Pliny, Letters 3.21
To My Dear Friend Cornelius Priscus.
I am hearing that Valerius Martial is dead and I am taking it badly. He was a brilliant, subtle, and sharp man who had both wit and acuity in his writing without sacrificing sincerity. I sponsored his trip home when he left Rome—I gave him this because of our friendship and for the verses he composed about me.
It was the ancient custom to reward poets with honors or money when they had composed encomia for individuals or cities. This has become less common in our times along with other remarkable and exceptional gestures. For once we stop doing things worthy of praise, we also consider it inappropriate to be praised.
You wonder which were the verses which earned my thanks? I would send you the book if I had not memorized them. If you like these lines, you can look up others in his books. The poet is speaking to to muse, and he orders her to you’re your house on the Esquiline and approach with respect:
“Muse, don’t knock on his door at he wrong time, and drunk
He dedicates every day to bitter Minerva
Hard at work for the ears of the Hundred Men
On compositions which later generations
Will compare to Arpi’s pages too.
You will arrive more safely when the lights are on.
This is your time when Lyaeus goes wild
When the rose reigns and hair is wet.
Then may even the uptight Catos read me.”
Did I dismiss someone who wrote these things about me in a friendly manner rightly and do I now mourn the lost as one of my best friends.? He surely gave me as much as possible and would have given more if he could have. Still, is there anything greater to be given to a person than praise which is famous and eternal? But will what he wrote be eternal? Perhaps not, but he still wrote it as if it would be. Farewell.
C. Plinius Cornelio Prisco Suo S.
1Audio Valerium Martialem decessisse et moleste fero. Erat homo ingeniosus acutus acer, et qui plurimum in scribendo et salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus. Prosecutus eram viatico secedentem; dederam hoc amicitiae, dederam etiam versiculis quos de me composuit. Fuit moris antiqui, eos qui vel singulorum laudes vel urbium scripserant, aut honoribus aut pecunia ornare; nostris vero temporibus ut alia speciosa et egregia, ita hoc in primis exolevit. Nam postquam desîmus facere laudanda, laudari quoque ineptum putamus. Quaeris, qui sint versiculi quibus gratiam rettuli? Remitterem te ad ipsum volumen, nisi quosdam tenerem; tu, si placuerint hi, ceteros in libro requires. Adloquitur Musam, mandat ut domum meam Esquilis quaerat, adeat reverenter:
Sed ne tempore non tuo disertam
pulses ebria ianuam, videto.
Totos dat tetricae dies Minervae,
dum centum studet auribus virorum
hoc, quod saecula posterique possint
Arpinis quoque comparare chartis.
Seras tutior ibis ad lucernas:
haec hora est tua, cum furit Lyaeus,
cum regnat rosa, cum madent capilli.
Tunc me vel rigidi legant Catones.
Meritone eum qui haec de me scripsit et tunc dimisi amicissime et nunc ut amicissimum defunctum esse doleo? Dedit enim mihi quantum maximum potuit, daturus amplius si potuisset. Tametsi quid homini potest dari maius, quam gloria et laus et aeternitas? At non erunt aeterna quae scripsit: non erunt fortasse, ille tamen scripsit tamquam essent futura. Vale.