Sunday, January 13, 2013
Let Me Have Men About Me That Are Fat
This jocular poem is a fine specimen of Johnston's lighter quill. The occasion, whether personal to himself or to a friend, is unknown.My translation (not in verse, but following the Latin line by line as closely as possible):
You snarling scarecrow, Zoilus, why this attack on one's fair rotundity? Why point me out with the finger? If we praise the quadrupeds for being sleek and fat, why not men as well? 'Tis a mistake to think fatness and gluttony go together. Alcides [Hercules] is not styled fat, nor yet Homer; and yet the one ate heavily, the other liked his wine. Overfed frames grow lean, just as the willow is a thin tree though it drinks for ever, while the oak grows fat and strong on driest ridges. Where there is good lining to the bones, there is also a pleasing disposition; witness the ox or lamb; for, if you feed well the boar, he drops the thunder of his tusks. 'Tis lean scarecrow creatures that are given to deceit or rapine, as witness the dog, the lynx, tiger, hawks, and eagle. The fat man has a cheerful face, with no carking cares, and loves peace; the lean man is sourfaced, given to cunning, and loves battles and broils. As for activity, I grant, fat folks are not so agile. But agility of body is no sign of power: the judge sits sedate; the steersman sits at the helm; the general gazes quietly around and surveys the battle. So with the spirit dwelling in us fat men; itself unmoved, it moveth all. We can use, for fleetness, the keel or the wheel: but to purchase simplicity at the cost of one's obesity is a price too dear. No fear of the mind growing fat and feeble. Think of Galba and Nero: what contrasts they in mind and body! A fat [Pope] Leo outshone in genius the sons of Athens. And, look you, there is the goddess of wisdom. Does she not love the fatness of the olive? Feats of strength I leave to others of the strong. The stadium and race-course call for them; my haunts are the Forum, seats of learning, churches. Even in Venus's service the fat man is not behind. Who can find apples on a dry stock? Away, then, Zoilus, with your sneers and scowls.
Zoile, cui macies exsanguis detegit ossa,
Foedat et arentes plurima ruga genas;
Pinguis aqualiculi molem cur dentibus atris
Impetis, et rostro tam petulante feris?
Huius ad aspectum cur nasum sannio crispas 5
Turpiter, et risu pectus inane quatis?
Si nitidus, si sum totus teres atque rotundus,
Ecquid me digito, decolor umbra, notas?
Cur si pinguis equus, nitidus laudatur et agnus,
Pinguibus et nitidis non licet esse viris? 10
Fallitur ingluvie quisquis pinguescere ventres
Autumat, aut nimio membra tumere mero.
Nemo vel Alciden, vel pinguem dixit Homerum,
Vinosus tamen hic, ille gulosus erat.
Corpora pasta nimis macrescunt saepe, nec hausta 15
Plus satis in ventrem crescere vina sinunt.
Mole salix parva est, immani quercus, at illa
Propter aquas, siccis nascitur ista iugis.
Si qua fides medicis, quem sic adolescere cernis,
Sanguinis aerii luxuriatur ope. 20
Purior e venis per totos diditur artus
Halitus, et iusta corpora mole beat.
Hinc quibus omentum superat venterque iecurque
Tenditur, ingenium mitius esse vides.
Nil bove praepingui, nil est mansuetius agno, 25
Efficit et mites sola sagina feras.
Bile carent omni, quibus est abdomen, agrestes,
Et sua, si pascis, fulmina ponit aper.
Nec pecus ex rapto vivit, quod turget omaso,
Nullaque cum sociis pro dape bella gerit. 30
Nec struit insidias, nec, quamvis laedere tentes,
Calcitrat, aut nulla vindicat arte nefas.
At quibus informis macies depascitur artus,
Effera sunt, irae dedita, plena dolis.
Hoc canis ingenio est, et lynx, et pessima tigris, 35
Accipitresque truces, ales et ipse Iovis.
Horum, crede mihi, mores imitatur, et artes,
Quisquis ab Iapeto stemma parente trahit.
Frons hilaris pingui est; macies quem turpat anilis,
Nescio quid durae tetricitatis habet. 40
Ille nec ambit opes, nec tristibus aestuat iris,
Aut odiis; mens huic sordida felle tumet.
