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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Persius Flaccus (34-62 CE):
Satire II, c. 60 CE

Persius Flaccus was a Stoic, a satirist, and a wealthy member of the knightly class. In his poems, which exist as one book, he supports robust taste over artifice, and attacks popular ideas about prayer - especially those who request worldly goods rather than virtue.

Mark this day, Macrinus, with a white stone, which, with auspicious omen, augments your fleeting years. Pour out the wine to your Genius! You at least do not with mercenary prayer ask for what you could not intrust to the gods unless taken aside. But a great proportion of our nobles will make libations with a silent censer. It is not easy for every one to remove from the temples his murmur and low whispers, and live with undisguised prayers. "A sound mind, a good name, integrity"---for these he prays aloud, and so that his neighbor may hear. But in his inmost breast, and beneath his breath, he murmurs thus, "Oh that my uncle would evaporate! what a splendid funeral! and oh that by Hercules' good favor a jar of silver would ring beneath my rake! or, would that I could wipe out my ward, whose heels I tread on as next heir! For he is scrofulous, and swollen with acrid bile. This is the third wife that Nerius is now taking home!"---That you may pray for these things with due holiness, you plunge your head twice or thrice of a morning in Tiber's eddies, and purge away the defilements of night in the running stream.

Think Jupiter has forgiven you, because, when he thunders, the oak is riven with his sacred bolt than you and all your house? Or because you did not, at the bidding of the entrails of the sheep, and Ergenna, lie in the sacred grove a dread bidental to be shunned of all, that therefore he gives you his insensate beard to pluck? Or what is the bribe by which you would win over the ears of the gods? With lungs, and greasy chitterlings?

You ask vigor for your sinews, and a frame that will insure old age. Well, so be it. But rich dishes and fat sausages prevent the gods from assenting to these prayers, and baffle Jove himself. You are eager to amass a fortune, by sacrificing a bull and court Mercury's favor by his entrails. "Grant that my household gods may make me lucky! Grant me cattle, and increase to my flocks! How can that be, poor wretch, while so many cauls of thy heifers melt in the flames? Yet still he strives to gain his point by means of entrails and rich cakes. "Now my land, and now my sheepfold teems. Now, surely now, it will be granted! "Until, baffled and hopeless, his sestertius at the very bottom of his money-chest sighs in vain.

Were I to offer you goblets of silver and presents embossed with rich gold, you would perspire with delight, and your heart, palpitating with joy in your left breast, would force even the tear-drops from your eyes. And hence it is the idea enters your mind of covering the sacred faces of the gods with triumphal gold. Oh! souls bowed down to earth! and void of aught celestial! Of what avail is it to introduce into the temples of the gods these our modes of feeling, and estimate what is acceptable to them by referring to our own accursed flesh. This has dyed the fleece of Calabria with the vitiated purple. To scrape the pearl from its shell, and from the crude ore to smelt out the veins of the glowing mass; this carnal nature bids. She sins in truth. She sins. Still from her vice gains some emolument.


The Satires of Juvenal, Persius, Sulpicia and Lucilius, trans. Rev. Lewis Evans (London: Bell & Daldy, 1869). Note that the text as presented here consists of  selections from the larger satire.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton

This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall May 1998

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