Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
From The Sixth Satire
By Juvenal (Decimus Juntos Juvenalis) (c. 55–127)
(To Ursidius Posthumus. Translated by William Gifford)

YES, I believe that Chastity was known,
And prized on earth, while Saturn filled the throne;
When rocks a bleak and scanty shelter gave,
When sleep and shepherds thronged one common cave,
And when the mountain wife her couch bestrewed        5
With skins of beasts, joint tenants of the wood,
And reeds, and leaves plucked from the neighbouring tree:—
A woman, Cynthia, far unlike to thee,
Or thee, weak child of fondness and of fears,
Whose eyes a sparrow’s death suffused with tears:        10
But strong, and reaching to her burly brood
Her big-swollen breasts, replete with wholesome food,
And rougher than her husband, gorged with mast,
And frequent belching from the coarse repast.
For when the world was new, the race that broke,        15
Unfathered, from the soil or opening oak,
Lived most unlike the men of later times,
The puling brood of follies and of crimes.
  Haply some trace of Chastity remained,
While Jove, but Jove as yet unbearded, reigned:        20
Before the Greek bound, by another’s head,
His doubtful faith; or men, of theft in dread,
Had learned their herbs and fruitage to immure,
But all was unenclosed, and all secure!
At length Astrea, from these confines driven,        25
Regained by slow degrees her native heaven;
With her retired her sister in disgust,
And left the world to rapine, and to lust.
  ’Tis not a practice, friend, of recent date,
But old, established, and inveterate,        30
To climb another’s couch, and boldly slight
The sacred Genius of the nuptial rite:
All other crimes the Age of Iron curst;
But that of Silver saw adulterers first.
*        *        *        *        *
  Go then, prepare to bring your mistress home,        35
And crown your doors with garlands, ere she come.—
But will one man suffice, methinks, you cry,
For all her wants and wishes? Will one eye!
  And yet there runs, ’tis said, a wondrous tale,
Of some pure maid, who lives—in some lone vale.        40
There she may live; but let the phœnix, placed
At Gabii or Fidenæ, prove as chaste
As at her father’s farm!—Yet who will swear,
That naught is done in night and silence there?
Time was, when Jupiter and Mars, we’re told,        45
With many a nymph in woods and caves made bold;
And still, perhaps, they may not be too old.
  Survey our public places; see you there
One woman worthy of your serious care?
See you, through all the crowded benches, one        50
Whom you might take securely for your own?—
Lo! while Bathyllus, with his flexile limbs,
Acts Leda, and through every posture swims,
Tuccia delights to realize the play,
And in lascivious trances melts away;        55
While rustic Thymelè, with curious eye,
Marks the quick pant, the lingering, deep-drawn sigh,
And while her cheeks with burning blushes glow,
Learns this—learns all the city matrons know.
*        *        *        *        *
  Hippia, who shared a rich patrician’s bed,        60
To Egypt with a gladiator fled,
While rank Canopus eyed, with strong disgust,
This ranker specimen of Roman lust.
Without one pang, the profligate resigned
Her husband, sister, sire; gave to the wind        65
Her children’s tears; yea, tore herself away,
(To strike you more)—from Paris and the Play!
And though, in affluence born, her infant head
Had pressed the down of an embroidered bed,
She braved the deep, (she long had braved her fame;        70
But this is little—to the courtly dame),
And, with undaunted breast, the changes bore
Of many a sea, the swelling and the roar.
  Have they an honest call, such ills to bear?
Cold shiverings seize them, and they shrink with fear;        75
But set illicit pleasure in their eye,
Onward they rush, and every toil defy!
  Summoned by duty, to attend her lord,
How, cried the lady, can I get on board?
How bear the dizzy motion? how the smell?        80
But—when the adulterer calls her, all is well!
She roams the deck, with pleasure ever new,
Tugs at the ropes, and messes with the crew;
But with her husband—O, how changed the case!
Sick! sick! she cries, and vomits in his face.
*        *        *        *        *
  Start you at wrongs that touch a private name,
At Hippia’s lewdness, and Veiento’s shame?
Turn to the rivals of the immortal Powers,
And mark how like their fortunes are to ours!
Claudius had scarce begun his eyes to close,        90
Ere from his pillow Messalina rose
(Accustomed long the bed of state to slight
For the coarse mattress, and the hood of night);
And with one maid, and her dark hair concealed
Beneath a yellow tire, a strumpet veiled!        95
She slipt into the stews, unseen, unknown,
And hired a cell, yet reeking, for her own.
There, flinging off her dress, the imperial whore
Stood, with bare breasts and gilded, at the door,
And showed, Britannicus, to all who came,        100
The womb that bore thee, in Lycisca’s name!
Allured the passers-by with many a wile,
And asked her price, and took it, with a smile.
And when the hour of business now was spent,
And all the trulls dismissed, repining went;        105
Yet what she could, she did; slowly she past,
And saw her man, and shut her cell, the last,
—Still raging with the fever of desire,
Her veins all turgid, and her blood all fire,
With joyless pace, the imperial couch she sought,        110
And to her happy spouse (yet slumbering) brought
Cheeks rank with sweat, limbs drenched with poisonous dews,
The steam of lamps, and odor of the stews!
  ’Twere long to tell what philters they provide,
What drugs, to set a son-in-law aside.        115
Women, in judgment weak, in feeling strong,
By every gust of passion borne along,
Act, in their fits, such crimes, that, to be just,
The least pernicious of their sins is lust.
*        *        *        *        *
  Some faults, though small, no husband yet can bear:        120
’Tis now the nauseous cant, that none is fair,
Unless her thoughts in Attic terms she dress;
A mere Cecropian of a Sulmoness!
All now is Greek: in Greek their souls they pour,
In Greek their fears, hopes, joys;—what would you more?        125
In Greek they clasp their lovers. We allow
These fooleries to girls: but thou, O thou,
Who tremblest on the verge of eighty-eight,
To Greek it still!—’tis now, a day too late.
Foh! how it savours of the dregs of lust,        130
When an old hag, whose blandishments disgust,
Affects the infant lisp, the girlish squeak,
And mumbles out, “My life! My soul!” in Greek!
Words, which the secret sheets alone should hear,
But which she trumpets in the public ear.        135
And words, indeed, have power—But though she woo
In softer strains than e’er Carpophorus knew,
Her wrinkles still employ her favourite’s cares;
And while she murmurs love, he counts her years!
*        *        *        *        *
  To a fond spouse a wife no mercy shows:—        140
Though warmed with equal fires, she mocks his woes,
And triumphs in his spoils: her wayward will
Defeats his bliss, and turns his good to ill!
Naught must be given, if she opposes; naught,
If she opposes, must be sold or bought;        145
She tells him where to love, and where to hate,
Shuts out the ancient friend, whose beard his gate
Knew, from its downy to its hoary state:
And when pimps, parasites, of all degrees,
Have power to will their fortunes as they please,        150
She dictates his; and impudently dares
To name his very rivals for his heirs!
  “Go, crucify that slave.” For what offence?
Who the accuser? Where the evidence?
For when the life of MAN is in debate,        155
No time can be too long, no care too great;
Hear all, weigh all with caution, I advise—
“Thou sniveller! is a slave a MAN?” she cries.
“He’s innocent! be’t so:—’tis my command,
My will; let that, sir, for a reason stand.”        160
  Thus the virago triumphs, thus she reigns:
Anon she sickens of her first domains,
And seeks for new; husband on husband takes,
Till of her bridal veil one rent she makes.
Again she tires, again for change she burns,        165
And to the bed she lately left returns,
While the fresh garlands, and unfaded boughs,
Yet deck the portal of her wondering spouse.
