A Poem Your [Heart?] Desires

Martial, Epigrams 12.61

“Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem—
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.

I will advise you—if you are in pain to be read,
Find a drunk alley poet who writes
with broken coal or dusty chalk
the poems people read while shitting.
This face of yours can’t be known by my touch.”

Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.
quaeras censeo, si legi laboras,
nigri fornicis ebrium poetam,
qui carbone rudi putrique creta
scribit carmina quae legunt cacantes.
frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est

How To Earn A Dinner Invitation: Some Roman Advice (Hint: Lie)

Martial 9.35

“You will always earn a dinner with these skills, Philomusus:
Fabricate many tales, but relay them as if they are true.
You know what Pacorus is considering in his Arsacian abode;
You count the number of Rhenish and Sarmatian men,
You reveal the words consigned to paper by the Dacian chef,
And you see the victor’s crown before it arrives.
You know how many times Pharian rain dampens dark Syene
And the number of ships departing from Lybian shores
For whose head Julian olives are harvested,
And for whom the heavenly father has promised his wreaths.
Forget your skill! You will dine with me today
Under one rule: Philomusus, tell me nothing of the news.”

Artibus his semper cenam, Philomuse, mereris,
plurima dum fingis, sed quasi vera refers.
scis quid in Arsacia Pacorus deliberet aula,
Rhenanam numeras Sarmaticamque manum,
verba ducis Daci chartis mandata resignas, 5
victricem laurum quam venit ante vides,
scis quotiens Phario madeat Iove fusca Syene,
scis quota de Libyco litore puppis eat,
cuius Iuleae capiti nascantur olivae,
destinet aetherius cui sua serta pater. 10
Tolle tuas artes; hodie cenabis apud me
hac lege, ut narres nil, Philomuse, novi.

Image result for Ancient Roman Feasting

Humans Were Made for Learning–Nature and Nurture in Quintilian

Quintilian, Institutio 1.1.1-3

“It is a false complaint that the faculty of understanding what is taught is granted to only a few, and that most people waste their time and energy due to the slowness of their intellect. Just the opposite: you can find many who have an easy time with thinking, and are ready to learn. Certainly, this is natural for humans, just as birds are born to fly, horses are born to run, and beasts are born for savagery; similarly, the activity and ingenuity of the mind is peculiarly our own.

Slow and ineducable people are no more the product of human nature than are giants and wondrously deformed people, but these have been but few. A proof of this is the fact that the hope of many things shines forth in children: if it passes away with age, it is clear that the fault lay not with human nature, but with our lack of care. One might object, ‘But nevertheless, some people are superior in intellect to others.’ I readily concede that point; but that will do more for some than for others. However, no one will be found who has pursued nothing with effort.”

Falsa enim est querela, paucissimis hominibus vim percipiendi quae tradantur esse concessam, plerosque vero laborem as tempora tarditate ingenii perdere. Nam contra plures reperias et faciles in excogitando et ad discendum promptos. Quippe id est homini naturale, ac sicut aves ad volatum, equi ad cursum, ad saevitiam ferae gignuntur, ita nobis propria est mentis agitatio atque sollertia: unde origo animi caelestis creditur. Hebetes vero et indociles non magis secundum naturam hominis eduntur quam prodigiosa corpora et monstris insignia, sed hi pauci admodum fuerunt. Argumentum, quod in pueris elucet spes plurimorum: quae cum emoritur aetate, manifestum est non naturam defecisse sed curam. “Praestat tamen ingenio alius alium.”  Concedo; sed plus efficiet aut minus: nemo reperitur qui sit studio nihil consecutus.

Everyone Should Read Sulpicia

Martial, 10.35

“All girls who desire to please one man
Should read Sulpicia.
All husbands who desire to please one wife
Should read Sulpicia.
She doesn’t write the rage of the Colchian woman
Or repeat the dinners of dire Thyestes.
She doesn’t believe there ever was a Scylla, or Byblis
But she teaches chaste and honest love,
And games, both sweet and a little naughty.
Anyone who judges her poems well
Will say that there never was a cleverer girl,
There never was a girl more reverent!
I think that the jokes of Egeria
In Numa’s dark cave were something like this.
You would have been more humble and learned
With Sulpicia as a teacher or a peer, Sappho:
But if he had seen her by your side,
Harsh Phaon would have loved Sulpicia.
Uselessly: for she would not be wife of the Thunderer
Nor girlfriend to Bacchus or Apollo
Should she live after her Calenus was taken away.”

