The Epigrams of Martial Translated Into English Prose

Date: 1860

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Chapter XXII a Satirist of Roman Society



Some "Characters" of the Capital City


But a short time since, Calenus, you had not quite two millions of sesterces;4 but you were so prodigal and open-handed and hospitable, that all your friends wished you ten millions. Heaven heard the wish and our prayers; and within, I think, six months, four deaths gave you the desired fortune. But you, as if ten millions had not been left to you, but taken from you, condemned yourself to such abstinence, wretched man, that you prepare even your most sumptuous feasts . . . at the cost of but a few dirty pieces of black coin. So we, seven of your old companions, stand you in just half a pound of leaden money. What blessing are we to invoke upon you worthy of such merits? We wish you, Calenus, a fortune of a hundred millions. If this falls to your lot, you will die of hunger.

Because you purchase slaves at a hundred and often two hundred thousand sesterces; because you drink wines stored in the reign of Numa;1 because your not over-large stock of furniture cost you a million; because a pound weight of wrought silver costs you five thousand; because a golden chariot becomes yours at the price of a whole farm; because your mule cost you more than the value of a house — do you imagine that such expenses are the proof of a great mind, Quintus? You are mistaken, Quintus; they are the extravagances of a small mind.

Baccara, desirous of exhibiting his six hundred fur mantles, grieves and complains that the cold does not attack him. He prays for dark days, and wind, and snow; and hates wintry days which are at all warm. What ill, cruel mortal, have our light cloaks, which the least breath of wind may carry off our shoulders, done you? How much simpler would it be for you to wear your fur cloaks even in the month of August.

You sold a slave yesterday for the sum of thirteen hundred sesterces, in order, Calliodorus, that you might dine well once in your life. Nevertheless you did not dine well; a mullet of four pounds’ weight, which you purchased, was the chief dish, the very crown of your repast. I feel inclined to exclaim, "It was not a fish, shameless fellow, it was a man, a veritable man, Calliodorus, that you ate."

Do you wish to know the reason, Ligurinus, why no one willingly meets you; why, wherever you come, everybody takes flight, and a vast solitude is left around you? You are too much of a poet. This is an extremely dangerous fault. The tigress aroused by the loss of her whelps, the viper scorched by the midday sun, or the ruthless scorpion, are objects of less terror than you. For who, I ask, could undergo such calls upon his patience as you make? You read your verses to me, whether I am standing, or sitting, or running, or about private business. I fly to the hot baths, there you din my ears. I seek the cold bath, there I cannot swim for your noise. I hasten to dinner, you stop me on my way. I sit down to dinner, you drive me from my seat. Wearied, I fall asleep, you rouse me from my couch. Do you wish to see how much evil you occasion? You, a man just, upright, and innocent, are an object of fear.

When you extol death in such extravagant terms, Stoic1 Chæremon, you wish me to admire and respect your spirit. Such magnanimity arises from your possession of only a pitcher with a broken handle, a cheerless hearth warmed with no fire, a mat, plenty of fleas, a bare bedstead, and a short toga that serves you both night and day. How great a man you are, that can think of abandoning dregs of red vinegar, and straw, and black bread! But let your cushions swell with precious wool, and soft purple covers adorn your couches; and let a favorite share your couch, who, when mixing the wine for your guests, tortures them with the ruddiest of lips, how earnestly then will you desire to live thrice as long as Nestor2 and study to lose no part of a single day. In adversity it is easy to despise life; the truly brave man is he who can endure to be miserable.

1 . London, 1860. George Bell and Sons.

2Letters, iii, 21.

3 Martial, Epigrams, i, 99; iii, 62; vi, 59; x, 31; iii, 44; xi, 56.

4 About $100,000.

1 A legendary king of Rome, the successor of Romulus.

1 During the first century of the empire the Greek philosophy of Stoicism gained many adherents at Rome.

2 An old Greek chieftain at the siege of Troy.

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Chicago: The Epigrams of Martial Translated Into English Prose in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 254–255. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: . The Epigrams of Martial Translated Into English Prose, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 254–255. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: , The Epigrams of Martial Translated Into English Prose. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.254–255. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from