The two longish verse epistles of which this book is constituted were probably published  in 11 B.C. a decade after Epistles Book I and shortly before Odes Book IV, which he composed despite his assertions that he would not write any more lyric poetry (see Epistles Book I. 1. 10, and Epistles Book II. 1. 111-112).

The first of these two poetic epistles was addressed to the Emperor Augustus himself, which was the first and only occasion on which Horace presumed to address the great man directly, and according to Suetonius this was, because Augustus, having read a number of Horace's hexameter poems, had complained that he had not been addressed himself. It is also likely that this letter was written to coincide with Augustus' assumption of the position of Pontifex Maximus in 12 B.C. following the death of the former triumvir Lepidus in the previous year. Thus, this epistle speaks of the religious honours being paid to Augustus (see lines 15-16). The poem features a long discussion of the position of poets in contemporary Roman society, and Horace seeks to cultivate the princeps' support and patronage for literary figures such as himself. However, as he points out very graphically, one obstacle to such imperial support was the inordinate preference demonstrated by Roman audiences for the works of antique poets and the scorn that tended to be shown towards modern writers. The unreasonable nature of this prejudice is highlighted by Horace, who considers that public taste had comprehensively failed to keep pace with poetical improvements. He concludes this interesting subject by praising the princeps for the judicious patronage which he had already afforded to poets of merit, and by encouraging him to further extend his support and protection to those who have the power to bestow immortality on princes. While the principal subject matter of this epistle concerns the place of poets in modern society, Horace still manages to weave into its fabric three sections mainly devoted to Augustus himself (lines 1 -19, 214-28, 245-70), and this poem is a clear example of the sophisticated manner in which Horace's poetry provided support for Augustus and his achievements.

The second poem, to Julius Florus, a faithful friend of the future Emperor Tiberius, which was composed earlier than the first, that is in 19-18 B.C., takes the form of a protracted excuse for the poet's failure to provide the lyric poetry which he appears to have promised him. Horace acknowledges that he is lazy, and now that he is comfortably off, he no longer has an incentive to labour away at writing poetry, which is, in any case, very hard work, Furthermore, Rome, with its noise and distractions, is an impossible place in which to write serious poetry. At the same time, Horace has also reached an age when he thought it was appropriate for him to address more serious matters, such as philosophy. Within this basic framework, there are passages of great vividness and humour in this poem. Horace highlights, as a further excuse for his inactivity, the multitude of bad and conceited poets with which the capital swarmed. The epistle also includes some amusing stories, such as the one about the ex-soldier of Lucullus, who has his purse stolen while he is asleep.

The literary and linguistic qualities of Epistles Book II, and the textual and critical authorities employed on it, are the same as those of Book I, the translation of which was published on this blog by Sabidius on 22 March 2015, and the the reader is referred to the introduction to that as equally relevant here. Translating Horace's verse is not particularly difficult from a grammatical viewpoint, but it is not always clear just what the great man is actually trying to say in relation to a particular sentence or paragraph, and some careful thought is often required to identify this. While much of Horace's maxims and aphorisms are astonishing relevant to our own times, the two thousand year gap between the First Century B.C. and today inevitably creates cultural lacunae which are difficult to penetrate fully; hence the occasional uncertainties as to the points he is seeking to emphasise.

At the end of the translation below is a short list of quotations taken from Epistles Book II. Particularly famous, and frequently quoted is the first one: "Captive Greece took her fierce conqueror captive, and introduced her arts into rustic Latium." (See 1. 156-157)

1.  To Augustus: a defence of modern poetry. Horace honours Augustus with the highest compliments; he then covers the subject of poetry as thoroughly as possible, dealing with its origin, character and excellence. 
Since you alone sustain so many and such weighty concerns, defend the fortunes of Italy with your arms, adorn (it) with your morals (and) reform (it) with your laws, I should offend against the public interest if I were to take up your time, Caesar, with a long discourse.

