I’m weak, you know, and do as others do:
Some other time: excuse me.” Wretched me!
That ever man so black a sun should see!
Off goes the rogue, and leaves me in despair,
Tied to the altar, with the knife in air:
When, by rare chance, the plaintiff in the suit
Knocks up against us: “Whither now, you brute?”
He roars like thunder: then to me: “You’ll stand
My witness, sir?” “My ear’s at your command.”
Off to the court he drags him: shouts succeed:
A mob collects: thank Phoebus, I am freed.
Yes, I did say that, view him as a bard,
Lucilius is unrhythmic, rugged, hard.
Lives there a partisan so weak of brain
As to join issue on a fact so plain?
But that he had a gift of biting wit,
In the same page I hastened to admit.
Now understand me: that’s a point confessed;
But he who grants it grants not all the rest:
For, were a bard a bard because he’s smart,
Laberius’ mimes were products of high art.
’Tis not enough to make your reader’s face
Wear a broad grin, though that too has its place:
Terseness there wants, to make the thought ring clear,
Nor with a crowd of words confuse the ear:
There wants a plastic style, now grave, now light,
Now such as bard or orator would write,
And now the language of a well-bred man,
Who masks his strength, and says not all he can:
And pleasantry will often cut clean through
Hard knots that gravity would scarce undo.
On this the old comedians rested: hence
They’re still the models of all men of sense,
Despite Tigellius and his ape, whose song
Is Calvus and Catullus all day long.
“But surely that’s a merit quite unique,
His gift of mixing Latin up with Greek,”
Unique, you lags in learning? what? a knack
Caught by Pitholeon with his hybrid clack?
“Nay, but the mixture gives the style more grace,
As Chian, plus Falernian, has more race.”
Come, tell me truly: is this rule applied
To verse-making by you, and nought beside,
Or would you practise it, when called to plead
For poor Petillius, at his direst need?
Forsooth, you choose that moment, to disown
Your old forefathers, Latin to the bone,
And while great Pedius and Corvinus strain
Against you in pure Latin lungs and brain,
Like double-tongued Canusian, try to speak
A piebald speech, half native and half Greek!
Once when, though born on this side of the sea,
I tried my hand at Attic poetry,
Quirinus warned me, rising to my view
An hour past midnight, just when dreams are true:
“Seek you the throng of Grecian bards to swell?
Take sticks into a forest just as well.”
So, while Alpinus spills his Memnon’s blood,
Or gives his Rhine a headpiece of brown mud,
I toy with trifles such as this, unmeet
At Tarpa’s grave tribunal to compete,
Or, mouthed by well-graced actors, be the rage
Of mobs, and hold possession of the stage.