Distichs, Book IV

[Semotam a curis si uis producers uitam
Nec uitiis haerere animi, quae moribus obsunt,
Haec pracepta tibi saepe esse legenda memento.
Inuenies, quo te possis mutare, magistrum.]

[If thou wishest to lead a life free from cares, cling not to
faults which injure character. Remember that these precepts
must be read often by thee. Thou wilt find in them a teacher
through whom thou wilt be able to transform thyself.]


1.    Despice diuitias, si uis animo esse beatus;
Quas qui suspiciunt, mendicant semper auari.
Wouldst happy be, scorn wealth. Those always seem
To beg it greedily who wealth esteem.

2.    Commoda naturae nullo tibi tempore derunt,
Si contentus eo fueris quod postulat usus.
Nature her favors never will deny
If what thy needs require will satisfy.

3.    Cum sis incautus nec rem ratione gubernes,
Noli Fortunam, quae non est, dicere caecam.
When to poor judgment thou dost failure owe,
Say not that Fortune's blind, for 't is not so.

4.    Dilige olens nardum, sed parce; defuge odorem,
Quem nemo Sanctus nec honestus captat habere.
Love nard, but use it sparingly; refrain
From perfumes which all decent men disdain.

5.    Cum fueris locuples, corpus curare memento:
Aeger diues habet nummos, se non habet ipsum.
When rich, well for thy body care. One's wealth
Is of but small avail if he lack health.

6.    Uerbera cum tuleris discens aliquando magistri,
Fer patris imperium, cum uerbis exit in iram.
Since thou at school thy teacher's blows hast known,
Thou'lt better bear thy father's angry tone.

7.    Res age quae prosunt; rursus uitare memento,
In quis error inest nec spes est certa laboris.
What certain profit brings, let that be done;
Uncertain risks and unsafe projects shun.

8.    Quod donare potes, gratis concede roganti;
Nam recte fecisse bonis, in parte lucrorum est.
Give as thou canst to those who ask, for know
Thou didst well gain when thou didst well bestow.

9.    Quod tibi suspectum est, confestim discute quid sit;
Namque solent, primo quae sunt neclecta, nocere.
Seek quick the truth when once thou dost suspect,
Dangers grow large when nourished by neglect.

10.    Cum te detineat Ueneris damnosa libido,
Indulgere gulae noli, quae uentris amica est.
When hurtful lust hath hold of thee, refrain
From giving to thy appetites free rein.

11.    Cum tibi praeponas animalia bruta timore,
Unum hominem scito tibi praecipue esse timendum.
Thy fear of beasts declares their rule o'er thee;
Know thou that man alone should dreaded be.

12.    Cum tibi praeualidae fuerint in corpore uires,
Fac sapias: sic tu poteris uir fortis haberi.
Not strength alone, but wisdom, too, possess;
Thus thou canst gain a name for manliness.

13.    Auxilium a notis petito, Si forte labores;
Nec quisquam melior medicus quam fidus amicus.
When sick, from friends seek thou relief. Be sure.
Thy trusted friend can give thee certain cure.

14.    Cum sis ipse nocens, moritur cur uictima pro te?
Stultitia est morte alterius sperare salutem.
Why for thy guilt should guiltless victims bleed?
'T is vain to think their blood doth cleanse thy deed.

15.    Cum tibi uel socium uel fidum quaeris amicum,
Non tibi fortuna est hominis sed uita petenda.
Whene'er a trusty friend thou dost desire,
Not of his wealth but of his life enquire,

16.    Utere quaesitis opibus, fuge nomen auari:
Quid tibi diuitias, Si semper pauper abundes?
Employ thy gains; the name of miser flee;
What good is wealth when want still lives with thee?

17.    Si famam seruare cupis, dum uiuis, honestam,
Fac fugias animo, quae sunt mala gaudia uitae.
If through thy life thou wouldst a good name save,
Be not to pleasure base an abject slave.

18.    Cum sapias animo, noli ridere senectam;
Nam quoicumque seni puerilis sensus inhaeret.
Flout not old age while thou dost sense possess;
Age ever brings to all some childishness.

19.    Disce aliquid; nam cum subito Fortuna rccessit,
Ars remanet uitamque hominis non deserit umquam.
Learn thou a trade lest wealth may fly away;
For skill, once gained, shall ever with thee stay.

20.    Prospicito tecum tacitus quid quisque loquatur:
Sermo hominum mores et celat et indicat idem.
What's said to thee with caution ponder well;
Men's practice words may hide as well as tell.

21.    Exerce studio quamuis perceperis artem:
Ut cura ingenium, sic et manus adiuuat usum.
Practice with zeal the skill thou'st learned. Thou'lt find,
Use trains the hand as study does the mind.

22.    Multum uenturi ne cures tempora fati:
Non metuit mortem qui scit contempnere uitam.
Let not death's sure approach thee terrify;
Who life despises doth not fear to die.

23.    Disce sed a doctis, indoctos ipse doceto:
Propaganda etenim est rerum doctrina bonarum.
Learn only of the learned: teach th' untaught;
Knowledge of truth must to all men be brought.

