by Martial

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Martial, the father of the epigram, was one of the brilliant provincial poets who made their literary mark on first-century Rome. His Epigrams can be affectionate or cruel, elegiac or playful; they target every element of Roman society, from slaves to schoolmasters to, above all, the aristocratic elite. With wit and wisdom, Martial evokes not “the grandeur that was Rome,” but rather the timeless themes of urban life and society.

About the Author: James Michie studied classics at Trinity College, Oxford. His other translations include The Poems of Catullus and Horace’s Odes (available as a Modern Library Paperback Classic). His Collected Poems was awarded the Hawthornden Prize.

Shadi Bartsch is Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Chicago, the editor in chief of Classical Philology, and the author of Decoding the Ancient Novel; Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s “Civil War”; and Actors in the Audi-ence: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632955982
Publisher: Charles River Editors
Publication date: 03/22/2018
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 100
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

James Michie studied classics at Trinity College, Oxford. His other translations include The Poems of Catullus and Horace’s Odes (available as a Modern Library Paperback Classic). His Collected Poems was awarded the Hawthornden Prize.

Shadi Bartsch is Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Chicago, the editor in chief of Classical Philology, and the author of Decoding the Ancient Novel; Ideology in Cold Blood: A Reading of Lucan’s “Civil War”; and Actors in the Audi-ence: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian.

Read an Excerpt

Hic est quem legis ille, quem requiris,

toto notus in orbe Martialis

argutis epigrammaton libellis:

cui, lector studiose, quod dedisti

viventi decus atque sentienti,

rari post cineres habent poetae.


Argiletanas mavis habitare tabernas,

cum tibi, parve liber, scrinia nostra vacent.

nescis, heu, nescis dominae fastidia Romae:

crede mihi, nimium Martia turba sapit.

maiores nusquam rhonchi: iuvenesque senesque

et pueri nasum rhinocerotis habent.

audieris cum grande sophos, dum basia iactas,

ibis ab excusso missus in astra sago.

sed tu ne totiens domini patiare lituras

neve notet lusus tristis harundo tuos,

aetherias, lascive, cupis volitare per auras:

i, fuge; sed poteras tutior esse domi.



May I present myself—the man

You read, admire and long to meet,

Known the world over for his neat

And witty epigrams? The name

Is Martial. Thank you, earnest fan,

For having granted me the fame

Seldom enjoyed by a dead poet

While I’m alive and here to know it.


Frail book, although there’s room for you to stay

Snug on my shelves, you’d rather fly away

To the bookshops and be published. How I pity

Your ignorance of this supercilious city!

Believe me, little one, our know-all crowd

Is hard to please. Nobody sneers as loud

As a Roman: old or young, even newly-born,

He turns his nose up like a rhino horn.

As soon as one hears the deafening “bravos!”

And begins blowingkisses, up one goes

Skywards, tossed in a blanket. And yet you,

Fed up with the interminable “few,”

“Final” revisions of your natural song

By my strict pen, being a wild thing, long

To try your wings and flutter about Rome.

Off you go, then! You’re safer, though, at home.


Contigeris nostros, Caesar, si forte libellos,

terrarum dominum pone supercilium.

consuevere iocos vestri quoque ferre triumphi,

materiam dictis nec pudet esse ducem.

qua Thymelen spectas derisoremque Latinum,

illa fronte precor carmina nostra legas.

innocuos censura potest permittere lusus:

lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba.


Petit Gemellus nuptias Maronillae

et cupit et instat et precatur et donat.

Adeone pulchra est? Immo foedius nil est.

Quid ergo in illa petitur et placet? Tussit.


Hesterna tibi nocte dixeramus,

quincunces puto post decem peractos,

cenares hodie, Procille, mecum.

tu factam tibi rem statim putasti

et non sobria verba subnotasti

exemplo nimium periculoso:

misˆv mn´amona symp´otan, Procille.


Caesar, if you should chance to handle my book,

I hope that you’ll relax the frowning look

That rules the world. Soldiers are free to mock

The triumphs of you emperors—there’s no shame

In a general being made a laughing-stock.

I beg you, read my verses with the same

Face as you watch Latinus on the stage

Or Thymele the dancer. Harmless wit

You may, as Censor, reasonably permit:

My life is strict, however lax my page.


