translated by David Drake
Does anybody still think that distinguished art and delicate poetry are sufficient to win a lover? Once genius was more valuable than gold, but today's universal barbarism counts it for nothing.
Once my brilliant little poetry collections pleased my mistress, but today I can no longer go where my books went then. Once she praised me, but now her doors are closed against my praised self. Thus she sends my genius packing.
Behold--a nouveau riche who gained his wealth through slaugher, a former centurion fed on blood till it raised him to a knighthood. He is preferred to me!
Dear heart, can your lovely arms embrace him? Can you lie in his embrace? Do you not see that his head bore a helmet, a sword was sheathed along the thigh that now lies next to yours, and the left hand with which he counts his recent ill-got gains then carried a shield. Would you touch a right hand that was wet with blood?
Are you able to hold the hand by which men died? Alas, where have you hidden your gentle heart? Behold his scars, the marks of bygone battle. Everything he has, he gained by force.
Perhaps he'll be willing to tell you how many men he's killed. Are you so greedy you'd touch the hands his own words condemn? Yet I, the pure priest of Apollo and the Muses, sing my song vainly to your barred gates.
Let anyone who's wise learn not the arts of leisure as I did but rather those of the fearful battleline and the savage camp, so that he can command a cohort instead of writing polished verse. You can only spend the night with your girlfriend, Homer, if you're a warrior!
When Jupiter rained himself down as the price of Danae's maidenhead, he showed us that nothing has more power than gold. If you don't have money, you'll find her father harsh, the girl herself prim, the door barred, and an iron tower before you; but when the wise whoremonger offers a gift, she bares her bosom and gives whatever he orders her to give.
In the days when ancient Saturn reigned in heaven, the deep earth hid all wealth in its shadows. Bronze and silver along with gold and iron remained among the dead in the Underworld; there was no refined metal. But the earth gave better things: grain without need for the curved plowshare, apples and honey from the hollow oak. No harsh plow ripped the earth, no surveyor marked off the limitless fields. Nor did men harry the seas with downthrust oars; the shoreline was as far as a mortal's path could take him.
But then, Human Nature, you were cunning to your own injury and damned by your own ingenuity. What do you gain by putting your hands to weapons, what need have you with the deeps? You had been content with the land. Will you now make the heavens your own as well?
We have gouged the earth to gain massy gold instead of crops. Soldiers hold wealth they gained by blood. The courts are closed to poor men and wealth confers public office. Such is what the upright judge and the stalwart official have come to!
Let greed and wealth have all things else--let the court and forum serve them, let them decide on peace or stark war as they choose, so long as their greed doesn't interfere with my lovemaking. A poor man must have something! But now a pretty girl is in the same wretched state as the Sabine women: whoever can pay the most rules her like a slave.
The doorman bars me; when I arrive, my girl herself says she fears her husband's wrath. If I'd paid, they'd both have thrown open the whole house.
Ah, if there's any God to avenge neglected lovers, let him turn all ill-sought wealth to dust!