I’m very fascinated by Greco-Roman literature but haven’t posted a lot of material on it as yet. Hopefully, I will, in the future. I would like to begin with The Satires of Horace and Persius. Technically, the book contains “the satires and epistles” of Horace and just “the satires” of Persius. It is translated by Niall Rudd (1927-2015), an Irish-born British classical scholar.
Aules Persius Flaccus was born in 34 AD in Etruria in central Italy. Rich and well-connected, he knew several Stoics opposed to the rule of Nero. He was a close friend of the philosopher Cornutus. His satires deal with moral questions – and this endeared him to the Church Fathers and made him popular even later during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. His writing style is highly condensed and metaphorical. Persius died at the age of twenty-seven.
It is said that the writings of Horace and Persius have inspired poets from Ben Jonson and Alexander Pope to W. H. Auden and Robert Frost. I have selected excerpts from each of the three parts of the book that I found interesting.
Part of a satire from Horace – on how greed and envy lead to an unfulfilled life:
I return to my original point: must everyone, because of greed, be at odds with himself and envy those in other occupations; waste away because his neighbour’s goat has more milk in her udder; and instead of comparing himself with the thousands who are worse off, struggle to outdo first him and then him? However fast he runs there is always somebody richer just in front; as when the teams spring from their pens and are swept along in a flurry of hooves, the driver presses on the car ahead, ignoring the one he had passed as it falls back among the stragglers. So it is that we can rarely find a man who says he has lived a happy life and who, when his time is up, contentedly leaves the world like a guest has had his fill.
Part of an epistle from Horace – on an impure, diseased soul:
Why so quick to remove a speck of dirt from your eye? And yet, if anything eats at your soul, you say: “Time enough to attend to it next year”. Well begun is half done. Dare to be wise. Start now. The man who postpones the hour of reform is the yokel who waits for the river to pass; but it continues and will continue gliding and rolling for ever and ever. I know, you need money and a wealthy wife who will bear you children, the wild scrub is being subdued by the plough. But when one’s blest with enough, one shouldn’t long for more. Possessing a house or farm or a pile of bronze and gold has never been known to expel a fever from an invalid’s body or a worry from his mind. Unless the owner has sound health he cannot hope to enjoy the goods he has brought together. A man with fear or desire has as much pleasure from his house and possessions as sore eyes from a picture, gouty feet from muffs, or ears from a lyre when aching with lumps of dirt. When a jar is unclean, whatever you fill it with soon goes sour.
Part of a satire from Persius – on what we shall bring to the temple:
But tell me, you men of god, what use is gold in a church? As much as the dolls which a young bride offers to Venus. Let’s give to the gods what mighty Messalla’s bloodshot offspring can’t give from his mighty dish; a soul in which human and divine commands are blended, a mind which is pure within, a heart steeped in fine old honour. Let me bring these to the temple, and I’ll win the favour of heaven with a handful of grain.
Other volumes on Horace and Persius that you could check out: Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica (Loeb Classical Library, No. 194) (English and Latin Edition) Revised Edition (1929), The Complete Odes and Epodes of Horace (Oxford World’s Classics) (2008), Satires and Epistles (Oxford World’s Classics) (2011), Juvenal and Persius (Loeb Classical Library) (2004) and Persius and Juvenal (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies) (2009).
Featured: Fresco from the Sala di Grande Dipinto, Scene VI (detail) in the Villa de Misteri (Pompeii), Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain