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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Laudator Temporis Acti

By Petronius (c. 27–66)

Translation of L. P. D.

THEN said Ganymede:—“You’re talking in the air, and nobody gives a thought to the famine which threatens us. By Hercules! I haven’t been able to get a crumb of bread to-day. And why not? The long drought. Why, I’ve been on short rations for a year now! The ædiles—curse ’em!—are in league with the bakers. ‘One good turn deserves another,’ is their motto; and so the poor toil on, and the jaws that crush them make one long holiday. Oh, if we only had some of those valiant defenders, such as I found here when first I came from Asia. That was living. This sort of thing had been going on in the interior of Sicily: there had been a drought as though Jupiter were in a rage with the Sicilians. But I remember Safinius; when I was a boy he lived by the old arch. What a keen tongue the man had! Wherever he went, he caused a flare-up! But he was an upright man, on whom you could depend—who stood by his friends—with whom you could play morra in the dark. But when he spoke in the Senate! How he dealt his adversaries one after another a knock-down blow: he didn’t talk in the air, either, but went straight to the point. When he was pleading at the bar his voice would peal out like a trumpet; but he never got hot or had to clear his throat. He had a certain something of us Asiatics about him, you see. And how kindly he was! always returned your bow! never forgot a name! Just like one of us! By the same token, when he was ædile, living was dirt-cheap. Two men couldn’t get to the end of a penny loaf; while those you get for the same price nowadays are about as a bull’s eye. These are bad times; this colony is growing backwards like a calf’s tail. And why not? We have a good-for-nothing ædile, who would rather gain a penny than save one of our lives. He lives high, and makes more in one day than all another man’s fortune. I know what brought him in a thousand nummi in gold; but if we were any good, we should make him laugh out of the other side of his mouth. But we are all alike,—brave as lions at home, timid as a fox abroad. As for me, I’ve eaten my wardrobe, and if the scarcity continues I shall sell my little cottage. For what will become of us if neither god nor man has compassion on this colony? I wish I may starve if I don’t believe it all comes from the gods! For nobody believes in heaven any longer; nobody keeps the fasts; nobody cares a straw for Jove: but all shut their eye to everything but their possessions. In olden times the women used to go barefoot to the Capitol, their hair loose and their thoughts pure, and implore Jupiter the god of Rain; and immediately the water would come down in bucketfuls, and all laughed with joy. Never a bit of it now! The feet of the women are shod, and the feet of the gods are slow; it’s because we don’t keep up our religious ceremonies that the fields lie waste.”

“Come now,” said Echion, the rag-man, “be a little more complimentary! ‘Here we go up, and here we go down!’ as the peasant said when he lost his spotted pig. What to-day is not, will be to-morrow. Such is life. By Hercules! our country would be all right, if it had any men in it. It’s passing through a crisis just now. And that’s not the whole of it. We ought to take things as we find them: the zenith is always overhead. If you were in another land, you would say that here the pigs walked round all ready roasted. And we are to have a fine treat in three days’ time on the feast-day; none of your professional gladiators, but a lot of freedmen. Our friend Titus has a warm heart and a clever head. He’s got something or other up his sleeve. I ought to know, for I’m a great friend of his. He’s no sparer of flesh: he will give them good swords and no quarter; the spectators will have a solid heap of dead in their midst: and he can afford it. His father left him a million and a half. Suppose he spends twenty thousand: his fortune won’t feel it, and his name will live forever.”