280-207.
24.  The Ionic philosopher of Miletus, about B.C. 636-546. 
25.  Socrates.
26.  Not known.
27. The soothsayer Tiresias was blind.

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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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