Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
Obtrusive Company on the Sacred Way
By Horace (65–8 B.C.)
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.”        5
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,        10
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,        15
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,        20
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.”        25
“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        30
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.”        35
  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)        40
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:        45
“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        50
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.        55
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;        60
“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.        65
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        70
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.”        75
“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        80
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.”        85
  ’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,        90
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;        95
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,        100
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?”        105
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!

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