Vain Riches

by Horace


There’s no ivory, there’s no
gilded panelling, gleaming here in my house,
no beams of Hymettian
marble rest on pillars quarried in deepest

Africa, I’ve not, as heir
to Attalus, become unwitting owner
of some palace, no noble
ladies trail robes of Spartan purple for me.

But I’ve honour, and a vein
of kindly wit, and though I’m poor the rich man
seeks me out: I don’t demand
anything more of the gods, or my powerful

friend, I’m contented enough
blessed with my one and only Sabine Farm.
Day treads on the heels of day,
and new moons still continue to wane away.

Yet you contract on the edge
of the grave itself for cut marble, forget
the tomb and raise a palace,
pushing hard to extend the shore of Baiae’s

roaring seas, not rich enough
in mainland coast. What’s the point of tearing down
every neighbouring boundary
edging your fields, leaping over, in your greed,

the limits of your tenants? Both the husband
and wife, and their miserable
children, are driven out, and they’re left clutching
their household gods to their breast.

Yet there’s no royal courtyard
that more surely waits for a wealthy owner,
than greedy Orcus’ fateful
limits. Why stretch for more? Earth’s equally open

to the poorest of men and
the sons of kings: and Orcus’s ferryman
couldn’t be seduced by gold
to row back and return crafty Prometheus.

Proud Tantalus, and Pelops
his son, he holds fast, and whether he’s summoned,
or whether he’s not, he lends
an ear, and frees the poor man, his labours done.

Last updated May 19, 2019