Thus swells the list; EIGHT HUSBANDS IN FIVE YEARS:
A rare inscription for their sepulchres!
*        *        *        *        *
  Nay more, they FENCE! who has not marked their oil,
Their purple rugs, for this preposterous toil?
Room for the lady—lo! she seeks the list,
And fiercely tilts at her antagonist,
A post! which, with her buckler, she provokes,        175
And bores and batters with repeated strokes;
Till all the fencer’s art can do she shows,
And the glad master interrupts her blows.
O worthy, sure, to head those wanton dames,
Who foot it naked at the Floral games;        180
Unless, with nobler daring, she aspire,
And tempt the arena’s bloody field—for hire!
  What sense of shame is to that female known,
Who envies our pursuits, and hates her own?
Yet would she not, though proud in arms to shine        185
(True woman still), her sex for ours resign;
For there’s a thing she loves beyond compare,
And we, alas! have no advantage there.—
  Heavens! with what glee a husband must behold
His wife’s accoutrements, in public, sold;        190
And auctioneers displaying to the throng
Her crest, her belt, her gauntlet, and her thong!
Or, if in wilder frolics she engage,
And take her private lessons for the stage,
Then three-fold rapture must expand his breast,        195
To see her greaves “a-going,” with the rest.
  Yet these are they, the tender souls! who sweat
In muslin, and in silk expire with heat.—
Mark, with what force, as the full blow descends,
She thunders “hah!” again, how low she bends        200
Beneath the opposer’s stroke; how firm she rests,
Poised on her hams, and every step contests:
Then laugh—to see her squat, when all is o’er!
  Daughters of Lepidus, and Gurges old,
And blind Metellus, did ye e’er behold        205
Asylla (though a fencer’s trull contest)
Tilt at a stake, thus impudently drest!
  ’Tis night; yet hope no slumbers with your wife;
The nuptial bed is still the scene of strife:
There lives the keen debate, the clamorous brawl,        210
And quiet “never comes, that comes to all.”
Fierce as a tigress plundered of her young,
Rage fires her breast, and loosens all her tongue,
When, conscious of her guilt, she feigns to groan,
And chides your loose amours, to hide her own;        215
Storms at the scandal of your baser flames,
And weeps her injuries from imagined names,
With tears that, marshaled, at their station stand,
And flow impassioned, as she gives command.
You think those showers her true affection prove,        220
And deem yourself—so happy in her love!
With fond caresses strive her heart to cheer,
And from her eyelids suck the starting tear:
—But could you now examine the scrutore
Of this most loving, this most jealous whore,        225
What amorous lays, what letters would you see,
Proofs, damning proofs, of her sincerity!
*        *        *        *        *
Now, all the evils of long peace are ours;
Luxury, more terrible than hostile powers,
Her baleful influence wide around has hurled,        230
And well avenged the subjugated world!
—Since Poverty, our better Genius, fled,
Vice, like a deluge, o’er the State has spread.
Now, shame to Rome! in every street are found
The essenced Sybarite, with roses crowned,        235
The gay Miletan, and the Tarentine,
Lewd, petulant, and reeling ripe with wine!
Wealth first, the ready pander to all sin,
Brought foreign manners, foreign vices in;
Enervate wealth, and with seductive art,        240
Sapped every homebred virtue of the heart;
Yes, every:—for what cares the drunken dame
(Take head or tail, to her ’tis just the same),
Who, at deep midnight, on fat oysters sups,
And froths with unguents her Falernian cups;        245
Who swallows oceans, till the tables rise,
And double lustres dance before her eyes!
  Thus flushed, conceive, as Tullia homeward goes,
With what contempt she tosses up her nose
At Chastity’s hoar fane! what impious jeers        250
Collatia pours in Maura’s tingling ears!
