"Chapter Eight" by Petronius.
He was still in the middle of this nonsense when a tray supporting an enormous hog was set on the table. One and all we expressed our admiration at the expedition shown, and swore a mere ordinary fowl could not have been cooked in the time, the more so as the hog appeared to be a much larger animal than the wild boar just before. Presently Trimalchio, staring harder and harder, exclaimed, "What! what! isn't he gutted? No! by heaven! he's not. Call the cook in!"
The cook came and stood by the table, looking sadly crestfallen and saying he had clean forgotten. "What! forgotten!" cried Trimalchio; "to hear him, you would suppose he'd just omitted a pinch of pepper or a bit of cumin. Strip him!"
Instantly the cook was stripped, and standing between two tormentors, the picture of misery. But we all began to intercede for him, saying, "Accidents will happen; do forgive him this once. If ever he does it again, not one of us will say a word in his favor." For my own part I felt mercilessly indignant, and could not hold myself, but bending over to Agamemnon's ear, I whispered, "Evidently he must be a villainous bad servant. To think of anybody forgetting to bowel a hog; by Gad! I would not let the fellow off, if he'd shown such carelessness about a fish."
Not so Trimalchio, for with a smile breaking over his face, "Well! well!" said he, "as you have such a bad memory, bowel him now, where we can all see."
Thereupon the cook resumed his tunic, seized his knife and with a trembling hand slashed open the animal's belly. In a moment, the apertures widening under the weight behind, out tumbled a lot of sausages and black-puddings.
At this all the servants applauded like one man, and chorused, "Gaius for ever!" Moreover the cook was gratified with a goblet of wine and a silver wreath, and received a drinking cup on a salver of Corinthian metal. This Agamemnon scanned with some attention, and Trimalchio observed, "I am the only man possessing the genuine Corinthian plate."
I fully expected him to match his usual effrontery by declaring he had himself imported the articles from Corinth; but he had a better account to give of the matter. "You may wonder perhaps," he said, "why I alone have the true Corinthian. The fact is, the smith I buy them from is called Corinth, and what can be more Corinthian than to have Corinth at one's orders? But you must not set me down for a dunce; I know perfectly well how Corinthian plate first originated. On the capture of Troy, Hannibal, an astute fellow and a consummate knave, collected together all the statues of bronze and gold and silver into one great heap, and firing the pile, melted down the different metals into one alloy. This mass of metal the smiths utilized to make into platters and dishes and statuettes. Such was the origin of Corinthian metal, neither one thing nor the other, but an amalgam of all.
"But you must allow me to say this, I prefer glass ones myself; they are quite free from smell at any rate. And if they didn't break, I would rather have them than gold itself; but they've got cheap and common now. However there was an artificer once who made a glass goblet that would not break. So he was admitted to Caesar's presence to offer him his invention; then, on receiving the cup back from Caesar's hands, he dashed it down on the floor. Who so startled as Caesar? but the man quietly picked up the goblet again, which was dinted as a vessel of bronze might be. Then taking a little hammer from his pocket, he easily and neatly knocked the goblet into shape again. This done, the fellow thought he was as good as in heaven already, especially when Caesar said to him, ‘Does anybody else besides yourself understand the manufacture of this glass?' But lo! on his replying in the negative, Caesar ordered
him to be beheaded, because if once the secret became known, we should think no more of gold than of so much dirt.
"I'm quite a connoisseur in plate. I've got cups as big as waterpots, a hundred of them more or less, representing how Cassandra slew her sons, and there lie the lads dead, as natural as life! I've got a thousand bowls Mummius bequeathed to my patron, on which Daedalus is shown shutting Niobe up in the Trojan horse. Why! I've got the fights of Hermeros and Petraites on a series of cups all of massive metal. I wouldn't sell my savvy in these things for any money."
In the middle of these remarks a slave dropped a cup. Trimalchio looked at him and said, "Go at once and kill yourself; you are a careless fellow." The slave immediately dropped his lip and began to beg for mercy. "Why worry me," cried Trimalchio, "as if I were being harsh upon you. I merely urge you to secure yourself from being so heedless again." At length, on our entreaty, he pardoned the man. The latter, to celebrate the event, began running round and round the table, crying, "Out water, in wine!" We were all ready to take the merry rascal's kind suggestion, and particularly Agamemnon, who knew very well how to earn another invitation. But Trimalchio under the stimulus of our flattery drank away more gayly than ever, and being close on the verge of intoxication, "Won't any of you," he cried, "ask my wife Fortunata to dance? Believe me, there's no one foots the cancan better." Then putting up his two hands himself above his brow, he began imitating Syrus the comedian, the whole household singing out, "Bravo! Oh, bravissimo!" in chorus; and he would have made a public exhibition of himself, had not Fortunata whispered in his ear and told him, I suppose, that suchlike buffooneries were beneath his dignity. But nothing could well be more uncertain than his humor; one moment he would listen respectfully to Fortunata, the next hark back to his natural propensities.
However his dancing fit was cut short by the entrance of the historiographer, who read out solemnly, as if he were reciting the public records:
"Seventh of Kalends of July (June 25th): On the manor of Cumae, Trimalchio's property, were born this day thirty boys, forty girls; were carried from threshing-floor to granary 500,000 bushels of wheat; were put to the yoke 500 oxen.
"Same day: Mithridates, a slave, was crucified for blaspheming our master Gaius' tutelary genius.
