In the first place, I will except myself out of the number of those I would allow to be poets: for one must not call it sufficient to tag a verse: nor if any person, like me, writes in a style bordering on conversation, must you esteem him to be a poet. To him who has genius, who has a soul of a diviner cast, and a greatness of expression, give the honor of this appellation. On this acount some have raised the question, whether comedy be a poem or not; because an animated spirit and force is neither in the style, nor the subject-matter: bating that it differs from prose by a certain measure, it is mere prose. But [one may object to this, that even in comedy] an inflamed father rages, because his.dissolute son, mad after a prostitute mistress, refuses a wife with a large portion; and (what is an egregious scandal) rambles about drunk with flambeaux by day-light. Yet could Pomponius, were his father alive, hear less severe reproofs! Wherefore it is not sufficient to write verses merely in proper language; which, if you take to pieces, any person may storm in the same manner as the father in the play. If from these verses which I write at this present, or those that Lucilius did formerly, you take away certain pauses and measures, and make that word which was first in order hindermost, by placing the latter [words] before those that preceded [in the verse]; you will not discern the limbs of a poet, when pulled in pieces, in the same manner as you would were you to transpose ever so [these lines of Ennius]:
[*](Literally, "After that dreadful discord burst asunder the iron bound doors and gates of war.")
When discord dreadful bursts the brazen bars, And shatters iron locks to thunder forth her wars.
So far of this matter; at another opportunity [I may investigate] whether [a comedy] be a true poem or not: now I shall only consider this point, whether this [satiric] kind of writing be deservedly an object of your suspicion. Sulcius the virulent, and Caprius hoarse with their malignancy, walk [openly], and with their libels too [in their hands]; each of them a singular terror to robbers: but if a man lives honestly and with clean hands, he may despise them both. Though you be like highwaymen, Coelus and Byrrhus, I am not [a common accuser], like Caprius and Sulcius; why should you be afraid of me? No shop nor stall holds my books, which the sweaty hands of the vulgar and of Hermogenes Tigellius may soil. I repeat to nobody, except my intimates, and that when I am pressed; nor any where, and before any body.
There are many who recite their writings in the middle of the forum; and who [do it] while bathing: the closeness of the place, [it seems,] gives melody to the voice. This pleases coxcombs, who never consider whether they do this to no purpose, or at an unseasonable time. But you, says he, delight to hurt people, and this you do out of a mischievous disposition. From what source do you throw this calumny upon me? Is any one then your voucher, with whom I have lived? lie who backbites his absent friend; [nay more,] who does not defend, at another's accusing him; who affects to raise loud laughs in company, and the reputation of a funny fellow who can feign things he never saw; who can not keep secrets; he is a dangerous man: be you, Roman, aware of him. You may often see it [even in crowded companies], where twelve sup together on three couches; one of which shall delight at any rate to asperse the rest, except him who furnishes the bath;[*](Praeter eum, qui praebet aquam. Their host, who provided water for the bath; a part of their entertainment to express the whole.) and him too afterward in his liquor, when truth-telling Bacchus opens the secrets of his heart. Yet this man seems entertaining, and well-bred, and frank to you, who are an enemy to the malignant: but do I, if I have laughed bccause the fop Rufillus smells all perfumes, and Gorgonius, like a he-goat, appear invidious and a snarler to you? If by any means mention happen to be made of the thefts of Petillius Capitolinus[*](The ancient commentator tells us, that Petillius was governor of the Capitol, from whence he was called Capitolinus; that he was accused of stealing a golden crown of Jupiter, and acquitted by the favor of Augustus. If there be any truth in this story, for we know not where the commentator found it, he was more probably surnamed from his theft, than for his government of the Capitol.) in your company, you defend him after your manner: [as thus,] Capitolinus has had.me for a companion and a friend from childhood, and being applied to, has done many things on my account: and I am glad that he lives secure in the city; but I wonder, notwithstanding, how he evaded that sentence. This is the very essence of black malignity,[*](Properly, "the juice of the cuttle-fish.") this is mere malice itself: which crime, that it shall be far remote from my writings, and prior to them from my mind, I promise, if I can take upon me to promise any thing sincerely of myself. If I shall say any thing too freely, if perhaps too ludicrously, you must favor me by your indulgence with this allowance. For my excellent father inured me to this custom, that by noting each particular vice I might avoid it by the example [of others]. When he exhorted me that I should live thriftily, frugally, and content with what he had provided for me; don't you see, [would he say,] how wretchedly the son of Albius lives? and how miserably Barrus? A strong lesson to hinder any one from squandering away his patrimony. When he would deter me from filthy fondness for a light woman: [take care, said he,] that you do not resemble Sectanus.
That I might not follow adulteresses, when I could enjoy a lawful amour: the character, cried he, of Trebonius, who was caught in the fact, is by no means creditable. The philosopher may tell you the reasons for what is better to be avoided, and what to be pursued. It is sufficient for me, if I can preserve the morality traditional from my forefathers, and keep your life and reputation inviolate, so long as you stand in need of a guardian: so soon as age shall have strengthened your limbs and mind, you will swim without cork. In this manner he formed me, as yet a boy: and whether he ordered me to do any particular thing: You have an authority for doing this: [then] he instanced some one out of the select magistrates:[*](Unum ex iudicibus selectis. The most eminent, and of greatest authority, among the senatorial order; an order called Sanctissimus. Torrentius thinks the poet means the judges, whom the pretor chose out of all degrees of the magistracy, to relieve and assist him in his office. But this good father would probably have taken his examples out of a more numerous, yet not less venerable order.) or did he forbid me [any thing]; can you doubt, [says he,] whether this thing be dishonorable, and against your interest to be done, when this person and the other is become such a burning shame for his bad character [on these accounts]? As a neighboring funeral dispirits sick gluttons, and through fear of death forces them to have mercy upon themselves; so other men's disgraces often deter tender minds from vices. From this [method of education] I am clear from all such vices, as bring destruction along with them: by lighter foibles, and such as you may excuse, I am possessed. And even from these, perhaps, a maturer age, the sincerity of a friend, or my own judgment, may make great reductions. For neither when I am in bed, or in the piazzas, am I wanting to myself: this way of proceeding is better; by doing such a thing I shall live more comfortably; by this means I shall render myself agreeable to my friends; such a transaction was not clever; what, shall I, at any time, imprudently commit any thing like it? These things I resolve in silence by myself. When I have any leisure, I amuse myself with my papers. This is one of those lighter foibles [I was speaking of]: to which if you do not grant your indulgence, a numerous band of poets shall come, which will take my part (for we are many more in number),[*](See Orelli.) and, like the Jews, we will force you to come over to our numerous party.