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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Juvenal:
Satire III: On the City of Rome c. 118 CE


The Third Satire is an aggressive attack on the internationalization of the city Rome. Juvenal, as most satirists, writes from a conservative perspective. In this etext, the first few lines, in which Juvenal describes his friend's Umbricius' decision to leave Rome for Cumae,  are omitted. The text takes up where Umbricius begins to speak.

Since at Rome there is no place for honest pursuits, no profit to be got by honest toil---my fortune is less to-day than it was yesterday, and to-morrow must again make that little less---we purpose emigrating to the spot where Daedalus put off his wearied wings, while my grey hairs are still but few, my old age green and erect; while something yet remains for Lachesis to spin, and I can bear myself on my own legs, without a staff to support my right hand. Let us leave our native land. There let Arturius and Catulus live. Let those continue in it who turn black to white; for whom it is an easy matter to get contracts for building temples, clearing rivers, constructing harbors, cleansing the sewers, the furnishing of funerals, and under the mistress-spear set up the slave to sale.

It is that the city is become Greek, Quirites, that I cannot tolerate; and yet how small the proportion even of the dregs of Greece! Syrian Orontes has long since flowed into the Tiber, and brought with it its language, morals, and the crooked harps with the flute-player, and its national tambourines, and girls made to stand for hire at the Circus. Go thither, you who fancy a barbarian harlot with embroidered turban. That rustic of yours, Quirinus, takes his Greek supper-cloak, and wears Greek prizes on his neck besmeared with Ceroma. One forsaking steep Sicyon, another Amydon, a third from Andros, another from Samos, another again from Tralles, or Alabanda, swarm to Esquiliae, and the hill called from its osiers, destined to be the very vitals, and future lords of great houses. These have a quick wit, desperate impudence, a ready speech, more rapidly fluent even than Isaeus. Tell me what you fancy he is? He has brought with him whatever character you wish---grammarian rhetorician, geometer, painter, trainer, soothsayer, ropedancer, physician, wizard---he knows everything. Bid the hungry Greekling go to heaven! He'll go. In short, it was neither Moor, nor Sarmatian, nor Thracian, that took wings, but one born in the heart of Athens. Shall I not shun these men's purple robes? Shall this fellow take precedence of me in signing his name, and recline pillowed on a more honorable couch than I, though imported to Rome by the same wind that brought the plums and figs? Does it then go so utterly for nothing, that my infancy inhaled the air of Aventine, nourished on the Sabine berry? Why add that this nation, most deeply versed in flattery, praises the conversation of an ignorant, the face of a hideously ugly friend, and compares some weak fellow's crane-like neck to the brawny shoulders of Hercules, holding Antaeus far from his mother Earth: and is in raptures at the squeaking voice, not a whit superior in sound to that of the cock as he bites the hen.

Besides, there is nothing that is held sacred by these fellows, or that is safe from their lust. Neither the mistress of the house, nor your virgin daughter, nor her suitor, unbearded as yet, nor your son, heretofore chaste. If none of these are to be found, he assails his friend's grandmother. They aim at learning the secrets of the house, and from that knowledge be feared. And since we have begun to make mention of the Greeks, pass on to their schools of philosophy, and hear the foul crime of the more dignified cloak. It was a Stoic that killed Bareas--the informer, his personal friend--the old man, his own pupil--bred on that shore on which the pinion of the Gorgonean horse lighted. There is no room for any Roman here, where some Protogenes, or Diphilus, or Erimanthus reigns supreme; who, with the common vice of his race, never shares a friend, but engrosses him entirely to himself. In exact proportion to the sum of money a man keeps in his chest, is the credit given to his oath. Though you were to swear by all the altars of the Samothracian and our own gods, the poor man is believed to despise the thunder-bolts and the gods, even with the sanction of the gods themselves. Why add that this same poor man furnishes material and grounds for ridicule to all, if his cloak is dirty and torn, if his toga is a little soiled, and one shoe gapes with its upper leather burst; or if more than one patch displays the coarse fresh darning thread, where a rent has been sewn up. Poverty, bitter though it be, has no sharper pang than this, that it makes men ridiculous. "Let him retire, if he has any shame left, and quit the cushions of the knights, that has not the income required by the law, and let these seats be taken by the sons of pimps, in whatever brothel born! Here let the son of the sleek crier applaud among the spruce youths of the gladiator, and the scions of the fencing-school.