Omnes Sulpiciam legant puellae,
Uni quae cupiunt viro placere;
Omnes Sulpiciam legant mariti,
Uni qui cupiunt placere nuptae.
Non haec Colchidos adserit furorem 5
Diri prandia nec refert Thyestae;
Scyllam, Byblida nec fuisse credit:
Sed castos docet et probos amores,
Lusus, delicias facetiasque.
Cuius carmina qui bene aestimarit, 10
Nullam dixerit esse nequiorem,
Nullam dixerit esse sanctiorem.
Tales Egeriae iocos fuisse
Udo crediderim Numae sub antro.
Hac condiscipula vel hac magistra 15
Esses doctior et pudica, Sappho:
Sed tecum pariter simulque visam
Durus Sulpiciam Phaon amaret.
Frustra: namque ea nec Tonantis uxor
Nec Bacchi nec Apollinis puella 20
Erepto sibi viveret Caleno.

(there is no way to get Latin hendecasyllables easily into English. I bet Sulpicia could have done it.)

Martial is not referring to the first Sulpicia (whose poetry is recorded with that of Tibullus, book 3) but a second Sulpicia from the time of Domitian. Hmmm. Ten plus books, only one Martial?

A Tawdry Tuesday Trio from Martial

Warning: As usual, these are not for the faint of heart or those with delicate sensibilities.



“Lesbia swears that she has never been fucked for free.
This is true, when she wants to be fucked, she has to pay.”

Lesbia se jurat gratis numquam esse fututam.
Verum’st. Cum futui vult, numerare solet.


“You spy on me when I bathe, Philomusus,
And then you ask me why my smooth boys
Are so well-hung? Philomusus,
I’ll answer your query simply:
So they can ass-fuck peeping Toms.”

Spectas nos, Philomuse, cum lavamur,
et quare mihi tam mutuniati
sint leves pueri subinde quaeris.
Dicam simpliciter tibi roganti:
pedicant, Philomuse, curiosos.

“You are a spy and a gossip;
you are a liar and a crook,
And you are a cock-sucker and a pimp.
I am amazed, Vacerra
That you don’t have any money.”

Et delator es et calumniator,
et fraudator es et negotiator,
et fellator es et lanista. Miror
quare non habeas, Vacerra, nummos.

Tawdry Tuesday: Sex Therapy and Extreme Erectile Function with Martial

Martial, Epigrams 11.71

“Leda informed her ancient husband that she is crazy
And complains that she needs to be fucked.
But as she weeps and groans, she denies that sanity is worth the price
And claims instead that she prefers to die.
Her husband pleads for her to live, not to squander her best years—
And the act he does not perform himself to others he allows.
Immediately the gentleman doctors arrive and the lady medics leave:
Feet are raised! What a serious treatment!”

Hystericam vetulo se dixerat esse marito
et queritur futui Leda necesse sibi;
sed flens atque gemens tanti negat esse salutem
seque refert potius proposuisse mori.
Vir rogat ut vivat virides nec deserat annos,
et fieri quod iam non facit ipse sinit.
Protinus accedunt medici medicaeque recedunt,
tollunturque pedes. O medicina gravis!

“Natta swallows his own Draucus’ ‘little penis’—
Compared to him, Priapus is a Eunuch!”

Drauci Natta sui vorat pipinnam,
collatus cui gallus est Priapus.

Tawdry Tuesday: Martial Turns a “Butter Face” Joke into a Poem

Epigram XI, 102


“He didn’t lie when he told me, Lydia,
That you have a beautiful body but not a face.
It’s like this, if you are quiet and lie back silent
As a picture in wax or in paint.
But every time you speak you ruin your flesh too,
No one’s tongue inflicts as much self-harm as yours.
Make sure that the aedile neither sees nor hears you.
It is a bad omen whenever a statue breaks into speech.


Non est mentitus qui te mihi dixit habere
formosam carnem, Lydia, non faciem.
Est ita, si taceas et si tam muta recumbas
quam silet in cera vultus et in tabula.
Sed quotiens loqueris, carnem quoque, Lydia, perdis
et sua plus nulli quam tibi lingua nocet.
Audiat aedilis ne te videatque caveto:
portentum’st, quotiens coepit imago loqui.



If you need something a little simpler or less mean as a palate cleanser after that, might we suggest the following couplet?

Epigrams, XI, 97


“I can perform four times in one night, but I’ll be damned
If I can manage once in four years with you, Telesilla.”


Una nocte quater possum: sed quattuor annis
si possum, peream, te Telesilla semel.

