Distichs, Book II

[Telluris si forte uelis cognoscere cultus,
Uergilium legito; quodsi mage nosse laboras
Herbarum uires, Macer haec tibi carmina dicit;
Si Romana cupis et Punica noscere bella,
Lucanum quaeres, qui Martis praelia dixit;
Si quid amare libet uel discere amare legendo,
Nasonem petito; sin autem cura tibi haec est,
Ut sapien uiuas, audi quae discere possis,
Per quae semotum uitiis deducitur aeuum:
Ergo ades et quae sit sapientia disce legendo.]

[If it chances that thou desirest to learn farming,
read Virgil. But if thou strivest rather to know the potency of
herbs, Macer tells thee of this in his poems.
If thou wishest to know about the Roman and Punic wars, enquire
of Lucan who tells of the combats of Mars.
If it takes thy fancy to love something or to learn by reading how to
love, have recourse to Naso. But if thy chief desire
is to live wisely, hear what thou canst learn about those things
through which an old age free from vice is produced.
So come and learn by reading what wisdom is.]

1.    Si potes, ignotis etiam prodesse memento:
Utilius regno est, meritis adquirere amicos.
Help if thou canst e'en those thou dost not know;
More precious than a crown are friends won so.

2.    An di sint caelumque regant, ne quaere doceri:
Cum sis mortalis, quae sunt mortalia, cura.
Ask not if gods there be above the earth;
For earth care thou who art of mortal birth.

3.    Linque metum leti; nam stultum est tempore in omni,
Dum mortem metuas, amittere gaudia uitae.    
Cease death to fear: none but a fool would choose
Thro' fear of death the joys of life to lose.

4.    Iratus de re incerta contendere noli:
Inpedit ira animum, ne possis cernere uerum.    
Strive not in wrath o'er something wrapped in doubt;
Wrath clouds the mind and puts good sense to rout.

5.    Fac sumptum propere, cum res desiderat ipsa;
Dandum etenim est aliquid, dum tempus postulat aut res.    
Be quick at opportunity's demand;
When time requires, the price must be at hand.

6.    Quod nimium est fugito, paruo gaudere memento:
Tuta mage est puppis, modico quae flumine fertur.
Excess avoid: let little satisfy;
Safest the ships which smallest waters ply.

7.    Quod pudeat, socios prudens celare memento,
Ne plures culpent id quod tibi displicet uni.    
Hide well those acts of thine which cause thee shame,
Lest some make worse thy plight by words of blame.

8.    Nolo putes prauos homines peccata lucrari:
Tempore si peccata latent, et tempore parent.
Think not that evil-doers surely win;
Tho' hidden for a while, time shows their sin.

9.    Corporis exigui uires contemnere noli:
Consilio pollet, cui uim natura negauit.
No small man's want of body's strength despise;
Oft nature wit in place of strength supplies.

10.    Cui scieris non esse parem, pro tempore cede:
Uictorem a uicto superari saepe uidemus.
Yield to defeat awhile: for often we
The victor beaten by the vanquished see.

11.    Aduersum notum noli contenders uerbis:
Lis uerbis minimis interdum maxima crescit.
Dispute not with thy friend, for often so
From trifling words most serious discords grow.

12.    Quid deus intendat, noli perquirere sorte:
Quid statuat de te, sine te deliberat ille.
Ask not the lot what doth the god intend;
Without thy help he will decide thy end.

13.    Inuidiam nimio cultu uitare memento:
Quae si non laedit, tamen hanc sufferre molestum est.
Though envy roused by pomp doth not destroy,
Forbear to stir it, for it doth annoy.

14.    Forti animo ferto, cum sis damnatus inique:
Nemo diu gaudet, qui iudice uincit iniquo.
Bear with brave spirit every unjust wrong;
The joy that's won unfairly lasts not long.

15.    Litis praeteritae noli maledicta referre:
Post inimicitias iram meminisse malorum est.
Revive not memories of former strife;
'T is shame to bring old hatreds back to life.

16.    Nec te conlaudes, nec te culpaueris ipse;
Hoc faciunt stulti, quos gloria uexat inanis.
Nor praise nor blame thyself. Fools thus have erred,
When by vain hope of glory they were stirred.

17.    Utere quaesitis modice: cum sumptus abundat,
Labitur exiguo, quod partum est tempore longo.
Spend sparingly thy gains: with wasting vain
Soon wealth is lost that took long time to gain.

18.    Insipiens esto, cum tempus postulat ipsum:
Stultitiam simulare ioco, cum tempore laus est.
To fit th' occasion laughable appear;
'T is sometimes wisdom folly's mask to wear.

19.    Luxuriam fugito, simul et uitare memento
Crimen auaritiae; nam sunt contraria famae.
No spendthrift be, nor gain a miser's name;
For either fault is sure to hurt thy fame.

20.    Nolito quaedam referenti credere saepe:
Exigua est tribuenda fides, qui multa locuntur.
Since those who much to them are wont to tell
Deserve but little faith, distrust them well.

21.    Quae potus peccas, ignoscere tu tibi noli;
Nam crimen uini nullum est, sed culpa bibentis.
Condone not what thou dost, o'ercome with wine;
'T is not the liquor's fault: the blame is thine.

22.    Consilium arcanum tacito committe sodali,
Corporis auxilium medico committe fideli.
Thy secret thoughts to trusted friend declare;
Thy body trust to wise physician's care.

23.    Successus nolito indigni ferre moleste:
Indulget Fortuna malis, ut uincere possit.
Vex not thyself when bad men win, for so
Doth fortune go about to lay them low.

24.    Prospice, qui ueniant casus, hos esse ferendos:
Nam leuius laedit, quidquid praeuidimus ante.
For what the day may bring, thy mind prepare;
So with more ease thou ills foreseen wilt bear.

25.    Rebus in aduersis animum submittere noli:
Spem retine; spes una hominem nec morte relinquit.
Let not despair o'er ill thy courage take;
Not e'en at death doth hope a man forsake.

26.    Rem, tibi quam noris aptam, dimittere noli:
Fronte capillata, post est Occasio calua.
Fail not when opportunity is fair;
Behind Time's bald, his forehead's thick with hair.

27.    Quod sequitur specta quodque imminet ante uideto:
Illum imitare deum, partem qui spectat utramque.
Observe what's past and what may next ensue
And Janus-like keep both ways under view.

28.    Fortius ut ualeas, interdum parcior esto:
Pauca uoluptati debenture plura saluti.    
For health's sake, when on pleasure bent be slow;
Less unto pleasure than to health we owe.

29.    Iudicium populi numquam contempseris unus:
Ne nulli placeas, dum uis contempnere multos.
Disdain not, arrogant, what most advise;
Thou none canst please while thou dost all despise.

30.    Sit tibi praecipue, quod primum est, cura salutis;
Tempora nec culpes, cum sit tibi causa doloris.    
Guard well thy health with special care and skill;
Thyself and not the seasons blame when ill.

31.    Somnia ne cures; nam mens humana quod optat,
Dum uigilat, uerum per somnum cernit id ipsum.
Trust not in dreams, which make seem real and true
Just what awake was most desired by you.


The text is from The Distichs of Cato: a famous medieval textbook, tr. Wayland Johnson Chase, Univ. of Wisconsin Studies in the Social Sciences and History, Number 7, 1922, pp. 23-29 [WID Lc 25 42].