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ARGUMENT. The sting of this Satire is particularly aimed at Nero; but the Poet
has been cautious, and therefore has written it under the notion of Socrates admonishing his pupil, young Alcibiades : under this fiction he attacks Nero's unfitness zo manage the reins of government, his lust, his cruelty, his drunkenness, his luxury and effeminacy. He also reprehends the flattery of Nero's courtiers, who endeavoured to D . NEM populi tractas? (barbatum hæc crede magistrum Dicere, sorbitio tollit quem dira circutz.) Quo fretus ? dic hoc, magni pupille Pericli. Scilicet ingenium, et rerum prudentia velox, Ante pilos venit ; dicenda, tacendaque, calles ! Ergo, ubi commotâ fervet plebecula bile, Eert animus calidæ fecisse silentia turbæ,
Line 1. Do you manage, &c.] Do you take upon yourself the ma nagement of public affairs--the government of the state ?
Think.] i. e. Let us suppose--imagine.
The bearded master.] Socrates, who, like other philosophers, wore a beard, as a mark of wisdom and gravity-let us suppose him thus to discourse to his pupil Alcibiades.
2. Dire potiori, &c.] Socrates was put to death at Athens, on the accusation of Anitus and Melitus. He was condemned to drink the juice of hemlock. See Juv. sat. xiii. 1. 185, 6, note.
3. Upon what relying?] What are your qualifications for this, that you rely upon as sufficient for 30 arduous an undertaking ?-ÓTW 31560w, says Socrates to Alcibiades.
O pupil, &c.] The father of young Alcibiades left him under the care and guardianship of Pericles, who was a wise and great statesman, and who administered the affairs of Athens for forty years. Alcibiades was prone to luxury and other vices, but giving himself to be instructed by Socrates, he was somewhat reclaimed. See Arnsw. Alcibiades.
4. To be sure. Scilicet is here ironical, and is put to introduce the following lines, which are all, to l. 13, ironical, and lash Nero, under the person of young Alcibiades.
menian Genius.] Ingenium--capacity, judgmenta
4. Quick foresight, &c.] Prudentia--a natural quickness and fore. sight of things, and an habitual acting accordingly.
make his vices pass for virtues. It may be supposed, that our Poes might mean to represent Seneca, Nero's tutor, under the character of Socrates, the tutor of young Alcibiades ; and Nero, Seneca's pupil, under the charucter of Alcibiades. Persius has, in this Satire, almost transcribed Plato's first Alcibiades. See Spectator, No. 207. '
D o you manage the bus’ness of the people? (think the bearded
master To say these things, whom the dire potion of hemlock took off.) Upon what relying? tell this, o pupil of great Pericles. To be sure, genius, and quick foresight of things, Come before hairs: you know well what is to be spoken, and what
kept in silence. Therefore when the lower sort of people grow warm with stirr'd bile, Your mind carries you to have made silence to the warm crowd,
5. Before hairs.] i. e. The hairs of the beard. According to Suet. Nero began to reign before his seventeenth year.'
mana You know well, &c.] This is a most important qualification in the chief governour of a state, to koow when to speak, and when to be silent--what to impart to the people, and what conceal from them what to take public notice of, and what to pass over in silence : therefore when
6. The lower sort of people.] Plebecula (dim. from plebs), the mobę as we say ; who, in all states, are, at times, apt to be troublesome if displeased.
With stirr'd bile.] Wax warm with anger, their choler stirred, put into commotion
7. Your mind carries you.] Your mind is so persuaded of your dig. nity and authority, that it carries you into a notion, that you have but to wave your hand, and the people, though in ever so great a ferment, would be instantly appeased.
- To have made silence, &c.] The thought has but to come into your mind, and the thing seems to have been already done. See Æn. i. 152-7
Majestate manûs. Quid deinde loquere ? — Quirites,
Quin tu, igitur, summâ nequicquam pelle decorus,
8. What then, &c.] q.d. Now let us suppose you to have suc. ceeded, and to have made silence, fecisse silentia--what would be your speech to them, in order to their dispersion ?
" Romans.' 1 Quirites. The poet supposes him to address the mob by the ancient and honourable title of Quirites, in order to gain their attention; and by this, too, he marks out who is meant by Alcibiades ; for the Romans, not the Athenians, were called Quirites, from Quirinus. i. e. Romulus, their first founder.
9. « I think.”] Puto-i. c. in my opinion. He speaks with the diffidence and fear of a young and inexperienced man, instead of the boldness and authority of an old experienced governor.
" Is not just,” c.] He represents Alcibiades (i. e. young Nero) as a miserable and puerile orator, and making a speech consisting of very few words, (and those ill calculated to allay the tur. bulence of an enraged mob,) and therefore rot fit for the government of such a place as Rome, where seditions and risings of the people were very frequent, and which required all the gravity and force of popular eloquence to appease them.
“That is badly,'' &c.] He represents Alcibiades, as if he were saying over his lesson about the ro dixcelov, to modov, to èixalotegoy, to his master Socrates ; in order to ridicule the supposed speech of Nero to the people, which is more like a school-boy's repeating his lesson in moral philosophy, than like a manly authoritative oration, calculated for the arduous occasion of appeasing an incensed and seditious mob.
10. You know how to suspend, &c.] i, e. To weigh and balance between right and wrong ; and to resolve all difficult and doubtful questions concerning them. Metaph. taken from weighing in scales, to ascertain the truth of the weight of any thing.
Jl. The doubtful balance.] Noi knowing which way it will incline, till the experiment be made. So there may be questions which may be reiy doubtful concerning right, and not to be decided, till very nice. ly weighed in the mind.
. What is strait, &c.] Metaph. from measuring things by a strait rule, by which is discovered every deviation and inclination from it. This was applied to morals; what was right was called rectum what was not right, curvuin. So sat, üi. 52.
Haud tibi inexpertum curvos deprendere mores. 11.-12. When between crooked things, &c.] Virtue may sometimes be found, so situated betiveen two vices, as to make the decision
With the majesty of your hand : what then will you speak ? Ro«
• « mans, “ This, I think, is not just ; that is badly--that more right.” : For you know how to suspend what is just, in the double scale 10 Of the doubtful balance : you discern what is strait when between Crooked things 'it comes, or when a rule deceives with a wry foot; And you are able to fix the black theta to vice.
But do you therefore (in vain beautiful in your outward skin)
of what is right very difficult; its extremes may seem to border on vice, either on one side or the other.
For instance, when Junius Brutus put his two sons to death, for siding with Tarquin after his expulsion from Rome, this action of Brutus, however virtuous it might be, certainly bordered on cruelty and want of natural affection on one hand, and want of justice and public spirit on the other. See Juv. sat. viii. l. 261, note.
12. When a rule deceives, &c.] Metaph. from legs which bend inward ; bandy legs, which are misshapen and uneven. You also know, when on account of some necessary exceptions, the rule itself would be uneven and wrong, and would deceive, if observed accord. ing to the letter of it.
For instance, it is a rule of justice to return a deposit, when dem manded by the owner.--A man, in his right mind, leaves his sword in his friend's hands-afterwards he runs inad, and, with an apparent intent of doing mischief, comes and demands his sword :--The law, in the letter of it, says, “ return it ;" but this, in such a case, would be a distortion of right, which, if obeyed, would deceive him that complied with it into a wrong action.
13. To fix the black theta.] You are perfectly skilled in the pro. per distribution of punishments. The letter was put to the names of those who were capitally condemned among the Greeks, it being the first letter of the word Savotos, death.
9.d. You perfectly understand criminal as well as civil justice..
In all these four last lines Persius is to be understood directly contrary to what he says, and to speak ironically of Nero's abilities for the distribution of civil and criminal justice. In short, he meails that Nero had not any sort of knowledge or experience which could fit him for the government on which he was entered.
14. But, &c.] The poet having, in the four preceding lines, re. presented Socrates as insinuating, by a severe irony, that his pupil was destitute of all the requisites which form a chief magistrate, (which we are to understand as applied by Persius to young Nero,) now represents him as throwing off the disguise of irony, and, in plain terms, arraigning his affecting the government, young and inexperienced as he was, and, to that end, his exhibiting his handsome persou clad in a triumphal robe, in order to captivate the minds of the silly rabble-see Tacit. Ann. lib. xiii. and Ant. Univ. Hist. vol. xvi. p. 356.When he, instead of governing others, stood in need of that wisdom which could enable him to govern himself.
Ante diem blando caudam jactare popello
14. Therefore.] As you are destitute of the preceding qualifications of a chief magistrate. (See l. 10–14.)
--- In vain beautiful, &c.] Alcibiades was a beautiful youth80, all agree, Nero was—but, alas ! how vain and empty was this outward embellishment of a fine person, if his mind were replete with ignorance and rice, so that he was utterly unfit for the high station to which he aspired!
15. Before the day. Before the time comes, when a maturer age, and an acquired knowledge in the affairs of government, shall have qualified you properly.--Nero, though not fourteen years old, after his adoption by the emperor Claudius in preference to his own son Britannicus, was presented with the manly robe, which qualified him for honours and employments. At the same time, the senate decreed, that, in his twentieth year, he should discharge the consul. ship, and, in the mean time, as consul designed, be invested with proconsular authority out of Rome, and be styled prince of the Ro. man youth.
- Boast your tail.] Metaph. alluding to the peacock's tail, which, when expanded, is very beautiful, and highly admired, by children particularly ; (comp. Juv. sat. vii. 32, note.)-So young Nero, in order to draw the eyes and affections of the common people upon him, appeared at the Circensian games in a triumphal robe, the mark and ornament of the imperial state. Ant. Hist. ubi supra.
Caudam jactare, in this line, is by some interpreted by wagging the tail ---metaph. alluding to dogs wagging the tail, when they seem to fawn and flatter, in order to ingrațiate themselves with those whom they approach. Comp. sat. i. 87, and note. This undoubt, edly gives a very good sense to the passage, as descriptive of Nero's flatteries and blandishments towards the populace at Rome, in order to gain their favour. But I rather think that the interpretation which I have preferred (for both are to be found in commentators). is most agreeable to the preceding line :
Quin tu, igitur, summå nequicquam' pelle decoruswhich seems to allude to the appearance which Nero made, when to draw the eyes and affections of the people upon him, he exhibited himself in a triumphal robe at the Circensian games. See l. 14, n. l.
Casaubon concludes his note on l. 15, as giving a preference to the allusion which I have adopted Hoc autem venuste dictuin a
“ Persio.--jactare se populo-Ut apud Juvenalem, . “Ipse lacernatæ cum se jactaret amicæ."
Juv. sat. in l. 62, *** Translatum a pavonibus, quando
“..-pictî pandunt spectacula caudâ." Hor, sat. ii. lib. ii. 1. 26. “ Tunc enim creduntur jactare se feminis," &c.