“I’ll never be sorry I had such a father.”

The best thing I read today was from Horace’s (65–8 BC) Satires, or rather his Sermones, or Diatribes. This particular poem, about a hundred and fifty lines (go read the whole thing in English, or better yet read the poem itself), is about true nobility, articulated by the son of a freedman (i.e., a man born a slave and therefore unfit for professions nobler than skilled labor). Horace had to assure the “real” nobles that, in spite of the patronage of Augustus himself and of Maecenas, a senior minister in the imperial consistory, this epicurean poet son of a freedman had no designs on obtruding his ample paunch into their happy little circle.

Here he tells us about his school days, purchased at great cost by the industry, patience, sacrifice, and, above all, the example and love of his father. I’ll just render it in prose, since line-by-line blank verse would take longer than I’m willing to give to it at the moment.

si neque avaritiam neque sordes nec mala lustra
obiciet vere quisquam mihi, purus et insons,
ut me collaudem, si et vivo carus amicis,               70
causa fuit pater his; qui macro pauper agello
noluit in Flavi ludum me mittere, magni
quo pueri magnis e centurionibus orti
laevo suspensi loculos tabulamque lacerto
ibant octonos referentes idibus aeris,               75
sed puerum est ausus Romam portare docendum
artis quas doceat quivis eques atque senator
semet prognatos. vestem servosque sequentis,
in magno ut populo, siqui vidisset, avita
ex re praeberi sumptus mihi crederet illos.               80
ipse mihi custos incorruptissimus omnis
circum doctores aderat. quid multa? pudicum,
qui primus virtutis honos, servavit ab omni
non solum facto, verum opprobrio quoque turpi
nec timuit, sibi ne vitio quis verteret, olim               85
si praeco parvas aut, ut fuit ipse, coactor
mercedes sequerer; neque ego essem questus. at hoc nunc
laus illi debetur et a me gratia maior.
nil me paeniteat sanum patris huius, eoque
non, ut magna dolo factum negat esse suo pars,               90
quod non ingenuos habeat clarosque parentes,
sic me defendam.

If no one will truly accuse me of greed or shame

Or wicked deeds, and if I live my life,

(To praise myself), pure and dear to friends, 70

My father was the cause; though meager of means

He didn’t want to sent me to Flavius’ school,

Where great lads, sprung from great centurions,

With scrips and tablets slung over their shoulders

Used to go and pay their cheap tuition,   75

But dared to take his lad to Rome to learn

The arts that any Knight or Senator

Would learn his own. If you had seen my dress

And slaves, like all the other kids’, you’d think

My all expenses paid by wealthy folks.   80

Himself would stand, my incorruptible guard

At every teacher’s class. What else? He kept

Me chaste, the first reward of virtue, kept

From every not just deed, but dirty scandal,

And had no fear they’d lay it to his fault   85

If some day I’d pursue his mean profession:

Debt-collecting; nor would I have complained.

I owe him thus much more of thanks and praise.

I’ll never, sane, be sorry of such a father.

That’s why I won’t defend myself like most   90

Of those, who say it hasn’t come by their

Own fault, that they don’t have more noble parents

And famous.


Ok, well, it’s not prose, but it’s not exactly polished verse either. My father didn’t pay for my education, or take me to school, but he did teach me one thing that has carried me far in both. We all, no matter how rich or poor we are, get the same number of hours in each day. It’s up to each of us how he choose to spend them.

Get up early tomorrow!

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for your patience with a versifier.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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