"Chapter Seven" by Petronius.
At the end of this course Trimalchio left the table to relieve himself, and so finding ourselves free from the constraint of his overbearing presence, we began to indulge in a little friendly conversation. Accordingly Dama began first, after calling for a cup of wine. "A day! what is a day?" he exclaimed, "before you can turn round, it's night again! So really you can't do better than go straight from bed to board. Fine cold weather we've been having; why! even my bath has hardly warmed me. But truly hot liquor is a good clothier. I've been drinking bumpers, and I'm downright fuddled. The wine has got into my head."
Seleucus then struck into the talk: "I don't bathe every day," he said; "your systematic bather's a mere fuller. Water's got teeth, and melts the heart away, a little every day; but there! when I've fortified my belly with a cup of mulled wine, I say ‘Go hang!' to the cold. Indeed I couldn't bathe today, for I've been to a funeral. A fine fellow he was too, good old Chrysanthus, but he's given up the ghost now. He was calling me just this
moment, only just this moment; I could fancy myself talking to him now. Alas! alas! what are we but blown bladders on two legs? We're not worth as much as flies; they are some use, but we're no better than bubbles. He wasn't careful enough in his diet, you say? I tell you, for five whole days not one drop of water, or one crumb of bread passed his lips. Nevertheless he has joined the majority. The doctors killed him,-- or rather his day was come; the very best of doctors is only a satisfaction to the mind. Anyhow he was handsomely buried, on his own best bed, with good blankets. The wailing was first class,-- he did a trifle of manumission before he died; though no doubt his wife's tears were a bit forced. A pity he always treated her so well. But woman! woman's of the kite kind. No man ought ever to do ‘em a good turn; just as well pitch it in the well at once. Old love's an eating sore!"
He was getting tiresome, and Phileros broke in: "Let's talk of living. He's got his deserts, whatever they were; he lived well and died well, what has he to complain about? He started with next to nothing, and was ready to the last to pick a farthing out of a dunghill with his teeth. So he grew and grew, like a honeycomb. Upon my word I believe he left a round hundred million behind him, and all in ready money. But I'll tell you the actual facts, for I'm the soul of truth, as they say. He had a rough tongue, and a ready one, and was
quarrelsomeness personified. Now his brother was a fine fellow and a true friend, with a free hand and keeping a liberal table. Just at the beginning he had a bad bird to pluck, but the very first vintage set him on his legs, for he sold his wine at his own price. But the thing that chiefly made him lift up his head in the world was getting an inheritance, out of which he managed to prig a good deal more than was really left him. And that log Chrysanthus, falling out with his brother, has positively left all his property to I don't know what scum of the earth. He goes too far, say I, who goes outside his own kith and kin. But he had a lot of overwise interfering servants, who proved his ruin. A man will never do well, who believes all he's told too readily, especially a man in business. Yet it's fair to say he did well enough all his life, getting what was never meant for him. Evidently one of Fortune's favorites, in whose hands lead turns to gold. But that's simple enough, when everything runs on wheels exactly as you want it to. How old, think you, was he when he died? Seventy and over. But he was as tough as horn; he carried his age well, and he was still as black as a crow. I knew him when he was a pretty loose fish, and he was lecherous to the last. Upon my soul I don't believe he left a living thing in his house alone, down to the dog. A great lover of lads, indeed a man of universal talents and tastes. Not that I blame him; this was all he got out of life."
So much for Phileros; then Ganymede began: "Yes! you talk away," he said, "about things that concern neither heaven nor earth, but no one ever thinks of the pinch of famine that's upon us. I swear I couldn't come across a mouthful of bread this day. And how the drought holds! Starvation's been the word for a whole twelvemonth now. Bad cess to the Ediles, who are in collusion with the bakers-- ‘you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.' And so poor folks suffer; for your rich fellows' jawbones keep feast-day all the year round. Ah! if only we had those lion-hearted chaps I found here, when first I came from Asia. That was something like living. ‘Twas like the midlands of Sicily for plenty, and they used to batter those vampires about so that Jupiter positively hated them.
"Why! I remember Safinius; he used to live at the Old Arch when I was a boy. It was a peppercorn, I tell you, not a man. Wherever he went, he made the ground smoke under him. An upright, downright honest man, and a trusty friend, one you might confidently play mora with in the dark. But in Court, how he pounded ‘em down, one and all; he didn't talk in figures of speech, not he, but straight out. Then when he pleaded in the Forum, his voice would swell out like a trumpet, though he never sweated or spat. I believe myself he had a smack of Asiatic blood in him. And how civil he was to return our bows and give each man his name, just as if he'd been one of ourselves. So in those days provisions were dirt cheap. A halfpenny loaf,-- when you'd bought it, you couldn't have finished it, with another man to help you! Now,-- I've seen a bullock's eye bigger.
"Alas! alas! Things get worse and worse every day, and this city of ours is growing like a cow's tail, backwards. Why ever have we an Edile not worth three figs, who thinks more of a halfpenny than of all our lives? So he sits at home and rubs his hands, making more coin in a day than another man's whole fortune comes to. I know one transaction brought him in a thousand gold denars. Why! if we weren't geldings, he wouldn't be so pleased with himself long. Nowadays the folks are lions at home, and foxes abroad.
"As for me, I've eaten up my duds, and if the scarcity goes on, I shall sell my bits of houses. What is to become of us, if neither gods nor men take pity on this unhappy city? As I hope for happiness, I think it's all the gods' doing. For nobody any more believes heaven to be heaven, nobody keeps fast, nobody cares one straw for Jupiter, but all men shut their eyes and count up their own belongings. In former days the long-robed matrons went barefoot, with unbound hair and a pure heart, up the hill to pray Jupiter for rain; and instantly it started raining bucketfuls,-- then or never,-- and they all came back looking like drowned rats. So the gods come stealthy-footed to our destruction, because we have no piety or reverence. The fields lie idle, and--"
"I beseech you," cried Echion, the old-clothes-man, at this point, "I beseech you, better words! Luck's for ever changing, as the chawbacon said, when he lost his brindled hog. If not today, then tomorrow; that's the way the world wags. My word! you couldn't name a better countryside, if only the inhabitants were to match. True, we are in low water for the moment, but we're not the only ones. We must not be so over particular, the same heaven is over us all. If you lived elsewhere, you'd say pigs ran about here ready roasted.
"And I tell you, we're going to have a grand show in three days from now at the festival-- none of your common gangs of gladiators, but most of the chaps freedmen. Our good Titus has a heart of gold and a hot head; ‘twill be do or die, and no quarter. I'm in his service, he is no shirker! He'll have the best of sharp swords and no backing out; bloody butcher's meat in the middle, for the amphitheater to feast their eyes on. And he's got the wherewithal; he was left thirty million, his father came to a bad end. Suppose he does spend four hundred thousand or so, his property won't feel it, and his name will live for ever. He has already got together a lot of ponies and a female chariot fighter, and Glyco's factor, who was caught diverting his mistress. You'll see what a row the people will have betwixt the jealous husbands and the happy lovers. Anyhow Glyco, who's not worth twopence, condemned his factor to the beasts,-- which was simply betraying his own dishonor. How was the servant to blame, who was forced to do what he did? It was she, the pisspot, deserved tossing by the bull far more than he. But there, if a man can't get at the donkey's back, he must thrash the donkey's pack. And how could Glyco ever suppose Hermogenes' girl should come to any good. He could cut a kite's claws flying; a snake doesn't father a rope. Glyco! Glyco! you've paid your price; as long as you live, you're a marked man,-- a brand Hell only can obliterate. A man's mistakes always come home to roost.
"Why! I can nose out now what a feast Mammaea is going to give us, two gold denars each for me and mine. If he does so, I only hope he'll show no favor whatever to Norbanus. You may rest assured he will clap on all sail. And in good sooth what has the other ever done for us? He gave a show of twopenny halfpenny gladiators, such a rickety lot,-- blow on them, they'd have fallen flat; and I've seen better bestiaries. He killed his mounted men by torchlight, you might have taken them for dunghill cocks. One was mule-footed, another bandy-legged, while the third, put up to replace a dead man, was a deadhead himself, for he was hamstrung before beginning. The only one to show any spunk was a Thracian, and he only fought when we tarred him on. In the end they all got a sound thrashing; in fact the crowd had cried ‘Trice up!' for every one of them, they were obviously such arrant runaways. ‘Anyhow I gave you a show,' said he. ‘And I applauded,' said I; ‘reckon it up, and I gave you more than I got. One good turn deserves another.'
"You look, Agamemnon, as if you were saying to yourself, ‘Whatever is that bore driving at?' I talk, because you fellows who can talk, won't talk. You're not of our stuff and so you laugh at poor men's conversation. You're a monument of learning, we all know. But there, let me persuade you one day to come down into the country and see our little place. We'll find something to eat, a pullet and a few eggs; it will be grand, even though the bad weather this year has turned everything upside down. Anyway we shall find enough to fill our bellies.
