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Marcus Valerius Martialis-Master Of The Evocative Epigram

Copperplate engraving by G. Jones. from the 1814 ‘Encyclopaedia Londinensis or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature’; volume fourteen. Engraved from an ancient gem.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are a sample of epigrams from the works of Marcus Valerius Martialis, commonly known as Martial. Here in the Bohn Classical Library (1897) edition, anonymously translated, (with a few epigrams, missing from Bohn, from the 1919 Loeb edition translated by W. Ker) nobly transformed and placed online by Roger Pearse (Ipswich, UK, 2008) at This text is in the public domain. 

Born in Augusta Bilbilis (modern day Calatayud, Spain) between A.D. 38 and 41, Martial lived many years under the challenging and tumultuous rule of Emperors Caligula, Claudius, Nero and so on, up to Domitian. He retired after the death of Nerva, during the rule of Trajan, returning back to his beloved hometown, where he died around A.D.102-104.

As an invaluable insider, a witness of choice, Martial chronicled Rome, and became hugely famous for using the old epigrammatic style- short, sharp and witty poems- giving it his masterly recognizable touch, where he cheerfully satirizes and documents the public & private life of his entourage, and in contrast romanticizes his provincial upbringing. Here we chose to share with you a few characteristic epigrams for their power of evocation and visual strength. Enjoy!


From Book III

Our friend Faustinus’s Baian farm, Bassus, does not occupy an ungrateful expanse of broad land, laid out with useless myrtle groves, sterile plane-trees, and clipped box-rows, but rejoices in a real unsophisticated country scene. Here close-pressed heaps of corn are crammed into every corner, and many a cask is redolent with wine of old vintages. Here, after November, when winter is at hand, the rough vine-dresser brings in the ripened grapes; the savage bulls bellow in the deep valley, and the steer, with forehead still unarmed, yearns for the fight. The whole muster of the farmyard roams at large, the screaming goose, the spangled peacock, the bird which derives its name from its red wings, the spotted partridge, the speckled fowls of Numidia, and the pheasants of the impious Colchians; the proud cocks caress their Rhodian mates, and the turrets resound with the murmur of pigeons. On this side mourns the ringdove, on that the wax-coloured turtle-dove; the greedy swine fellow the apron of the bailiff’s wife, and the tender lamb bleats after its well-filled mother. Young house-bred slaves, sleek as milk, surround the cheerful fire, and piles of wood blaze near the joyous Lares. The steward does not, through inactivity, grow pale with enervating ease, nor waste oil in anointing himself for wrestling, but sets crafty nets for greedy thrushes, or draws up fish captured with the tremulous line, or brings home deer caught in the hunter’s toils. The productive garden amuses the well-pleased townsmen, and long-haired children, freed from the rule of their instructor, delight to obey the farm-bailiff, and even the effeminate eunuch finds enjoyment in working. Nor does the rustic come empty-handed to pay his respects; he brings with him white honey in its waxen cells, and the conical cheese from the forest of Sassina. This one offers the sleepy dormouse, that the bleating young of the hairy she-goat; another, the capon debarred from loving. Tall maidens, daughters of honest husbandmen, bring their mothers’ presents in baskets of osiers. Work being over, the cheerful neighbourhood is invited in; nor does a stinted table reserve its dainties for the morrow, but every one eats his fill, and the well-fed attendant has no cause to envy the reeling guest. But you, Bassus, possess in the suburbs of the city a splendid mansion, where your visitor is starved, and where, from lofty towers, you look over mere laurels secure in a garden where Priapus need fear no thief. You feed your vinedresser on corn which you have bought in town, and carry idly to your ornamental farm vegetables, eggs, chickens, fruits, cheese, and wine. Should your dwelling be called a country-house, or a town-house out of town?