Romulus and father Liber and Pollux together with Castor, having been received into the temples of the gods after their huge achievements, while they were civilising the the earth and the race of men, settling savage conflicts, assigning lands (and) founding towns, complained that the gratitude they expected did not correspond to their deserts. (He) who crushed the terrible Hydra (i.e. Hercules) and subdued those renowned monsters by his fateful labours, found that envy could be quelled by death alone, for he who eclipses the talents (which are) placed beneath him burns by his (very) brilliance; after he has died, he will be loved. We confer timely honours upon you while you are present (among us), and build altars for oaths to be sworn in accordance with your divine power, (while) confessing that nothing of a similar kind (to you) has arisen (and) that nothing (similar) will arise at another time.

But this people of yours, wise and just in this one (thing) alone, by preferring you to our leaders, (and) you to the Greek (heroes), by no means estimate other (things) in like proportion and measure, and, unless what they see (is) remote from the earth and far removed (lit. defunct) from their times, they disdain and detest (it); such favourers of antiquity like to insist that the Muses upon Mount Alba dictated the (twelve) tables forbidding to transgress, which the Decemviri ratified, the treaties of our kings struck with the Gabii or with the hardy Sabines, the record-books of the pontiffs, (and) the antique scrolls of the augurs.  If because all the most ancient writings of the Greeks are quite the best, Roman authors are weighed in the same scales, there is not much more we can say: there is nothing hard inside an olive, there is nothing (hard) in a nut on the outside. We have come to the peak of success (in the arts), we paint and sing and wrestle more skilfully than the well-oiled Greeks.

If time makes poems better, as in the case of wine, I should like to know how many years confers value on a manuscript.  Ought an author who died a hundred years ago be reckoned among the old and the perfect or among the modern and the second-rate. Let some limit exclude (all) disputes. "He who completes a hundred years is an ancient and excellent (writer)." What then (of the writer) who died one month or (one) year less (than that), among whom will he be reckoned? (Among) the old poets or (among those) whom both the present and tomorrow's age will scorn? " Indeed, he may be fairly placed among the ancients who is younger either by a short month or by a whole year." I make use of what had been granted, and like the hairs of a horse's tail, I gradually pluck and remove one, (and) I take away (another) one also, until (he) who has recourse to the calendar and estimates excellence in years, and admires nothing except what Libitina (i.e. the goddess of death and funerals) has made sacred, is baffled and falls to the ground in the manner of a tumbling heap.

Ennius, (who is) both wise and valiant, and, as our critics say, a second Homer, seems to have (only) a slight concern as to what befell his promises and his Pythagorean dreams. Is Naevius not in (people's) hands, and sticking almost fresh in their minds? So sacred is every ancient poem, as often as it is argued which poet is better than the other, Pacuvius bears away the reputation of a learned, Accius of  a lofty, old man, Afranius' gown is said to have fitted Menander, Plautus to make haste to (act) as a model of the Sicilian Epicharmus, Caecilius to excel in gravity, Terence in artistry. These mighty Rome learns by heart, and these she watches crowded together in her confined theatre; these poets she regards and reckons from the age of the author Livius (Andronicus) to our own time. Sometimes the populace sees correctly, (and) there is (a time) when it is wrong; if it so admires and extols ancient poets that it prefers nothing (to them), (and) compares nothing with them, it errs; if it maintains that they say some things in too antiquated a manner and admits that (they say) most things in a stiff manner, it is both wise and agrees with me and with Jupiter as a fair judge. I am not attacking Livius' epics or do I think (them) worthy of destruction (I remember 'whacker' Orbilius dictating these to me as a small [boy]); but that they should seem faultless and beautiful and very little short of perfection, I do wonder at. If among these a lovely word by chance shines forth, and, if one or two lines (are) somewhat rhythmical, this unjustly draws off and sells the whole poem. I am disgusted that anything  should be criticised, not because it has been coarsely composed or it is considered inelegant, but because (it has been composed) recently, and that honour and rewards are demanded for ancient (writers), not indulgence. If I were to express doubt as to whether a play of Atta's walks in an upright manner through the saffron and flowers, almost all our elders would cry out that shame had perished, since I should be attempting to criticise those (passages) which the grave Aesop and the skilful Roscius have acted, either because they consider right except what was pleasing to themselves, or because (it is) disgraceful to submit to (the opinion of) their juniors and to confess that what they learned (when they were) beardless ought to be destroyed (when they are) old men. In fact, (the man) who extols Numa's Salian hymn and wishes to appear the only (man)  to know that (hymn), of which he, as well as me, is ignorant; he does not favour and applaud those geniuses (who have been buried), but attacks ours, (and) in his spite hates us and (all) our (works). But if novelty had been hated as much by the Greeks as by us, what would now be ancient? Or what would there have been which common use could read and thumb through on an individual basis?

