Latin Reading Club (22) - All is vanity...

By Cato, in 'Reading Latin', Jan 31, 2007.

  1. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    Juvenal's tenth satire looks at the vanity of prayer and the ultimate worthlessness of the many things we beg from the gods. Juvenal cites the example of Sejanus, the emperor Tiberius' trusted lieutenant who plotted to become a virtual co-emperor in his vain quest for wealth and power. After his sudden reversal, the fickle mob quickly turned against him, pulling down his statues and tossing them in the furnace:

    Jam strident ignes, jam follibus atque caminis
    ardet adoratum populo caput, et crepat ingens
    Sejanus, deinde ex facie toto orbe secunda
    fiunt urceoli, pelves, sartago, matellae.

    folles, -ium (plural) - lit. "bags", but "bellows" is better here.
    caminus, -i - "furnace, forge"
    caput - i.e. the head of the statue
    crepo, -are - "to clatter, crack"
    You should really look up urceoli, pelves, sartago and matella to get the full effect here.

    Such is the end for those wishing only power or prestige. But Juvenal then turns his ire on the capriciousness of the mob, and in this famous passage wonders what happened to the once-glorious Roman people:

    ...Sed quid
    turba Remi? Sequitur fortunam, ut semper, et odit
    damnatos. Idem populus, si Nortia Tusco
    favisset, si oppressa foret secura senectus
    principis, hac ipsa Sejanum diceret hora
    Augustum. Jam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
    uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
    imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
    continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
    panem et circenses.

    Nortia Tusco favisset - Sejanus was a native of Volsinii, an old Etruscan town, so Juvenal calls him the "Etruscan" (Tuscus). Nortia was the Etruscan goddess of Fortune.
    opprimo, -ere, oppressi, oppressus - "put down, overwhelmed"
    securus, -a, -um - not "secure", more literally "unaware" (i.e. sine cura).
    senectus - The old age of the princeps (i.e. Tiberius) is personified here.
    diceret - the subject here is Idem populus.
    Jam pridem - "now for a long time."
    quo - this refers back to the populus.
    suffragia nulli vendimus - Tiberius transferred all elections to the Senate at the start of his principate, at which point there was no longer even the pretence of democratic elections.
    effudit - The subject is...
    se continet - in opposition to the previous statement, which were things the Romans had used to continere the rest of the world.

    I couldn't find a good on-line translation, and Perseus does not have the text of Juvenal's satires on line (?!?). So the notes have been amplified; I still thought it was worth a look at this (if only in an edited glimpse) because the final three words of this passage have become proverbial, even in English.

    Habete ludum!
  2. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    Well, I thought it was neat that Juvenal could construct a line almost completely out of nouns you wouldn't usually see in poetry: Fiunt urceoli, pelves, sartago, matellae. And he still has the satiric chops to save the funniest one--matellae--for last.

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