Baiana nostri uilla, Basse, Faustini
non otiosis ordinata myrtetis
uiduaque platano tonsilique buxeto
ingrata lati spatia detinet campi,
sed rure uero barbaroque laetatur. 5
Hic farta premitur angulo Ceres omni
et multa fragrat testa senibus autumnis;
hic post Nouembres imminente iam bruma
seras putator horridus refert uuas.
Truces in alta ualle mugiunt tauri 10
uitulusque inermi fronte prurit in pugnam.
Vagatur omnis turba sordidae chortis,
argutus anser gemmeique pauones
nomenque debet quae rubentibus pinnis
et picta perdix Numidicaeque guttatae 15
et impiorum phasiana Colchorum;
Rhodias superbi feminas premunt galli;
sonantque turres plausibus columbarum,
gemit hinc palumbus, inde cereus turtur.
Auidi secuntur uilicae sinum porci 20
matremque plenam mollis agnus expectat.
Cingunt serenum lactei focum uernae
et larga festos lucet ad lares silua.
Non segnis albo pallet otio caupo,
nec perdit oleum lubricus palaestrita, 25
sed tendit auidis rete subdolum turdis
tremulaue captum linea trahit piscem
aut inpeditam cassibus refert dammam.
Exercet hilares facilis hortus urbanus,
et paedagogo non iubente lasciui 30
parere gaudent uilico capillati,
et delicatus opere fruitur eunuchus.
Nec uenit inanis rusticus salutator:
fert ille ceris cana cum suis mella
metamque lactis Sassinate de silua; 35
somniculosos ille porrigit glires,
hic uagientem matris hispidae fetum,
alius coactos non amare capones;
et dona matrum uimine offerunt texto
grandes proborum uirgines colonorum. 40
Facto uocatur laetus opere uicinus;
nec auara seruat crastinas dapes mensa:
uescuntur omnes ebrioque non nouit
satur minister inuidere conuiuae.
At tu sub urbe possides famem mundam 45
et turre ab alta prospicis meras laurus,
furem Priapo non timente securus;
et uinitorem farre pascis urbano
pictamque portas otiosus ad uillam
holus, oua, pullos, poma, caseum, mustum. 50
Rus hoc uocari debet, an domus longe?

From Book IV

Horatius, a little while ago, was the only one, among all the spectators of the games, who appeared in black clothes, when the plebeians, the knights, and the senate, with their sacred chief, were sitting in white array. Suddenly snow fell in great abundance; and Horatius became a spectator in white.


Spectabat modo solus inter omnes
nigris munus Horatius lacernis,
cum plebs et minor ordo maximusque
sancto cum duce candidus sederet.
Toto nix cedidit repente caelo: 5
albis spectat Horatius lacernis.

You banks of Altinum, that rival the rural beauties of Baiae, and you wood that saw the fall of the thunder-stricken Phaeton; you Sola, fairest of the Dryads, who were taken to wife by the Faun of Antenor’s land near the Euganean lake; and you, Aquileia, who delight in Ledaean Timavus, at the spot where Cyllarus drank of your seven streams: You shall be the haven and the resting-places of my old age, if my retirement be at my own disposal.


Aemula Baianis Altini litora uillis
et Phaethontei conscia silua rogi,
quaeque Antenoreo Dryadum pulcherrima Fauno
nupsit ad Euganeos Sola puella lacus,
et tu Ledaeo felix Aquileia Timauo, 5
hic ubi septenas Cyllarus hausit aquas:
uos eritis nostrae requies portusque senectae,
si iuris fuerint otia nostra sui.

The bee is enclosed, and shines preserved, in a tear of the sisters of Phaeton, so that it seems enshrined in its own nectar. It has obtained a worthy reward for its great toils; we may suppose that the bee itself would have desired such a death.


Et latet et lucet Phaethontide condita gutta,
ut uideatur apis nectare clusa suo.
Dignum tantorum pretium tulit illa laborum:
credibile est ipsam sic uoluisse mori.

This is Vesuvius, lately green with umbrageous vines; here the noble grape had pressed the dripping coolers. These are the heights which Bacchus loved more than the hills of Nysa; on this mountain the satyrs recently danced. This was the abode of Venus, more grateful to her than Lacedaemon; this was the place renowned by the divinity of Hercules. All now lies buried in flames and sad ashes. Even the gods would have wished not to have had the power to cause such a catastrophe.


