This translation by William Matthews was published in the No.2 Summer/Fall 1996 issue of the Marlboro Review.

Satires II,v


Ulysses: A last question, Tiresias:
how can I recover my lost fortune?
What's so funny. Tiresias: Well,
I see that canny Ulysses won't be
content only to sail back to Ithaca
and gaze fondly on his household gods.
U.: But I'll arrive naked and broke,
as you foretold, my herds and my cellar
ransacked by the suitors. My noble birth
and character count for no more than kelp
unless they're backed by money. T.: Because
it's poverty you dread, I'll tell you how you
can grow rich. Suppose you're given a thrush
or other delicacy. Let it fly
where grandeur and old age prop each other
up. Give the rich dodderer your first fruits —
he's venerated more than the lares, after all.
Did he perjure himself? Is he low-born?
Has he murdered his brother or escaped
from slavery? No matter. Should he ask
you to walk with him, take the outer side.
U.: What? Give the wall to some lout? At Troy
I fought only against my betters.
T.: Such honor will cement your poverty.
U.: I'll order my brave soul to weather
this assault. I've endured worst in times past.
So, prophet, tell me how I can rake up
mounds of money. T.: OK, I'll tell you
one more time. Troll craftily for old men's
wills. The shrewd ones will eat your bait and slip
your hook, but don't give up; fish on through your
frustration. Find a lawsuit underway
in the Forum, for heavy stakes or small,
and befriend whichever party is rich
and childless. No matter if he's dragged into
court a better man on a flimsy cause —
has the better man a son? a wife?
"Quintus," you'll murmur, or "Publius"
(his ears will pivot like a bat's), "justice
makes me your friend. I understand the law's
mazes. I know how to argue a case.
They'll not scorn you or filch a hazelnut
from you unless they first pluck out my eyes."
Urge him to go home and tend his hide;
you'll conduct his campaign. Then soldier on,
despite the weather, even if "the red-
hot Dogstar cracks mute statues in half,"
or (as the bombastic Furius might
have written after lining his stomach
with tripe stew), Jupiter spatters the frozen
Alps with patchy snow." And then won't someone
lodge a knowing elbow in his pal's rib
and say what a staunch, dedicated friend
you make? And won't new fish circumspectly
swim beneath your boat, considering your bait?
Abject attention to the childless
rich could give your game away, but suppose
some Croesus has a sickly son to rear?
Sufficient smarm could make you second heir.
If the boy dies, you can't help it if you're
lucky. What if your man gives you his will
to read? Decline. Push it away. But steal
a glimpse at line two on the first page
to see if you're sole heir or if you split
the take with others. Some night magistrate
refashioned as a scribe might well outwit
a legacy hunter as Coranus,
playing the role of the crow, outsmarted
Nasica, cast as the fox. U.: Are you mad,
or do you spout such murk to make me look
foolish? T.: O son of Laertes, my words
will prove true or false, for Apollo gave
me prophetic powers. U.: But what does
that story mean? T.: In the days when a young
hero, scourge of the Parthians and direct
descendent of Aeneas, shall prevail
on land and sea, avid Coranus will wed
Nasica's daughter. And Nasica owes
Coranus money. Perhaps Nasica
will forgive the debt in his will, or leave
an inheritance? Coranus will give
Nasica his will to read, the latter
will decline time and time again, then relent
and read greedily, and find nothing
left to him and his heirs but to complain.
Here's another trick: if some sly woman
or freedman has won some rich dotard's trust,
link arms with them. Praise them and they'll praise
you when you're not there. Not a bad plan, but
it's best to storm the fort yourself. Money-
bags writes poems? Praise them. He likes to lift
skirts? Don't wait to be asked; offer your wife
to the old goat. U.: Can she be tempted,
good, pure Penelope whom the suitors could
not turn from her strict path? T.: Those Greeks bore
no gifts but came with hands outstretched. Thay sought
not love but food. Of course your Penelope
was true. But let her glimpse some gold the two
of you could share, and she'll cling to her chance
like a hound to a hide with some nuggets
of fat still on it. I'll tell you something
that happened when I was old. A sly
crone from Thebes mandated in her will
that she be carried to her pyre by her heir
on his bare shoulders, and that her corpse be
well oiled. She could give him the slip at last
who had been too much with her in life.
You have to be careful. Don't be eager;
don't be diffident. Don't babble too much;
it irks the glum. But still waters don't run.

Act like Davus in the comedy -- head bowed,
deferential. Flattery is crucial.
If the wind kicks up, beg him to cover
his dear head. Run interference for him
through a crowd. Tilt your ear when he talks.
You hate how he's a sponge for praise? Lob praise
at hime until he throws his arms skyward
in surrender. Fill his ego's balloon
with unctuous breath until it pops. And when
he quits his claim on your long servitude
and care, and, not dreaming, you hear the phrase
"I leave Ulysses a quarter of my
estate," prepare to sow phrases like this:
"My good Dama, gone? How can I bear it?"
Weep some if it won't crumple your straight face.
Suppose plans for the tomb get left to you?
Don't stint. Let his money buy you honor.
Among the other heirs there must be one
older than you, maybe with a bad cough.
Is there some land or a house that fell
to you that he might want? Out of respect,
might you offer it to him for a song?
Enough, Queen Proserpina reels me in.
May you thrive and prosper and live long.

William Matthews was the author of ten books, a professor of English at City College and former president of the Poetry Society of America. His book, Time and Money, won the National Book Critics Circle award in 1996 and he also won the Modern Poetry Association's Ruth Lilly Award in 1997. His last book, After All, was published in 1997. His work was in MR Issue 1, 2 and 5.

Copyright ©1996 William Matthews. All rights reserved.

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