Versiculi

marco-valerio-marziale-1

Audio 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 honorare; nostris vero temporibus ut alia speciosa et egregia ita hoc in primis exolevit. nam postquam desiimus 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. alloquitur Musam, mandat, ut domum meam Esquiliis 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.
[Martial, Ep. 10.20.12-21]

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.
(Pliny Minor, Ep. 3.21)

I hear that Valerius Martial has died, and I find it sad news. He was a talented and intelligent man with a keen mind, the sort of poet with abundant wit and gall, and an equal measure of openness. When he was retiring from Rome, I presented him with his travelling-expenses as a gesture of friendship and acknowledgement of the verses he composed about me. It was an ancient custom to honour poets who had written eulogies of individuals or of cities with distinctions or with money. But in our day this practice in particular, like other splendid and notable customs, has lapsed. For now that we have abandoned praiseworthy pursuits, we consider it pointless to receive accolades. Would you like to hear the verses for which I thanked him? I would refer you to the collection, if I did not remember some of them. If you like these, you must look out the rest in his publications. He is addressing his Muse, bidding her make for my house on the Esquiline, and to approach with deference.

But be sure that you don’t when drunk go knocking
At that eloquent door when you’re not welcome.
He devotes all his days to stern Minerva,
While for the ears of the court of Centumviri
He works away at what men of later ages
Can compare even with Arpinum’s pages.*
You will go more safely when late lamps burn;
That is your hour, when Bacchus rages wildly,
When the rose is queen, when men’s hair is perfumed.
Why, unbending Catos would then read me!

Surely it was right that he who penned these lines should then have been waved off in the friendliest way, and should be mourned as a close friend now he has died? For he gave me the greatest tribute that he could, and he would have given more if that had been possible. Yet what greater thing can a man bestow on a person than fame, praise, and immortality? You will respond that his writings will not be immortal. Perhaps they will not be, but he composed them believing that they would be. Farewell.

* At this early stage of his career Pliny’s chief occupation was with the lawsuits in the civil court. Arpinum was the birthplace of Cicero, with whom Pliny loves to be compared.

(tr. Patrick Gerard Walsh, with one of his notes)

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