"And there's a future pupil growing up for you, my little lad at home. He can repeat four pieces already; if he lives, you will have a little servant at your beck and call. If he has a spare moment, he never lifts his head from his slate. He's a bright lad with good stuff in him, though he is so gone on birds. I've killed three linnets of his, and told him a weasel ate ‘em. But he has found other hobbies, and he's devoted to painting. Why! he is already showing his heels to the Greek, and beginning to take capitally to his Latin, though his master is too easy-going and too restless; he knows his work well enough, but won't take proper pains. Then there's another, not a learned man but a very ingenious one, who teaches more than he knows. Accordingly he comes to the house on high days and holidays, and whatever you give him, he looks pleased. So I've just bought the lad some lawbooks, for I want him to have a smack of law for home use. There's bread and butter in that. For as to Literature, he has been tarred enough already with that brush. If he kicks, I've made up my mind to teach him a trade,-- a barber, or an auctioneer, or best of all a lawyer,-- which nothing but Hell can rob him of. So I impress on him every day. ‘Believe me, my first-born, whatever you learn, you learn for your good. Look at Phileros the advocate; if he hadn't studied, he would be starving today. The other day, just the other day, he was carting things round on his shoulders, now he is a match for Norbanus himself. Learning's a treasure, and a trade never starves.'"
Such were the brilliant remarks that were flashing round the board, when Trimalchio re-entered, and after wiping his brow and scenting his hands, "Pardon me, my friends," he said after a brief pause, "but for several days I have been costive. My physicians were nonplused. However, pomegranate rind and an infusion of firwood in vinegar has done me good. And now I trust my belly will be better behaved. At times I have such a rumbling about my stomach, you'd think
I had a bull bellowing inside me! So if any of you want to relieve yourselves, there's no necessity to be ashamed about it. None of us is born solid. I don't know any torment so bad as holding it in. It's the one thing Jove himself cannot stop. What are you laughing at, Fortunata, you who so often keep me awake o' nights yourself? I never hinder any man at my table from easing himself, and indeed the doctors forbid our balking nature. Even if something more presses, everything's ready outside,-- water, close-stools, and the other little matters needful. Take my word for it, the vapors rise to the brain and may cause a fluxion of the whole constitution. I know many a man that's died of it, because he was too shy to speak out."
We thank our host for his generous indulgence, taking our wine in little sips the while to keep down our laughter. But little we thought we had still another hill to climb, as the saying is, and were only half through the elaborations of the meal. For when the tables had been cleared with a flourish of music, three white hogs were brought in, hung with little bells and muzzled. One, so the nomenclator informed us, was a two-year-old, another three, and the third six. For my part, I thought they were learned pigs, come in to perform some of those marvelous tricks you see in circuses. But Trimalchio put an end to my surmises by saying, "Which of the three will you have dressed for supper right away? Farmyard cocks and pheasants are for country folks; my cooks are used to serving up calves boiled whole."
So saying, he immediately ordered the cook to be summoned, and without waiting for our choice, directed the six-year-old to be killed. Then speaking loud and clear, he asked the man, "What decuria do you belong to?"
"To the fortieth," he replied.
"Bought," he went on, "or born in my house?"
"Neither;" returned the cook, "I was left you by Pansa's will."
"Then mind you serve the dish carefully dressed; else I shall order you to be degraded into the decuria of the outdoor slaves."
And the cook, thus cogently admonished, then withdrew with his charge into the kitchen.
But Trimalchio, relaxing his stern aspect, now turned to us and said "If you don't like the wine, I'll have it changed; otherwise please prove its quality by your drinking. Thanks to the gods' goodness, I never buy it; but now I have everything that smacks good growing on a suburban estate of mine. I've not seen it yet, but they tell me it's down Terracina and Tarentum way. I am thinking at the moment of making Sicily one of my little properties, that when I've a mind to visit Africa, I may sail along my own boundaries to get there.
"But tell me, Agamemnon, what question formed the subject of your declamation today? Though I don't plead myself, I've studied letters for domestic use. Don't imagine I have despised scholarship; why! I have two Libraries, one Greek, the other Latin. If you love me, then, let me know what your discourse was."
Agamemnon had just begun, "A poor man and a rich were at feud . . ." when Trimalchio struck in with the question, "What is a poor man!"
"Oh, capital!" cried Agamemnon; and went on to develop some dialectical problem or another.
Trimalchio summed up without an instant's hesitation as follows, "If this is so, there's no question about it; if it's not so, why! there's an end of the matter."
Whilst we were still acclaiming these and similar remarks with fulsome praise, he resumed, "Pray, my dearest Agamemnon, do you recollect by any chance the twelve labors of Hercules, or the story of Ulysses, how the Cyclops twisted his thumb out of joint, after he was turned into a pig. I used to read these tales in Homer when I was a lad. Then the Sibyl! I saw her at Cumae with my own eyes hanging in a jar; and when the boys cried to her, ‘Sibyl, what would you?' she'd answer, ‘I would die,'-- both of ‘em speaking Greek."