previous next

On Frugality.

WHAT and how great is the virtue to live on a little (this is no doctrine of mine, but what Ofellus the peasant, a philosopher without rules1 and of a home-spun2 wit, taught me), learn, my good friends, not among dishes and splendid tables; when the eye is dazzled with the vain glare, and the mind, intent upon false appearances, refuses [to admit] better things; but here, before dinner, discuss this point with me. Why so? I will inform you, if I can. Every corrupted judge examines badly the truth. After hunting the hare, or being wearied by an unruly horse, or (if the Roman exercise fatigues you, accustomed to act the Greek) whether the swift ball, while eagerness softens and prevents your perceiving the severity of the game, or quoits (smite the yielding air with the quoit) when exercise has worked off squeamishness, dry and hungry, [then let me see you] despise mean viands; and don't drink any thing but Hymettian honey qualified3 with Falernian wine. Your butler is abroad, and the tempestuous sea preserves the fish by its wintery storms: bread and salt will sufficiently appease an importunate stomach. Whence do you think this happens? and how is it obtained? The consummate pleasure is not in the costly flavor, but in yourself. Do you seek for sauce by sweating. Neither oysters, nor scar, nor the far-fetched lagois,4 can give any pleasure to one bloated and pale through intemperance. Nevertheless, if a peacock5 were served up, I should hardly be able to prevent your gratifying the palate with that, rather than a pullet, since you are prejudiced by the vanities of things; because the scarce bird is bought with gold, and displays a fine sight with its painted tail: as if that were any thing to the purpose. What, do you eat that plumage, which you extol? or has the bird the same beauty when dressed? Since however there is no difference in the meat, in one preferably to the other; it is manifest that you are imposed upon by the disparity of their appearances. Be it so.

By what gift are you able to distinguish, whether this lupus, that now opens its jaws before us, was taken in the Tiber, or in the sea? whether it was tossed between the bridges, or at the mouth of the Tuscan river? Fool, you praise a mullet, that weighs three pounds; which you are obliged to cut into small pieces. Outward appearances lead you, I see. To what intent then do you contemn large lupuses? Because truly these are by nature bulky, and those very light. A hungry stomach seldom loathes common victuals. O that I could see a swingeing mullet extended on a swingeing dish! cries that gullet, which is fit for the voracious harpies themselves. But O [say I] ye southern blasts, be present to taint the delicacies of the [gluttons]: though the boar and turbot newly taken are rank, when surfeiting abundance provokes the sick stomach; and when the sated guttler prefers turnips and sharp elecampane. However, all [appearance of] poverty is not quite banished from the banquets of our nobles; for there is, even at this day, a place for paltry eggs and black olives.6 And it was not long ago, since the table of Gallonius, the auctioneer, was rendered infamous, by having a sturgeon [served up whole upon it]. What? was the sea at that time less nutritive of turbots?7 The turbot was secure and the stork unmolested in her nest; till the praetorian [Sempronius], the inventor,8 first taught you [to eat them]. Therefore, if any one were to give it out that roasted cormorants are delicious, the Roman youth, teachable in depravity, would acquiesce in it.

In the judgment of Ofellus, a sordid way of living will differ widely from frugal simplicity. For it is to no purpose for you to shun that vice [of luxury]; if you perversely fly to the contrary extreme. Avidienus, to whom the nickname of Dog is applied with propriety, eats olives of five years old, and wild cornels, and can not bear to rack off his wine unless it be turned sour, and the smell of his oil you can not endure: which (though clothed in white he celebrates the wedding festival,9 his birth-day, or any other festal days) he pours out himself by little and little from a horn cruet, that holds two pounds, upon his cabbage, [but at the same time] is lavish enough of his old vinegar.

What manner of living therefore shall the wise man put in practice, and which of these examples shall he copy? On one side the wolf presses on, and the dog on the other, as the saying is. A person will be accounted decent, if he offends not by sordidness, and is not despicable through either extreme of conduct. Such a man will not, after the example of old Albutius, be savage while he assigns to his servants their respective offices; nor, like simple Naevius, will he offer greasy water to his company: for this too is a great fault.

Now learn what and how great benefits a temperate diet will bring along with it. In the first place, you will enjoy good health; for you may believe how detrimental a diversity of things is to any man, when you recollect that sort of food, which by its simplicity sat so well upon your stomach some time ago. But, when you have once mixed boiled and roast together, thrushes and shell-fish; the sweet juices will turn to bile, and the thick phlegm will bring a jarring upon the stomach. Do not you see, how pale each guest rises from a perplexing variety of dishes at an entertainment. Beside this, the body, overloaded with the debauch of yesterday, depresses the mind along with it, and dashes to the earth that portion of the divine spirit.10 Another man, as soon as he has taken a quick repast, and rendered up his limbs to repose, rises vigorous to the duties of his calling. However, he may sometimes have recourse to better cheer; whether the returning year shall bring on a festival, or if he have a mind to refresh his impaired body; and when years shall approach, and feeble age require to be used more tenderly. But as for you, if a troublesome habit of body, or creeping old age, should come upon you, what addition can be made to that soft indulgence, which you, now in youth and in health, anticipate?

Our ancestors praised a boar when it was stale: not because they had no noses; but with this view, I suppose, that a visitor coming later than ordinary [might partake of it], though a little musty, rather than the voracious master should devour it all himself while sweet. I wish that the primitive earth had produced me among such heroes as these.

Have you any regard for reputation, which affects the human ear more agreeably than music? Great turbots and dishes bring great disgrace along with them, together with expense. Add to this, that your relations and neighbors will be exasperated at you, while you will be at enmity with yourself and desirous of death in vain, since you will not in your poverty have three farthings left to purchase a rope withal. Trausius, you say, may with justice be called to account in such language as this; but I possess an ample revenue, and wealth sufficient for three potentates. Why then have you no better method of expending your superfluities? Why is any man, undeserving [of distressed circumstances], in want, while you abound? How comes it to pass, that the ancient temples of the gods are falling to ruin? Why do not you, wretch that you are, bestow something on your dear country, out of so vast a hoard? What, will matters always go well with you alone? 0 thou, that hereafter shalt be the great derision of thine enemies! which of the two shall depend upon himself in exigences with most certainty? He who has used his mind and high-swollen body to redundancies; or he who, contented with a little and provident for the future, like a wise man in time of peace, shall make the necessary preparations for war?

That you may the more readily give credit to these things: I myself, when a little boy, took notice that this Ofellus did not use his unencumbered estate more profusely, than he does now it is reduced. You may see the sturdy husbandman laboring for hire in the land [once his own, but now] assigned [to others],11 with his cattle and children, talking to this effect; I never ventured to eat any thing on a work-day except pot-herbs, with a hock of smoke-dried bacon. And when a friend came to visit me after a long absence, or a neighbor, an acceptable guest to me resting from work on account of the rain, we lived well; not on fishes fetched from the city, but on a pullet and a kid: then a dried grape, and a nut, with a large fig,12 set off our second course. After this, it was our diversion to have no other regulation in our cups, save that against drinking to excess:13 then Ceres worshiped [with a libation], that the corn might arise in lofty stems, smoothed with wine the melancholy of the contracted brow. Let fortune rage, and stir up new tumults: what can she do more to impair my estate? How much more savingly have either I lived, or how much less neatly have you gone, my children, since this new possessor came? For nature has appointed to be lord of this earthly property, neither him, nor me, nor any one. He drove us out: either iniquity or ignorance in the quirks of the law shall [do the same by] him: certainly in the end his long-lived heir shall expel him. Now this field under the denomination of Umbrenus', lately it was Ofellus', the perpetual property of no man; for it turns to my use one while, and by and by to that of another. Wherefore, live undaunted; and oppose gallant breasts against the strokes of adversity.

1Abnormis. "A philosopher without rules." Ofellus was an Epicurean without knowing it, but his morality was in a medium between the very rigid and very dissolute followers of that sect.

2 Minerva presides over spinning, hence this proverbial expression for "of a thick thread," i. e. of a coarse texture. Thus Cic. Ep. Fam. ix. 12,Crasso filo” .

