Petronius Satyricon 44f

by Tom Gardner

Dixit illa Ganymedes: “narratis quod nec ad caelum nec ad terram pertinet, cum interim nemo curat, quid annona mordet. Non me hercules hodie buccam panis invenire potui. Et quomodo siccitas perseverat. Iam annum esuritio fuit. Aediles male eveniat, qui cum pistoribus colludunt ‘Serva me, servabo te.’ Itaque populus minutus laborat; nam isti maiores maxillae semper Saturnalia agunt. O si haberemus illos leones, quos ego hic inveni, cum primum ex Asia veni. Illud erat vivere. Simila si siligine inferior esset, laruas sic istos percolopabant, ut illis Iupiter iratus esset. Sed memini Safinium: tunc habitabat ad arcum veterem, me puero, piper, non homo. Is quacunque ibat, terram adurebat. Sed rectus, sed certus, amicus amico, cum quo audacter posses intenebris micare. In curia autem quomoda singulos vel pilabat tractabat, nec schemas loquebatur sed derectum. Cum ageret porro in foro, sic illius vox crescebat tanquam tuba. Nec sudavit unquam nec expuit, puto eum nescio quid Asiadis habuisse. Et quam benignus resalutare, nomina omnium reddere, tanquam unus de nobis. Itaque illo tempore annona pro luto erat, Asse panem quem emisses, non potuisses cum altera devorare. Nunc oculum bublum vidi maiorem. Heu heu, quotidie peius. Haec colonia retroversus crescit tanquam coda vituli. Sed quare nos habemus aedilem trium cauniarum, qui sibi mavult assem quam vitam nostram? Itaque domi gaudet, plus in die nummorum accipit, quam alter patrimonium habet. Iam scio, unde acceperit denarios mille aureos. Sed si nos coleos haberemus, non tantum sibi placeret. Nunc populus est domi leones, foras vulpes. Quod ad me attinet, iam pannos meos comedi, et si perseverat haec annona, casulas meas vendam. Quid enim futurum est, si nec dii nec homines huius coloniae miserentur? Ita meos fruniscar, ut ego puto omnia illa a diibus fieri. Nemo enim caelum caelum putat, nemo ieiunium servat, nemo Iovem pili facit, sed omnes opertis oculis bona sua computant. Antea stolatae ibant nudis pedibus in clivum, passis capillis, mentibus puris, et Iovem aquam exorabant. Itaque statim urceatim plovebat: aut tune aut nunquam: et omnes redibant udi tanquam mures. Itaque dii pedes lanatos habent, quia nos religiosi non sumus. Agri iacent—”.

“Oro te” inquit Echion centonarius “melius loquere. ‘Modo sic, modo sic’ inquit rusticus; varium porcum perdiderat. Quod hodie non est, eras erit: sic vita truditur.”

And Ganymedes said: “You go on talking about things that matter not to heaven or earth, and all the while, nobody cares about cost of living pressures! God, I can’t even get a mouthful of bread these days. Oh, and how the drought goes on. There’s been famine for a year now. Damn the politicians, they’re in the pocket of the bakers. ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, and ordinary folk come off worse. Because the jaws of the upper classes are always holding some carnival. I only wish I had the sort of money I found here when I first come out from Asia! That was the life. If the flour was at all inferior, they beat up those ghosts to put the fear of God in them. I remember Safinius, he used to live by the old arch back when I was a boy. More of a peppercorn than a person, he used to scorch the ground wherever he went! But he was an honest guy, truthful, a good friend. You wouldn’t be afraid to play scissors-paper-rock with him in the dark. Oh, but how he used to hammer them in the Senate-house, every single one, and never with extravagant figures of speech, always straightforward. Then whenever he used to speak in the forum, how his voice would swell just like a trumpet! Never any sweating or spitting—I guess he had a touch of the Asiatic speaking style. And how kindly he would greet you in return and reply to you with your name, rather like one of us would. So at that time the cost of living was dirt-cheap. You could buy a loaf of bread for a dollar, and when you ate it, you couldn’t get through it even together with your better half! Nowadays I see bulls’ eyes bigger than a loaf of bread. My, my, things are just getting worse every day. This town is going downhill like a heifer’s tail! And then why do we have a three-fig aedile who cares more for a penny than our lives? Why, he just sits grinning at home, raking in more money in a day than others get in an inheritance. I happen to know where he got a thousand in gold. If we had balls, he wouldn’t be so pleased with himself. Nowadays people are lions indoors and foxes in public. As for me, I’ve already had to sell all my rags just to feed myself, and if the cost of living stays as it is, I’ll have to sell my little cottages. Whatever will happen if neither gods nor men take pity on this town? As I may be happy with my kids, I think all these things come from the gods. Because nobody believes that heaven is really heaven, nobody observes fasts, nobody cares a trifle for Jupiter, but everyone just sits there counting their own goods. Back in the day, matrons would go up the hill in bare feet, loose hair, pure hearts, and would pray to Jupiter for rain. And what do you know, it starts raining by the bucketful at once, then or never, and they would all come back wet as drowned rats. Well that’s why the gods have stuffed their ears now, we’ve gotten unreligious. And the fields lie barren—”

“Oh please, don’t be so gloomy,” said Echion, the clothes dealer. “There’s ups and there’s downs, as the old peasant said when he sold his spotted pig. What we don’t have today, we’ll have tomorrow: so we trudge through life.”