That all, but especially the covetous, think their own condition the hardest.
How comes it to pass, Maecenas, that no one lives content with his condition, whether reason
gave it him, or chance threw it in his way; [but] praises those who follow different pursuits?
"O happy merchants!" says the soldier, oppressed with years,
and now broken down in his limbs through excess of labor. On the other side, the
merchant, when the south winds toss his ship [cries], "Warfare is preferable;" for why? the
engagement is begun, and in an instant there comes a speedy death or a joyful victory. The
lawyer praises the farmer's state
when the client knocks
at his door by cockcrow. He who, having entered into a recognizance,1
is dragged, from the country into the city, cries, "Those only are happy who live in
the city." The other instances of this kind (they are so numerous) would weary out the
not to keep you in suspense, hear to what an issue I will bring the matter.
If any god should say, "Lo! I will effect what you desire: you,
that were just now a soldier, shall be a merchant; you, lately a lawyer [shall be] a farmer.
Do ye depart one way, and ye another, having exchanged the parts you are to act in life. How
now! Why do you stand?" They are unwilling; and yet it is in their power to be happy.
What reason can be assigned, but that Jupiter
should deservedly distend both his cheeks in
indignation, and declare that for the future he will not be so indulgent as to lend an ear to
their prayers? But further, that I may not run over this in a laughing manner, like those [who
treat] on ludicrous subjects (though what hinders one being merry, while telling the truth?
as good-natured teachers at first give cakes to their
boys, that they may be willing to learn their first rudiments: raillery, however, apart, let
us investigate serious matters) lie that turns the heavy glebe with the hard plowshare, this
the soldier, and the sailors,
who dauntless run
through every sea, profess that they endure toil with this intention, that as old men they may
retire into a secure resting-place, when once they have gotten together a sufficient
Thus the little ant (for she is an example), of great industry, carries in her mouth
whatever she is able, and adds to the heap which she piles up,
by no means ignorant and not careless for the future. Which [ant, nevertheless],
as soon as Aquarius saddens the changed year, never creeps abroad, but wisely makes use of
those stores which were provided beforehand: while neither sultry summer, nor winter, fire,
ocean, sword, can drive you from gain.
every obstacle, that no other man may be richer than yourself. What pleasure is it for you,
trembling to deposit an immense weight of silver and gold in the earth dug up by stealth?4
Because, if you should lessen it, it may be reduced to a paltry farthing.
But unless that be the case, what beauty has an accumulated hoard?
Though your thrashing-floor should yield5
a hundred thousand bushels of corn, your belly will not on that account contain more
than mine: just as if it were your lot to carry on your loaded shoulder the basket of bread
among slaves, you would receive no more [for your own share] than he who bore no part of the
burthen. Or tell me, what is it to the purpose of that man, who lives within the compass of
whether he plow a hundred or a thousand acres?
"But it is still delightful to take out of a great hoard."
While you leave us to take as much out of a moderate store why should you extol your
granaries, more than our cornbaskets? As if you had occasion for no more than a pitcher or
glass of water, and should say, "I had rather draw [so much] from a great river, than the very
same quantity from this little fountain." Hence it comes to pass, that the rapid Aufidus
carries away, together with the bank, such men as an
abundance more copious than what is just delights. But he who desires only so much as is
neither drinks water fouled with the mud,
nor loses his life in the waves.
But a great majority of mankind, misled by a wrong desire, cry, "No sum is enough; because
you are esteemed in proportion to what you possess." What can one do to such a tribe as this?
Why, bid them be wretched, since their inclination prompts them to it. As a certain person is
recorded [to have lived] at Athens
covetous and rich, who was wont to despise the talk of the people
in this manner: "The crowd hiss me; but I applaud myself at home, as soon as I contemplate my
money in my chest." The thirsty Tantalus catches at the streams, which elude his lips. Why do
you laugh? The name changed, the tale is told of you.
You sleep upon your bags, heaped up on every side, gaping over them, and are obliged to
abstain from them, as if they were consecrated things, or to amuse yourself with them as you
would with pictures. Are you ignorant of what value money has, what use it can afford? Bread,
herbs, a bottle of wine may be purchased; to which [necessaries],
add [such others], as, being withheld, human nature would be uneasy with itself.
What, to watch half dead with terror, night and day, to dread profligate thieves, fire, and
your slaves, lest they should run away and plunder you; is this delightful? I should always
wish to be very poor in possessions held upon these terms.
But if your body should be disordered by being seized
with a cold, or any other casualty should confine you to your bed, have you one that will
abide by you, prepare medicines, entreat the physician that he would set you upon your feet,
and restore you to your children and dear relations?
Neither your wife, nor your son, desires your recovery;
all your neighbors, acquaintances, [nay the very] boys and girls hate you. Do you wonder
that no one tenders you the affection which you do not merit, since you prefer your money to
every thing else? If you think to retain, and preserve as friends, the relations which nature
gives you, without taking any pains;
wretch that you
are, you lose your labor equally, as if any one should train an ass to be obedient to the
rein, and run in the Campus [Martius]. Finally, let there be some end to your search; and, as
your riches increase, be in less dread of poverty; and begin to cease from your toil, that
being acquired which you coveted:
nor do as did one
Umidius (it is no tedious story), who was so rich that he measured his money, so sordid that
he never clothed himself any better than a slave; and, even to his last moments, was in dread
lest want of bread should oppress him: but his freed-woman,
the bravest of all the daughters of Tyndarus,6
cut him in two with a hatchet. "What therefore do you persuade me to? That I should
lead the life of Naevius, or in such a manner as a Nomentanus?"
You are going [now] to make things tally, that are contradictory in their natures.7
When I bid you not be a miser, I do not order you to become a debauchee or a prodigal.
There is some difference between the case of
and his son-in-law Visellius: there is a mean
in things; finally, there are certain boundaries, on either side of which moral rectitude can
not exist. I return now whence I digressed. Does no one, after the miser's example, like his
own station, but rather praise those who have different pursuits;
and pines, because his neighbor's she-goat bears a more distended udder; nor
considers himself in relation to the greater multitude of poor; but labors to surpass, first
one, and then another? Thus the richer man is always an obstacle to one that is hastening [to
as when the courser whirls along the chariot,
dismissed from the place of starting; the charioteer presses upon those horses which outstrip
his own, despising him that is left behind coming on among the last. Hence it is, that we
rarely find a man who can say he has lived happy, and content with his past life, can retire
from the world like a satisfied guest.8
Enough for the present: nor will I add one word more,
lest you should suspect that I have plundered the escrutoire of the blear-eyed Crispinus.