Gemellus wants to marry Maronilla:

He sighs, pleads, pesters, sends a daily present.

Is she a beauty? No, a hideous peasant.

What’s the attraction, then? That cough will kill her.


Last night, after five pints of wine,

I said, “Procillus, come and dine

Tomorrow.” You assumed I meant

What I said (a dangerous precedent)

And slyly jotted down a note

Of my drunk offer. Let me quote

A proverb from the Greek: “I hate

An unforgetful drinking mate.”


Incustoditis et apertis, Lesbia, semper

liminibus peccas nec tua furta tegis,

et plus spectator quam te delectat adulter

nec sunt grata tibi gaudia si qua latent.

at meretrix abigit testem veloque seraque

raraque Submemmi fornice rima patet.

a Chione saltem vel ab Iade disce pudorem:

abscondunt spurcas et monumenta lupas.

numquid dura tibi nimium censura videtur?

deprendi veto te, Lesbia, non futui.


Quem recitas meus est, o Fidentine, libellus:

sed male cum recitas, incipit esse tuus.


Cum dicis “Propero, fac si facis,” Hedyle, languet

protinus et cessat debilitata Venus.

expectare iube: velocius ibo retentus.

Hedyle, si properas, dic mihi, ne properem.


Lesbia, why are your amours

Always conducted behind open, unguarded doors?

Why do you get more excitement out of a voyeur than a lover?

Why is pleasure no pleasure when it’s under cover?

Whores use a curtain, a bolt or a porter

To bar the public—you won’t find many chinks in the red-light quarter.

Ask Chione or Ias how to behave:

Even the cheapest tart conceals her business inside a monumental grave.

If I seem too hard on you, remember my objection

Is not to fornication but detection.


They’re mine, but while a fool like you recites

My poems I resign the author’s rights.


When you say, “Quick, I’m going to come,”

Hedylus, I go limp and numb.

But ask me to hold back my fire,

And the brake accelerates desire.

Dear boy, if you’re in such a hurry,

Tell me to slow up, not to worry.


Nuper erat medicus, nunc est vispillo Diaulus:

quod vispillo facit, fecerat et medicus.


Si quid, Fusce, vacas adhuc amari—

nam sunt hinc tibi, sunt et hinc amici—

unum, si superest, locum rogamus,

nec me, quod tibi sim novus, recuses:

omnes hoc veteres tui fuerunt.

tu tantum inspice qui novus paratur

an possit fieri vetus sodalis.


Bella es, novimus, et puella, verum est,

et dives, quis enim potest negare?

sed cum te nimium, Fabulla, laudas,

nec dives neque bella nec puella es.


Diaulus, recently physician,

Has set up now as a mortician:

No change, though, in the clients’ condition.


If you’ve still room in your affections—

For you have friends in all directions—

For one more, may I occupy

The vacant place? You can’t deny

Me this simply because I’m “new”:

All your old chums were once that, too.

Think, Fuscus: might not in the end

The newest prove the oldest friend?


That you’re young, beautiful and rich,

Fabulla, no one can deny.

But when you praise yourself too much,

None of the epithets apply.


Nullus in urbe fuit tota qui tangere vellet

uxorem gratis, Caeciliane, tuam,

dum licuit: sed nunc positis custodibus ingens

turba fututorum est: ingeniosus homo es.


Pulchre valet Charinus et tamen pallet.

parce bibit Charinus et tamen pallet.

bene concoquit Charinus et tamen pallet.

sole utitur Charinus et tamen pallet.

tingit cutem Charinus et tamen pallet.

cunnum Charinus lingit et tamen pallet.


When you complaisantly allowed

Any man, free of charge, to lay

Hands on your wife, not one would play.

But now you’ve posted a house guard

There’s an enormous randy crowd.

Caecilianus, you’re a card.


He’s healthy—yet he’s deathly pale;

Seldom drinks wine and has a hale

Digestion—but looks white and ill;

Sunbathes, rouges his cheeks—and still

Has a pasty face; licks all the cunts

In Rome—and never blushes once.