As soon as Greece, having set aside her wars, began to turn to amusement, and, with her fortune (being) favourable, to slip into folly, she burned with a desire at one moment for athletes and at another for horses, fell in love with craftsmen in marble or ivory or bronze, fixed her countenance and her attention upon a painted tablet, was delighted at one moment with flute-players, and at another with tragic actors; just as if an infant girl was playing under (the eye of) a nurse, (and,) soon satisfied, she abandoned what she had (previously) sought with eagerness. What is pleasing or is odious, that you do not think (is) changeable? Happy (times) of peace and favourable winds have brought about this (situation).

At Rome it was pleasing and customary for many years to be awake early with the house opened up in order to expound the law to clients, to pay out money on good security to upright debtors, to listen to the elders and to tell the young by what (means) their fortunes might be increased (and) ruinous extravagance diminished. The fickle populace has changed its mind and glows with a universal zeal for writing, boys and their stern fathers dine with their locks crowned (lit. bound in respect of their locks) with green leaves, and dictate poems. I myself who affirms that I write no verses, am found to be more untruthful than the Parthians and, awake before sunrise, call for pen and paper and my case of books. (He who is) ignorant of a ship is afraid of a ship; no (one) dares to give a sick man southernwood except (the man) who has learned (to give it as a medicine); doctors undertake what is (the work) of doctors; craftsmen handle the tools of craftsmen: we, the illiterate and the learned (alike), write poems indiscriminately.

So think about what great merits this aberration and this slight madness still has, as the poet's mind is not thoughtlessly covetous; he loves verse and studies it alone, he smiles at losses, the flight of slaves (and) fires; he does not contrive any fraud against his (business) partner or his boy ward; he lives on pulse and second-rate bread; although (he is) slack and unfit for military service, (he is) of use to the city, if you allow this, that great (things) are assisted by small things. The poet fashions the tender and the stammering mouth of the child, he already now turns his ear away from the coarse language, then he also moulds his mind by kindly precepts, (and as) the corrector of harshness and envy and bad-temper, he reports proper actions, he instructs the rising generation with well-known examples, (and) he comforts the poor and the sick; from where would the girl with no knowledge of a husband, together with innocent boys, learn her prayers, if the Muse had not given (her) a poet? The chorus asks for aid and feels the presence of a divine power, smooth-tongued with learned prayer, it implores water from the heavens, it averts diseases, drives away feared dangers, and obtains years enriched with harvests, the gods above are appeased with songs, with song the shades (are appeased).

Our farmers, sturdy and happy with a little, after the corn-crops had been stored away, relieving in the festive season their  bodies and even their minds, bearing hardship through the hope of its ending, together with their slaves and their faithful wives, (who were) their partners in the work, propitiated (Mother) Earth with a hog, Silvanus with milk, (and) the Genius that reminds (us) of our short life with flowers and wine; discovered through this custom, Fescennine licentiousness poured forth its rustic taunts in alternate verses, and this freedom received through succeeding years entertained charmingly until the time when bitter humour began to turn into open fury, and threatened to run unchecked through decent homes, (and those who had been) provoked by a blood-stained tooth, smarted (with the pain); there was also a concern among (those who were) unharmed about the common condition, indeed a law and a penalty (were) enacted which forbade that anyone should be stigmatised in a scurrilous poem: through fear of the stick (they were) reduced to change their tune in order to speak well and to delight.

