Martial: My Favorite Epigrams – Book I

Those that made me laugh aloud:

XIX
If I remember right, you had, Aelia, four teeth:
one fit of coughing shot out two, and another two
more. Now in peace you can cough all day: a third
fit has nothing left there to discharge.

XXVIII
He who fancies that Acerra reeks of yesterday’s
wine is wrong. Acerra always drinks till daylight.

Warning – this one is a little ribald:
XXXV
That I write verses little squeamish, and not such
as a schoolmaster would dictate in school, is your
complaint, Cornelius; but these poems cannot please,
any more than husbands can please their wives,
without amorousness. What if you bade me indite
a marriage song not in the words of a marriage
song ? Who brings garments into Flora’s festival,
and permits prostitutes the modesty of the stole ?
This is the rule assigned to jocular poems, to be
unable to please unless they are prurient.
Wherefore lay aside your squeamishness, and spare my
pleasantries and my jokes, I beg you, and do not
seek to castrate my poems. Than a Priapus as
Cybele’s priest nothing is more disgusting.

One of my favorites:
XLVII
Lately was Diaulus a doctor, now he is an undertaker.
What the undertaker now does the doctor
too did before.

XCIX
Lately you did not possess a full two millions, and
yet so profuse and open-handed, and so large in entertainment
were you, Calenus, that all your friends
wished you ten. The god heard our vows and prayers,
and within, I think, seven months, four deaths gave
you this sum. But you, just as if nothing had been
left you, but rather your two millions robbed from
you, came down – wretched man! – to such starvation
parsimony that those more sumptuous banquets which
you provide just once in the whole year you now
set out at the squalid expenditure of dirty coppers;
and we, your seven old comrades, cost you only a
half-pound of bad silver.  What reward for merits
like those should we pray for? We wish you a
hundred millions, Calenus. If this sum fall to you,
you will die of hunger.

CX
You complain, Velox, that I write long epigrams,
you yourself write nothing. Yours are shorter.

My favorite serious epigram:

LXXVIII
When wasting disease choked his guiltless throat,
and o’er his very face crept black contagion, Festus,
dry-eyed himself, spake to his weeping friends,
and purposed to pass to the lake of Styx. Howbeit
he marred not his righteous face with secret poison,
nor with slow starvation tortured his sad fate ; but
his sacred life he closed by a Roman’s death, and
set free his soul by a nobler end. This death may
Fame prize more than great Cato’s doom : Caesar
was this man’s friend.

Leave a Reply