THOU, Bagoas, who art entrusted with the task of guarding thy mistress, lend me thine ear. I have but a couple of words to say to you, but they are weighty ones. Yesterday I saw a lady walking in the portico beneath the temple of Apollo. At once I fell in love with her and importuned her in writing. In answer, with a trembling hand, she wrote: "Impossible." And why is it impossible? I asked. And she replied that you keep too strict a watch on her.
Now listen to me, my over-watchful friend; if you are wise you will give up getting yourself hated. If people fear you, they will long for you to die. Her husband, too, is a fool, for why be at such pains to guard a thing whereof, even if you watch it not, no part is lost? Still, if he is madman enough, let him indulge his passion to the full, and believe her chaste who gives her charms to all. But for thee, vouchsafe her, in secret, a modicum of freedom. What you give her in that direction she will repay. Just let her take you into her confidence a little, and the mistress will do what the slave shall bid. Afraid of conniving a little? Why, you've only got to shut your eyes. Is she reading a letter in secret? Well, take it that it's from her mother. A stranger comes to call? Take him for some old acquaintance. She goes to see a sick friend who isn't sick at all? Why, pretend she is sick. Is she a long time coming? Let your head droop on your breast, and snore away to your heart's content. Don't go worrying your head about what they're doing in the temple of Isis, or what's going on in the theatres.
A discreet accomplice wins a deal of glory, and after all, what is simpler than to hold your tongue? Such a man is liked, he rules the household and never gets a beating. He is a man of power; the others, scurvy fellows, merely slaves. In order to keep the husband sweet, he stuffs him with fairy tales and, masters both, they both approve of what delights the woman. A husband may frown and furrow his brow with wrinkles, a wheedling woman always gets her way. Still, every now and then she must seem to have a grudge against you, pretend to cry and say you are a brute. Your cue is then to accuse her of some fault that she can readily disprove. In taxing her with what is false, you blind her husband to the real truth. This if you do, honours and money will be showered upon you. Act as I bid you, and you'll soon be a slave no more.
You see informers laden with heavy chains, you see
false-hearted knaves shut up in gloomy dungeons. Tantalus is thirsty, with water all about him; surrounded by fruit, of fruit he cannot taste. That's all because he was a blabber. Because he gave too strict effect to Juno's bidding, Io's guard died ere his prime, and Io is a goddess.
I have seen a fellow loaded with chains that were making his legs black and blue, because he had insisted on telling a husband of his wife's amours. He merited a weightier doom; his prating tongue had killed the happiness of two. He filled the husband's heart with grief and slew his wife's good rime.
Mark what I say; there never was a husband yet that liked such charges brought against his spouse. Hear them he may, but he'll never hear them with pleasure. If he be indifferent, all your precious tale is wasted; if he love her, then ’tis you who kill his peace of mind. Nay, howsoever clear a woman's fault may be, it takes a deal of proving. The judge's sympathies are all for her. Even if he had seen the whole thing with his own eyes, he would still believe her, if she denied it. He would say his eyes deceived him; that he himself had been at fault. Let her but fall a-weeping, he'll mingle his tears with hers and say, "This babbling ass shall get it hot for this." You see, the odds are nearly all against you, and if you lose, you get a thrashing, while she's being dandled on the judge's knee.
It is no crime we meditate. It is not to mix a poisoned draught that we desire to meet. No naked dagger flashes in our hand. All we ask is that, by your good offices, we may love in safety; and what request could be more innocent than that?
Quem penes est dominam servandi cura, Bagoa,