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Persius-Fourth Satire

Jean-Baptiste Regnault: ‘Socrates dragging Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure’ (1791) at the Louvre museum.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an excerpt from Persius’ ‘Satires’, translated by A.S. Kline. As we posted earlier, a excerpt, from Xenophon’s ‘Memorabilia’, we titled: ‘About Imposture in Politics’ (to be found in our Reading Room), where we were asking questions like: Are our political leaders legitimate? Are they qualified for service? Are their virtues the reasons why we chose them to govern upon us? In that very post, Xenophon offers one of his evergreen cameos about Socrates on this very subject. 

Here, Persius, in this excerpt, offers another great scene where in the words of the great Latinist Niall Rudd: ‘The conceited young Alcibiades aspires to govern his country, although he manages his private life on the lowest principles. ‘No one looks into his own soul. Instead we carp into the faults of others. As a result we in turn are open to malicious attack. Self-deception cannot be maintained indefinitely, and popular acclaim is unreliable. Examine your own soul and see how inadequate it is‘. The first twenty-two verses are supposed to be addressed by Socrates to the young Alcibiades. The latter, who was active in the last quarter of the fifth century B.C. , represents the politician whose brilliance is not supported by moral integrity. The setting is based on the pseudo-Platonic dialog known as ‘Alcibiades 1’.


§ 4.1 Satire IV:

‘You’re handling affairs of state!’ (Imagine Socrates, the bearded Master, speaking, the one done in by that fatal gulp of hemlock) ‘On what basis, then? Tell me that, O ward of great Pericles!

Wisdom, I suppose, and knowledge of the world, have come to you before your need to shave, and you know what ought to be said or not said. So when the rabble seethes with anger, It’s your spirit will be roused, to still the fevered crowd with an imperious hand. And what will you say to them? ‘citizens,’ I’d imagine, ‘this is not right, that’s wrong, something else is yet more correct.’ You clearly know how to weigh justice in the twin pans of the quivering scales. You can find a straight path among curved ones, even as the crooked foot-rule fails, And set a black theta, the mark of death, against a fatal crime.

So, since superficial adornments are worthless, why not cease wagging your tail for that fawning crew? Far better to be sane; not before time, take a gulp of the undiluted juice of hellebore.

What is you idea of the highest good? To feed off sumptuous dishes every day, and then tan your skin endlessly in the sun?

Well, that’s the same reply that some old crone might give. Go on, swell with pride! ‘I’m Alcibiades, I’m beautiful.’ Fine, but you’ve no more understanding than wrinkled Baucis, who cries her herbs loudly, sells her basil to some dissolute slave.

No one is tempted to examine themselves, no one: instead, they Point, said Phaedrus, at the sack in front, on another’s back!

If you should ask: ‘Do you know Vettidius’ estates?’ ‘Whose?’ ‘That rich man at Cures, with more land than a hawk can cover.’ ‘Oh him! The one the gods hate, with a perverse guardian spirit, who when he hangs his yoke on the open crossroads shrine, at the Compitalia, anxiously scrapes the slime from his little jar, and groans: ‘Let it be all right!’ while munching an onion in its skin, with salt, and while his slave boys cheer at a pot of gruel, will be gulping the naked dregs of a half-dead glass of vinegar.’

That’s the reply you get! While if you’re lying there well-oiled, In the sun, some stranger next to you, will nudge you, making acid comments: ‘What manners! Weeding the hair round your prick, down your groin, showing your wrinkled orbs in public!

And, though it’s fine to comb and scent the fuzz on your jaws, Why must that shaved windpipe be mirrored ‘twixt your thighs? Even if five champion wrestlers had a tug at those sproutings, And with curved forceps made those basted buttocks shake, That untamed bracken of yours would still defy the plough.’

We fire arrows, and in turn expose our legs to their flight. That’s the way we live, the way we know. You’ve a hidden wound in the groin, but your belt with its broad gold band conceals it. Fool about, as you will, and deceive your flesh If you can. ‘If the whole neighborhood proclaims me as wonderful, should I not believe it?’ Shameless wretch, If you itch at the sight of a coin, if you follow your prick, If, with wealth secure, you whip up the rates at the well of bitter waters, leaving a host of scars; no point lending your eager ears to the public. Spit out what’s not yours; and let the tradesman recover his interest. Learn to live with yourself, and you’ll find how badly you’re furnished.


Latin Original

Satura IV

‘Rem populi tractas?’ (barbatum haec crede magistrum
dicere, sorbitio tollit quem dira cicutae)
‘quo fretus? dic hoc, magni pupille Pericli.
scilicet ingenium et rerum prudentia uelox
ante pilos uenit, dicenda tacendaue calles.            5
ergo ubi commota feruet plebecula bile,
fert animus calidae fecisse silentia turbae
maiestate manus. quid deinde loquere? “Quirites,
hoc puta non iustum est, illud male, rectius illud.”
scis etenim iustum gemina suspendere lance            10
ancipitis librae, rectum discernis ubi inter
curua subit uel cum fallit pede regula uaro,
et potis es nigrum uitio praefigere theta.
quin tu igitur summa nequiquam pelle decorus
ante diem blando caudam iactare popello            15
desinis, Anticyras melior sorbere meracas?
quae tibi summa boni est? uncta uixisse patella
semper et adsiduo curata cuticula sole?
expecta, haut aliud respondeat haec anus. i nunc,
“Dinomaches ego sum” suffla, “sum candidus.” esto,            20
dum ne deterius sapiat pannucia Baucis,
cum bene discincto cantauerit ocima uernae.’
    ut nemo in sese temptat descendere, nemo,
sed praecedenti spectatur mantica tergo!
quaesieris ‘nostin Vettidi praedia?’ ‘cuius?’            25
‘diues arat Curibus quantum non miluus errat.’
‘hunc ais, hunc dis iratis genioque sinistro,
qui, quandoque iugum pertusa ad compita figit,
seriolae ueterem metuens deradere limum
ingemit “hoc bene sit” tunicatum cum sale mordens            30
cepe et farratam pueris plaudentibus ollam
pannosam faecem morientis sorbet aceti?’
at si unctus cesses et figas in cute solem,
est prope te ignotus cubito qui tangat et acre
despuat: ‘hi mores! penemque arcanaque lumbi            35
runcantem populo marcentis pandere uuluas.
tum, cum maxillis balanatum gausape pectas,
inguinibus quare detonsus gurgulio extat?
quinque palaestritae licet haec plantaria uellant
elixasque nates labefactent forcipe adunca,            40
non tamen ista filix ullo mansuescit aratro.’
    caedimus inque uicem praebemus crura sagittis.
uiuitur hoc pacto, sic nouimus. ilia subter
caecum uulnus habes, sed lato balteus auro
praetegit. ut mauis, da uerba et decipe neruos,            45
si potes. ‘egregium cum me uicinia dicat,
non credam?’ uiso si palles, inprobe, nummo,
si facis in penem quidquid tibi uenit, amarum
si puteal multa cautus uibice flagellas,
nequiquam populo bibulas donaueris aures.            50
respue quod non es; tollat sua munera cerdo.
tecum habita: noris quam sit tibi curta supellex.

More about Persius: 🌿The entire ‘Satires’ of Persius, translated by A.S. Kline, online:🌿 Original Latin:
Persius-Fourth Satire

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