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408 Often it is asked whether a praiseworthy poem be due to Nature or to art. For my part, I do not see of what avail is either study, when not enriched by Nature's vein, or native wit, if untrained; so truly does each claim the other's aid, and make with it a friendly league. He who in the race-course craves to reach the longed-for goal, has borne much and done much as a boy, has sweated and shivered, has kept aloof from wine and women. The flautist who plays at the Pythian games, has first learned his lessons and been in awe of a master. To-day 'tis enough to say: I fashion wondrous poems: the devil take the hindmost! a 'Tis unseemly for me to be left behind, and to confess that I really do not know what I have never learned."
419 Like the crier, who gathers a crowd to the auction of his wares, so the poet bids flatterers flock to the call of gain, if he is rich in lands, and rich in moneys put out at interest. But if he be one who can fitly serve a dainty dinner, and be surety for a poor man of little credit, or can rescue one entangled in gloomy suits-at-law, I shall wonder if the happy fellow will be able to distinguish between a false and a true friend. And you, if you have given or mean to give a present to anyone, do not bring him, in the fulness of his joy, to hear verses you have written. For he will call out Fine! good! perfect!" He will change colour over them; he will even distil the dew from his friendly eyes, he will dance and thump the ground with his foot. As hired mourners at a funeral say and do almost more than those who grieve at heart, so the man who mocks is more moved than the true admirer. Kings, we are told, ply with many a bumper and test with
et torquere mero, quem perspexisse laborent,1
si defendere delictum quam vertere malles,
nullum ultra verbum aut operam insumebat inanem, quin sine rivali teque et tua solus amares.
vir bonus et prudens versus reprehendet inertis, 445 culpabit duros, incomptis allinet atrum
transverso calamo signum, ambitiosa recidet ornamenta, parum claris lucem dare coget, arguet ambigue dictum, mutanda notabit,
fiet Aristarchus; nec1 dicet: cur ego amicum 450 offendam in nugis ? hae nugae seria ducent in mala derisum semel exceptumque sinistre.
Ut mala quem scabies aut morbus regius urget aut fanaticus error et iracunda Diana, vesanum tetigisse timent fugientque5 poëtam qui sapiunt; agitant pueri incautique sequuntur. hic, dum sublimis versus ructatur et errat,
a In one of Aesop's fables, the crow, yielding to the fox's flattery, drops the cheese he has found.
bi.e. Quintilius Varus, whose death is lamented in Odes, i. 24.
The name of Aristarchus, famous as an Homeric scholar of Alexandria in the second century B.C., had become proverbial as that of a keen critic.
wine the man they are anxious to see through, whether he be worthy of their friendship. If you mean to fashion verses, never let the intent that lurks beneath the fox ensnare you."
you ever read aught to Quintilius," he would say: Pray correct this and this." If, after two or three vain trials, you said you could not do better, he would bid you blot it out, and return the illshaped verses to the anvil. If you preferred defending your mistake to amending it, he would waste not a word more, would spend no fruitless toil, to prevent your loving yourself and your work alone without a rival. An honest and sensible man will censure lifeless lines, he will find fault with harsh ones; if they are graceless, he will draw his pen across and smear them with a black stroke; he will cut away pretentious ornament; he will force you to flood the obscure with light, will convict the doubtful phrase, will mark what should be changed, will prove an Aristarchus. He will not say, "Why should I give offence to a friend about trifles? These trifles will bring that friend into serious trouble, if once he has been laughed down and given an unlucky reception.
453 As when the accursed itch plagues a man, or the disease of kings, or a fit of frenzy and Diana's wrath, so men of sense fear to touch a crazy poet and run away; children tease and pursue him rashly. He, with head upraised, splutters verses and off he strays;
a The morbus regius, said to be so called because the patient was treated with costly remedies, which only the rich (reges) could afford, was our jaundice and was supposed to be contagious.
Lunacy was supposed to be caused by the moon, and the moon-goddess was Diana.
si1 veluti merulis intentus decidit auceps
si curet quis opem ferre et demittere2 funem, qui scis, an prudens huc se deiecerit3 atque servari nolit?" dicam, Siculique poetae narrabo interitum. deus immortalis haberi dum cupit Empedocles, ardentem frigidus Aetnam insiluit. sit ius liceatque perire poetis : invitum qui servat, idem facit occidenti.
nec semel hoc fecit, nec, si retractus erit, iam fiet homo et ponet famosae mortis amorem. nec satis apparet, cur versus factitet, utrum minxerit in patrios cineres, an triste bidental moverit incestus: certe furit, ac velut ursus, obiectos1 caveae valuit si frangere clatros, indoctum doctumque fugat recitator acerbus ; quem vero arripuit, tenet occiditque legendo, non missura cutem, nisi plena cruoris, hirudo.
1 si Kd: sic aEM.
2 dimittere most MSS.
• So Thales is said to have fallen into a well while studying the stars (Plato, Theaetetus, 174 a).
then if, like a fowler with his eyes upon blackbirds, he fall into a well or pit, despite his far-reaching cry, Help, O fellow-citizens ! not a soul will care to pull him out. And if one should care to lend aid
and let down a rope, How do you know," I'll say, but that he threw himself in on purpose, and does not wish to be saved?" and I'll tell the tale of the Sicilian poet's end. Empedocles, eager to be thought a god immortal, coolly leapt into burning Aetna. Let poets have the right and power to destroy themselves. Who saves a man against his will does the same as murder him. Not for the first time has he done this, nor if he is pulled out will he at once become a human being and lay aside his craving for a notable death. Nor is it very clear how he comes to be a verse-monger. Has he defiled ancestral ashes or in sacrilege disturbed a hallowed plot? At any rate he is mad, and, like a bear, if he has had strength to break the confining bars of his cage, he puts learned and unlearned alike to flight by the scourge of his recitals. If he catches a man, he holds him fast and reads him to death-a leech that will not let go the skin, till gorged with blood.
¿ The bidental was a spot struck by lightning, which was consecrated by a sacrifice of sheep (bidentes).