Who was ever allowed at Rome to become a son-in-law if his estate was inferior, and not a match for the portion of the young lady? What poor man's name appears in any will? When is he summoned to a consultation even by an aedile ? All Quirites that are poor, ought long ago to have emigrated in a body. Difficult indeed is it for those to emerge from obscurity whose noble qualities are cramped by narrow means at home; but at Rome, for men like these, the attempt is still more hopeless; it is only at an exorbitant price they can get a wretched lodging, keep for their servants, and a frugal meal. A man is ashamed here to dine off pottery ware, which, were he suddenly transported to the Marsi and a Sabine board, contented there with a coarse bowl of blue earthenware, he would no longer deem discreditable. Here, in Rome, the splendor of dress is carried beyond men's means; here, something more than is enough, is taken occasionally from another's chest. In this fault all participate. Here we all live with a poverty that apes our betters. Why should I detain you? Everything at Rome is coupled with high price. What have you to give, that you may occasionally pay your respects to Cossus? that Veiento may give you a passing glance, though without deigning to open his mouth? One shaves the beard, another deposits the hair of a favorite; the house is full of venal cakes.

I must live in a place, where there are no fires, no nightly alarms. Already is Ucalegon shouting for water! already is he removing his chattels: the third story in the house you live in is already in a blaze. Yet you are unconscious! For if the alarm begin from the bottom of the stairs, he will be the last to be burnt whom a single tile protects from the rain, where the tame pigeons lay their eggs. Codrus had a bed too small for his Procula, six little jugs the ornament of his sideboard, and a little can besides beneath it, and a Chiron reclining under the same marble; and a chest now grown old in the service contained his Greek books, and mice gnawed poems of divine inspiration. Codrus possessed nothing at all; who denies the fact? and yet all that little nothing that he had, he lost. But the climax that crowns his misery is the fact, that though he is stark naked and begging for a few scraps, no one will lend a hand to help him to bed and board. But, if the great mansion of Asturius has fallen, the matrons appear in weeds, the senators in mourning robes, the praetor adjourns the courts. Then it is we groan for the accidents of the city; then we loathe the very name of fire. The fire is still raging, and already there runs up to him one who offers to present him with marble, and contribute towards the rebuilding. Another will present him with naked statues of Parian marble, another with a chef-d'oeuvre of Euphranor or Polycletus. Some lady will contribute some ancient ornaments of gods taken in our Asiatic victories; another, books and cases and a bust of Minerva; another, a whole bushel of silver. Persicus, the most splendid of childless men, replaces all he has lost by things more numerous and more valuable, and might with reason be suspected of having himself set his own house on fire.

If you can tear yourself away from the games in the circus, you can buy a capital house at Sora, or Fabrateria, or Frusino, for the price at which you are now hiring your dark hole for one year. There you will have your little garden, a well so shallow as to require no rope and bucket, whence with easy draft you may water your sprouting plants. Live there, enamored of the pitch-fork, and the dresser of your trim garden, from which you could supply a feast to a hundred Pythagoreans. It is something to be able in any spot, in any retreat whatever, to have made oneself proprietor even of a single lizard. Here full many a patient dies from want of sleep; but that exhaustion is produced by the undigested food that loads the fevered stomach. For what lodging-houses allow of sleep? None but the very wealthy can sleep at Rome. Hence is the source of the disease. The passing of wagons in the narrow curves of the streets, and the mutual reviles of the team drivers brought to a standstill, would banish sleep even from Drusus and sea-calves. If duty calls him, the rich man will be borne through the yielding crowd, and pass rapidly over their heads on the shoulders of his tall Liburnian, and, as he goes, will read or write, or even sleep inside his litter, for his sedan with windows closed entices sleep. And still he will arrive before us. In front of us, as we hurry on, a tide of human beings stops the way; the mass that follows behind presses on our loins in dense concourse; one man pokes me with his elbow, another with a hard pole; one knocks a beam against my head, another a ten-gallon cask. My legs are coated thick with mud; then, anon, I am trampled upon by great heels all round me, and the hob-nail of the soldier's caliga remains imprinted on my toe.