Hic est pampineis uiridis modo Vesbius umbris,
     presserat hic madidos nobilis uua lacus:
haec iuga quam Nysae colles plus Bacchus amauit;
     hoc nuper Satyri monte dedere choros;
haec Veneris sedes, Lacedaemone gratior illi;              5
     hic locus Herculeo nomine clarus erat.
Cuncta iacent flammis et tristi mersa fauilla:

From Book V

See with what hardihood you troop of children spring upon the quiet bulls, and how the gentle animals delight in their burdens. One hangs upon the tips of the horns; another runs at pleasure along the back, and brandishes his arms over the whole body. But their savageness is unaroused and at rest; the arena would not be safer; a plane surface might even be more dangerous. Nor do the gestures of the children betray any trepidation; but each of them appears sure of gaining the victory, and each of the bulls seems to be anxious not to prevent it.


Aspice quam placidis insultet turba iuuencis
et sua quam facilis pondera taurus amet.
Cornibus hic pendet summis, uagus ille per armos
currit et in toto uentilat arma boue.
At feritas immota riget: non esset harena 5
tutior et poterant fallere plana magis.
Nec trepidant gestus, sed de discrimine palmae
securus puer est sollicitumque pecus.

A cunning thief may burst open your coffers, and steal your coin; an impious fire may lay waste your ancestral home; your debtor may refuse you both principal and interest; your corn-field may prove barren, and not repay the seed you have scattered upon it; a crafty mistress may rob your steward; the waves may engulf your ships laden with merchandise. But what is bestowed on your friends is beyond the reach of fortune; the riches you give away are the only riches you will possess for ever.


Callidus effracta nummos fur auferet arca,
prosternet patrios impia flamma lares;
debitor usuram pariter sortemque negabit,
non reddet sterilis semina iacta seges;
dispensatorem fallax spoliabit amica, 5
mercibus extructas obruet unda rates.
Extra fortunam est quidquid donatur amicis:
quas dederis solas semper habebis opes.

From Book VI

You household nymph of my friend Stella, who glides, with pure stream, beneath the gemmed halls of your lord, whether the consort of Numa has sent you from the caves of the triple goddess, or whether you come as the ninth of the band of Muses, Marcus releases himself from his vows to you by sacrificing this virgin pig, because, when ill, be drank furtively of your waters. Do you, reconciled to me at length by this expiation, grant me the peaceful delights of your fountain; and let my draughts be always attended with health.


Nympha, mei Stellae quae fonte domestica puro
laberis et domini gemmea tecta subis,
siue Numae coniunx Triuiae te misit ab antris
siue Camenarum de grege nona uenis:
exoluit uotis hac se tibi uirgine porca 5
Marcus, furtiuam quod bibit, aeger, aquam.
Tu contenta meo iam crimine gaudia fontis
da secura tui: sit mihi sana sitis.

My sixth book is published without you, Rufus Camonius, for a patron, and cannot hope to have you, my friend, for a reader. The impious land of the Cappadocians, beheld by you under a malignant star, restores only your ashes and bones to your father. Four forth, bereaved Bononia, your tears for your Rufus, and let the voice of your wailing be heard throughout the Aemilian Way. Alas! how sweet an affection, alas! how short a life, has departed! He had seen but just five times the award of prises at the Olympian games. O Rufus, you who were wont to read through my trifles with careful attention, and to retain my jests in your memory, receive this short strain with the tears of your sorrowful friend, and regard them as. incense offered by him who is far removed from you.


Editur en sextus sine te mihi, Rufe Camoni,
nec te lectorem sperat, amice, liber:
impia Cappadocum tellus et numine laeuo
uisa tibi cineres reddit et ossa patri.
Funde tuo lacrimas orbata Bononia Rufo, 5
et resonet tota planctus in Aemilia:
heu qualis pietas, heu quam breuis occidit aetas!
uiderat Alphei praemia quinta modo.
Pectore tu memori nostros euoluere lusus,
tu solitus totos, Rufe, tenere iocos, 10
accipe cum fletu maesti breue carmen amici
atque haec absentis tura fuisse puta.

From Book VII

This fragment, which you think a common and useless piece of wood, was a portion of the first ship that ventured on unknown seas, a ship which neither the Cyanean rocks, so fertile in shipwrecks, nor the still more dangerous rage of the Scythian ocean, could formerly destroy. Time has overcome it; but, though it has yielded to years, this little plank is more sacred than an entire ship.


