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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Horace (65–8 B.C.)

Obtrusive Company on the Sacred Way

From “Satires,” translated by John Conington

ALONG the Sacred Road I strolled one day,

Deep in some bagatelle (you know my way),

When up comes one whose name I scarcely knew:

“Ah, dearest of dear fellows, how d’ye do?”

He grasped my hand: “Well, thanks; the same to you.”

Then, as he still kept walking by my side,

To cut things short, “You’ve no commands?” I cried.

“Nay, you should know me; I’m a man of lore.”

“Sir, I’m your humble servant all the more.”

All in a fret to make him let me go,

I now walk fast, now loiter and walk slow,

Now whisper to my servant, while the sweat

Ran down so fast my very feet were wet.

“Oh, had I but a temper worth the name,

Like yours, Bolanus!” inly I exclaim,

While he keeps running on at a hand-trot

About the town, the streets, I know not what.

Finding I made no answer, “Ah, I see

You’re at a strait to rid yourself of me;

But ’tis no use; I’m a tenacious friend,

And mean to hold you till your journey’s end.”

“No need to take you such a round; I go

To visit an acquaintance you don’t know.

Poor man, he’s ailing at his lodging, far

Beyond the bridge, where Cæsar’s gardens are.”

“Oh, never mind; I’ve nothing else to do,

And want a walk, so I’ll step on with you.”

Down go my ears in donkey-fashion, straight;

You’ve seen them do it, when their load’s too great.

“If I mistake not,” he begins, “you’ll find

Viscus not more, nor Varius, to your mind;

There’s not a man can turn a verse so soon,

Or dance so nimbly when he hears a tune;

While, as for singing—ah, my forte is there;

Tigellius’ self might envy me, I’ll swear.”

He paused for breath. I falteringly strike in:

“Have you a mother? Have you kith or kin

To whom your life is precious?” “Not a soul;

My line’s extinct; I have interred the whole.”

Oh, happy they! (so into thought I fell)

After life’s endless babble they sleep well.

My turn is next: despatch me, for the weird

Has come to pass which I so long have feared,

The fatal weird a Sabine beldame sung

All in my nursery days, when life was young:

“No sword nor poison e’er shall take him off,

Nor gout, nor pleurisy, nor racking cough;

A babbling tongue shall kill him; let him fly

All talkers, as he wishes not to die.”

We got to Vesta’s temple, and the sun

Told us a quarter of the day was done.

It chanced he had a suit, and was bound fast

Either to make appearance or be cast.

“Step here a moment, if you love me.” “Nay,

I know no law; ’twould hurt my health to stay.

And then, my call.” “I’m doubting what to do,

Whether to give my lawsuit up, or you.”

“Me, pray!” “I will not.” On he strides again.

I follow, unresisting, in his train.

“How stand you with Mæcenas?” he began;

“He picks his friends with care—a shrewd, wise man.

In fact, I take it, one could hardly name

A head so cool in life’s exciting game.

’Twould be a good deed done, if you could throw

Your servant in his way; I mean, you know.

Just to play second. In a month, I’ll swear,

You’d make an end of every rival there.”

“Oh, you mistake; we don’t live there in league;

I know no house more sacred from intrigue;

I’m never distanced in my friend’s good grace

By wealth or talent; each man finds his place.”

“A miracle! If ’twere not told by you,

I scarce should credit it.” “And yet ’tis true.”

“Ah, well, you double my desire to rise

To special favor with a man so wise.”

“You’ve but to wish it; ’twill be your own fault,

If, with your nerve, you win not by assault.

He can be won; that puts him on his guard,

And so the first approach is always hard.”

“No fear of me, sir. A judicious bribe

Will work a wonder with the menial tribe.

Say I’m refused admittance for to-day,

I’ll watch my time; I’ll meet him in the way,

Escort him, dog him. In this world of ours

The path to what we want ne’er runs on flowers.”

’Mid all this prating met me, as it fell,

Aristius, my good friend, who knew him well.

We stop. Inquiries and replies go round:

“Where do you hail from?” “Whither are you bound?”

There as he stood, impassive like a clod,

I pull at his limp arms, frown, wink, and nod,

To urge him to release me. With a smile

He feigns stupidity. I burn with bile.

“Something there was you said you wished to tell

To me in private.” “Aye, I mind it well;

But not just now. ’Tis a Jews’ fast to-day:

Affront a sect so touchy? Nay, friend, nay!”

“Faith, I’ve no scruples.” “Ah, but I’ve a few!

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 Phœbus, I am freed!