Living in the Last Days (of an Old Empire)

by Elias Blum

Lost, lost is Rome, her own self her own prey.
She hath made herself a spoil and there is none
That will avenge her.
This flooding sewer of money lent at interest
Has caught the common folk in a double whirlpool,
Their usury has choked them.
Not a house but is mortgaged, not a man but in debt.

The selfsame madness is in politics:
Easy it is to buy a Roman Citizen:
He’ll sell you his vote any day for a penny-share
Or a spot of cash. The man in the street is for sale,
And so is the man in the Senate: they all have their price.
The pristine freedom-loving virtue of the old men
Has dropt away, the power they had lost
Scrambling for gold, their ancient dignity
Rotted by money, trodden underfoot.

(From the Satyricon, 1st Century AD. Translated, with a bit of my own redaction, by Helen Waddell.)