Priapus


There was a time when I was nothing but
A useless figwood log. Some carpenter
Couldn't make up his mind which I should be,
A stool or a Priapus, but finally he
Decided to make me a god. I am a god,
Chief scarer-off of birds and also thieves.
My right hand warns off thieves and so does this
Big red obscene pole sticking out of my crotch.
As for the mischievous birds, they get scared off
By the flapping reed attached to the top of my head.
It frightens them all away from the garden I guard.

This was the place in the old days where a slave
Would pay to have some other slave's cadaver,
Thrown out of the little hole in the wall he'd lived in,
Carried out here in a cheap wooden box and pitched
Into the common grave where they all end up,
Like Pantolabus the scrounger, or Nomentanus
The layabout. A stone pillar stood there, saying
"A thousand feet across, three hundred deep,"
And "Potters Field: Nobody Owns This Place."

These days the Esquiline's salubrious;
It's possible to live there. In the daytime
People walk about on the sunny Rampart
From which they used to view the grisly sight
Of whitening bones. As far as I'm concerned
The animals and thieves that always still
Lurk about the place at night don't cause me
Half as much trouble as the witches do,
Who, bent on harassing human souls, come out
To gather bones and poisonous herbs, as soon
As wandering Luna shows her beautiful face.

With my own eyes I've seen the witch Canidia
Come out at night with the witch Sagana the Elder,
Both of them barefoot, their black skirts pulled up high
Around their middles, their hair spread out, their faces
Yellow-green, a hideous sight, the two of them
Wailing as they scrabble up the dirt
With their long nails, and ripping off with their teeth
A black lamb's flesh and pouring its blood into
The trench they'd dug to call the Mane up
Out of their Place below to tell the answers
To the questions they were asking them to tell.

Two images with them, dolls, the wooden doll
The bigger one, standing up over the other,
Ready to punish the servile waxen doll,
The suppliant looking up, expecting to die.
One of the witches wailing to Hecate,
The other wailing to dread Tisiphone.

I've seen the snakes and hell-dogs wandering there,
I've seen the blushing Moon hiding herself
Behind the tombs to keep from seeing the sight.
If this is a lie, let the ravens foul my head
With their white droppings and Pediatia
That queen, and Julius, and Voranus
Use me as their place to piss and shit on.
Let me tell you how in answer to Sagana
The echoing doleful high-pitched voices of
The Shades of the Dead reverberated, and
How the witches furtively dug a hole in the ground
And buried he beard of a wolf there and with it a tooth
Of a spotted female snake, and how the fire
Blazed up because of the burning waxen doll,
And how I, witnessing the words and deeds
Of those two Furies, shuddered and shook with horror,
But then, because of the fire the witches built
My heated-up figwood buttocks suddenly split
With a loud sound like the sound of a bursting bladder,
And the witches ran away, back into the town,
And as they ran Canidia's false teeth
Fell out and Sagana's big witch-wig fell off
And all their magic herbs and love-chains scattered,
And there was mirth and laughter everywhere.


                                         --Satire 1.8
                                             Latin; trans. David Ferry


Horace, Satire 1.8, Latin, trans. David Ferry, Poetry, April, 2007. The Poetry Foundation.