Petronius, Satyricon 6-11

(tr. Alfred R. Anderson)

 

Listening attentively to the speaker, I never noticed that Ascyltos had given me the slip; and I was still walking up and down in the gardens full of the burning words I had heard, when a great mob of students rushed into the Portico. Apparently these had just come from hearing an impromptu lecture of some critic or other who had been cutting up Agamemnon's speech. So whilst the lads were making fun of his sentiments and abusing the arrangement of the whole discourse, I seized the opportunity to escape, and started off at a run in pursuit of Ascyltos. But I was heedless about the road I followed, and indeed felt by no means sure of the situation of our inn, the result being that whichever direction I took, I presently found myself back again at my starting point. At last, exhausted with running and dripping with sweat, I came across a little old woman, who was selling herbs.

"Prithee, good mother," say I, "can you tell me where I live?" Charmed with the quiet absurdity of my question, "Why certainly!" she replied; and getting up, went on before me. I thought she must be a witch; but presently, when we had arrived at a rather shy neighborhood, the obliging old lady drew back the curtain of a doorway, and said, "Here is where you ought to live."

I was just protesting I did not know the house, when I catch sight of mysterious figures prowling between rows of name-boards, and naked harlots. Then when too late, I saw I had been brought into a house of ill fame. So cursing the old woman's falseness, I threw my robe over my head and made a dash right through the brothel to the opposite door, when lo! just on the threshold, whom should I meet but Ascyltos, fagged out and half dead like myself? You would have thought the very same old hag had been his conductress. I made him a mocking bow, and asked him what he was doing in such a disreputable place?

Wiping the sweat from his face with both hands, he replied, "If you only knew what happened to me!"

"Why! what has happened?" said I.

Then in a faint voice he went on, "I was wandering all over the town, without being able to discover where I had left our inn, when a respectable looking man accosted me, and most politely offered to show me the way. Then after traversing some very dark and intricate alleys, he brought me where we are, and producing his affair, began begging me to grant him my favors. In two twos the woman had taken the fee for the room, and the man laid hold of me; and if I had not proved the stronger, I should have fared very ill indeed."

While Ascyltos was thus recounting his adventures, up came his respectable friend again, accompanied by a woman of considerable personal attractions, and addressing himself to Ascyltos, besought him to enter, assuring him he had nothing to fear, and that as he would not consent to play the passive, he should do the active part. The woman on her side was very anxious I should go with her. Accordingly we followed the pair, who led us among the name-boards, where we saw in the chambers persons of both sexes behaving in such fashion I concluded they must every one have been drinking satyrion. On seeing us, they endeavored to allure us to sodomy with enticing gestures; and suddenly one fellow with his clothes well tucked up assails Ascyltos, and throwing him down on a bed, tries to get to work a-top of him. I spring to the sufferer's rescue, and uniting our efforts, we make short work of the ruffian. Ascyltos bolts out of the house, and away, leaving me to escape their beastly advances as best I might; but discovering I was too strong for them and in no mood for trifling, they left me alone.

] After running about almost over the city, I caught sight of Giton, as it were a fog, standing at the corner of an alley close to the door of our inn, and hurried to join him. I asked my favorite whether he had got anything ready for our dinner, whereupon the lad sat down on the bed and began wiping away the tears with his thumb. Much disturbed at my favorite's distress, I demanded what had happened. For a long time I could not drag a word out of him, not indeed till I had added threats to prayers. Then he reluctantly told me. "That favorite or comrade of yours came into our lodging just now, and set to work to force me. When I screamed he drew a sword and said, 'If you're a Lucretia, you've found a Tarquin'."

Hearing this, I exclaimed, shaking my two fists in Ascyltos' face. "What have you to say now, you pathic prostitute, you, whose very breath is abominable?" Ascyltos feigned extreme indignation, and immediately repeated my gesture with greater emphasis, crying in still louder tones, "Will you hold your tongue, you filthy gladiator, who after murdering your host, had luck enough to escape from the criminals' cage at the Amphitheater? Will you hold your tongue, you midnight cut-throat, who never, when at your bravest, durst face an honest woman? Didn't I serve you for a minion in an orchard, just as this lad does now in an inn?"

"Did you or did you not," I interrupted, "sneak off from the master's lecture?"

"What was I to do, fool, when I was dying of hunger? Stop and listen to a string of phrases no better than the tinkling of broken glass or the nonsensical interpretations in dream books? By great Hercules, you are dead baser than I; to compass a dinner you have condescended to flatter a Poet!" This ended our unseemly wrangle, and we both burst into a fit of laughter, and proceeded to discuss other matters in a more peaceable tone.

But the recollection of his late violence coming over me afresh, "Ascyltos," I said, "I see we cannot get on together; so let us divide between us our bits of common funds, and each try to make head against poverty on his own bottom. You are a scholar; so am I. I don't wish to spoil your profits, so I'll take up another line. Else shall we find a thousand causes of quarrel every day, and soon make ourselves the talk of the town."

Ascyltos raised no objection, merely saying, "For today, as we have accepted, in our quality of men of letters, an invitation to dine out, don't let us lose our evening; but tomorrow, since you wish it, I will look out for a new lodging and another bedfellow."

"Poor work," said I, "putting off the execution of a good plan." It was really my naughty passions that urged me to so speedy a parting; indeed I had been long wishing to be rid of his jealous observation, in order to renew my old relations with my sweet Giton. Ascyltos, mortally offended at my remark, rushed out of the room without another word. So sudden a departure boded ill; for I knew his ungovernable temper and the strength of his passions. So I went after him, to keep an eye on his doings and guard against their consequences; but he slipped adroitly out of my sight, and I wasted a long time in a fruitless search for the rascal.

After looking through the whole city, I came back to my little room, and now at length claiming my full tale of kisses, I clip my darling lad in the tightest of embraces; my utmost hopes of bliss are fulfilled to the envy of all mankind. The rites were not yet complete, when Ascyltos crept up stealthily to the door, and violently bursting in the bolts, caught me at play with his favorite. His laughter and applause filled the room, and tearing off the mantle that covered us, "Why! what are you after," he cries, "my sainted friend? What! both tucked cozily under one coverlet?" Nor did he stop at words, but detaching the strap from his wallet, he fell to thrashing me with no perfunctory hand, seasoning his blows with insulting remarks. "This is the way you divide stock with a comrade, is it? Not so fast, my friend." So unexpected was the attack I was obliged to put up with the blows in silence.

Accordingly I took the matter as a joke, and it was well I did so; otherwise I should have had to fight my rival. My counterfeited merriment calmed his anger, and he even smiled faintly. "Look you, Encolpius," said he, "are you so buried in your pleasures, you never reflect that our money is exhausted, and the trifles we have left are valueless. Town is good for nothing in the summer days; there'll be better luck in the country. Let's go visit our friends."