Captive Greece took her fierce conqueror captive and introduced her arts into rustic Latium, so that the rough metre of Saturn passed away and elegance expelled the rank venom, but yet for a long time traces of the countryside remained and (still) remain. For late (in the day the Roman writer) applied his ingenuity to Greek writing, and, resting after the Punic wars, he began to look for what useful (matter) Sophocles and Thespis and Aeschylus brought. He also tried, if he could (do so) with dignity, to translate their work, and, sublime and strong by nature, he pleased himself: for he breathes a tragic enough (spirit) and he dares successfully, but he fears a clumsy blot and thinks (it is) disgraceful. Comedy is believed to involve the least effort, because it summons its material from common life, but the less indulgence (it receives) the more labour (it requires). See by what means Plautus supports the character of a teenage lover, how (he supports that) of a parsimonious father and (that) of a cheating pimp, how great a buffoon he is in relation to his gluttonous spongers, how he runs across the stage with a loose shoe. For he is glad to drop the money into his pocket, (and) after this (he is) unconcerned whether his play stands on a straight heel.(He) whom Glory in her windy car has brought to the stage, the sluggish spectator scares, and the assiduous (one) puffs up: so slight, so small (a thing) it is, which undermines or revives a mind (which is) greedy for praise. Farewell to the ludicrous business (of dramatic writing), if a palm-leaf denied makes (me) thin (and one) granted (makes me) plump. This also frequently puts to flight and deters an adventurous poet as (those who are) more in number but inferior in worth and rank illiterate and stupid (men) and ready to exchange blows, if the equestrian (order) dissents, call for either a bear or boxers in the middle of the play: for the mob delights in these, but all the pleasure of our knights has now passed also from the ear to the uncertain eyes, and their vain amusements. The curtains are kept up for four hours or more, while squadrons of cavalry and companies of infantry hurtle past; next the  fortune of kings, with their hands tied (behind their backs), is dragged along, (and) chariots, litters, carriages (and) ships hurry past, (and) captive ivory and captive Corinth are borne along.

Democritus, if he were (still) on the earth, would laugh (to see) whether a different kind (of animal), a panther mixed with a camel (i.e. a giraffe) or a white elephant, would turn the faces of the crowd; he would watch the people more attentively than the games themselves, as offering him far more (strange) sights: moreover, he would think that the writers were telling their story to a deaf ass. For what voices would be able to prevail upon the din with which our theatres resound. You would think that the groves of Garganus or the Tuscan sea was bellowing; with such a great noise are viewed these games and contrivances and the rich foreign (jewelry) with which the actor (was) daubed when he stood on the stage (and) the right hand met the left (i.e. the crowd applauded him). "Has he said anything yet?" "Nothing at all." Then what pleases (them)?  "The wool (of his cloak) imitating (the colour of) violets through the dye of Tarentum." And so that you may not perhaps think that I grudgingly praise (the kinds of writing) which I myself decline to undertake, when others manage (them) well, that poet seems to me to be able to walk across an extended rope, who vainly chokes my breast, enrages, soothes and fills (it) with false terror, and, like a magician, places me now in Thebes, now in Athens. But come and give a moment's concern for those who prefer to entrust themselves to a reader rather than to endure the disdain of a haughty spectator, if you wish to fill with books that gift worthy of Apollo, and add an incentive to the poets, that with greater eagerness they may seek the verdant (slopes of) Helicon. Indeed, we often do the poets mischief (when I cut down my own vineyards), when I present a book to you (when you are) worried or tired; when we are offended if any of my friends has ventured to find fault with one line; when we repeat, unasked, passages already recited; when we lament that our labours are not apparent and that our poems have been spun in a fine thread; when we hope the thing will come to this, that, as soon as you know that we are composing poems, you will readily summon (us) of your own accord, (and) that you will both prohibit us from being in need and oblige us to write. But yet it is worthwhile to know what kind of custodians your valour, observed both in war and at home, and which should not be entrusted to an unworthy poet, may have. Pleasing to King Alexander the Great was that Choerilus, who due to his uncouth and ill-formed verses brought back gold coins struck by Philip, which he had received as royal coins; but just as ink (when touched) leaves behind a mark and a blot, writers usually besmearch splendid deeds with foul poetry, (so) that the same king who prodigally bought so ridiculous a poem at so dear a price, forbade by an edict that anyone should paint him except Apelles, or (that anyone) other than Lysippus should cast a bronze in imitation of brave Alexander's features. But, if you should invoke that delicate judgment (of his) in the discerning of the arts to (judge) books and such gifts of the Muses, you would swear (he had been) born in the gross climate of the Boeotians.

