Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Rome versus Bilbilis

Martial 10.96 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
You often wonder, Avitus, why I speak overmuch of nations very far off, though I have grown old in Latium's city, and long for gold-bearing Tagus and my native Salo, and look back to the rough fields of a fruitful country-house. That land is dear to me wherein small means make me rich, and a slender store is luxury. The soil is maintained here, there it maintains you; here your hearth is scarcely warm with its grudging fire, with a mighty blaze it shines there. Here hunger is dear and the market makes you bankrupt, there stands a table covered with its own country's wealth. Here four togas or more grow threadbare in a summer, there during four autumns one covers me. Go to, now! and pay court to great men, when a place can afford you, Avitus, whatever a friend does not afford!

Saepe loquar nimium gentes quod, Avite, remotas,
  miraris, Latia factus in urbe senex,
auriferumque Tagum sitiam patriumque Salonem
  et repetam saturae sordida rura casae.
Illa placet tellus in qua res parva beatum
  me facit et tenues luxuriantur opes:
pascitur hic, ibi pascit ager; tepet igne maligno
  hic focus, ingenti lumine lucet ibi;
hic pretiosa fames conturbatorque macellus,
  mensa ibi divitiis ruris operta sui;
quattuor hic aestate togae pluresve teruntur,
  autumnis ibi me quattuor una tegit.
I, cole nunc reges, quidquid non praestat amicus
  cum praestare tibi possit, Avite, locus.
Here are some 17th and 18th century versions, the first by Henry Killigrew (1613-1700):
That I so often talk of Remote Lands,
My native Salo thirst, and Tagus sands;
The plenty of a homely Farm desire:
And yet grow old in Rome, thou dost admire.
That Place, Avitus, most does please, in which
A little Wealth both Riots, and makes Rich.
The barren Field must here be ever fed,
Which there, Untill'd, will give the Owner Bread.
The Niggard Fire scarce warms the Chimny here,
The bounteous blaze, there the whole house do's cheer.
Here Hunger's dear, the Shambles all confound,
Thy Table's loaden there from thine own Ground.
Four Gowns a Year are here consum'd, and more,
There one will serve, to rub out the whole four.
Go then, the Great adore: What they deny,
Thy Field alone, Avitus, will supply.
By Abraham Cowley (1618-1667):
Me who have liv'd so long among the great,
You wonder to hear talk of a Retreat;
And a retreat so distant, as may show
No thoughts of a return when once I go.
Give me a Country, how remote so'ere,
Where happiness a mod'rate rate does bear.
Where Poverty itself in plenty flows;
And all the solid use of Riches knowes.
The ground about the house maintains it there;
The house maintains the ground about it here.
Here even Hunger's dear, and a full board
Devours the vital substance of the Lord.
The Land itself does there the feast bestow,
The Land itself must here to Market go.
Three or four suits one Winter here does wast,
One suit does there three or four Winters last.
Here every frugal Man must oft be cold,
And little Luke-warm-fires are to you sold.
There Fire's an Element, as cheap and free
Almost as any other of the Three.
Stay you then here, and live among the Great,
Attend their sports, and at their tables eat.
When all the bounties here of Men you score:
The Place's bounty there, shall give me more.
By Thomas Fitzgerald (1695-1752):
Thou wonder'st much, my Friend, grown gray
In the Town Life and modish Way;
Thou wonder'st much how I could bear
To quit the Pomp and Pleasures there
For this uncouth obscure Retreat,
My ancient, rude, paternal Seat,
Where through the Vales the Salo glides,
And Tagus rolls his golden Tides.

Alas, but set minutely down
The vain Expences of the Town,
Sufficient ev'ry Tax to pay
That Fashion, Vice, and Folly lay,
What could my slender Income bring?
Which Here maintains me like a King.

Plain Appetite prescribes my Chear;
Convenience tells me what to wear.
Pleasure and Health the Fields afford,
And unbought Plenty crowns my Board:
My Tenants just and faithful found;
Friendly and free my Neighbours round;
I feel my Bliss without Alloy,
And all I want, or wish, enjoy.

Go, court the Great, and herd in vain
Among their fawning cringing Train;
Thy Pay for long Attendance past,
Perhaps a gracious Smile at last;
Whilst all the Sweets of Wealth and Ease,
Thy Hopes absurdly seek from These;
Could'st thou but there submit to live,
Thy own Estate would amply give.
By James Elphinston (1721-1809):
That one grown old, in Latian town
Should forain nations so renown;
On golden Tagus so descant,
And for his native Salo pant;
You wonder, and to fee me pine,
Who want for neither wit nor wine;
Till I regain, by happy lot,
The clodlings of a cloying cot.
To that primeval land I press,
Where scanty things can make success;
Where moderation sets me high,
And competence is luxury.
Here earth is fed; but there she feeds:
Benignant nature little needs.
The proud, tho' hardly tepid, hearth
Bespeaks too plain the land of dearth.
Here peeps a mean, malignant gleam;
There Vulcan's kindest glories beam.
Here hunger boasts a highten'd price:
Each shamble shows a cockatrice.
The riches yonder farms afford,
With welcome crown the copious board.
In this abode of giddy glare,
Four suits are scarce a winter's wear:
In that belov'd, ador'd recess,
One suit supplies four autumns' dress.
Go, cultivate your lords and kings;
And puff the pride, that meanness brings:
Since, what a friend may not bestow,
From out the very place may flow.
"The clodlings of a cloying cot"—one can appreciate Robert Burns' epigram on James Elphinston:
O thou whom Poetry abhors,
Whom Prose has turned out of doors,
Heard'st thou that groan—proceed no further,
'Twas laurell'd Martial roaring murder.
Peter Graham (1836-1921), A Highland Croft

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