Ancient History Sourcebook:
Persius Flaccus (34-62 CE):
Satire II, c. 60 CE
Persius Flaccus was a Stoic, a satirist, and a wealthy member of the knightly
class. In his poems, which exist as one book, he supports robust taste over artifice, and
attacks popular ideas about prayer - especially those who request worldly goods rather
Mark this day, Macrinus, with a white stone, which, with auspicious omen, augments your
fleeting years. Pour out the wine to your Genius! You at least do not with mercenary
prayer ask for what you could not intrust to the gods unless taken aside. But a great
proportion of our nobles will make libations with a silent censer. It is not easy for
every one to remove from the temples his murmur and low whispers, and live with
undisguised prayers. "A sound mind, a good name, integrity"---for these he prays
aloud, and so that his neighbor may hear. But in his inmost breast, and beneath his
breath, he murmurs thus, "Oh that my uncle would evaporate! what a splendid funeral!
and oh that by Hercules' good favor a jar of silver would ring beneath my rake! or, would
that I could wipe out my ward, whose heels I tread on as next heir! For he is scrofulous,
and swollen with acrid bile. This is the third wife that Nerius is now taking
home!"---That you may pray for these things with due holiness, you plunge your head
twice or thrice of a morning in Tiber's eddies, and purge away the defilements of night in
the running stream.
Think Jupiter has forgiven you, because, when he thunders, the oak is riven with his
sacred bolt than you and all your house? Or because you did not, at the bidding of the
entrails of the sheep, and Ergenna, lie in the sacred grove a dread bidental to be shunned
of all, that therefore he gives you his insensate beard to pluck? Or what is the bribe by
which you would win over the ears of the gods? With lungs, and greasy chitterlings?
You ask vigor for your sinews, and a frame that will insure old age. Well, so be it.
But rich dishes and fat sausages prevent the gods from assenting to these prayers, and
baffle Jove himself. You are eager to amass a fortune, by sacrificing a bull and court
Mercury's favor by his entrails. "Grant that my household gods may make me lucky!
Grant me cattle, and increase to my flocks! How can that be, poor wretch, while so many
cauls of thy heifers melt in the flames? Yet still he strives to gain his point by means
of entrails and rich cakes. "Now my land, and now my sheepfold teems. Now, surely
now, it will be granted! "Until, baffled and hopeless, his sestertius at the very
bottom of his money-chest sighs in vain.
Were I to offer you goblets of silver and presents embossed with rich gold, you would
perspire with delight, and your heart, palpitating with joy in your left breast, would
force even the tear-drops from your eyes. And hence it is the idea enters your mind of
covering the sacred faces of the gods with triumphal gold. Oh! souls bowed down to earth!
and void of aught celestial! Of what avail is it to introduce into the temples of the gods
these our modes of feeling, and estimate what is acceptable to them by referring to our
own accursed flesh. This has dyed the fleece of Calabria with the vitiated purple. To
scrape the pearl from its shell, and from the crude ore to smelt out the veins of the
glowing mass; this carnal nature bids. She sins in truth. She sins. Still from her vice
gains some emolument.
The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius, trans. Rev. Lewis
Evans (London: Bell & Daldy, 1869). 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
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© Paul Halsall May 1998