Fragmentum quod uile putas et inutile lignum,
haec fuit ignoti prima carina maris.
Quam nec Cyaneae quondam potuere ruinae
frangere nec Scythici tristior ira freti.
Saecula uicerunt: sed quamuis cesserit annis, 5
sanctior est salua parua tabella rate.

Venerable sovereign of the Tarpeian palace, whom we believe to exist as Lord of the thunder, from the care which you show for the preservation of our prince, when every one importunes you with prayers, and implores you to give what the gods alone can give, be not angry with me, O Jupiter, as though I were proud, because I ask you nothing. It is my duty to supplicate you for Domitian; to supplicate Domitian for myself.


Tarpeiae uenerande rector aulae,
quem saluo duce credimus Tonantem,
cum uotis sibi quisque te fatiget
et poscat dare quae dei potestis:
nil pro me mihi, Iuppiter, petenti 5
ne suscensueris uelut superbo.
Te pro Caesare debeo rogare:
pro me debeo Caesarem rogare.

From Book VIII

§ 8.3 TO HIS MUSE:
Five books had been enough; six or seven are surely too many: why, Muse, do you delight still to sport on? Be modest and make an end. Fame can now give me nothing more: my book is in every hand. And when the stone sepulchre of Messala shall He ruined by time, and the vast marble tomb of Licinus shall be reduced to dust, I shall still be read, and many a stranger will carry my verses with him to his ancestral home. Thus had I concluded, when the ninth of the sisters, her hair and dress streaming with perfumes, made this reply: Can you then, ungrateful, lay aside your pleasant trifling? Can you employ your leisure, tell me, in any better way? Do you wish to relinquish my sock for the tragic buskin, or to thunder of savage wars in heroic verse, that the pompous pedant may read you with hoarse voice to his class, and that the grown-up maiden and ingenuous youth may detest you? Let such poems be written by those who are most grave and singularly severe, whose wretched toilings the lamp witnesses at midnight. But do you season books for the Romans with racy salt; in you let human nature read and recognise its own manners. Although you may seem to be playing on but a slender reed, that reed will be better heard than the trumpets of many.


“Quinque satis fuerant: nam sex septemue libelli
est nimium: quid adhuc ludere, Musa, iuuat?
Sit pudor et finis: iam plus nihil addere nobis
fama potest: teritur noster ubique liber;
et cum rupta situ Messallae saxa iacebunt 5
altaque cum Licini marmora puluis erunt,
me tamen ora legent et secum plurimus hospes
ad patrias sedes carmina nostra feret.”
Finieram, cum sic respondit nona sororum,
cui coma et unguento sordida uestis erat: 10
“Tune potes dulcis, ingrate, relinquere nugas?
dic mihi, quid melius desidiosus ages?
an iuuat ad tragicos soccum transferre coturnos
aspera uel paribus bella tonare modis,
praelegat ut tumidus rauca te uoce magister, 15
oderit et grandis uirgo bonusque puer?
Scribant ista graues nimium nimiumque seueri,
quos media miseros nocte lucerna uidet;
at tu Romano lepidos sale tingue libellos:
adgnoscat mores uita legatque suos. 20
Angusta cantare licet uidearis auena,
dum tua multorum uincat auena tubas.”

A gentle dove, eliding down through the silent air, settled in the very lap of Aretulla as she was sitting. This might have seemed the mere sport of chance, had it not rested there, although undetained, and refused to depart, even when the liberty of flight was granted it. If it is permitted to the affectionate sister to hope for better things, and if prayers can avail to move the lord of the world, this bird is perhaps come to you from the dwelling of the exile in Sardinia, to announce the speedy return of your brother.


Aera per tacitum delapsa sedentis in ipsos
fluxit Aretullae blanda columba sinus.
Luserat hoc casus, nisi inobseruata maneret
permissaque sibi nollet abire fuga.
Si meliora piae fas est sperare sorori 5
et dominum mundi flectere uota ualent,
haec a Sardois tibi forsitan exulis oris,
fratre reuersuro, nuntia uenit auis.

From Book IX

In the regions about the Tartessus, where the rich lands of Cordova are watered by placid Baetis, where the yellow flocks shine with the gold of the river, and living metal decks the fleece of Hesperian sheep, stands a well-known mansion, and in the midst of its courts, overshadowing the whole of the surrounding buildings, rises the plane-tree of Caesar, with its thick foliage, which was planted by the auspicious right hand of that invincible guest, and tended by it while yet a sapling. This tree seems to acknowledge by its vigour its parent and lord; so richly does it flourish, and lift its branches towards the stars. Often, under this tree, have the playful Fauns sported with their midnight music, and the pipe has startled the quiet homestead; often has the woodland Dryad, while flying from the nocturnal marauder Fan across the solitary fields, sought shelter beneath it; and often have the household gods retained the odour of the Bacchanalian banquets, which by their libations have developed its luxuriance. The turf has been strewed and vermilioned with the chaplets of yesterday, and no man could distinguish the roses that had belonged to his own. O tree, favourite of the gods, tree of the great Caesar, fear not the axe nor the impious fire. You may hope for the glory of an ever-verdant foliage; you were not planted by Pompeian hands.


In Tartesiacis domus est notissima terris,
qua dives placidum Corduba Baetin amat,
vellera nativo pallent ubi flava metallo
et linit Hesperium brattea viva pecus.
aedibus in mediis totos amplexa penates 5
stat platanus densis Caesariana comis,
hospitis invicti posuit quam dextera felix,
coepit et ex illa crescere virga manu.
auctorem dominumque nemus sentire videtur:
sic viret et ramis sidera celsa petit. 10
saepe sub hac madidi luserunt arbore Fauni
terruit et tacitam fistula sera domum;
dumque fugit solos nocturnum Pana per agros,
saepe sub hac latuit rustica fronde Dryas.
atque oluere lares comissatore Lyaeo 15
crevit et effuso laetior umbra mero;
hesternisque rubens deiecta est herba coronis
atque suas potuit dicere nemo rosas.
O dilecta deis, o magni Caesaris arbor,
ne metuas ferrum sacrilegosque focos. 20
perpetuos sperare licet tibi frondis honores:
non Pompeianae te posuere manus.

From Book X

The priesthood of the Pharian heifer announce to her the eighth hour, and the guard armed with javelins now return to their quarters. Now the warm baths have acquired a proper temperature; at the preceding hour they exhaled an intolerable excess of steam; at the sixth the heat of the baths of Nero is unsupportable. Stella, Nepos, Canius, Cerealis, Flaccus, are you coming? The sigma (dinner-couch) holds seven: we are only six, add Lupus. My bailiff’s wife has brought me mallows, to aid digestion, and other treasures of the garden; among them are lettuces and leeks for slicing; nor is mint, the antidote to flatulence, or stimulant elecampane, wanting. Slices of egg shall crown anchovies dressed with rue; and there shall be sow’s teats swimming in tunny-sauce. These will serve as whets for the appetite. My little dinner will all be placed on table at once; there will be a kid snatched from the jaws of the rapacious wolf; there will be tid-bits such as have no need of a carver; there will be haricot beans, and young cabbage sprouts. To these will be added a chicken; and a ham which has already appeared at table three times. For dessert I will give ripe fruits; wine from a Nomentan flagon which was filled in the second consulship of Frontinus. All shall be seasoned with pleasantry free from bitterness; there shall be no licence of speech that brings repentance on the morrow, and nothing said that we should wish unsaid. But my guests may speak of the rival factions in the circus, and my cups shall make no man guilty.


Nuntiat octavam Phariae sua turba iuvencae,
Et pilata redit iamque subitque cohors.
Temperat haec thermas, nimios prior hora vapores
Halat, et inmodico sexta Nerone calet.
Stella, Nepos, Cani, Cerialis, Flacce, venitis? 5
Septem sigma capit, sex sumus, adde Lupum.
Exoneraturas ventrem mihi vilica malvas
Adtulit et varias, quas habet hortus, opes,
In quibus est lactuca sedens et tonsile porrum,
Nec deest ructatrix menta nec herba salax; 10
Secta coronabunt rutatos ova lacertos,
Et madidum thynni de sale sumen erit.
Gustus in his; una ponetur cenula mensa,
Haedus, inhumani raptus ab ore lupi,
Et quae non egeant ferro structoris ofellae, 15
Et faba fabrorum prototomique rudes;
Pullus ad haec cenisque tribus iam perna superstes
Addetur. Saturis mitia poma dabo,
De Nomentana vinum sine faece lagona,
Quae bis Frontino consule trima fuit. 20
Accedent sine felle ioci nec mane timenda
Libertas et nil quod tacuisse velis:
De prasino conviva meus venetoque loquatur,
Nec facient quemquam pocula nostra reum.

