While he looks on and chuckles at your fate,
Like him who, pestered by his donkey’s vice,
Got off and pushed it down the precipice;
For who would lose his temper and his breath
To keep a brute alive that’s bent on death?
Yet one thing more: your fate may be to teach
In some suburban school the parts of speech,
And, maundering over grammar day by day,
Lisp, prattle, drawl, grow childish, and decay.
Well, when in summer afternoons you see
Men fain to listen, tell them about me:
Tell them that, born a freedman’s son, possessed
Of slender means, I soared beyond my nest,
That so whate’er’s deducted for my birth
May count as assets on the score of worth;
Say that I pleased the greatest of my day:
Then draw my picture;—prematurely grey,
Of little person, fond of sunny ease,
Lightly provoked, but easy to appease.
Last, if my age they ask you, let them know
That I was forty-four not long ago,
In the December of last year, the same
That goes by Lepidus’ and Lollius’ name.
I. TO AUGUSTUS.
Cum tot SUSTINEAS.
Since you, great Caesar, singly wield the charge
Of Rome’s concerns, so manifold and large,
With sword and shield the commonwealth protect,
With morals grace it, and with laws correct,
The bard, methinks, would do a public wrong
Who, having gained your ear, should keep it long.
Quirinus, Bacchus, and the Jove-born pair,
Though now invoked with in cense, gifts, and prayer,
While yet on earth they civilized their kind,
Tilled lands, built cities, properties assigned,
Oft mourned for man’s ingratitude, and found
The race they served less thankful than the ground.
The prince whose fated vassalage subdued
Fell Hydra’s power and all the monster brood,
Soon found that envy, worse than all beside,
Could only be extinguished when he died.
He that outshines his age is like a torch,
Which, when it blazes high, is apt to scorch:
Men hate him while he lives: at last, no doubt,
He wins affection—when his light is out.
You, while in life, are honoured as divine,
And vows and oaths are taken at your shrine;
So Rome pays homage to her man of men,
Ne’er seen on earth before, ne’er to be seen again.
But this wise nation, which for once thinks true,
That nought in Greece or here can rival you,
To all things else a different test applies,
And looks on living worth with jaundiced eyes:
While, as for ancient models, take the code
Which to the ten wise men our fathers owed,
The treaties made ’twixt Gabii’s kings and Home’s,
The pontiffs’ books, the bards’ forgotten tomes,
They’ll swear the Muses framed them every one
In close divan on Alba’s Helicon.