Haec tibi, non alia, est ad cenam causa vocandi,
versiculos recites ut, Ligurine, tuos.
deposui soleas, affertur protinus ingens
inter lactucas oxygarumque liber:
alter perlegitur, dum fercula prima morantur:
tertius est, nec adhuc mensa secunda venit:
et quartum recitas et quintum denique librum.
putidus est, totiens si mihi ponis aprum.
quod si non scombris scelerata poëmata donas,
cenabis solus iam, Ligurine, domi.
(Martial, Ep. 3.50)

This, and no other, is your reason for inviting me to dinner: so that you may recite to me your verses, Ligurinus. I arrive. I take off my shoes. At once you have a huge volume of verses brought in with the lettuce and fish sauce. A second volume is read out, in its entirety, while the main course gets cold. A third volume is produced, and dessert has not yet been served. Then you recite a fourth and finally a fifth volume. If you keep serving me the pork dish, again and again, I’ll be sick*. If you don’t confine your awful poems to the mackerel dish, Ligurinus, from now on you will dine at home, alone.

* That is, he keeps serving the main dish (the pork) and does not serve dessert, because he wants to keep his guest at the dinner table as long as possible.

(tr. Jo-Ann Shelton, with one of her notes)


Henryk Siemiradzki, Romeinse orgie in de tijd van Caesar, 1872
Henryk Siemiradzki, Roman orgy (1872)

Conviva quisquis Zoili potest esse,
Summemmianas cenet inter uxores
curtaque Ledae sobrius bibat testa:
hoc esse levius puriusque contendo.
iacet occupato galbinatus in lecto
cubitisque trudit hinc et inde convivas
effultus ostro Sericisque pulvillis.
stat exoletus suggeritque ructanti
pinnas rubentes cuspidesque lentisci,
et aestuanti tenue ventilat frigus
supina prasino concubina flabello,
fugatque muscas myrtea puer virga.
percurrit agili corpus arte tractatrix
manumque doctam spargit omnibus membris;
digiti crepantis signa novit eunuchus
et delicatae sciscitator urinae
domini bibentis ebrium regit penem.
at ipse retro flexus ad pedum turbam
inter catellas anserum exta lambentis
partitur apri glandulas palaestritis
et concubino turturum natis donat;
Ligurumque nobis saxa cum ministrentur
vel cocta fumis musta Massilitanis,
Opimianum morionibus nectar
crystallinisque murrinisque propinat.
et Cosmianis ipse fuscus ampullis
non erubescit murice aureo nobis
dividere moechae pauperis capillare.
septunce multo deinde perditus stertit:
nos accubamus et silentium rhonchis
praestare iussi nutibus propinamus.
hos malchionis patimur improbi fastus,
nec vindicari, Rufe, possumus: fellat.
(Martial, Ep. 3.82)

Whoever can stand dinner with Zoilus, let him dine among Summemmius’ wives and drink sober from Leda’s broken jar. That would be easier and cleaner, I’ll be bound. Clothed in green he lies filling up the couch and thrusts his guests on either hand with his elbows, propped up on purples and silk cushions. A youth stands by, supplying red feathers and slips of mastic as he belches, while a concubine, lying on her back, makes a gentle breeze with a green fan to relieve his heat, and a boy keeps off the flies with a sprig of myrtle. A masseuse runs over his frame nimbly and skilfully, scattering an expert hand over all his limbs. The eunuch knows the signal of his snapping finger and probes the coy urine, guiding a tipsy penis as his master drinks. But himself, bending back toward the crowd at his feet, in the midst of lapdogs who are gnawing goose livers, divides a boar’s sweetbreads among his wrestling-coaches and bestows turtle rumps on his fancy-boy. While we are served with the produce of Liguria’s rocks or must cooked in Massiliot smoke, he pledges his naturals in Opimian nectar with crystal and murrine cups. Himself dusky with Cosmus’ phials, he does not blush to distribute a needy drab’s hair oil among us out of a gold shell. Then he snores, sunk by many a half pint. We lie by, with orders not to interrupt the snorts, and pledge each other with nods. This insolence of an outrageous cad we suffer and cannot retaliate, Rufus: he sucks, males. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)



Hoc iacet in tumulo raptus puerilibus annis
Pantagathus, domini cura dolorque sui,
vix tangente vagos ferro resecare capillos
doctus et hirsutas excoluisse genas.
sis licet, ut debes, tellus, placata levisque,
artificis levior non potes esse manu.
(Martial, Ep. 6.52)