Tunics that have been patched together are torn asunder again. Presently, as the tug approaches, the long fir-tree quivers, other wagons are conveying pine-trees; they totter from their height, and threaten ruin to the crowd. For if that wain, that is transporting blocks of Ligustican stone, is upset, and pours its mountain-load upon the masses below, what is there left of their bodies? Who can find their limbs or bones? Every single carcass of the mob is crushed to minute atoms as impalpable as their souls. While, all this while, the family at home, in happy ignorance of their master's fate, are washing up the dishes, and blowing up the fire with their mouths, and making a clatter with the well-oiled strigils, and arranging the bathing towels with the full oil-flask. Such are the various occupations of the bustling slaves.

Now revert to other perils of the night distinct from these. What a height it is from the lofty roofs, from which a potsherd tumbles on your brains. How often cracked and chipped earthenware falls from the windows! with what a weight they dint and damage the flint-pavement where they strike it! You may well be accounted remiss and improvident against unforeseen accident, if you go out to supper without having made your will. It is clear that there are just so many chances of death, as there are open windows where the inmates are awake inside, as you pass by. Pray, therefore, and bear about with you this miserable wish, that they may be contented with throwing down only what the broad basins have held. One that is drunk, and quarrelsome in his cups, if he has chanced to give no one a beating, suffers the penalty by loss of sleep; he passes such a night as Achilles bewailing the loss of his friend; lies now on his face, then again on his back. Under other circumstances, he cannot sleep.

In some persons, sleep is the result of quarrels; but though daring from his years, and flushed with unmixed wine, he cautiously avoids him whom a scarlet cloak, and a very long train of attendants, with plenty of flambeaux and a bronzed candelabrum, warns him to steer clear of. He stands right in front of you, and bids you stand! Obey you must. For what can you do, when he that gives the command is mad with drink, and at the same time stronger than you! "Where do you come from?" he thunders out: "With whose vinegar and beans are you blown out? What cobbler has been feasting on chopped leek or boiled sheep's head with you? Don't you answer? Speak, or be kicked! Say where do you hang out? In what Jew's begging-stand shall I look for you?" Whether you attempt to say a word or retire in silence, is all one; they beat you just the same, and then, in a passion, force you to give bail to answer for the assault. This is a poor man's liberty ! When thrashed he humbly begs, and pummeled with fisticuffs supplicates to be allowed to quit the spot with a few teeth left in his head.

Nor is this yet all that you have to fear, for there will not be wanting one to rob you, when all the houses are shut up, and all the fastenings of the shops chained, are fixed and silent. Sometimes too a footpad does your business with his knife, whenever the Pontine marshes and the Gallinarian wood are kept safe by an armed guard. Consequently they all flock thence to Rome as to a great preserve. What forge or anvil is not weighed down with chains? The greatest amount of iron used is employed in forging fetters; so that you may well fear that enough may not be left for plowshares, and that mattocks and hoes may run short. Well may you call our great-grandsires happy, and the ages blest in which they lived, which, under kings and tribunes long ago, saw Rome contented with a single jail.

To these I could subjoin other reasons for leaving Rome, and more numerous than these; but my cattle summon me to be moving, and the sun is getting low. I must go. For long ago the muleteer gave me a hint by shaking his whip. Farewell then, and forget me not! and whenever Rome shall restore you to your native Aquinum, eager to refresh your strength, then you may tear me away too from Cumae to Helvine Ceres, and your patron deity Diana. Then, equipped with my caliga, I will visit your chilly regions, to help you in your satires---unless they scorn my poor assistance.


Source:

The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius, trans. Rev. Lewis Evans (London: Bell & Daldy, 1869), pp. 15-27. Note that the text as presented here consists of  selections from the larger satire.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton


This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall March 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu