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Odes and Epigrams
by 'Martial' (Marcus Valerius Martialis)
The original, squashed down to read in about 12 minutes



(Rome, c100 CE)



Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as Martial) (40 to about 104CE), was a poet from Spain known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these, nearly 1,600, witty poems he satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances.

Abridged: JH



Odes and Epigrams


I. - Satiric Pieces and Epigrams



    He unto whom thou art so partial,
    O reader! is the well-known Martial,
    The Epigrammatist: while living
    Give him the fame thou wouldst be giving;
    So shall he hear, and feel, and know it -
    Post-obits rarely reach a poet. - Byron.


MARTIAL ON HIS WORK

    Some things are good, some fair, but more you'll say
    Are bad herein - all books are made that way!


ON FREEDOM OF LANGUAGE

    Strict censure may this harmless sport endure:
    My page is wanton, but my life is pure.


THE AIM OF THE EPIGRAMS

    My satire knoweth how to keep due bounds:
    Sparing the sinner, 'tis the sin it rounds.


ON A SPENDTHRIFT

    Castor on buying doth a fortune spend:
    Castor will take to selling in the end!


TO A RECITER WHO BAWLED

    Why wrap your throat with wool before you read?
    Our ears stand rather of the wool in need!


TO AN APOLOGETIC RECITER

    Before you start your recitation,
     You say your throat is sore:
    Dear sir, we hear your explanation,
     We don't want any more!


ANSWER TO A POETASTER

    Pompilianus asks why I omit
     To send him all the poetry that is mine;
    The reason is that in return for it,
     Pompilianus, thou might'st send me thine.


ON A PLAGIARIST

    Paul buys up poems, and to your surprise,
     Paul then recites them as his own:
    And Paul is right; for what a person buys
     Is his, as can by law be shown!


A LOVER OF OLD-FASHIONED POETRY

    Vacerra likes no bards but those of old -
     Only the poets dead are poets true!
    Really, Vacerra - may I make so bold? -
     It's not worth dying to be liked by you.


A GOOD RIDDANCE

    Linus, you mock my distant farm,
     And ask what good it is to me?
    Well, it has got at least one charm -
     When there, from Linus I am free!


HOW A WET SEASON HELPS THE ADULTERATION OF WINE

    Not everywhere the vintage yield has failed,
    Dear Ovid; copious rain has much availed.
    Coranus has a hundred gallons good
    For sale - well watered, be it understood.


THE SYSTEMATIC DINER-OUT

    Philo declares he never dines at home,
     And that is no exaggeration:
    He has no place to dine in Rome,
     If he can't hook an invitation.


THE LEGACY-HUNTER CONSIDERS A MARRIAGE

    Paula would like to marry me;
     But I have no desire to get her.
    Paula is old; if only she
     Were nearer dead, I'd like it better!


WIDOWER AND WIDOW

    Fabius buries all his wives:
    Chrestilla ends her husbands' lives.
    The torch which from the marriage-bed
    They brandish soon attends the dead.
    O Venus, link this conquering pair!
    Their match will meet with issue fair,
    Whereby for such a dangerous two
    A single funeral will do!


THE IMPORTUNATE BEGGAR

    'Tis best to grant me, Cinna, what I crave;
     And next best, Cinna, is refusal straight.
    Givers I like: refusal I can brave;
     But you don't give - you only hesitate!


TO A FRIEND OVER-CAUTIOUS IN LENDING

    A loan without security
    You say you have not got for me;
    But if I pledge my bit of land,
    You have the money close at hand.
    Thus, though you cannot trust your friend,
    To cabbages and trees you lend.
    Now you have to be tried in court -
    Get from my bit of land support!
    Exiled, you'd like a comrade true -
    Well, take my land abroad with you!


AN OLD DANDY

    You wish, Lætinus, to be thought a youth,
     And so you dye your hair.
    You're suddenly a crow, forsooth:
     Of late a swan you were!
    You can't cheat all: there is a Lady dread
     Who knows your hair is grey:
    Proserpina will pounce upon your head,
     And tear the mask away.


PATIENT AND DOCTOR

    When I was ill you came to me,
    Doctor, and with great urgency
    A hundred students brought with you
    A most instructive case to view.
    The hundred fingered me with hands
    Chilled by the blasts from northern lands;
    Fever at outset had I none;
    I have it, sir, now you have done!


APING ONE'S BETTERS

    Torquatus owns a mansion sumptuous
     Exactly four miles out of Rome:
    Four miles out also Otacilius
     Purchased a little country home.
    Torquatus built with marble finely veined
     His Turkish baths - a princely suite:
    Then Otacilius at once obtained
     Some kind of kettle to give heat!
    Torquatus next laid out upon his ground
     A noble laurel-tree plantation:
    The other sowed a hundred chestnuts round -
     To please a future generation.
    And when Torquatus held the Consulate,
     The other was a village mayor,
    By local honours made as much elate
     As if all Rome were in his care!
    The fable saith that once upon a day
     The frog that aped the ox did burst:
    I fancy ere this rival gets his way,
     He will explode with envy first!

II. - Epitaphs


ON A DEAD SLAVE-BOY

    Dear Alcimus, Death robbed thy lord of thee
     When young, and lightly now Labian soil
    Veils thee in turf: take for thy tomb to be
     No tottering mass of Parian stone which toil
    Vainly erects to moulder o'er the dead.
     Rather let pliant box thy grave entwine;
    Let the vine-tendril grateful shadow shed
     O'er the green grass bedewed with tears of mine.
    Sweet youth, accept the tokens of my grief:
     Here doth my tribute last as long as time.
    When Lachesis my final thread shall weave,
     I crave such plants above my bones may climb.