3Diluta. This mixture was called mulsum, mead. Ofella says: Don't drink any thing but mead made of the best honey and the best wine. Diluere is applied to those things which are melted by the addition of fluid. Thus Virg. Geor. i. 341,Cui tu lacte favos et miti dilue Baccho.” And Sat. ii. 3, 214,aceto | Diluit insignem baccam.

4Lagois. We do not find this word in any other author. It was probably a foreign bird, whose flesh tasted and looked like that of a hare; a favorite dish among the Romans. Ostrea is of two syllables, as in Virgil, “Bis patriae cecidere manus: quin protenus omnia.(Aen. 6.33)

5 Quintus Hortensius was the first who gave the Romans a taste for peacocks, and it soon became so fashionable a dish, that all the people of fortune had it at their tables. Cicero very pleasantly says, he had the boldness to invite Hirtius to sup with him, even without a peacock. “Sed vide audaciam, etiam Hirtio coenam dedi sine pavone.(Fam. 9.20) M. Aufidius Latro made a prodigious fortune by fattening them for sale.

6 Olives, intended for the table, were gathered when they began to ripen and turn black.

7 The fanciful, fashionable taste is but of short continuance; that of nature is unalterable. You are now as fond of turbot as Gallonius was of sturgeon. But were there no turbots in his time ? Certainly there were; but no coxcomb had made them fashionable, and the praetor decided in favor of sturgeon. Another glutton brought turbots and storks into vogue, and perhaps we only wait for a third man of taste to assure us, that a roasted cormorant is infinitely more delicious than sturgeons, turbots, or storks.

8 The storks built their nests in safety until the time of Augustus, when your praetor taught you to eat them. Asinius Sempronius, or, according to others, Rutilius Rufus, when candidate for the praetorship, entertained the people with a dish of storks. But the people, according to an ancient epigram, revenged the death of the poor birds by refusing the praetorship to their murderer. From this refusal the poet pleasantly calls him praetor.

9Repotia was a festival the day after the nuptials, when they drank and ate whatever remained of yesterday's entertainment, quia iterum potaretur. The construction is remarkable, “alios dierum festos”, for alios qui ex diebus festi sunt. “Albatus”, white, was usually the color of the Roman robe even at funeral feasts. “Ipse” is a circumstance that strongly marks the avarice of Avidienus. Afraid that his guests or his servants should be too profuse of his oil, he pours it himself. The poet tells us, his bottle was of two pounds weight, as if it were his whole store, although he was extremely rich; and the vessel was of horn, that it might last a long time. All these particulars are in character.

10Divinae particulam aurae. To raise the nobleness of the mind, Horace has borrowed the language of Plato; who says, that it is a portion of the universal soul of the world, that is, of the divinity himself.

11Metato in agello. Ofellus was involved in the same disgrace and ruin as Virgil, Tibullus, and Propertius. Their estates were given by Octavius to the veterans who had served against Brutus and Cassius in the battle of Philippi. That of Ofellus was given to Umbrenus, who hired its former master to till the ground for him, “mercede colonum”. As each soldier had a certain number of acres, the land was measured, “metato agello”, before it was divided.

12Duplice , a kind of large fig, called Marisca; or bifida; or figs were split into two parts, and when dried, served up mensis secundis. The last is proved to be the correct interpretation from Pallad. R. R. iv. 10, 36:Subinde ficus, sicut est divisa, vertatur, ut ficorum coria siccentur et pulpae tunc duplicate in cistellis serventur aut loculis.

13 It was customary with the Romans to appoint some person magister bibendi, who directed the number of cups to be taken, and the toasts, etc. Ofella says there was no such person appointed, but that the only president that they had at their table was culpa, i. e. "excess." Each person took as much as he pleased, restricted only by the feeling that excess was culpable. The ancients had a ludus, which was intended to prevent the intoxication that might arise from being obliged to obey the magister bibendi in taking the number of cups which he directed. The person who (aliqua in re peccarat) violated any of the convivial laws or customs, was punished by being obliged to drink a cupful, poculo multabatur, so that as no one drank but those who committed some breach of the laws, bibere poenae et dedecoris esset, non invitationis aut magisterii. Thus culpa was magistra bibendi.

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 References (15 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: