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.
II. TO LOLLIUS.
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.