previous next

One of Horace's slaves, making use of that freedom which was allowed them at the Saturnalia,1 rates his master in a droll and severe manner.

I HAVE a long while been attending [to you], and would fain speak a few words [in return; but, being] a slave, I am afraid. "What, Davus?" Yes, Davus, a faithful servant to his master2 and an honest one, at least sufficiently so: that is, for you to think his life in no danger. "Well (since our ancestors would have it so), use the freedom of December: speak on."

One part of mankind are fond of their vices with some con. stancy and adhere to their purpose: a considerable part fluctuates; one while embracing the right, another while liable to depravity. Priscus, frequently observed with three rings, sometimes with his left hand bare,3 lived so irregularly that he would change his robe every hour; from a magnificent edifice, he would on a sudden hide himself in a place, whence a decent freedman could scarcely come out in a decent manner; one while he would choose to lead the life of a rake at Rome, another while that of a teacher at Athens; born under the evil influence of every Vertumnus.4 That buffoon, Volanerius, when the deserved gout had crippled his fingers, maintained [a fellow] that he had hired at a daily price, who took up the dice and put them into a box for him: yet by how much more constant was he in his vice, by so much less wretched was he than the former person, who is now in difficulties by too loose, now by too tight a rein. "Will you not tell to-day, you varlet, whither such wretched stuff as this tends?" "Why, to you, I say." "In what respect to me, scoundrel?"

You praise the happiness and manners of the ancient [Roman] people; and yet, if any god were on a sudden to reduce you to them, you, the same man, would earnestly beg to be excused; either because you are not really of opinion that what you bawl about is right; or because you are irresolute in defending the right, and hesitate, in vain desirous to extract your foot from the mire. At Rome, you long for the country; when you are in the country, fickle, you extol the absent city to the skies. If haply you are invited out nowhere to supper, you praise your quiet dish of vegetables; and as if you ever go abroad upon conpulsion, you think yourself so happy, and do so hug yourself, that you are obliged to drink out nowhere. Should Maecenas lay his commands on you to come late, at the first lighting up of the lamps, as his guest; ‘Will nobody bring the oil with more expedition? Does any body hear?’ You stutter with a mighty bellowing, and storm with rage. Milvius, and the buffoons [who expected to sup with you], depart, after having uttered curses not proper to be repeated. Any one may say, for I own [the truth], that I am easy to be seduced by my appetite; I snuff up my nose at a savory smell: I am weak, lazy; and, if you have a mind to add any thing else, I am a sot. But seeing you are as I am, and perhaps something worse, why do you willfully call me to an. account, as if you were the better man; and, with specious phrases, disguise your own vice? What, if you are found out to be a greater fool than me, who was purchased for five hundred drachmas? Forbear to terrify me with your looks; restrain your hand and your anger, while I relate to you what Crispinus' porter taught me.

Another man's wife captivates you; a harlot, Davus: which of us sins more deservingly of the cross? When keen nature inflames me, any common wench that picks me up, dismisses me neither dishonored, nor caring whether a richer or a handsomer man enjoys her next. You, when you have cast off your ensigns of dignity, your equestrian ring and your Roman habit, turn out from a magistrate a wretched Dama,5 hiding with a cape your perfumed head: are you not really what you personate? You are introduced, apprehensive [of consequences]; and, as you are altercating with your passions, your bones shake with fear. What is the difference whether you go condemned [like a gladiator], to be galled with scourges,6 or slain with the sword; or be closed up in a filthy chest, where [the maid], conscious of her mistress' crime, has stowed you? Has not the husband of the offending dame a just power over both; against the seducer even a juster? But she neither changes her dress, nor place, nor sins to that excess [which you do]; since the woman is in dread of you, nor gives any credit to you, though you profess to love her. You must go under the yoke knowingly, and put all your fortune, your life, and reputation, together with your limbs, into the power of an enraged husband. Have you escaped? I suppose, then, you will be afraid [for the future]; and, being warned, will be cautious. No, you will seek occasion when you may be again in terror, and again may be likely to perish. 0 so often a slave! What beast, when it has once escaped by breaking its toils, absurdly trusts itself to them again? You say, "I am no adulterer." Nor, by Hercules, am I a thief, when I wisely pass by the silver vases. Take away the danger, and vagrant nature will spring forth, when restraints are removed. Are you my superior, subjected as you are, to the dominion of so many things and persons,, whom the prsetor's rod,7 though placed on your head three or four times over, can never free from this wretched solicitude? Add, to what has been said above, a thing of no less weight; whether he be an underling,8 who obeys the master-slave (as it is your custom to affirm), or only a fellow slave, what am I in respect of you? You, for example, who have the command of me, are in subjection to other things, and are led about, like a puppet movable by means of wires not its own.