In this tomb lies Pantagathus, snatched away in his boyhood years, his master’ s care and grief, skilled to cut straying locks and shave hairy cheeks with steel that barely touched them. Though you be kind and light, earth, as you should be, you cannot be light er than the artist’s hand. (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)



Baiana nostri villa, Basse, Faustini
non otiosis ordinata myrtetis
viduaque platano tonsilique buxeto
ingrata lati spatia detinet eampi,
sed rure vero barbaroque laetatur.
hic farta premitur angulo Ceres omni
et multa fragrat testa senibus autumnis;
hic post Novembres imminente iam bruma
seras putator horridus refert uvas.
truces in alta valle mugiunt tauri
vitulusque inermi fronte prurit in pugnam.
vagatur omnis turba sordidae chortis,
argutus anser gemmeique pavones
nomenque debet quae rubentibus pinnis
et picta perdix Numidicaeque guttatae
et impiorum phasiana Colchorum;
Rhodias superbi feminas premunt galli;
sonantque turres plausibus columbarum,
gemit hinc palumbus, inde cereus turtur.
avidi secuntur vilicae sinum porci
matremque plenam mollis agnus expectat.
cingunt serenum laetei focum vernae
et larga festos lucet ad lares silva.
non segnis albo pallet otio copo,
nec perdit oleum lubricus palaestrita,
sed tendit avidis rete subdolum turdis
tremulave captum linea trahit piscem
aut impeditam cassibus refert dammam.
exercet hilares facilis hortus urbanos,
et paedagogo non iubente lascivi
parere gaudent vilico capillati,
et delicatus opere fruitur eunuchus.
nec venit inanis rusticus salutator:
fert ille ceris cana cum suis mella
metamque lactis Sassinate de silva;
somniculosos ille porrigit glires,
hic vagientem matris hispidae fetum,
alius coactos non amare capones.
et dona matrum vimine offerunt texto
grandes proborum virgines colonorum.
facto vocatur laetus opere vicinus;
nec avara servat crastinas dapes mensa,
vescuntur omnes ebrioque non novit
satur minister invidere convivae.
at tu sub urbe possides famem mundam
et turre ab alta prospicis meras laurus,
furem Priapo non timente securus;
et vinitorem farre pascis urbano
pictamque portas otiosus ad villam
holus, ova, pullos, poma, caseum, mustum.
rus hoc vocari debet, an domus longe?
(Martial, Ep. 3.58)

Our friend Faustinus’ Baian villa, Bassus, does not hold down unprofitable expanses of broad acreage laid out in idle myrtle plantations, unwed planes, and clipped boxwood, but rejoices in the true, rough countryside. Corn is tightly crammed in every corner and many a wine jar is fragrant with ancient vintages. Here, when Novembers are past and winter soon to come, the rugged pruner brings home the tardy grapes. Fierce bulls bellow in the deep valley and the calf with his harmless brow itches for combat. All the crew of the dirty poultry yard wander around, the cackling goose and the spangled peacocks, the bird that owes its name to its ruddy plumage, the painted partridge, the speckled guinea fowl, and the pheasant of the wicked Colchians. Proud cockerels press their Rhodian wives and the cotes are loud with the flappings of doves. Here moans the wood pigeon, there the waxen-hued turtle. The greedy pigs follow the apron of the bailiff’s wife and the soft lamb waits for his well-filled dam. The infant children of the farm ring a bright hearth and on holidays wood in plenty flames before its gods. There’s no lazy taverner, whey-faced from pallid ease, nor does the slippery wrestling-coach waste oil, no, he spreads a sly net for greedy thrushes or draws in a captured fish with quivering line or brings home a doe caught in the toils. The bounteous kitchen garden gives the cheerful town slaves exercise; the frolicsome long-haired youths, with no supervisor to give them orders, are happy to obey the bailiff, and the pampered eunuch works with a will. Nor does the country caller come empty-handed. He brings pale honey with its comb and a cone of milk from the woods of Sassina; one proffers drowsy dormice, another the bleating offspring of a hairy dam, a third capons, forced to be loveless. Strapping daughters of honest tenant farmers present their mothers’ gifts in wicker baskets. When work is done, a happy neighbor is asked over. Nor does a greedy table keep back victuals for tomorrow; there is food for all, and the sated servant never envies the tipsy diner. But you have a property near Rome, all elegance and starvation. From a high tower you look out over nothing hut laurel hushes, and your mind is at ease, for your Priapus fears no thief. You feed your vineyard workers with town flour and in time of leisure transport vegetables, eggs, chickens, apples, cheese, must to your painted villa. Should this be called a place in the country or a townhouse out of town? (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)



