Two Epigrams by Martial
Translated from the Latin by George Held
A thief well known for his huge greed,
Cilix wanted to rob a garden,
but in this huge garden, Fabullus,
was nothing but a marble Priapus.
Not wanting to leave empty handed,
Cilix stole the Priapus itself.
Fur notae nimium rapacitatis
compilare Cilix volebat hortum,
ingenti sed erat, Fabulle, in horto
praeter marmoreum nihil Priapum.
dum non vult vacua manu redire,
ipsum surripuit Cilix Priapum.
Unguents and cassia and myrrh stinking
Of funerals, return from your putrid purse,
Wicked Zoilus, and the half-cremated frankincense
You swiped from the middle of the pyre,
And the cinnamon you stole from the Stygian bier.
Your insolent hands learned sin from your feet.
As you were a truant, no wonder you’re a thief.
Unguenta et casias et olentem funera murram
turaque de medio semicremata rogo
et quae de Stygio rapuisti cinnama lecto,
improbe, de turpi, Zoile, redde sinu.
a pedibus didicere manus peccare protervae.
non miror furem, qui fugitivus eras.
Marcus Valerius Martialis (A.D. 40-104), or Martial, was born in Spain and flourished in Rome. His greatest achievement remains his 1500 epigrams, in which he depicts, often satirically, the behavior of his fellow Romans and perfects the form in Latin. His influence appears in the work of virtually every epigrammatist since.
George Held’s translations of Martial’s epigrams have appeared in many journals, including Circumference, Ezra, Transference and The Notre Dame Review, and in his chapbook Martial Artist (Toad Press, 2005). An eight-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he has published nineteen collections of poems, including Bleak Splendor (Muddy River Books, 2016).