Yet neither do your beloved poets, Vergilius and Varius, disgrace your judgment of them and the gifts which they have received with great honour to the donor, nor do the features of illustrious men appear more (clearly when) expressed by statues of bronze than their characters and minds (when expressed) by the works of a poet, nor would I prefer to compose talks that creeping on the ground rather than record deeds of arms and the situations of countries and rivers and fortresses placed upon mountains and barbarian kingdoms and wars throughout the world brought to a conclusion under your auspices, and the barriers confining Janus, the guardian of peace, and Rome under your leadership dreaded by the Parthians, if I could also (do so) as much as I should wish; but neither does your majesty admit of a humble poem, nor does my modesty venture to attempt a task which my strength declines to bear. But application foolishly pursues (those) whom it loves, especially when it commends itself by numbers and the art (of writing); for one learns more quickly and remembers more readily that which a man derides than (that) which he approves and venerates. I do not care for the zeal that oppresses, nor to be shown anywhere in wax in a face shaped for the worse, nor do I wish to be celebrated in verses which have been hideously composed, lest I blush (when) presented with the gross gift, and, (when) laid in a closed box I, together with my author, shall be carried into the street that deals in incense and perfumes and pepper, and whatever is wrapped in useless writings.

2.  To Julius Florus:  an apology for not writing lyric poetry.  In apologizing for not having written to him, Horace shows that the good-ordering of life is of more importance than the composition of verses. 

(O) Florus, loyal friend to the good and illustrious Nero (i.e. Tiberius), if, by chance, someone should wish to sell you a slave born at Tibur or Gabii, and should negotiate with you in the following manner: "This (boy who is) both fair and handsome from head to toe (lit. from from his head to the bottom of his ankles), shall become and will be yours for eight thousand sesterces; (he is) a domestic slave, ready to (perform) his services at his master's nod, trained in Greek letters, adequate in whatever art you like; you may shape anything (out of him as out of so much) moist clay; indeed he will even sing (to you) in a manner devoid of skill but sweetly (enough to one who is) drinking. Lavish promises reduce credibility, when (he) who wishes to push his wares for sale praises (them) more fully than their worth. No necessity obliges me (to take this step); I am, (however) in narrow circumstances (lit. poor in my monetary effects). No dealer would make you this (offer); nor would anyone else readily receive the same (offer). Once he stopped (working), and lay hidden, fearing, as it happens, the strap hanging on the staircase: give (me) your money, if that runaway lapse which I have mentioned does not offend you:"  in my opinion, that man could justify (lit. carry off) his price, free of any penalty. Wittingly you purchased a good-for-nothing (slave); the (condition of the) contract was explained to you: but in prosecuting him you are detaining (him) in an unjust suit, (are you not)? I told you, when you were leaving,  that I (was) lazy, I told you that I was almost incapable of such tasks, for fear that, in angry mood, you might scold me, because no letter (from me) had come back to you. What then have I gained, if you nevertheless try making laws with me? On top of this, you also complain because, false (to my promise), I do not send you the poems you expected. A soldier of Lucullus had lost entirely (lit. to the [last] penny) the stock of money (which he had) got together by dint of many hardships, while, in his exhaustion, he snored at night: after this (like) a ravening wolf, equally angry with himself and with his enemy, (and) eager with his hungry fangs, he dislodged, as the story goes (lit. as they say) a royal garrison, from a highly fortified position and (one) rich with many provisions. Renowned on account of this exploit, he is decorated with honourable gifts and he receives twenty (lit. twice ten) thousand sesterces in cash in addition. By chance, at this time, his general, wishing to overthrow some fortress or other (lit. I know not what fortress), began to encourage the same (man) with words that could even give courage to a coward: "Go, my good (fellow), whither your valour calls you, go with your lucky step, being certain to receive the great rewards for your merit. Why do you hesitate?" At this, he, (being) a clever (fellow), although (he was) a rustic, replied: "(The man) who has lost his purse, will go, (yes) he will go wherever you wish."