[Martial Wants] A Lucretia on the Street, but a Lais Between the Sheets (Epigram 11.104)

“Wife, leave my house or adopt my ways!
I am not a Curius, a Numa or a Tatius.
Nights made happy with drink please me:
But you hurry to leave with water to drink.
You love the shadows, but I’m happy to play
With a lamp as witness or with light let in on my ‘bulge’.
Tunics and obscuring robes must cover you:
But no girl could ever be naked enough for me!
Kisses to mimic eager doves delight me;
But you give those from a grandmother’s ‘good morning’.
It is beneath you to help out with movement or voice,
Not even fingers, as if you were readying incense and wine.
Phrygian slaves used to masturbate outside the door
Whenever the wife sat atop her Hectorean ‘horse’;
Chaste Penelope always used to keep her hand down there,
Even when the Ithacan was snoring!
You won’t abide anal sex! Cornelia permitted this to Gracchus!
Julia allowed Pompey; Porcia bent for you, Brutus!
When the Dardanian was not yet his servant mixing sweet wine,
Juno was Jupiter’s Ganymede.
If you want to be grave, then be Lucretia all day
But at night I want a Lais.”

Uxor, vade foras aut moribus utere nostris:
non sum ego nec Curius nec Numa nec Tatius.
Me jucunda juvant tractae per pocula noctes:
tu properas pota surgere tristis aqua.
Tu tenebris gaudes: me ludere teste lucerna
et juvat admissa rumpere luce latus.
Fascia te tunicaeque obscuraque pallia celant:
at mihi nulla satis nuda puella jacet.
basia me capiunt blandas imitata columbas:
tu mihi das aviae qualia mane soles.
Nec motu dignaris opus nec voce juvare
nec digitis, tamquam tura merumque pares:
masturbabantur Phrygii post ostia servi,
Hectoreo quotiens sederat uxor equo,
et quamvis Ithaco stertente pudica solebat
illic Penelope semper habere manum.
Pedicare negas: dabat hoc Cornelia Graccho,
Julia Pompeio, Porcia, Brute, tibi;
dulcia Dardanio nondum miscente ministro
pocula Juno fuit pro Ganymede Jovi.
Si te delectat gravitas, Lucretia toto
sis licet usque die: Laida nocte volo.

*Lais was a name for a prostitute from the time of the Peloponnesian War.

My Book Doesn’t Have My (Chaste) Taste: Martial on His Dirty Little, um, Book

Martial, Epigrams Book 11.15

“I do have drafts that Cato’s wife
And those dreadful Sabine women might read:
But I want this whole little book to laugh
and to be dirtier than other little books.
Let it soak up wine and not shudder
To be died dark with Cosmian ink,
Let it play with the boys and love the girls
And let it just name directly that ‘thing’
From which we are born, the parent of all
Which holy Numa called a little dick.
Remember still, Apollinoris, that
These verses are Saturnalian.
This little book’s morals aren’t mine!”

Sunt chartae mihi quas Catonis uxor
et quas horribiles legant Sabinae:
hic totus volo rideat libellus
et sit nequior omnibus libellis.
Qui vino madeat nec erubescat
pingui sordidus esse Cosmiano,
ludat cum pueris, amet puellas,
nec per circuitus loquatur illam,
ex qua nascimur, omnium parentem,
quam sanctus Numa mentulam vocabat.
Versus hos tamen esse tu memento
Saturnalicios, Apollinaris:
mores non habet hic meos libellus.

Petronius, Satyricon 1

“And therefore, I reckon that our young men are becoming total fools in our schools, because they neither hear nor see any of the things which we find useful, but rather pirates standing in shackles on the shore, and tyrants issuing decrees ordering that sons decapitate their fathers, and solutions to plagues which urge that three or even more virgins be burned, and those little honey-balls of words, and all things said or done as though sprinkled with poppy and sesame.”


Et ideo ego adulescentulos existimo in scholis stultissimos fieri, quia nihil ex his, quae in usu habemus, aut audiunt aut vident, sed piratas cum catenis in litore stantes, sed tyrannos edicta scribentes quibus imperent filiis ut patrum suorum capita praecidant, sed responsa in pestilentiam data, ut virgines tres aut plures immolentur, sed mellitos verborum globulos, et omnia dicta factaque quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa.


This may seem like nothing more than a rather disconnected list of preposterous subjects, but in fact these were popular subjects for exercises in the art of declamatio. It is perhaps difficult for a modern reader to appreciate the extent to which the Romans revered skillful rhetoricians. In the time of Petronius (27-66 A.D.), however, the chief aim of Roman education was to produce effective public speakers. To this end, young learners were provided with a topic (e.g. should Caesar cross the Rubicon?) on which they were expected to deliver a persuasive extempore oration. 


This passage is itself excerpted from a declamation delivered by the narrator Encolpius, which laments the decline of standards upheld by instructors of rhetoric, who assign to students trifling subjects for declamation dealing with pirates and the like. The Satyricon highlights numerous aspects of contemporary Roman excess, not the least of which was its apparently unsustainable rhetorical saturation. [For a similar sentiment, consult the first satire of Juvenal.] One tradition even holds that, after Petronius was ordered by Nero to end his own life, he held a lavish dinner party in which he opened his veins and bandaged them up; he then declaimed on various subjects, loosed his bandages, and died at the end of his discourse. 

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