Vicinus meus est manuque tangi

de nostris Novius potest fenestris.

quis non invideat mihi putetque

horis omnibus esse me beatum,

iuncto cui liceat frui sodale?

Tam longe est mihi quam Terentianus,

qui nunc Niliacam regit Syenen.

non convivere, nec videre saltem,

non audire licet, nec urbe tota

quisquam est tam prope tam proculque nobis.

Migrandum est mihi longius vel illi.

vicinus Novio vel inquilinus

sit, si quis Novium videre non volt.


Ne gravis hesterno fragres, Fescennia, vino,

pastillos Cosmi luxuriosa voras.

ista linunt dentes iantacula, sed nihil opstant,

extremo ructus cum redit a barathro.

quid quod olet gravius mixtum diapasmate virus

atque duplex animae longius exit odor?

notas ergo nimis fraudes deprensaque furta

iam tollas et sis ebria simpliciter.


Novius is so close a neighbour, I could stand

At my window and touch him with a hand.

“Lucky you,” you say.

“I envy you being able to enjoy at all hours of the day

The companionship of a true brother.”

Not a bit of it. We couldn’t have less to do with each other

If he were Terentianus, Governor of the Lower Nile.

I’m not allowed to dine with him, he won’t vouchsafe a word or a smile.

There’s no one so near and yet so distant in all Rome.

Clearly one of us must find a new home.

If you don’t want to see Novius, you should live next door

Or, better still, in the same house, on the same floor.


Hoping, Fescennia, to overpower

The reek of last night’s drinking, you devour

Cosmus’ sweet-scented pastilles by the gross.

But though they give your teeth a whitish gloss

They fail to make your breath any less smelly

When a belch boils from your abyss-like belly.

In fact, blended with lozenges it’s much stronger,

It travels farther and it lingers longer.

Give up these stale, transparent tricks. A skunk

Must be itself. Why not just be a drunk?


Garris in aurem semper omnibus, Cinna,

garrire et illud teste quod licet turba.

rides in aurem, quereris, arguis, ploras,

cantas in aurem, iudicas, taces, clamas,

adeoque penitus sedit hic tibi morbus,

ut saepe in aurem, Cinna, Caesarem laudes.


Si non molestum est teque non piget, scazon,

nostro rogamus pauca verba Materno

dicas in aurem sic ut audiat solus.

Amator ille tristium lacernarum

et baeticatus atque leucophaeatus,

qui coccinatos non putat viros esse

amethystinasque mulierum vocat vestes,

nativa laudet, habeat et licet semper

fuscos colores, galbinos habet mores.

Rogabit unde suspicer virum mollem.

Una lavamur: aspicit nihil sursum,

sed spectat oculis devorantibus draucos

nec otiosis mentulas videt labris.

Quaeris quis hic sit? Excidit mihi nomen.


You’re always whispering in one’s ear

“Secrets” the world might safely hear.

You crack jokes, grumble, weep, accuse

Your enemies, proclaim your views,

Sing songs and shout and even keep

Quiet in a whisper. It’s so deep

A sickness that you seldom raise

Your voice, Cinna, in Caesar’s praise.


My hobbling metre, if it’s not a task

Too onerous for you, not too much to ask,

Go and drop a few words in Maternus’ ear

Just loud enough for him alone to hear.

He favours drab, dark cloaks, he has a passion

For wearing Baetic wool and grey; the fashion

For scarlet he calls “degenerate,” “un-Roman,”

And, as for mauve, that’s “only fit for women.”

He’s all for “Nature”; yet, though no one’s duller

In dress, his morals sport a different colour.

He may demand the grounds of my suspicion.

We bathe together, and his line of vision

Keeps below waist-level, he devours

Ocularly the boys under the showers,

And his lips twitch at the sight of a luscious member.

Did you ask his name? How odd, I can’t remember!


Saepe mihi dicis, Luci carissime Iuli,

“Scribe aliquid magnum: desidiosus homo es.”

Otia da nobis, sed qualia fecerat olim

Maecenas Flacco Vergilioque suo:

condere victuras temptem per saecula curas

et nomen flammis eripuisse meum.

in steriles nolunt campos iuga ferre iuvenci:

pingue solum lassat, sed iuvat ipse labor.