It was my lot to be raised in Rome, and to be taught how much harm the enraged Achilles did to the Greeks. Kind Athens added a little more learning, as, doubtless, I wished to distinguish right from wrong (lit. a straight [line] from a crooked [one]), and to seek after truth among the groves of the Academy. But the troublesome times took me away from that pleasant spot, and the tide of civil (strife) carried (me), inexperienced (as I was) in war, into arms (which were) destined to be no match for the strength (lit. sinews) of Caesar Augustus. After that, as soon as (the battle of) Philippi discharged me, (brought) low with my wings clipped and destitute of my father's home and estate, daring poverty impelled (me) to compose verses: but what (doses of) hemlock will ever sufficiently purify (me from my frenzy now) that I have all that is sufficient for my needs (lit. [everything] that is not wanting), if I do not think it better to rest than to write verses?

The passing years rob us of one thing after another; they have taken away my sense of humour, my love-making, my parties, my sport; they are (now) proceeding to extort poetry (from me): what do you wish me to do? In short, not everyone admires and loves the same (thing): you rejoice in lyric strains, this (man) is delighted by iambics, another (man) by satires in the manner of Bion and by virulent wit. They appear to me to disagree almost (like) three table-guests, demanding very different (dishes) for their differing tastes. What shall I give (them)? What shall I not give (them)? You refuse what another requires. What you seek, that is truly unpleasant and disagreeable to the (other) two. Apart from these other (difficulties), do you think that I can write poems in Rome amid so many worries and so many labours? One (man) calls (me as) his guarantor, another to hear (him read) his works, all my engagements having been cancelled, one (man) lies sick on the Quirinal hill, another on the far edge of the Aventine, each (man) needing to be visited; (it is) a comfortable distance for a man (to walk), you see. "But the streets are clear, so that nothing can obstruct the thoughtful." A master-builder, sweating in the heat, hurries along with his mules and porters, a crane whirls aloft at one moment a boulder, at another a huge block of timber, dismal funeral processions dispute the way with sturdy wagons, here runs a mad dog, there rushes a muddy pig: now go and contemplate with yourself some harmonious verses. The whole choir of poets loves the grove and avoids the city, due followers of Bacchus, who delights in sleep and shade: do you want me to sing amid the noises of the night and of the daytime, and to follow the narrow footsteps of the poets? (The man) of genius, who has chosen peaceful Athens for his (residence) and has devoted seven years to his studies and has grown old amid his books and his cares, usually goes about more silently than a statue and shakes the people's (sides) with laughter: here, in the midst of the flood-tides of events and the storms of city (life), am I thought worthy to link together words likely to set in motion the sound of the lyre?