Ferreus es, si stare potest tibi mentula, Flacce,
cum te sex cyathos orat amica gari,
vel duo frusta rogat cybii tenuemve lacertum
nec dignam toto se botryone putat;
cui portat gaudens ancilla paropside rubra
allecem, sed quam protinus illa voret;
aut cum perfricuit frontem posuitque pudorem,
sucida palliolo vellera quinque petit.
at mea me libram foliati poscat amica,
aut virides gemmas sardonychasve pares,
nec nisi prima velit de Tusco Serica vico,
aut centum aureolos sic velut aera roget.
nunc tu velle putas haec me donare puellae?
nolo, sed his ut sit digna puella volo.
(Martial, Ep. 11.27)

You are made of iron, Flaccus, if your cock can stand when your mistress begs you for half a pint of garum or asks for two pieces of tunny or a meagre mackerel and thinks herself unworthy of a whole bunch of grapes; one to whom her maid delightedly carries fish-sauce on a red platter for her to devour immediately; or, when she has rubbed her forehead and laid modesty aside, one who petitions for five greasy fleeces to make a small mantle. Let my mistress on the other hand demand a pound of foliatum* or green gems or matching sardonyxes; let her want none but the finest silks from Tuscan Street, or let her ask me for a hundred gold pieces as if they were copper. Do you now suppose that I am minded to give my girl such things? I am not, but I wish my girl to be worthy of them.

* The foliatum or nardinum was a compound of nard, myrrh, and other aromatic herbs; cf. Pliny N.H. 13.15.

(tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey, with his note)



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)



Fascia, crescentes dominae compesce papillas,
ut sit quod capiat nostra tegatque manus.
(Martial, Ep. 14.134)

Band, compress my lady’s swelling breasts, so that my hand may find something to clasp and cover. (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)



Si meus aurita gaudet lagalopece Flaccus,
si fruitur tristi Canius Aethiope,
Publius exiguae si flagrat amore catellae,
si Cronius similen cercopithecon amat,
delectat Marium si perniciosus ichneumon,
pica salutatrix si tibi, Lause, placet,
si gelidum collo nectit †Gadilla† draconem,
luscinio tumulum si Telesilla dedit:
blanda Cupidinei cur non amet ora Labyrtae,
qui videt haec dominis monstra placere suis?
(Martial 7.87)

If my Flaccus delights in a long-eared fennec, if Canius enjoys a sombre Ethiop, if Publius is a-fire with love for a tiny lapdog, if Cronius adores a long-tailed monkey that resembles him, if a destructive ichneumon charms Marius, if a magpie that can speak your name pleases you, Lausus, if Glaucilla(?) twines a clammy snake about her neck, if Telesilla gave a tomb to a nightingale, why should not anyone who sees these freaks pleasing their owners not love the face of Cupid’s Labyrtas? (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)



Quid te, Tucca, iuvat vetulo miscere Falerno
in Vaticanis condita musta cadis?
quid tantum fecere boni tibi pessima vina?
aut quid fecerunt optima vina mali?
de nobis facile est; scelus est iugulare Falernum
et dare Campano toxica saeva mero.
convivae meruere tui fortasse perire:
amphora non meruit tam pretiosa mori.
(Martial 1.18)

Tucca, what satisfaction do you get out of mixing must stored in Vatican* jars with old Falernian? What great good have vile wines done you or fine wines what harm? Never mind about us; it’s a crime to murder Falernian and put fierce toxins into a Campanian vintage. Maybe your guests deserved to perish, but so costly a jar did not deserve to die. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)


naked swimmer

Invitas nullum nisi cum quo, Cotta, lavaris
et dant convivam balnea sola tibi.
mirabar quare numquam me, Cotta, vocasses:
iam scio me nudum displicuisse tibi.
(Martial 1.23)

You never invite anybody, Cotta, unless you have bathed with him; only the baths give you a guest. I used to wonder why you had never asked me to dinner. Now I know that you didn’t like me in the nude. (tr. David Roy Shackleton Bailey)