Issa est passere nequior Catulli,

Issa est purior osculo columbae,

Issa est blandior omnibus puellis,

Issa est carior Indicis lapillis,

Issa est deliciae catella Publi.

hanc tu, si queritur, loqui putabis;

sentit tristitiamque gaudiumque.

collo nixa cubat capitque somnos,

ut suspiria nulla sentiantur;

et desiderio coacta ventris

gutta pallia non fefellit ulla,

sed blando pede suscitat toroque

deponi monet et rogat levari.

castae tantus inest pudor catellae,

ignorat Venerem; nec invenimus

dignum tam tenera virum puella.

Hanc ne lux rapiat suprema totam,


Dear Lucius Julius, you often sigh,

“Write something great—you’re a lazy fellow.” Give

Me leisure, all the time Maecenas found

For Horace and his Virgil, and I’ll try

To build a masterpiece destined to live

And save my name from ashes. When the ground

Is poor, the ox works listlessly; rich soil

Tires, but there’s satisfaction then in toil.


Issa is naughtier than Catullus’ sparrow, Issa is more appealing than any girl,

Issa is purer than a dove’s kiss, Issa is more precious than an Indian pearl,

Issa is—to end this catalogue—

Publius’ doted-on dog.

When she whines, you’d think it was a human voice;

She knows what it is to grieve and to rejoice.

She lies on her master’s lap,

Breathing so softly it’s inaudible, and takes her nap.

When the call of nature can’t be resisted,

She never lets a drop soil the quilt, but wakes you charmingly with a paw and asks to be set down and assisted.

She’s so innocent of the facts of life

That we’re unable to find a mate for such a delicate little wife.

picta Publius exprimit tabella,

in qua tam similem videbis Issam,

ut sit tam similis sibi nec ipsa.

Issam denique pone cum tabella:

aut utramque putabis esse veram,

aut utramque putabis esse pictam.


Occurris quotiens, Luperce, nobis,

“Vis mittam puerum” subinde dicis,

“cui tradas epigrammaton libellum,

lectum quem tibi protinus remittam?”

Non est quod puerum, Luperce, vexes.

longum est, si velit ad Pirum venire,

et scalis habito tribus sed altis.

quod quaeris propius petas licebit.

Argi nempe soles subire Letum:

contra Caesaris est forum taberna

scriptis postibus hinc et inde totis,

omnis ut cito perlegas poetas.

illinc me pete. Nec roges Atrectum—

hoc nomen dominus gerit tabernae—:

To prevent her last dog-day

Taking her altogether away

Publius has had her picture painted. The likeness is so complete

That even Issa herself can’t compete.

In fact, put both together and you can’t tell, which is which—

Painting or bitch.


Lupercus, whenever you meet me

You instantly greet me

With, “Is it all right by you if I send

My slave to pick up your book of epigrams? It’s only to lend:

I’ll return it when I’ve read it.” There’s no call

To trouble your boy. It’s a long haul

To the Pear-tree district, and my flat

Is up three flights of stairs, steep ones at that.

You can find what you want nearer home. No doubt you often go

Down Booksellers’ Row.

Well, then, opposite Caesar’s Forum there’s a shop

With door-posts plastered with advertisements from bottom to top,

So that at a glance you can read

The list of available poets. There I am. There’s no need

To ask Atrectus (the owner’s name) for my scroll:

Before you’ve said a word he’ll whip out of the first or second pigeon-hole

de primo dabit alterove nido

rasum pumice purpuraque cultum

denarîs tibi quinque Martialem.

“Tanti non es” ais? Sapis, Luperce.


Cui legisse satis non est epigrammata centum,

nil illi satis est, Caediciane, mali.


Pumice-stone-smoothed and purple-wrapped, for five denarii.

Do I hear you say, “You’re not worth that expense”?

Lupercus, you’ve got sense.


Caedicianus, if my reader

After a hundred epigrams still

Wants more, then he’s a greedy feeder

Whom no amount of swill can fill.

Copyright 2002 by Martial

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Epigrams 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a selection of about a tenth of Martial's work. Michie's translation is not literal, but his verses sacrifice nothing of the spirit and barb of Martial's pithy Latin, which is on the facing pages.