In Rome, there was a rhetorician, the brother of a lawyer, (who were so fond of each other) that, in conversation, one would (only) hear undiluted praises of the other, insomuch that the latter (was) a Gracchus (i.e. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus) to the former, (and) that the former (was) a Mucius (i.e. Quintus Mucius Scaevola) to the latter.  How should this madness distress our melodious poets? I write odes, another elegies. A work wonderful to behold and polished by the nine Muses! Observe, in the first place, with what disdain and with how much exertion we gaze around the temple (of Apollo which is) empty of Roman poets! Then, too, if perhaps you have the time, you may follow (us within) and hear from a distance what (each) produces and how each weaves a crown for himself. (Like) Samnite (gladiators) in a slow duel at early candle-light, we receive (lit. are beaten) and exhaust our antagonist with a equal number of blows. I emerge (as) Alcaeus on his estimation (lit. vote); who (does) he (emerge as) on mine? Who, if not Callimachus? If he seems to demand (someone) greater, he becomes Mimnermus, and grows (in fame) with the chosen title. I endure much, so that I can placate the excitable race of poets, when I am writing, and (as) a suppliant I court the approval of the people. When I have completed my (poetical) studies and have recovered my reason, I, the same (person), can safely block my open ears to (those) reciting.

(Those) who compose poor poems are ridiculed, but they enjoy writing and respect themselves, and, if you say nothing, they happily praise, of their own accord, whatever they have written. But (he,) who desires to produce a genuine poem, will, along with his note-books, assume the spirit of an honest critic. Whatever words shall have too little clarity and shall be without weight, and shall be considered to be unworthy of respect, he will venture to remove from their place, although they may depart with reluctance and may still be situated within the innermost sanctuary of Vesta; those words which have been hidden from the people for a long time, he will kindly draw out, and will bring to light those expressive designations of things which (were) employed by the Catos and the Cethegi of olden times, (though) now ugly neglect and forsaken old-age has suppressed (them). He will admit some new (words), the usage of which the father (of language) will have promoted. Forceful and clear and very similar to a pure stream, he will pour out his wealth (of words) and bless Latium with a rich language. He will suppress an excess (of words) (and words which are) too harsh by sensible treatment, he will discard (words) lacking any quality, he will give the appearance of (someone) at play, and he will twist around like (one) who is set in motion, at one moment,  (as) a Satyr, (and) at another moment (as) a barbarous Cyclops.

I should prefer to be seen (as) a crazy and unskilled writer, while my faulty (words) please myself or at least escape my notice, rather than be aware (of them) and snarl (about it). There was at Argos (a man) of no mean rank, who used to think that he was listening to some wonderful tragic actors, a joyful spectator and applauder in an empty theatre; (nevertheless) he discharged the other duties of life in an straightforward fashion; (he was) a truly good neighbour, an amiable host, kind to his wife, (a man) who could pardon his slaves, and would not rave if the seal of a flask were broken,no good at all>  and (someone) who could avoid a cliff or an open well. This (man), when, cured at the expense and by the care of his relatives, had expelled, by means of pure hellebore, the sickness and the bile, and had returned to his (true) self, exclaimed: "By Pollux, you have killed me, my friends, not cured (me), from whom pleasure has been thus wrenched away, and a most agreeable delusion of mind removed by force."

(Yet) it is certainly expedient to reject trifles (and) to turn to wisdom, and to leave to boys play (which is) appropriate to their age, and not to pursue words suitable to be set to music on Latin lyres, but (rather) to learn by heart the tunes and rhythms of real life. Therefore, I commune with myself and ponder over these things in silence: if no amount of water would put an end to your thirst, you would tell (this) to your physicians: would you not dare to confess to anyone that the more you have got, the more you want? If a wound could not be made less painful (lit. easier) by a root or plant prescribed to you, you would (still) avoid being treated by a root or plant that did no good at all: you have heard that vicious folly has forsaken that man to whom the gods gave wealth; and, although you are not any the wiser, since you are richer, will you, nevertheless, make use of the same prompters? But if riches could make you wise, if (they could make) you less covetous and timid, then indeed you might blush (with shame) if there should live on the earth anyone more greedy than you alone.