Who then is free? The wise man, who has dominion over himself; whom neither poverty, nor death, nor chains affright; brave in the checking of his appetites, and in contemning honors; and, perfect in himself, polished and round as a globe,9 so that nothing from without can retard, in consequence of its smoothness; against whom misfortune ever advances ineffectually. Can you, out of these, recognize any thing applicable to yourself? A woman demands five talents of you, plagues you, and after you are turned out of doors, bedews you with cold water: she calls you again. Rescue your neck from this vile yoke; come, say, I am free, I am free. You are not able: for an implacable master oppresses your mind, and claps the sharp spurs to your jaded appetite, and forces you on though reluctant. When you, mad one, quite languish at a picture by Pausias;10 how are you less to blame than I, when I admire the combats of Fulvius and Rutuba and Placideianus, with their bended knees, painted in crayons11 or charcoal, as if the men were actually engaged, and push and parry, moving heir weapons? Davus is a scoundrel and a loiterer; but you have the character of an exquisite and expert connoisseur in antiquities. If I am allured by a smoking pasty, I am a good-for-nothing fellow: does your great virtue and soul resist delicate entertainments? Why is a tenderness for my belly too destructive for me? For my back pays for it. How do you come off with more impunity, since you hanker after such dainties as can not be had for a little expense? Then those delicacies, perpetually taken, pall upon the stomach; and your mistaken feet refuse to support your sickly body. Is that boy guilty, who by night pawns a stolen scraper for some grapes? Has he nothing servile about him, who in indulgence to his guts sells his estates? Add to this, that you yourself can not be an hour by yourself, nor dispose of your leisure in a right manner; and shun yourself as a fugitive and vagabond, one while endeavoring with wine, another while with sleep, to cheat care-in vain: for the gloomy companion presses upon you, and pursues you in your flight. "Where can I get a stone?" "What occasion is there for it?" "Where some darts?" "The man is either mad, or making verses." "If you do not take yourself away in an instant, you shall go [and make] a ninth laborer12 at my Sabine estate."

1 The particular design of the Saturnalia was to represent that equality, which reigned among mankind in the reign of Saturn, when they lived according to the laws of nature, without distinction of conditions. Horace here introduces a slave, asserting that a wise man alone is free, and that real liberty consists in not obeying our passions, or being enslaved to vice. He boldly reproaches his master with his faults and follies. His reasoning is so natural, sensible, and pressing, that Horace, not being able to answer him, at last loses his temper, and is obliged to make use of menaces to silence him.

2Frugi quod sit satis; hoc est. The common people have always imagined that persons of eminent merit do not live so long as others. From thence the proverb, "Too witty to live long."

3Laeva Priscus inani. Before the time of Horace it was infamous to wear more than one ring, and when they began to wear more, they carried them only on the left hand, which was less exposed to public view, as if they would seem ashamed of such marks of effeminacy.

4Vertumnis natis iniquis. Vertumnus presided over the regular seasons of the year, established by the laws of nature. Priscus was therefore born in despite of the god, because all his changes were an effect of oddness and whim. Horace multiplies this god, Vertumni, from the different forms under which he was represented.

5 Davus calls his master a judge, because Augustus had granted him the privilege of wearing a ring and a robe, called Angusticlavium. Thus he was in some measure incorporated into the body of Roman knights, whom Augustus appointed to determine civil causes. By "Dama" he means a mere slave.

6Uri virgis. The people who sold themselves to a master of gladiators, engaged in a form or bond, called auctoramentum, to suffer every thing, sword, fire, whips, chains, and death. They were then received into the profession, and styled auctorati. From thence the terms came to be used for all kinds of infamous engagements.

7 Vindicta was a rod, which the lictor laid on the head of a person whom the praetor made free. Plautus calls it “festuca”. (Mil. 961)

8Nam sive vicarius. The Romans generally had a master-slave in every family, servus atriensis, and all other slaves were called by one common name, vicarii. The first, who commands, is not less a slave than those who obey.

9Teres atque rotundus. The metaphor is taken from a globe, and our vices are those inequalities which stop us in our course of virtue.

10 Pausias was a famous flower-painter. Lucullus gave a thousand crowns for a picture, in which he drew his mistress Glycera sitting, and making a wreath of flowers. He was a contemporary of Apelles.

11 Masters of gladiators hung the pictures of their best champions, such as Fulvius, Rutuba, or Placideianus, at the door of the house where they fought.

12Accedes opera. Opera for servus. Slaves who were employed in tilling their lands were generally chained, so that the threat was enough to alarm Davus, and end the conversation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (C. Smart, 1836)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Rome (Italy) (2)
Sabine (United States) (1)
Dama (Syria) (1)
Athens (Greece) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide References (10 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • E. T. Merrill, Commentary on Catullus, 14
  • Cross-references to this page (1):
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (8):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: