How comes it to pass, Maecenas, that no one lives content with his condition, whether reason gave it him, or chance threw it in his way; [but] praises those who follow different pursuits? "O happy merchants!" says the soldier, oppressed with years, and now broken down in his limbs through excess of labor. On the other side, the merchant, when the south winds toss his ship [cries], "Warfare is preferable;" for why? the engagement is begun, and in an instant there comes a speedy death or a joyful victory. The lawyer praises the farmer's state when the client knocks at his door by cockcrow. He who, having entered into a recognizance,[*](Datis vadibus. In some suit, the farmer had given bail for his attendance on the day appointed for the trial. The persons who had bound themselves as bail for his appearance, are called vades. The derivation of the word is supposed to be vadere, "to go," because the person who procures such persons to answer for his appearance, is allowed to go until the day of the trial.) is dragged, from the country into the city, cries, "Those only are happy who live in the city." The other instances of this kind (they are so numerous) would weary out the loquacious Fabius;[*](It is not known to whom Horace alludes. The Scholiast informs us that there was a knight of this name, a partisan of Pompey's, who had written some treatises on the doctrines of the Stoics, and who, he says, argued sometimes with Horace for the truth of the principles of that sect.) not to keep you in suspense, hear to what an issue I will bring the matter. If any god should say, "Lo! I will effect what you desire: you, that were just now a soldier, shall be a merchant; you, lately a lawyer [shall be] a farmer. Do ye depart one way, and ye another, having exchanged the parts you are to act in life. How now! Why do you stand?" They are unwilling; and yet it is in their power to be happy. What reason can be assigned, but that Jupiter should deservedly distend both his cheeks in indignation, and declare that for the future he will not be so indulgent as to lend an ear to their prayers? But further, that I may not run over this in a laughing manner, like those [who treat] on ludicrous subjects (though what hinders one being merry, while telling the truth? as good-natured teachers at first give cakes to their boys, that they may be willing to learn their first rudiments: raillery, however, apart, let us investigate serious matters) lie that turns the heavy glebe with the hard plowshare, this fraudulent tavern-keeper,[*](Hic = cuiusmodi quotidie vides. See the other commentators.) the soldier, and the sailors, who dauntless run through every sea, profess that they endure toil with this intention, that as old men they may retire into a secure resting-place, when once they have gotten together a sufficient provision.
Thus the little ant (for she is an example), of great industry, carries in her mouth whatever she is able, and adds to the heap which she piles up, by no means ignorant and not careless for the future. Which [ant, nevertheless], as soon as Aquarius saddens the changed year, never creeps abroad, but wisely makes use of those stores which were provided beforehand: while neither sultry summer, nor winter, fire, ocean, sword, can drive you from gain. You surmount every obstacle, that no other man may be richer than yourself. What pleasure is it for you, trembling to deposit an immense weight of silver and gold in the earth dug up by stealth?[*](i. e. to hide it.) Because, if you should lessen it, it may be reduced to a paltry farthing.
But unless that be the case, what beauty has an accumulated hoard? Though your thrashing-floor should yield[*](Literally, "wear," "rub." There is an ellipse of si, as in Sat. i. 3; ii. 4, 292; Virg. Aen. vi. 31 ) a hundred thousand bushels of corn, your belly will not on that account contain more than mine: just as if it were your lot to carry on your loaded shoulder the basket of bread among slaves, you would receive no more [for your own share] than he who bore no part of the burthen. Or tell me, what is it to the purpose of that man, who lives within the compass of nature, whether he plow a hundred or a thousand acres? "But it is still delightful to take out of a great hoard."
While you leave us to take as much out of a moderate store why should you extol your granaries, more than our cornbaskets? As if you had occasion for no more than a pitcher or glass of water, and should say, "I had rather draw [so much] from a great river, than the very same quantity from this little fountain." Hence it comes to pass, that the rapid Aufidus carries away, together with the bank, such men as an abundance more copious than what is just delights. But he who desires only so much as is sufficient, neither drinks water fouled with the mud, nor loses his life in the waves.
But a great majority of mankind, misled by a wrong desire, cry, "No sum is enough; because you are esteemed in proportion to what you possess." What can one do to such a tribe as this? Why, bid them be wretched, since their inclination prompts them to it. As a certain person is recorded [to have lived] at Athens, covetous and rich, who was wont to despise the talk of the people in this manner: "The crowd hiss me; but I applaud myself at home, as soon as I contemplate my money in my chest." The thirsty Tantalus catches at the streams, which elude his lips. Why do you laugh? The name changed, the tale is told of you. You sleep upon your bags, heaped up on every side, gaping over them, and are obliged to abstain from them, as if they were consecrated things, or to amuse yourself with them as you would with pictures. Are you ignorant of what value money has, what use it can afford? Bread, herbs, a bottle of wine may be purchased; to which [necessaries], add [such others], as, being withheld, human nature would be uneasy with itself. What, to watch half dead with terror, night and day, to dread profligate thieves, fire, and your slaves, lest they should run away and plunder you; is this delightful? I should always wish to be very poor in possessions held upon these terms.
But if your body should be disordered by being seized with a cold, or any other casualty should confine you to your bed, have you one that will abide by you, prepare medicines, entreat the physician that he would set you upon your feet, and restore you to your children and dear relations?
Neither your wife, nor your son, desires your recovery; all your neighbors, acquaintances, [nay the very] boys and girls hate you. Do you wonder that no one tenders you the affection which you do not merit, since you prefer your money to every thing else? If you think to retain, and preserve as friends, the relations which nature gives you, without taking any pains; wretch that you are, you lose your labor equally, as if any one should train an ass to be obedient to the rein, and run in the Campus [Martius]. Finally, let there be some end to your search; and, as your riches increase, be in less dread of poverty; and begin to cease from your toil, that being acquired which you coveted: nor do as did one Umidius (it is no tedious story), who was so rich that he measured his money, so sordid that he never clothed himself any better than a slave; and, even to his last moments, was in dread lest want of bread should oppress him: but his freed-woman, the bravest of all the daughters of Tyndarus,[*](As if she had been another Clytemnestra, the daughter of Tyndarus, who cut off her husband's head with an ax. Fortissima Tyndaridarum, from the accusative of Tyndaris, viz. Tyndarida, comes the noun Tyndarida, Tyndaridae etc.) cut him in two with a hatchet. "What therefore do you persuade me to? That I should lead the life of Naevius, or in such a manner as a Nomentanus?"
You are going [now] to make things tally, that are contradictory in their natures.[*](Pugnantia frontibus adversis means what we express by "diametrically opposite." The allusion in frontibus adversis is to a fight between bulls or rams, who butt each other with their heads. ) When I bid you not be a miser, I do not order you to become a debauchee or a prodigal.
There is some difference between the case of Tanais and his son-in-law Visellius: there is a mean in things; finally, there are certain boundaries, on either side of which moral rectitude can not exist. I return now whence I digressed. Does no one, after the miser's example, like his own station, but rather praise those who have different pursuits; and pines, because his neighbor's she-goat bears a more distended udder; nor considers himself in relation to the greater multitude of poor; but labors to surpass, first one, and then another? Thus the richer man is always an obstacle to one that is hastening [to be rich]: as when the courser whirls along the chariot, dismissed from the place of starting; the charioteer presses upon those horses which outstrip his own, despising him that is left behind coming on among the last. Hence it is, that we rarely find a man who can say he has lived happy, and content with his past life, can retire from the world like a satisfied guest.[*](Cf. Lucret. iii. 951,Cur non, ut plenus vitae conviva recedis? See Orelli. ) Enough for the present: nor will I add one word more, lest you should suspect that I have plundered the escrutoire of the blear-eyed Crispinus.