A Pertinacious Bore and Sycophant

Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BC)
Translated by Alexander Murison



It chanced that I was walking on a day
Along the Sacred Street; as is my way,
Thinking some trifle over, wholly too
Absorbed in it; a man ran up to me--
A man I knew by name alone--and he,
Seizing my hand, cried out: "Ah! how d'ye do,
My dearest friend on earth?" "As times go now,
I'm pretty well," say I; "the same to you."
Close clung he to me, so I said "Goodbye!"
Anticipating him. He made reply:
"You can't but know me: I'm a scholar, I."
"The more," say I, "I'll hold you in esteem."
Sadly impatient to get off from him,
I walked at times apace, and there and here
I stopped and whispered in my lackey's ear,
Whilst to my very heels the sweat did run.
And to myself I said: "O happy one,
Bolanus, for a temper boiling hot!"
While still my man kept chattering Heav'n knows what
About the streets, the city. No reply.
Whereon said he: "You're longing mightily
To get away; I saw it some time past;
But 'tis no use; I will to you stick fast;
I'll dog your steps: where are you going, pray?"
"No need for you to wander from your way:
I'm going to see a man unknown to you;
He's ill in bed, beyond the Tiber far,
Near Caesar's gardens." "I have nought to do;
I walk quite briskly: on, and there we are!"
I hang my head, like sullen ass with pack
He finds too heavy for his youthful back.

He starts again: "If I myself well know,
You will not higher confidence bestow
On Viscus or on Varius as a friend;
For where's the other man that can pretend
To write more verses in the time than I?
Or who can foot a dance more gracefully?
And then I sing so well Hermogenes
May envy me." Then in a word I squeeze:
"Have you a mother? Have you any kin
To take an interest in your precious skin?"
"Not one; for I have laid them all to rest."
"O happy they! Now I am left. 'Twere best
You finish me at once; for my sad doom
Is close at hand, to lay me in the tomb--
The doom that a Sabellian crone foretold,
On shaking duly the divining urn,
I yet a boy: 'This boy nor poisons dire
Nor sword of foe from life shall ever spurn,
Nor pleurisy, nor gout, nor cough nor cold;
A babbler's clack will drive him to expire
One day or other: if the boy have sense,
As soon as he attains adolescence,
When chatterers appear, let him go hence'."

A quarter of the day already past,
To Vesta's temple had we come at last;
And, as the best of luck would have it, he
Was bound just then to answer to his bail:
Unless he did so, then his case would fail.
"O, as you love me," said he, "stand by me
A moment here." "Nay, on my life," I said,
I cannot stand here; the law I've never read.
Besides, I'm hurrying on to where you know."
"I am in doubt," said he, "what I'm to do--
My case abandon, or abandon you."
"Me, me," said I. Said he: "I won't do so";
And then proceeded on in front to go.
I--for it's not easy to contend
With one that vanquishes you--after wend.
And then he starts again: "Now, tell me true;
What are the terms Maecenas holds with you?"
"Choice in his friends, a man of sober sense,
No man has used with more intelligence
His chances." "You would have a powerful stay,
Well fit the second part to you to play,
Me would you introduce. Ay, by my fay,
You'd sweep all rivals from your path away."

Then I replied: "Of quite another kind
Our life is there than what you have in mind:
There's not a house where reigns a purer tone;
There such annoyances are never known;
Ne'er jars it on me, has one greater pelf,
Or is more learned than I am myself:
We have our several places, every one."
"News marvellous, beyond belief almost!"
"Yet so it is." "You fire my wish to boast
Close friendship with him." "Just you try it--warm:
Your merit's such you'll take him straight by storm;
Moreover, he's a man that may be won,
And this is why approach, when first begun,
Is not so very easy." Then said he:
"No effort on my part shall wanting be:
I'll bribe the slaves; if in my face the door
Be shut today, for that I'll not give o'er;
I'll watch my opportunities--I'll meet
My man about the corners of each street;
I'll wait upon him home and to his haunts:
Without great toil life nought to mortals grants."

While he is this way running on in talk,
Fuscus Aristius meets us in our walk--
Dear friend of mine, and like to know the man.
We stop; exchange "Good day!" Then I began
To twitch his robe, and next his arms to seize--
Arms irresponsive; and, to get release,
I nod, I wink. With wit unkind and bland,
He laughed, and feigned he did not understand.
My heart with anger surges. "Sure," quoth I,
"You said you wished to tell me privately
About some matter.," "I remember well,
But at a better season I will tell
You all about it: thirtieth Sabbath this;
You would not want to scandalize, ywis,
The circumcised Jews?" "For that," say I,
"I have no scruple." "I have, though," says he;
"I'm rather a weak brother--as many be;
You'll pardon me; some opportunity
Will soon occur, when we will talk it o'er."
To think this very day the sun should lower
So dark on me! And off the rascal got,
And left me with the knife upon my throat.

Just then by chance the plaintiff meets my man,
And shouts to him as loud as e'er he can:
"Where are you off to, scoundrel? Do you hear?
May I call you to witness?"--this to me;
And with alacrity I lend my ear.
He drags my man to court; then shouts ring free
This side and that; the crowd keeps gathering fast:
And so Apollo saved me at the last.

From Satires, Book I, Chapter 9.

On Poetry