"Same day: returned to treasury ten million sesterces, no investment being forthcoming for the sum.
"Same day: a fire occurred in Pompey's garden, originating at the house of Nasta, the Bailiff."
"Eh?" interrupted Trimalchio, "when were Pompey's gardens bought for me?"
"Last year," answer the historiographer; "therefore they have not been brought into account yet."
Trimalchio blazed up at this and shouted, "Any estates bought in my name, if I hear nothing of them within six months, I forbid their being carried to my account at all."
Next were read his Ediles' edicts and Foresters' wills, in which Trimalchio was excluded from inheritance, but mentioned with the highest encomiums. Then the names of his Bailiffs were recited; how the Chief Inspector had repudiated his mistress, a freedwoman, having detected her in an intrigue with the Bath-Super-intendent; how the Chamberlain had been removed to Baiae: the Steward convicted of peculation; and a dispute between the Grooms of the Chamber adjudicated upon.
But now the acrobats entered at last. A most tiresome, dull fellow stood supporting a ladder, up the rungs of which he ordered a lad to climb and dance and sing on the top, and then leap down through blazing hoops holding a wine-jar in his teeth. Trimalchio was the only person present who admired this performance, saying it was a hard life truly. There were but two things, he went on, in all the world he really enjoyed seeing-- acrobats and horn-blowers; all other shows were mere trash. "Yes! I bought a company of comedians too," he said, "but I insisted on their playing Atellanes, and I ordered my conductor to play Latin airs and Latin airs only."
In the middle of these fine remarks of the great Gaius, the boy suddenly tumbled down on top of our host. The domestics all raised a shriek, and the guests as well, not for any love they bore the disgusting creature, whose neck they would have gladly seen broken, but for fear of a bad end to the feast and the necessity of lamenting the man's death. Trimalchio himself gave a deep groan and bent over one arm, as if it were injured. His physicians flocked round him, and amongst the foremost Fortunata with streaming hair and a cup in her hand, asseverating she was a most miserable, unhappy woman. For his part, the boy who had fallen was already creeping round at our knees, beseeching us to intercede for him.
I was tormented with the idea that these prayers were only intended to lead up by some ridiculous turn to another theatrical dénouement. For the cook who had forgotten to bowel the hog still stuck in my memory. So I began to carry my eyes all about the room, to see if the wall would not open to admit some stage-machine or other, especially after observing how a slave was thrashed, who had bandaged his master's bruised arm with white instead of purple wool. Nor was I far out in my suspicions, for in lieu of punishment being inflicted, Trimalchio now ruled that the lad must be made free, that none might be able to say so noble a gentleman had been injured by a slave. We
acclaim the generous act, and indulge in a string of platitudes on the precariousness of human affairs. "Well, then!" interposed Trimalchio, "an accident like this must not be allowed to pass without an impromptu," and instantly calling for his tablets, and without much racking of brains, he read out the following lines:
"When least we think, things go astray,
Dame Fortune o'er our life holds sway;
Then drink, make merry, whilst ye may!"
This epigram led the way to a discussion of poets and poetry, and for some time the palm of song was awarded to Mopsus the Thracian, until Trimalchio remarked to Agamemnon, "Pray, master, what do you consider the difference to be between Cicero and Publilius? For my own part, I consider the former the more eloquent author, the latter the more genteel. What for instance can be better put than this:
"‘Tis arrant luxury undoes the State;
To please your palate pampered peacocks die,
That flaunt their plumed Assyrian gold abroad
For you Numidian fowl and capon fat.
Even the kindly stork is sacrificed,
Our graceful, noisy, long-legged friend,
Fearful of winter's cold and harbinger of Spring,
And finds the cruel cooking-pot its nest.
Why are the Indian pearls so dear to you,--
If not to deck with sea-sought gems the wife
That lifts a wanton leg adulterously?
Why love you so the emerald's greeny gleam,
And flashing fires of Punic carbuncles?
Honor and virtue are the truest gems.
Is't right the bride should wear the woven wind,
And stand exposed in garments thin as air?
"Now what do you hold to be the most difficult calling," he went on, "after Literature? I think the doctor's and the money-changer's; the doctor, because he's got to know what chaps have in their insides, and when the fever's coming,-- though truly I hate ‘em like fury, for they're for ever ordering me duck-broth; the money-changer, who detects the bronze underneath the surface plating of silver.
"Of beasts the most hard-working are oxen and sheep; to the former we owe the bread we eat, while ‘tis the latter make us so fine with their wool. What a brutal shame it is when a man eats mutton and wears a woolen coat! Now bees,-- I do think they are God's own creatures, for they vomit honey, though some say they bring it down from Jupiter. And that's why they sting, for you'll never find sweet without sour."
He was still cutting out the philosophers in this fashion, when lottery tickets were passed round in a cup, and a slave, whose special duty this was, read out the presents to be distributed in the tombola:
"Humbug Silver; a gammon of bacon was shown, with cruets of that metal standing on it.
A Neck-Pillow; and a neck of mutton was produced.
Forbidden Fruits and Contumely; pommeloes were brought in, and a punt-pole with an apple.
Leeks and Peaches; the drawer received a whip and a knife.
Dress Clothes and Morning Coat; a piece of meat and a memorandum book.
Canal and Foot Measure; a hare and a slipper.
Lamprey and Letter; a mouse and a frog tied together, and a bundle of beetroot."
We laughed loud and long; and there were a hundred and fifty other conceits of the same sort that have escaped my memory.