It was not unusual for urbane rich Roman young men to frequent a brothel and have a single prostitute (meretrix) for some time. Of course these prostitutes tried to get as much money as possible out of these men and had no mercy, when they were financially ruined: enough other young men to seduce. Not having a meretrix was seen as problematic, but the potential loss of money. Roman comedy exploited such relations and this especially true of Plautus’ Truculentus (`the grim’, the name of the slave who had to rescue the situation for his master.)
The following lines are taken from the beginning of the second act: Dinarchus, a young man impoverished by spending too much money on his meretrix Phronesium, has just entered the house in order to speak with this shrewd lady. Astaphium – maid of Phronesium and herself well acquainted with the oldest profession - is waiting outside the door of the brothel and tells the tricks of her trade. Nothing has changed much since, I guess.
The Latin of Plautus differs from Classical Latin: it has older spellings like o for u, elision of the e in est (e.g. vitast = vita est) and the use of words and meanings considered obsolete in the Classical period.
Plautus, Truculentus, 217 - 231
dum fuit, dedit; nunc nihil habet: quod habebat nos habemus,
iste id habet quod nos habuimus. humanum facinus factumst.
actutum fortunae solent mutari, varia vitast:
nos divitem istum meminimus atque iste pauperes nos: 220
verterunt sese memoriae; stultus sit qui id miretur.
si eget, necessest nos pati: amavit, aequom ei factum est.
piaculumst miserere nos hominum rei male gerentum.
bonis esse oportet dentibus lenam probam,
adripere ut quisquis veniat blandeque adloqui, 225
male corde consultare, bene lingua loqui.
meretricem sentis similem esse condecet,
quemquem hominem attigerit, profecto ei aut malum aut damnum dare.
numquam amatoris meretricem oportet causam noscere,
quin, ubi nil det, pro infrequente eum mittat militia domum. 230
nec umquam erit probus quisquam amator nisi qui rei inimicust suae.
dum fuit (ei): as long as he had something.
id: i.e. poverty
facinus –oris (n.): deed (in Classical Latin often an evil deed, but here without that pejorative meaning: humanum facinus factumst (factum est): it is simply human to do so.)
divitem istum: him as a rich man
memoriae: the things remembered, i.e. money
si eget, necessest nos pati: if he is in want, we must endure that. i.e. we should show no mercy
aequom (= aequum) ei factum est: a fair thing has happened to him. i.e. in return for loving a meretrix he is now poor.
piaculum: sin-offering or something which requires a sin-offering, hence: crime. (Others take piaculum in the first meaning and regard it as ironical from the mouth of the immoral Astaphium.)
rei male gerentum (= gerentium): badly performing for their own interest
bonis dentibus: beautiful teeth (Think of currentday toothpast advertisements)
ut: as soon as
adripio: to take hold of
sentis- is (m.): thorn (similis + gen)
condecet = decet
attingo attigi attactum: to touch (here both physically and mentally)
amatoris causam noscere: to know the interest of her lover, i.e. to have pity with him
quin…mittat: but she must send him
pro infrequente militia: as a deserting soldier (infrequente (not turning up regularly) suppl. milite) from the army (ab militia)
nisi qui:unless he
Translation by Henry Thomas Riley (1912)
While he had it, he gave; now he has got nothing; what he did have, we have got; what we had, he has now got the same. The common course of things has happened. For. tunes are wont to change upon the instant. Life is checquered. We remember him as rich, and he us as poor; our reminiscences have shifted places. He must be a fool to wonder at it. If he is in want, it's necessary that he should allow us to make a living; that's proper to be done. 'Twere a disgrace for us to have compassion on men that squander away their fortunes. A clever Procuress ought to have good teeth; to smile upon whoever comes, to address him in flattering terms; to design mischief in her heart, but to speak fairly with her tongue. A Courtesan it befits to be like a briar; whatever man she touches, for either mischief or loss certainly to be the result. A Courtesan ought never to listen to the plea of a lover, but, when he has nothing to give, do you pack him off home from service as a deserter
; and never is any gallant good for anything unless he's one who is the enemy of his own fortune.