Here stop their litters, here they all alight,
And squat together in the goddess’ sight:—
You pass, aroused at dawn your court to pay,
The loathsome scene of their licentious play.        255
  Who knows not now, my friend, the secret rites
Of the GOOD GODDESS; when the dance excites
The boiling blood; when, to distraction wound,
By wine, and music’s stimulating sound,
The mænads of Priapus, with wild air,        260
Howl horrible, and toss their flowing hair!
Then, how the wine at every pore o’erflows!
How the eye sparkles! how the bosom glows!
How the cheek burns! and, as the passions rise,
How the strong feeling bursts in eager cries!—        265
Saufeia now springs forth, and tries a fall
With the town prostitutes, and throws them all;
But yields, herself, to Medullina, known
For parts, and powers, superior to her own.
Maids, mistresses, alike the contest share,        270
And ’tis not always birth that triumphs there.
  Nothing is feigned in this accursed game:
’Tis genuine all; and such as would inflame
The frozen age of Priam, and inspire
The ruptured bed-rid Nestor with desire.        275
Stung with their mimic feats, a hollow groan
Of lust breaks forth; the sex, the sex is shown!
And one loud yell re-echoes through the den,
“Now, now, ’tis lawful! now admit the men!”
There’s none arrived. “Not yet! then scour the street,        280
And bring us quickly here, the first you meet.”
There’s none abroad. “Then fetch our slaves.” They’re gone.
“Then hire a waterman.” There’s none. “Not one!”—
Nature’s strong barrier scarcely now restrains
The baffled fury in their boiling veins!
*        *        *        *        *
  Others there are, who centre all their bliss
In the soft eunuch, and the beardless kiss:
They need not from his chin avert their face,
Nor use abortive drugs, for his embrace.
But oh! their joys run high, if he be formed,        290
When his full veins the fire of love has warmed;
When every part’s to full perfection reared,
And naught of manhood wanting, but the beard.
  But should the dame in music take delight,
The public singer is disabled quite;        295
In vain the prætor guards him all he can;
She slips the buckle, and enjoys her man.
Still in her hand his instrument is found,
Thick set with gems, that shed a lustre round;
Still o’er his lyre the ivory quill she flings,        300
Still runs divisions on the trembling strings,
The trembling strings, which the loved Hedymel
Was wont to strike—so sweetly, and so well!
These still she holds, with these she soothes her woes,
And kisses on the dear, dear wire bestows.        305
  A noble matron of the Lamian line
Inquired of Janus, (offering meal and wine)
If Pollio, at the Harmonic Games, would speed,
And wear the oaken crown, the victor’s meed!
What could she for a husband, more, have done,        310
What for an only, an expiring son?
Yes; for a harper, the besotted dame
Approached the altar, reckless of her fame,
And veiled her head, and, with a pious air,
Followed the Aruspex through the form of prayer;        315
And trembled, and turned pale, as he explored
The entrails, breathless for the fatal word!
*        *        *        *        *
  A woman stops at nothing, when she wears
Rich emeralds round her neck, and in her ears
Pearls of enormous size; these justify        320
Her faults, and make all lawful in her eye.
Sure, of all ills with which mankind are curst,
A wife who brings you money is the worst.
Behold! her face a spectacle appears,
Bloated, and foul, and plastered to the ears        325
With viscous paste:—the husband looks askew,
And sticks his lips in the detested glue.
She meets the adulterer bathed, perfumed, and drest,
But rots in filth at home, a very pest!
For him she breathes of nard; for him alone        330
She makes the sweets of Araby her own;
For him, at length, she ventures to uncase,
Scales the first layer of roughcast from her face,
And, while the maids to know her now begin,
Clears, with that precious milk, her frowzy skin,        335
For which, though exiled to the frozen main,
She’d lead a drove of asses in her train!
But tell me yet; this thing, thus daubed and oiled,
Thus poulticed, plastered, baked by turns and boiled,
Thus with pomatums, ointments, lacquered o’er,        340
Is it a FACE, Ursidius, or a SORE?
*        *        *        *        *

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