Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Martial's Aventine (with pictures)

Martial is not a big fan of hills. Being on top of them, yes; climbing them, no. At 7.73 he complains about a wealthy patron — a really big name (Maximus) — who has houses on the Aventine and the Esquiline (plus a place on Senate Street, the Vicus Patricius) but can never be found at any of them. Earlier at 5.22 we find him toiling up the Esquiline to pay his respects to Paulus:

The cobbles are dirty, the steps are never dry; it's next to impossible to cut past the long mule-trains, and the marble blocks you see being dragged with lots of ropes.

Clearly lots of construction going on in this high-end neighbourhood; Rome's wealthy and well-connected (like Martial's best buddy Julius M.) always favoured the hills. Up in the breeze, above the stink and the mosquitoes, the historic hilltops also connected their occupants to the city's oldest history. And no, Paulus wasn't in:

And I'm exhausted! This is what I get for my wasted effort and my drenched toga. It'd hardly have been worth all that if I had caught you in.
At 12.18, freshly retired to his native Bilbilis in Spain (where as the reader already knows, he'll soon find himself bored to tears), Martial gleefully imagines his satirical successor Juvenal sweltering as he takes over his friend's old city beat:
I guess right now, Juvenal, you're wandering restless through the yelling Subura, or trudging up the hill of our lady Diana; your sweaty toga flaps as you haunt the thresholds of the mighty, and the Greater and Lesser Caelian wear you out.
(If the Caelian has more than one 'bit', so too does the Aventine; a spur of it is now the tranquil neighbourhood of San Saba and would these days be regarded as a separate hill. Everyone always agreed Rome had seven hills; seven is a good number: they just couldn't agree on which seven they were).

The Aventine was (mytho-)historically where the plebs seceded to, in that early bit of Livy when it still lay outside the city limits set by Romulus; thereafter it gentrified hand over fist. It is Diana's hill because she had a temple there, perhaps (why not?) round about the modern Piazza di Diana.

Martial is probably imagining sweaty Juvenal coming at the hill from the historic centre — the obvious route from the Forum would take you through or past the Forum Boarium, between the river and the starting-gate end of the Circus Maximus, then perhaps up the Clivus Publicius. The modern road that climbs past the municipal rose garden takes the Clivus' name and may well share its route; follow it up to the Giardino degli Aranci (famous for its view across the city) and you could easily be walking in Martial's and Juvenal's footsteps.

From this Garden of the Orange-Trees, the classically interested pedestrian can now — for the first time in many years — descend to the Tiber on a switchback path through reopened public space in which traces of the hill's densely stacked ancient occupation are plain to see.

Or ascend that way and head back into town by the Clivus; unlike Martial, you can cut across the Circus Maximus rather than having to go around.

The gates are open till dusk.

Friday, 2 June 2017

By request: Martial 12.61


This one is for Mym (@LiberalDespot):

You’re afraid I might write a poem about you, Ligurra – something sharp and snappy. And you’re keen to have people think you’re worth it. But you’ve no cause to worry (you wish!). Libyan lions roar at bulls – they don’t maul butterflies. My advice? If you’re desperate for a write-up, seek out some wino poet under a  soot-darkened arch, the kind who writes with a lump of charcoal or a clod of chalk, whose poems people read while they’re shitting. Be a marked man, but I’m not marking you.


Brief notes

The 'marked man' bit in the final line:

frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est.

Literally (ish), "This brow shouldn't be /doesn't deserve to be marked by my brand." A runaway slave who was recaptured was branded on the forehead as a permanent and unconcealable mark of recognition. Martial is keeping his irons hot for the serious bad boys and girls; Ligurra's lightweight, 'butterfly' sins aren't nearly as badass as he would like to think.

Libyan lions: There used to be a distinct kind of North African as opposed to Sub-Saharan lion, and these 'Barbary Lions' were the ones Romans typically saw in beast-fights in the arena.

After doing this translation (and yes I should have been marking) I found that Robert Louis Stevenson had done a rather fine version into rhyming couplets:

You fear, Ligurra – above all, you long –
That I should smite you with a stinging song.
This dreadful honour you both fear and hope –
Both all in vain: you fall below my scope.
The Lybian lion tears the roaring bull,
He does not harm the midge along the pool.
Lo! if so close this stands in your regard,
From some blind tap fish forth a drunken bard,
Who shall with charcoal, on the privy wall,
Immortalise your name for once and all.
Found at https://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/de_ligurra.html. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Smoothly does it: Martial 6.56


You've leg-hair like boar bristles; your chest's a rug: but do you think it fools the gossips, Charidemus? Take it from me and lose the body hair -- all of it. Tell everyone you wax your bum. "Whatever for?" You know they're talking -- lots. Make them think you're only taking it up the arse.

-Martial's hierarchy of sexual shame strikes again (see Sapsford)...

Monday, 22 May 2017

Kiss with confidence, bid with none: Martial 6.66


There was this girl the other day -- not so great a reputation, the kind who sit out in the depths of Subura -- and auctioneer Gellius was trying to sell her off. For the longest time the bids were pitiful, so he took it into his head to show everyone she was clean. So he grabbed hold of her (she was having none of it) and kissed her -- twice, three, four times. What to know what good it did him? A guy who was just then bidding six hundred, pulled out.

This poem relies on the motif of the impure mouth, os impurum, with which regular readers will be all too familiar. We don't want to know where that mouth has been.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Pontellianus and Cascellius: the sound of silence


Why don't I send you my little books, Pontilianus? I don't want you sending me yours.


Cascellius can count his sixty years. So he must have a brain; when will he learn to talk?

Friday, 12 May 2017

Shaming a slut, cheating a widow


You don't say no to anyone, Thais; but if that doesn't embarrass you, this at least should: you don't say no to anything.


Crispus didn't leave his wife a penny in his will, Faustinus. 'So who got it all?' He did.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Three from book One

These are three I worked up the other day while I was waiting to pick someone up:



Think it's yesterday's wine Acerra stinks of? You're wrong; he always drinks till dawn.


I don't like you, Sabidius, and I can't say why. All I can say is: I really don't.


Gellia's lost her father. Sheds no tears, when alone; in company, weeps buckets on cue. It's not mourning if you're fishing for compliments, Gellia: real grief happens off-stage.