If what one has has purchased with a balance and a bronze coin is one's personal (property), (and there are) certain (things), if you believe the lawyers, (to which) possession gives a right, (then) the field which feeds you is your own, and Orbius' steward, when he harrows the fields which will shortly supply corn to you, feels that you (are) the master. You give your money, you receive grapes, poultry, eggs, and a jar of wine: certainly, you are gradually buying in this way a farm (which was) perhaps purchased for three hundred thousand sesterces or even more.What does it matter, (if) you live on what was paid for recently or a long time ago? The former purchaser of a farm at Aricia or Veii dines on bought vegetables, although he thinks otherwise; in the chilly evening he heats his cauldron with bought fire-wood; but he calls (it all) his own right up to where the planted poplar-tree avoids quarrels between neighbours through fixed boundary-lines; as if anything were one's own (property) which in a moment of the fleeting hour, at one moment by entreaty,then by sale, then by force, then, finally, by death, may change masters and come into another's jurisdiction.Thus, since perpetual possession is given to no one, and (one man's) heir (overtakes) another's heir as (one) wave overtakes (another) wave, of what use are farms and granaries? Or what Lucanian (are) joined to Calabrian pastures, if Orcus (i.e. Hades), not susceptible to gold, mows down the great together with the small?

Gem-stones, marble, ivory, Tuscan statues, paintings, silver-plate, coverings dyed with Gaetulian purple - there are (some) who do not possess (such things), (and) there is (one) who does not care to acquire (them). Why one brother prefers lounging about, playing and perfume to the rich palm-groves of Herod, (while) the other, rich and morose, subdues his woodland property with fire and steel from sunrise to dusk, our attendant Genius knows, (he) who controls the star of our birth, the god of human nature, mortal with regard to every single person, variable in his complexion, white or black. I shall enjoy, and shall take from, my moderate stock, as much as my requirement demands, nor shall I fear what opinion my heir shall form concerning me, because he finds no more than (what was) given (to me). And yet I, the same (man), shall (ever) wish to know how much a straightforward and cheerful (person) differs from a profligate, and how much a thrifty (man) differs from a miser. For there is distinction, (whether) you spend your (money) (as) a prodigal, or lay out expenditure without grudging (it), and do not toil to accumulate more, and rather, like a school-boy used to do during the holidays of Minerva, you instantly enjoy that short and pleasant occasion. Let squalid poverty be far away from my household: whether I shall be borne in a large or small ship, let me borne (as) one and the same (man). We are not driven onwards by sails swelled by a favourable north wind: yet, we do not pursue a course in adverse south winds; in strength, talent, physical appearance,valour, station (in life), fortune, I am the last of the foremost, (but) always before the hindmost.

You are not avaricious, (you say): be off with you! Why, (do I say that)? Have the other (vices) now fled together with that vice? Is your heart free from futile ambition? Is it free from the fear of death and from anger? Do you laugh at dreams, the terrors of magic, miracles, witches, nocturnal ghosts, and Thessalian prodigies (i.e. magical potions)?  Do you count your birthdays with gratitude?  Do you forgive your friends? As old age approaches, do you become milder and better? How does it benefit you if one is plucked out of many thorns? If you do not know how to live aright, give way to those that can. You have played enough, you have eaten and drunk enough: it is time for you to leave the scene, lest the (young) age-group, (which is) impudent (but) with more propriety, may fairly mock (you when you have) drunk too much, and knock (you from the stage).


1.  Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes/ intulit agresti Latio.  Captive Greece took her fierce conqueror captive and introduced her arts into rustic Latium.  (1. 156-157)

2.  Si foret in terris, rideret Democritus.  If he were on earth, Democritus would laugh.  (1. 194)

3.  Atque inter silvas Academi quaerere verum.  And seek after truth among the groves of the Academy. (2. 45)

4.  Singula de nobis anni praeduntur euntes.  The passing years rob us of one thing after another.  (2. 55)

5.  Multa fero, ut placem genus irritabile vatem.   I endure much to placate the excitable race of poets. (2. 102)

6.  Quid te exempta iuvat spinis de pluribus una?/ vivere si recte nescis, decede peritis./ lusisti satis, edisti satis atque bibisti:/ tempus abire tibi est.  How does it benefit you if one is plucked out of many thorns? If you do not know how to live aright, give way to those that can. You have played enough, you have eaten and drunk enough: it is time for you to leave the scene.  (2. 212-215)

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