Though you’re richer than the untouched
riches of Araby, than wealthy India,
and you fill the land, and inshore
waters, with your deposits of builders’ rubble:
if dread Necessity fixes
her adamantine nails in your highest rooftops,
you’ll not free your spirit from fear,
nor free your very being from the noose of death.
Better to live like Scythians
in the Steppes, whose wagons haul their movable homes,
that’s custom, or the fierce Getae,
whose unallocated acres produce their fruits,
their harvests of rye, in common,
where cultivation’s not decided for more than
a year, and when one turn is done,
it’s carried on by other hands, as a duty.
There, as their own, the unselfish
women raise those children who have lost their mothers:
and the richly dowered wife never
rules her husband, or believes in shining lovers.
Their greatest dowry’s their parents’
virtue, and their own chastity, which is careful
of another’s husband, in pure
loyalty, sin is wrong and death’s its penalty.
O whoever would end impious
killing, and civil disorder, and would desire
to have ‘City Father’ inscribed
on their statues, let them be braver, and rein in
unbridled licence, and win fame
among posterity: since we, alas, for shame,
filled with envy, hate chaste virtue,
and only seek it when it’s hidden from our eyes.
What use are sad lamentations,
if crime is never suppressed by its punishment?
What use are all these empty laws
without the behaviour that should accompany them?
if neither those parts of the Earth
enclosed by heat, nor those far confines of the North,
snow frozen solid on the ground,
deter the trader, if cunning sailors conquer
the stormy seas, if poverty,
is considered a great disgrace, and directs us
to do and to bear everything,
and abandon the arduous paths of virtue?
Let’s send our jewels, our precious
stones, our destructive gold, to the Capitol, while
the crowd applauds, and raises its strident clamour,
or ship them to the nearest sea,
as causes of our deepest ills,
if we truly repent of all our wickedness.
Let the source of our perverted
greed be lost, and then let our inadequate minds
be trained in more serious things.
The inexperienced noble youth is unskilled
at staying in the saddle, he
fears to hunt, and he’s much better at playing games,
whether you order him to fool
with a Greek hoop, or you prefer forbidden dice,
while his father’s perjured trust cheats
his partner and his friends, hurrying to amass
money for his unworthy heir.
While it’s true that in this way his ill-gotten gains
increase, yet there’s always something
lacking in a fortune forever incomplete.