Domitian and the Turbot.

From the Fourth Satire of Juvenal.

[Every scholar will at once see that these lines pretend neither to be a
literal translation, nor an imitation of the original. The author has endea-
voured to abridge the story, preserving only those points which seem to be
of general interest.]
When the Flavian tiger the nations was rending,1
And the Romans before the “ bald Nero” were bending,2
A wonderful size of a turbot one day3
In a fisherman’s nets at Ancona there lay ;4
And the owner, amazed at the bulk of the fish,5
To the Emperor’s table devoted the dish.6
It was well he resolved to surrender it volens,7
As otherwise he must have done the same nolens ;8
For who could have courage to buy or to sell it,9
When informers around him were ready to tell it ?10
There they stood scrutinising the seaweed that lay11
Of a treasonous tint on the sands of the bay ;12
On the spot they were ready to take up the case,13
To deal with the boatman, and swear to his face14
That the fish in the Emperor’s pools had been bred,15
And for many a year on his bounty had fed,16
And that as they had this upon sure information,17
The Emperor’s paunch was its true destination ;18
For everything good—if their doctrine be true19
By land or by sea, is the Emperor’s due.20
But it needs not ; their efforts the fisherman spared ;21
On his journey to Court, though twas winter, he fared22
With such haste, you’d have thought that the weather was broiling,23
And the turbot in imminent danger of spoiling.24
The two now arrive at the wide palace-gates,25
His tale to the porter the boatman relates ;26
The crowd stands admiring each scale and each fin :27
Let the nobles stay out, and the Turbot come in,”28
Was the Emperor’s mandate ; they hear to obey,29
And they enter the hall without further delay.30
Here’s a fish far beyond what a subject’s should be ;31
Receive it, O Cæsar, ’tis worthy of thee :32
And do thou then thy part, for the banquet prepare ;33
Let thy stomach be empty, thy mind free of care :34
Have a high day of feasting and joy without measure35
O’er the turbot the fates have reserved for thy pleasure,36
He wished to be caught”—at this scandalous fiction37
The fish bristled up—but in vain contradiction ;38
For these are the dainties that always go down,39
And are relished the most at the sign of “ The Crown.40
Do you ask what the fisherman got for his booty ?41
The proud satisfaction of doing his duty.42
But, alas ! how shortsighted a creature is man !—43
It is found a huge turbot requires a huge pan ;44
The cooks of the palace are at their wits’ end,45
And the Emperor now for his Council must send.46
They come with their visages lengthened and pale,47
For what dangers their lives and their fortunes assail48
Uneasy’s the head that is nigh to the crown,49
And the smile of the prince is akin to his frown.50
They must heed how they say in the Emperor’s ear51
That the weather is warm or the frost is severe,52
Or else unawares they may draw on their head53
The sword that is hanging above by a thread.54
To see an old noble our wonder would raise,—55
The Emperor’s friend lives but half of his days,56
And during that time the poor man is a martyr57
To fears lest the half be reduced to a quarter.58
And so I prefer my long absence from Court59
To a life full of titles, and honours but short.60
The turbot itself on the table is set,61
And now round the board all the Council are met ;62
The paunch of Montanus creeps into the room,63
And Crispinus is there with his wonted perfume,64
And Pompey, a life who can whisper away,65
Has come to the Turbot his homage to pay.66
The Turbot’s the theme of profound admiration,67
But Catullus is loudest of all in laudation,68
Catullus the blind. That his words might be true,69
He turned to the left its perfections to view ;70
His ardour was kindled afresh at the sight,71
But none can tell how, for it lay on his right,72
While they thus are inspired with a dutiful zeal73
In words to give birth to the transports they feel,74
Veiento breaks in on their commonplace tattle,75
Like a votary fired by the goddess of battle :76
’Tis an omen of good to your Majesty’s arms,77
And the breast of the foe it may fill with alarms ;78
Such a fish ne’er was caught till your Majesty’s reign,79
And he fills my whole soul with a sense, not in vain,80
That each mutinons chief, who’s at liberty yet,81
Will be caught as this Turbot was caught in the net.82
And look at his back !  By the bristles he shows,83
Defiance he means to your Majesty’s foes.”84
For matter of praise he had ransacked so well,85
That nought was Fabricius unable to tell,86
But the spot of its birth, with the date of the same,87
Both deserving a place in the annals of fame.88
But enough now of praise ; let the point be decided ;89
For want of a dish, must the fish be divided ?”90
And Montanus burst out with a vehement motion ?91
For the blood of the senator boiled at the notion.92
I’ll ne’er see in silence, while I have a tongue,93
The Turbot enduring so flagrant a wrong ;94
It matters not, Sire, what expense you may go to,95
Let a dish be prepared for the turbot in toto ;96
For so worthy a cause there can never be fear,97
But a second Prometheus is sure to appear.98
Let the workmen get ready their wheel and their clay,99
And the dish be begun without further delay ;100
And in case such another fish Fortune should send you,101
Let a suite, for the future, of potters attend you.”102
The thoughts and the words both were worthy the man,103
And the councillors voted nem. con. for the pan.104
When the point had been settled they rose to depart,105
And took leave of the Emperor joyful in heart.106
In haste they had come, as if called to debate107
On some imminent danger that threatened the state.108
But let none their exertions behold with disdain ;109
Let all men allow that they toiled not in vain,110
And that justly the fame of the council increases111
Who saved such a fish being cut into pieces !112