§ 10.74 TO ROME:
Have pity at length, Rome, upon the weary congratulatory the weary client: How long shall I be a dangler at levees, among crowds of anxious clients and toga-clad dependents, earning a hundred paltry coins with a whole day’s work, while Scorpus triumphantly carries off in a single hour fifteen heavy bags of shining gold? I ask not as the reward of my little books (for what indeed are they worth?) the plains of Apulia, or Hybla, or the spice-bearing Nile, or the tender vines which, from the brow of the Setian hill, look down on the Pomptine marshes. What then do I desire, you ask? — To sleep.


Iam parce lasso, Roma, gratulatori,
Lasso clienti. Quamdiu salutator
Anteambulones et togatulos inter
Centum merebor plumbeos die toto,
Cum Scorpus una quindecim graves hora 5
Ferventis auri victor auferat saccos?
Non ego meorum praemium libellorum
— Quid enim merentur? — Apulos velim campos:
Non Hybla, non me spicifer capit Nilus,
Nec quae paludes delicata Pomptinas 10
Ex arce clivi spectat uva Setini.
Quid concupiscam quaeris ergo? dormire.

From Book XI

In these festive days of the scythe-bearing old man, when the dice-box rules supreme, you will permit me, I feel assured, cap-clad Rome, to sport in unlaboured verse. You smile: I may do so then, and am not forbidden. Depart, pale cares, far away from hence; let us say whatever comes uppermost without disagreeable reflection. Mix cup after cup, my attendants, such as Pythagoras used to give to Nero; mix, Dindymus, mix still faster. I can do nothing without wine; but, while I am drinking, the power of fifteen poets will show itself in me. Now give me kisses, such as Catullus would have loved; and if I receive as many as he describes, I will give you the ‘Sparrow’ of Catullus.


Unctis falciferi senis diebus,
regnator quibus inperat fritillus,
versu ludere non laborioso
permittis, puto, pilleata Roma.
Risisti; licet ergo, non vetamur.
Pallentes procul hinc abite curae;
quidquid venerit obvium loquamur
morosa sine cogitatione.
Misce dimidios, puer, trientes,
quales Pythagoras dabat Neroni,
misce, Dindyme, sed frequentiores:
possum nil ego sobrius; bibenti
succurrent mihi quindecim poetae.
Da nunc basia, sed Catulliana:
quae si tot fuerint quot ille dixit,
donabo tibi Passerem Catulli.

Philostratus, returning to his lodging late at night, from a feast at Sinuessa, famed for its waters, very nearly lost his life, imitating Elpenor in his cruel fate, by rolling headlong down the whole length of a flight of stairs. He would not, you nymphs of Sinuessa, have incurred so great a danger, had he in preference drunk of your waters.


A Sinuessanis conviva Philostratus undis
conductum repetens nocte jubente larem
paene imitatus obit saevis Elpenora fatis,
praeceps per longos dum ruit usque gradus.
Non esset, Nymphae, tam magna pericula passus
si potius vestras ille bibisset aquas.

From Book XII

This grove, these fountains, this interwoven shade of the spreading vine; this meandering stream of gurgling water; these meadows, and these rosaries which will not yield to the twice-bearing Paestum; these vegetables which bloom in the month of January, and feel not the cold; these eels that swim domestic in the enclosed waters; this white tower which affords an asylum for doves like itself in colour; all these are the gift of my mistress; Marcella gave me this retreat, this little kingdom, on my return to my native home after thirty-five years of absence. Had Nausicaa offered me the gardens of her sire, I should have said to Alcinous, I prefer my own.


Hoc nemus, hi fontes, haec textilis umbra supini
Palmitis, hoc riguae ductile flumen aquae,
Prataque nec bifero cessura rosaria Paesto,
Quodque viret Iani mense nec alget holus,
Quaeque natat clusis anguilla domestica lymphis, 5
Quaeque gerit similes candida turris aves,
Munera sunt dominae: post septima lustra reverso
Has Marcella domos parvaque regna dedit.
Si mihi Nausicaa patrios concederet hortos,
Alcinoo possem dicere ‘Malo meos.’

