Horace, Epistle i.15

Horace, Epistle i.15

Horace, Epistle i.15

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Jan. 26 2000 3:30 AM

Horace, Epistle i.15

To Numonius Vala

Vala, what's the winter like at Velia?
Tell me about the climate at Salerno.
What are the people like? Are there good roads?
Musa, my doctor, has seen to it that Baiae's
Absolutely out of the question for me
And furthermore he's seen to it that I'm
Extremely unpopular there, now that he makes me
Pour ice water over myself in the middle of winter.

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Naturally Baiae grumbles because its groves
Of myrtle are now no longer what one resorts to,
And its sulfur hot baths scorned, so celebrated
Once upon a time for being good for
Everything that ails one, and they're miffed
By invalids who go away to put
Their heads and shoulders under Clusium's waters
Or else to plunge in Gabii's frigid baths.

So I have to change my route and drive right past
The old familiar places. "Where are you going?
This isn't the way to Baiae or to Cumas"—
That's what the rider's going to say to his horse,
Angrily trying to make him go the old way,
But the horse has the bit in his mouth and won't be turned.

Tell me, what town down there is the best for food?
Do they have fresh water there, flowing from springs
The whole year round, or do they have to use

Rainwater collected in tanks and saved for the purpose?
No point in even asking about the wine.
At home I'm used to putting up with whatever;
But when I go away I want to have
Something a whole lot nicer, smooth and mellow,
Infusing hopefulness into the heart and veins,
Good for banishing care and promoting a flow
Of eloquence to make some lady think
That I'm still young when it's perfectly clear I'm not.
Which town down there is better for serving rabbit,
Which for wild boar, which one is better for fish,
So I'll come back home as fat as a Phaeacian?
Write me a letter; you're my authority.

Maenius with great spirit squandered all
The inheritance he had from his father and mother,
And so became an extra man and sponger,
A parasite with no fixed place of his own,
Who when he needed a dinner would gladly dine out
On vicious scandal he spread with impartial justice
About both friend and foe. And when he wasn't
Able to wangle an invitation he lived
On dishes of cheap gray lamb, inveighing against
Gluttons and prodigals, saying they ought to be branded.
But when he ate well he ate it all up and said,
"My heavens, this ragout of quail is simply delicious."

I'm just like that. When there isn't a lot to be had,
I'm very good at praising moderation;
But when there's something better and richer offered,
Why then I'm very good at praising how
You rich men live and dine in your splendid houses.

David Ferry is a poet, a translator of poetry, and a professor of English at Wellesley College.