from Menippean Satires

Marcus Terentius Varro

from “Furies”

since I was busy with that and being cared for in school during “this annual Bacchanalia,” to quote Scantius


and the rest of us students, our ears stuffed with scholarly feasting and drunk on endless sophistical repartee, we rise with our eyes still hungry


on the way home, in front of the temple of the Great Mother of the Gods, I hear the sound of cymbals


when I get there, I see a crowd of Cybele’s eunuchs in the temple, and while the aedile was putting on the goddess’ statue a crown that had been taken from the theater, they began in their frenzy to re-echo her name with their motley zeal


with smooth-flowing breath
      he sounds Phrygian tunes
                  through the bugle’s bones


for you, Mother of the Gods,
      we bang the hollow drums,
                  for you we [     ],
and for you the half-men Galli
      toss in the air their finely treated hair


What charm here among the raving priests of Cybele!
How chaste their clothing, how youthful they look!
What a vision for tender young boys!


a wine-jug had been placed next to that portico


I, however, who was full of wine and Venus


some of the men decked out in charming stoles

I grab a dress and some women’s shoes lying nearby


I use Serapis’ medicine, I do my daily chanting, I understand it’s written at Delphi, and rightly so, “Follow god!”


                  as Naiads who dwell among the waves


but the moment we reach the top of the look-out,
we see people, goaded on by three Furies,
rushing in every direction, wild with fear


since on that day I had given out donations to my hangers-on, I had “Beware of the Dog” written on the door


                  Infamy, the third
                  avenging Fury,
                  stands firm in the unsteady
                  heart of the masses,
                  her hair shorn, her clothes
                  dirty, her face
                  a picture of gloom

                  close by with clattering
                  words you pluck
                  the ears of the masses


when they realize they can’t chant them away from the altar, they begin to tear it down


in the same way actors in tragedies appear with their head bulging out, since by a law of old a top-piece was added to the mask-front


he beams like the dawn, clad in purple-hued linen,
and bears a crown glimmering with gold and gemstones,
showering the room with light


Empedocles says humans are born from the earth like lettuce


      won’t you please quit looking like an old billy-goat,


at once a mob, not of Furies, but slaves and nursemaids, rushed together, all shouting that I’m out of my mind, strengthening the suspicion of my insanity


      on the other hand, with Pisia the flute-girl and Flora
you guzzle and growl


where Zeno could be called the first to hang a new school on a new peg


and then, suddenly, hoary Truth approached us,
      nursemaid of Attic philosophy


      how could you doubt if you’re now long-tailed monkeys
or snakes or tasty innards from Albucus’ sows in Athens?


she comes to me in a dream, she orders me to eat
onion and watercress


Ajax believes he’s putting Odysseus to the sword
when in bacchic frenzy he’s chopping down trees
and butchering swine


                              and finally is any greedy man
sane? If the world should be given him to possess,
he would still, goaded by the same disease, seek
to scrape up some money by stealing from himself


      began [            ] to me the honesty and decency
of Cybele’s eunuchs


      the moment the touch of the sun
warmed his tired flesh


nor could a stable-boy who’s insane bring a crazed Damacrine pony out of the [     ] throes of its madness


you know how both what is yellow and what is not look yellow to the jaundiced? it’s the same way the sane and the crazy seem crazy to the insane


a plate put before the hungry rivals Neapolitan fish-ponds


you’re not insane when you wreck your body with straight wine?


the lawyers decreed that Judgment register my name in the list of the sane.

translated from the Latin by Joseph McAlhany