24.    Hoc adhibe uitae quo possis uiuere sanus:
Morbi causa mali est, nimia est quaecumque uoluptas.
If thou wouldst sanely live, take this to heart,
Avoid excesses; thence diseases start.

25.    Laudaris quodcumque palam, quodcumque probaris,
Hoc uide ne rursus leuitatis crimine damnes.
Condemn not thou with inconsistency
What once thou hast approved full publicly.

26.    Tranquillis rebus semper diuersa timeto,
Rursus in aduersis melius sperare memento.
When fortune smiles, forget not she may frown;
When fortune frowns, be not too much cast down.

27.    Discere ne cessa; cura sapientia crescit,
Rara datur longo prudentia temporis usu.
Cease not to learn; wisdom's through study gained;
By lapse of years alone 't is ne'er attained.

28.    Parce laudato; nam quem tu saepe probaris,
Una dies, qualis fuerit, ostendit, amicus.
Praise not o'ermuch: one day's enough to show
If he, oft claimed thy friend, is really so.

29.    Non pudeat, quae nescieris, te uelle doceri:
Scire aliquid laus est, culpa est nil discere uelle.
To wish for knowledge is no cause for shame;
To have it merits praise; to scorn it, blame.

30.    Cum Uenere et Baccho lis est et iuncta uoluptas:
Quod lautum est, animo conplectere, sed fuge lites.
With love and wine pleasure and strife are knit;
Cleave to the good in these; the bad omit.

31.    Demissos animo et tacitos uitare memento:
Quod flumen placidum est, forsan latet altius unda.
Who silent is and melancholy, shun;
Perchance the quiet rivers too deep run.

32.    Dum fortuna tibist rerum discrimine praua,
Alterius specta cui sit discrimine peior.
When fortune's favor seems not thine, take thought
Of him to whom Dame Fortune less hath brought.

33.    Quod potes, id tempta; nam litus carpere remis
Utilius multo est quam uelum tendere in altum.
Begin what thou to finish canst not fail;
Safer near shore than on the deep to sail.

34.    Contra hominem iustum praue contenders noti;
Semper enim deus iniustas ulciscitur iras.
Break not against the righteous man the laws,
For God's th' avenger of the righteous cause.

35.    Ereptis opibus noli maerere dolendo,
Sed gaude potius, tibi si contingat habere.
When wealth takes wings thou shouldst not then repine;
Rejoice the more that anything is thine.

36.    Est iactura grauis quaesitum amittere damno;
Sed tibi cum ualeat corpus, superesse putato.
Sad is the fate to lose one's hard-won gains,
But much is saved if only health remains.

37.    Tempora longa tibi noli promittere uitae:
Quocumque incedis, sequitur mors corporis umbra.
Count not on life: howe'er thy way may wend,
Death shadowlike will everywhere attend.

38.    Ture deum placa, uitulum sine crescat aratro:
Ne credas gaudere deum, cum caede litatur.
The calf's the plow's; incense doth heaven please;
Think not the god by slaughter to appease.

39.    Cede locum laesus Fortunae, cede potenti:
Laedere quo potuit, poterit prodesse aliquando.
If thou art beaten, cease then to resist;
Who could o'ercome will able be t' assist.

40.    Cum quid peccaris, castiga te ipse subinde:
Uulnera dum sanas, dolor est medicina doloris.
When thou hast sinned, at once thyself chastise;
To cure the hurt thy grief will well suffice.

41.    Damnaris numquam post longum tempus amicum:
Mutauit mores, sed pignora prima memento.
To thy old friend never unfriendly prove;
Though he be changed, forget not former love.

42.    Gratior officiis, quo sis mage carior, esto,
Ne nomen subeas quod dicunt officiperdi.
To show thy gratitude take ev'ry care,
Lest on thee fall the shame that ingrates bear.

43.    Suspectus caue sis, ne sis miser omnibus horis;
Nam timidis et suspectis aptissima mors est.
A life of naught but dread can not be sweet;
For those by terror held, death is most meet.

44.    Cum seruos fueris proprios mercatus in usus
Et famulos dicas, homines tamen esse memento.
When servants thou hast bought, remember then,
Altho' thou term'st them slaves, they still are men.

45.    Quam primum rapienda tibi est occasio prona,
Ne rursus quaeras iam, quae neglexeris ante.
Secure thy chance when first it be at hand,
Lest that once scorned thou dost in vain demand.

46.    Morte repentina noli gaudere malorum:
Felices obeunt, quorum sine crimine uita est.
In bad men's sudden death take not delight,
Those only die well who have lived aright.

47.    Cum coniux tibi sit, ne res et fama laboret,
Uitandum ducas inimicum nomen amici.
Having a wife, be watchful of thy friend,
Lest false to thee, thy fame and goods he spend.

48.    Cum tibi contigerit studio cognoscere multa,
Fac discas, multa a uita te scire doceri.
When thou at last from study hast much lore,
Recall there's much to learn from life's vast store.

49.    Miraris uersus nudis me scribere uerbis?
Hoc breuitas fecit, sensu uno iungere binos.
Dost ask why I this form of verses choose?
Know brevity did bid me couplets use.



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. 35-43 [WID Lc 25 42].