Ille nec invidia squalet, nec pallet amore;
Decolor est isti nigraque tota cutis.
Candida mens pingui est, macilento callida, pacem 45
Alter amat, cupit hic iurgia, bella, neces.
Pinguibus obiicitur proiecti sarcina ventris,
Vitaque, segnities quam comitatur, iners.
Non ita sunt agiles, fateor, praepinguibus artus,
Sed tamen id laudem quod mereatur habet. 50
Qui populo dant iura, sedent, animusque sedendo
Fit sapiens, motus est quoque meta quies.
Adspice naucleros: hic tempestate coorta
Vela legit, nimias egerit alter aquas.
Pervolat antennas pars haec, pars illa rudentes 55
Explicat, in mediis cursitat una foris.
Arduus ad clavum rector sedet ipse quietus,
Astraque prospectans dirigit arte ratem.
Quique praeest bello, iubet illum scandere muros
Ocius, hunc alacri sumere tela manu. 60
Ipse suas spectans acies tota agmina nutu
Circumagit, sunt haec munia sola ducis.
Nos quoque, quos ventris detentos pondere cernis,
Haec gerimus, quae gens emaciata nequit.
Est Deus in nobis; immobilis ille, quod infra est, 65
Quaeque supra spectas sidera, mente regit.
Afer equus capreaeque leves sunt cursibus apti,
Munia debentur nobiliora viris.
Re poscente tamen, naturam vincimus arte,
Nec ventris nimium pinguibus obstat onus. 70
Sunt volucres nobis, quae findant aequora, puppes,
Et rapidis ferimur, quo lubet ire, rotis.
Ardua nec pingui res esset, ponere ventrem,
Quidquid et inceptis posse nocere putas.
Omnia qui tandem vincit, labor improbus, alvi 75
Stringere luxuriem posset, et atra fames.
Hinc neque mendico venter protuberat ulli,
Ventre nec agrestes turgidiore vides.
Durius at morbo est, genium sic plectere; tanti
Squalorem et maciem, vix puto, sanus emet. 80
Sed neque tu mergi nobis abdomine mentem,
Pingue nec ingenium pinguibus esse puta.
Quis neget ingenio Galbam cessisse Neroni,
Ventrosus tamen hic audiit, ille macer.
Vicit et ingenio pinguis Leo Cecrope natos, 85
Cum populi mentes molliit arte truces.
Quae favet ingeniis, auctor Dea pinguis olivae est;
Fallor? an exsuccos diligat illa viros?
Qui macer est, iactat vires: ad fortia fortis
Ergo eat, et patriam vomere verset humum. 90
Robora vel silvis, vel caecis aera cavernis
Eruat, aequoreas vel rate findat aquas.
Brachia det luctae, validos vel caestibus artus
Induat, aut funda grandia saxa rotet.
Quaerat Olympiaco gens haec in pulvere laurum, 95
Aut lauru si quid maius Olympus habet.
Ista decent validos. Nobis sunt publica cura
Munia, nos poscunt templa, Lycea, forum.
Virgineas colimus populi sine viribus artes,
Quasque iubent Musae, quasque Minerva sequi. 100
Vita quidem pingui brevis est; agnoscimus ultro,
Sed fatuum est vitae de brevitate queri.
Vita genus stadii est, et plenum fluctibus aequor,
Cernis et hic durus quae mala carcer habet.
Dic, quis ad Elei metam dum tendit anhelus, 105
Se cursu socios antevolasse dolet?
Navita nec moeret, ventis si pulsa secundis,
Spe citius portum fessa carina subit.
Nec cito te quereris tractum de carceris umbra,
Aut nimium propera vincla soluta manu. 110
Sola Venus superest, qua nos superamur ab illis,
Qui maciem tanta religione colunt.
Quantula laus haec est? Veneri si debita laus est,
Te laudabilior cum cane taurus erit.
Sed nec aqualiculo Veneris restinguitur ulli 115
Flamma, nec in pingui corpore friget amor.
Nitimur exemplis regum; cui plurima cervix
Pinguis erat, Claudi quanta libido fuit?
