Suppose the world of Rome accosts me thus:
“You walk where we walk; why not think with us,
Be ours for better or for worse, pursue
The things we love, the things we hate eschew?”
I answer as sly Reynard answered, when
The ailing lion asked him to his den:
“I’m frightened at those footsteps: every track
Leads to your home, but ne’er a one leads back.”
Nay, you’re a perfect Hydra: who shall choose
Which view to follow out of all your views?
Some farm the taxes; some delight to see
Their money grow by usury, like a tree;
Some bait a widow-trap with fruits and cakes,
And net old men, to stock their private lakes.
But grant that folks have different hobbies; say,
Does one man ride one hobby one whole day?
“Baiae’s the place!” cries Croesus: all is haste;
The lake, the sea, soon feel their master’s taste:
A new whim prompts: ’tis “Pack your tools tonight!
Off for Teanum with the dawn of light!”
The nuptial bed is in his hall; he swears
None but a single life is free from cares:
Is he a bachelor? all human bliss,
He vows, is centred in a wedded kiss.
How shall I hold this Proteus in my gripe?
How fix him down in one enduring type?
Turn to the poor: their megrims are as strange;
Bath, cockloft, barber, eating-house, they change;
They hire a boat; your born aristocrat
Is not more squeamish, tossing in his yacht.
If, when we meet, I’m cropped in awkward style
By some uneven barber, then you smile;
You smile, if, as it haps, my gown’s askew,
If my shirt’s ragged while my tunic’s new:
How, if my mind’s inconsequent, rejects
What late it longed for, what it loathed affects,
Shifts every moment, with itself at strife,
And makes a chaos of an ordered life,
Builds castles up, then pulls them to the ground,
Keeps changing round for square and square for round?
You smile not; ’tis an every-day affair;
I need no doctor’s, no, nor keeper’s care:
Yet you’re my patron, and would blush to fail
In taking notice of an ill-pared nail.
So, to sum up: the sage is half divine,
Rich, free, great, handsome, king of kings, in fine;
A miracle of health from toe to crown,
Mind, heart, and head, save when his nose runs down.
TROJANI Belli SCRIPTOREM.
While you at Rome, dear Lollius, train your tongue,
I at Praeneste read what Homer sung:
What’s good, what’s bad, what helps, what hurts, he shows
Better in verse than Crantor does in prose.
The reason why I think so, if you’ll spare
A moment from your business, I’ll declare.