§ 12.57 TO SPARSUS:
You ask why I so often go to my small domain at arid Momentum and the humble household at my farm? There is no place in town, Sparsus, where a poor man can either think or rest One cannot live for schoolmasters in the morning, corn grinders at night, and braziers’ hammers all day and night. Here the money-changer indolently rattles piles of Nero’s rough coins on his dirty counter; there a beater of Spanish gold belabours his worn stone with shining mallet. Nor does the fanatic rabble of Bellona cease from its clamour, nor the gabbling sailor with his piece of wreck hung over his shoulder; nor the Jew boy, brought up to begging by his mother, nor the blear-eyed huckster of matches. Who can enumerate the various interruptions to sleep at Rome? As well might you tell how many hands in the city strike the cymbals, when the moon under eclipse is assailed with the sound of the Colchian magic rhomb. You, Sparsus, are ignorant of such things, living, as you do, in luxurious ease on your Petilian domain; whose mansion, though on a level plane, overlooks the lofty hills which surround it; who enjoy the country in the city (rus in urbe), with a Roman vine-dresser, and a vintage not to be surpassed on the Falernian mount. Within your own premises is a retired carriage drive; in your deep recesses sleep and repose are unbroken by the noise of tongues: and no daylight penetrates unless purposely admitted. But I am awakened by the laughter of the passing crowd; and all Rome is at my bed-side. Whenever, overcome with weariness, I long for repose, I repair to my country-house.


Cur saepe sicci parva rura Nomenti
Laremque villae sordidum petam, quaeris?
Nec cogitandi, Sparse, nec quiescendi
In urbe locus est pauperi. Negant vitam
Ludi magistri mane, nocte pistores, 5
Aerariorum marculi die toto;
Hinc otiosus sordidam quatit mensam
Neroniana nummularius massa,
Illinc balucis malleator Hispanae
Tritum nitenti fuste verberat saxum; 10
Nec turba cessat entheata Bellonae,
Nec fasciato naufragus loquax trunco,
A matre doctus nec rogare Iudaeus,
Nec sulphuratae lippus institor mercis.
Numerare pigri damna quis potest somni? 15
Dicet quot aera verberent manus urbis,
Cum secta Colcho Luna vapulat rhombo.
Tu, Sparse, nescis ista, nec potes scire,
Petilianis delicatus in regnis,
Cui plana summos despicit domus montis, 20
Et rus in urbe est vinitorque Romanus
Nec in Falerno colle maior autumnus,
Intraque limen latus essedo cursus,
Et in profundo somnus, et quies nullis
Offensa linguis, nec dies nisi admissus. 25
Nos transeuntis risus excitat turbae,
Et ad cubilest Roma. Taedio fessis
Dormire quotiens libuit, imus ad villam.

§ 12.98 TO THE RIVER BAETIS (modern day Guadalquivir):
O Baetis, whose locks are bound with a chaplet of olive-leaves; who dye the golden fleeces of the flocks with your radiant waters; whom Bacchus and Pallas love; and for whom the ruler of the waves opens a ship-bearing course into his foaming seas. Grant that Instantius may enter your regions with happy omens, and that this present year may be as propitious to the people as the last. He is not unaware, what a responsibility it is to succeed Macer. He who weighs his responsibilities can bear them.


Baetis olivifera crinem redimite corona,
     Aurea qui nitidis vellera tinguis aquis;
Quem Bromius, quem Pallas amat; cui rector aquarum
     Albula navigerum per freta pandit iter:
Ominibus laetis vestras Instantius oras              5
     Intret, et hic populis ut prior annus eat.
Non ignorat, onus quod sit succedere Macro:
     Qui sua metitur pondera, ferre potest


Fresco in the Fourth Pompeian Style from Pompeii or Herculaneum, 62-79 AD. From the Exhibition: ‘Empire of colour. From Pompeii to Southern Gaul’, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse. Picture by Carole Raddato.
More about Martial : 🌿Text source: 🌿 Latin text source:
Marcus Valerius Martialis-Master Of The Evocative Epigram

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