cum semel imbuerit, speramus1 carmina fingi posse linenda cedro et levi servanda cupresso? Aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere vitae. 335quidquid praecipies, esto brevis, ut cito dicta percipiant animi dociles teneantque fideles: omne supervacuum pleno de pectore manat. ficta voluptatis causa sint proxima veris, ne2 quodcumque velit3 poscat sibi fabula credi, 340neu pransae Lamiae vivum puerum extrahat alvo. centuriae seniorum agitant expertia frugis, celsi praetereunt austera poemata Ramnes: omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci, lectorem delectando pariterque monendo. 345hic meret aera4 liber Sosiis, hic et mare transit et longum noto scriptori prorogat aevum. Sunt delicta tamen quibus ignovisse velimus: nam neque chorda sonum reddit, quem volt manus et mens, poscentique gravem persaepe remittit acutum; 350nec semper feriet quodcumque minabitur arcus. verum ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit aut humana parum cavit natura. quid ergo est? ut scriptor si peccat idem librarius usque, 355quamvis est monitus, venia caret, et5 citharoedus ridetur, chorda qui semper oberrat6 eadem:
gain has stained the soul, can we hope for poems to be fashioned, worthy to be smeared with cedar-oil, and kept in polished cypress?
333Poets aim either to benefit, or to amuse, or to utter words at once both pleasing and helpful to life. Whenever you instruct, be brief, so that what is quickly said the mind may readily grasp and faithfully hold: every word in excess flows away from the full mind. Fictions meant to please should be close to the real, so that your play must not ask for belief in anything it chooses, nor from the Ogress’sa belly, after dinner, draw forth a living child. The centuries of the elders chase from the stage what is profitless; the proud Ramnes disdain poemsb devoid of charms. He has won every vote who has blended profit and pleasure, at once delighting and instructing the reader. That is the book to make money for the Sosiic; this the one to cross the sea and extend to a distant day its author’s fame.
347Yet faults there are which we can gladly pardon; for the string does not always yield the sound which hand and heart intend, but when you call for a flat often returns you a sharp; nor will the bow always hit whatever mark it threatens, But when the beauties in a poem are more in number, I shall not take offence at a few blots which a careless hand has let drop, or human frailty has failed to avert. What, then, is the truth? As a copying clerk is without excuse if, however much warned, he always makes the same mistake, and a harper is laughed at who always blunders on the same string:
- aLamia was “a bugbear of the Greek nursery.”
- bAn ancient classification of the citizens into seniores and iuniores is here referred to. The former were between the ages of forty-six and sixty. The terms Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres were applied to the three centuries of equites formed by Romulus, so that “Ramnes” is here used for the young aristocrats.
- cFor the Sosii, famous booksellers, cf. Epist. i. 20. 2.