Ventrosusque Nero simul, et cervicis opimae,
Mille lupas fertur, mille iniisse mares. 120
Quam genuit pater inter aquas, humore refertos
Et succi plenos, mater Amoris amat.
Poma quis enasci sperat de stipite sicco?
Quemve potest laticem fundere dura silex?
Pone supercilium iam tandem, Zoile, parce 125
Rodere naturae luxuriantis opus.
Si quid habes mentis, pingui nil pulchrius alvo,
Et nil strigosa turpius esse puta.
3. Pinguis aqualiculi.] From Persius, I. 57.
35. Linx.] So in ed. '37. Properly "lynx," as after the Greek λύγξ.
65. Immobilis ille.] Aristotelian principle "The Primum Mobile must be itself unmoved".
85. Pinguis Leo.] Pope Leo X.
Zoilus, pale thinness covers your bones,In the title Adversus Omasomastiga, the hybrid Latin-Greek noun omasomastix, from omāsum = tripe, paunch and μάστιξ (mastix = whip, scourge), is apparently a hapax legomenon. Cf. Homeromastix, nickname of the ancient Greek grammarian Zoilus.
and many a wrinkle disfigures your withered cheeks;
why with your black teeth do you attack the huge bulk of a fat paunch,
and do you strike with such an aggressive beak?
At the sight of my paunch, you buffoon, why do you wrinkle your nose 5
in an unsightly way and shake your empty breast with laughter?
If I am sleek, if I am smooth and roly-poly,
why do you point me out with your finger, you faded shadow?
If a fat horse is praised, and a sleek lamb,
why don't you allow men to be fat and sleek? 10
He is mistaken who claims that bellies grow fat with gluttony,
or that limbs swell with too much wine.
No one called Hercules or Homer fat,
although the one was a wine-bibber, the other a glutton.
Often over-fed bodies grow thin, and wines drunk dry 15
don't allow the belly to swell more than enough.
The willow is of a small size, the oak of a great size, but the former
grows next to water, the latter on dry ridges.
If doctors can be trusted, the person whom you see become fat
Owes his quick growth to the help of airy blood. 20
Purer air from the veins spreads through all the limbs
and enriches bodies with a proper size.
Hence those men whose guts swell, whose belly and liver
stretch, you see have a mild temper.
Nothing is tamer than a very fat cow or lamb, 25
and ample feed alone makes wild beasts gentle.
Critters in the field are without anger, if they have a paunch,
and if you feed a boar, it abandons its attacks.
An animal with swollen guts doesn't live off plunder,
and doesn't wage war with its fellows over food. 30
It doesn't lay traps, and although you try to do it harm,
it doesn't kick or avenge a wrong by wiles.
On the other hand, if unsightly thinness wastes away the limbs of beasts,
they are savage, given to anger, full of tricks.
A dog has this character, and a lynx, and a most wicked tigress, 35
and fierce hawks, and even Jove's bird, the eagle.
Believe me, whoever is descended from Father Iapetus
imitates the character and ways of these beasts.
The fat man wears a cheerful expression; he whom old-womanish thinness disfigures
possesses a sort of harsh offensiveness. 40
The former doesn't solicit riches, isn't agitated by gloomy anger,
or hatred; the latter's unclean mind is puffed up with venom.
The former doesn't bristle with envy, isn't pale with lust;
The latter doesn't have a normal color, all his skin is black.
The fat man's mind is innocent, the thin man's is crafty; 45
the one loves peace, the other quarrels, wars, murders.
The burden of a protruding belly obstructs fat men,
and their life is idle, accompanied by inactivity.
I admit, the limbs of the very fat aren't nimble,
yet that has a glory which it perhaps deserves. 50
Those who are legislators are seated, and with sitting the mind
becomes wise; rest also is the goal of motion.
Consider ship captains: when a storm has arisen one
draws in his sails, another bails out the overflowing waters.
Some fly through the sail-yards, others uncoil the ropes, 55
one runs back and forth on the gangways.
The calm captain sits high up at the helm,
watches the stars, and steers his ship with skill.
The general orders that soldier to mount the city walls
speedily, this soldier to take up his weapons with quick hand. 60
He himself, watching his troops, with a nod turns the whole army
around—this is the sole duty of a general.