ON A LITTLE GIRL, EROTION

    Mother Flaccilla, Fronto sire that's gone,
    This darling pet of mine, Erotion,
    I pray ye greet, that nor the Land of Shade
    Nor Hell-hound's maw shall fright my little maid.
    Full six chill winters would the child have seen
    Had her life only six days longer been.
    Sweet child, with our lost friends to guard thee, play,
    And lisp my name in thine own prattling way.
    Soft be the turf that shrouds her! Tenderly
    Rest on her, earth, for she trod light on thee.

III. - Poems on Friendship and Life


A WORTHY FRIEND

    If there be one to rank with those few friends
    Whom antique faith and age-long fame attends;
    If, steeped in Latin or Athenian lore,
    There be a good man truthful at the core;
    If one who guards the right and loves the fair,
    Who could not utter an unworthy prayer;
    If one whose prop is magnanimity,
    I swear, my Decianus, thou art he.


A RETROSPECT

    Good comrades, Julius, have we been,
    And four-and-thirty harvests seen:
    We have had sweetness mixed with sour;
    Yet oftener came the happy hour.
    If for each day a pebble stood,
    And either black or white were hued,
    Then, ranged in masses separate,
    The brighter ones would dominate.
    If thou wouldst shun some heartaches sore,
    And ward off gloom that gnaws thy core,
    Grapple none closely to thy heart:
    If less thy joy, then less thy smart.


GIFTS TO FRIENDS ARE NOT LOST

    A cunning thief may rob your money-chest,
     And cruel fire lay low an ancient home;
    Debtors may keep both loan and interest;
     Good seed may fruitless rot in barren loam.
    A guileful mistress may your agent cheat,
     And waves engulf your laden argosies;
    But boons to friends can fortune's slings defeat:
     The wealth you give away will never cease.


ON MAKING THE BEST OF LIFE

    Julius, in friendship's scroll surpassed by none,
     If life-long faith and ancient ties may count,
    Nigh sixty consulates by thee have gone:
     The days thou hast to live make small amount.
    Defer not joys them mayst not win from fate
     Judge only what is past to be thine own.
    Cares with a linkéd chain of sorrows wait.
     Mirth tarries not; but soon on wing is flown.
    With both hands hold it - clasped in full embrace,
     Still from thy breast it oft will glide away!
    To say, "I mean to live," is folly's place:
     To-morrow's life comes late; live, then, to-day.


A DAY IN ROME

    The first two hours Rome spends on morning calls,
    And with the third the busy lawyer bawls.
    Into the fifth the town plies varied tasks;
    The sixth, siesta; next hour closing asks.
    The eighth sees bath and oil and exercise;
    The ninth brings guest on dining-couch who lies.
    The tenth is claimed for Martial's poetry,
    When you, my friend, contrive high luxury
    To please great Cæsar, and fine nectar warms
    The mighty hand that knows a wine-cup's charms.
    Eve is the time for jest: with step so bold
    My muse dare not at morn great Jove behold.


BOREDOM, VERSUS ENJOYMENT

    If you and I, dear Martial, might
    Enjoy our days in Care's despite,
    And could control each leisure hour,
    Both free to cull life's real flower,
    Then should we never know the halls
    Of patrons or law's wearying calls,
    Or troublous court or family pride;
    But we should chat or read or ride,
    Play games or stroll in porch or shade,
    Visit the hot baths or "The Maid."

    Such haunts should know us constantly,
    Such should engage our energy.
    Now neither lives his life, but he
    Marks precious days that pass and flee.
    These days are lost, but their amount
    Is surely set to our account.
    Knowledge the clue to life can give;
    Then wherefore hesitate to live?


THE HAPPY LIFE

    The things that make a life of ease,
    Dear Martial, are such things as these:
    Wealth furnished not by work but birth,
    A grateful farm, a blazing hearth,
    No lawsuit, seldom formal dress;
    But leisure, stalwart healthiness,
    A tactful candour, equal friends,
    Glad guests at board which naught pretends,
    No drunken nights, but sorrow free,
    A bed of joy yet chastity;
    Sleep that makes darkness fly apace,
    So well content with destined place,
    Unenvious so as not to fear
    Your final day, nor wish it near.


AT THE SEASIDE

    Sweet strand of genial Formiæ,
    Apollinaris loves to flee
    From troublous thought in serious Rome,
    And finds thee better than a home.
    Here Thetis' face is ruffled by
    A gentle wind; the waters lie
    Not in dead calm, but o'er the main
    A peaceful liveliness doth reign,
    Bearing gay yachts before a breeze
    Cool as the air that floats with ease
    From purple fan of damozel
    Who would the summer heat dispel.
    The angler need not far away
    Seek in deep water for his prey -
    Your line from bed or sofa throw,
    And watch the captured fish below!
    How seldom, Rome, dost thou permit
    Us by such joys to benefit?
    How many days can one long year
    Credit with wealth of Formian cheer?
    We, round whom city worries swarm,
    Envy our lacqueys on a farm.
    Luck to you, happy slaves, affords
    The joys designed to please your lords!


THE POET'S FINAL RETREAT IN SPAIN

    Mayhap, my Juvenal, your feet
    Stray down some noisy Roman street,
    While after many years of Rome
    I have regained my Spanish home.
    Bilbilis, rich in steel and gold,
    Makes me a rustic as of old.
    With easy-going toil at will
    Estates of uncouth name I till.
    Outrageous lengths of sleep I take,
    And oft refuse at nine to wake.
    I pay myself nor more nor less
    For thirty years of wakefulness!
    No fine clothes here - but battered dress,
    The first that comes, snatched from a press!
    I rise to find a hearth ablaze
    With oak the nearest wood purveys.
    This is a life of jollity:
    So shall I die contentedly.




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