We too, whom you see hindered with a heavy belly,
we accomplish things that skinny folk can't.
God is within us; unmoved Himself, what is below 65
and the stars you see above, He rules with his mind.
The Numidian horse and fleet goats are suited to running,
but nobler duties are men's obligations.
Nevertheless, when occasion demands, we overcome our nature with art,
and the belly's burden isn't too much of an obstacle to us fat men. 70
We have swift ships to part ocean's waves,
and we are carried on speedy wheels wherever we wish to go.
Nor would it be a difficult thing for a fat man to shed weight
and whatever else you think is a hindrance to action.
Hard work, which finally overcomes all, could 75
hold in check the gut's gluttony, as could dismal hunger.
For this reason no beggar's belly bulges,
nor do you see peasants with an inflated belly.
But worse than sickness is it to punish appetite so; at such a price
I hardly think that anyone in his right mind would buy filth and thinness. 80
Don't think for a minute that our minds are drowned in fat,
and that fat men have dull wits.
Who would deny that Galba was inferior to Nero in wit,
although Nero had a reputation as fat, Galba as thin.
In the matter of wit, fat Leo surpassed the natives of Athens, 85
when he tamed the savage minds of the people.
The goddess who smiles on wits is the one who invented the plump olive.
Am I wrong? Does she love sapless men?
The skinny fellow boasts of his strength; then as a strong man let him
perform feats needing strength and turn the ancestral soil with the plow. 90
Let him uproot trees in the forest, or dig up metal in dark caves,
or cleave ocean's waters in a ship.
Let him give his arms to wrestling, or clothe his mighty limbs
with boxing gloves, or whirl huge stones with a sling shot.
Let skinny folk seek the laurel crown in Olympic dust, 95
or any greater prize which Olympus offers.
Such tasks are suitable for strong men. Public duties are
our concern—religion, education, law demand the likes of us.
Lacking strength, we pursue the maidenly arts,
those which the Muses and Minerva bid us follow. 100
A fat man's life is short, to be sure; we are the first to recognize it,
but it is foolish to complain about the shortness of life.
Life is a sort of race, and the sea is full of waves,
and you see what evils this hard prison holds.
Tell me, does the panting athlete who races toward the Olympic goal-post 105
regret that he ran faster than his competitors?
The sailor doesn't grieve that his ship, impelled by favorable winds,
reaches harbor quicker than he expected.
Nor should you complain that you were rescued quickly from prison's darkness
or that your chains were removed by too quick a hand. 110
Only love's pleasure remains, in which we are bested by those
who revere thinness with such great zeal.
How feeble a boast is this? If praise is due to sexual activity,
a bull or a dog will deserve greater praise than you.
But even love's flame is not extinguished by a paunch, 115
and passion doesn't grow cold in a fat body.
We rely on royal precedent; Claudius had a big fat neck,
and how immense was his sexual desire?
Big-bellied Nero, with a thick neck,
is said to have penetrated a thousand wanton women, a thousand men. 120
Cupid's mother, whom her father begat amidst waters, loves
exceedingly those who are crammed with moisture and full of sap.
Who hopes that fruits can sprout forth from a withered tree trunk?
Or can hard flint pour forth water?
At long last, Zoilus, put aside your sneering; 125
stop criticizing the product of fruitful Nature.
If you have any sense, realize that nothing is more beautiful than a fat belly,
and nothing is more ugly than a thin one.
There is a list of "Likenesses" in Nicola Royan, "Johnston, Arthur (c.1579–1641), poet," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography—the only one I've seen is a portrait by George Jamesone, (c.1629), in which Johnston doesn't seem at all corpulent, although it's hard to tell, because the portrait isn't full-length:
In the opinion of Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Arthur Johnston "holds among the Latin poets of Scotland the next place to the elegant [George] Buchanan."
Thanks to Karl Maurer for several suggestions and corrections. Any remaining infelicities or errors are mine.
To illustrate line 85, Eric Thomson sends a photograph of a statue of Pope Leo X, with the comment: "Is he giving a blessing I wonder, or calling the waiter?"