Epigram Book II, No XXXVI
poem commentary and criticism
Belgian postcard c1940
The Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York
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You neednít have it styled, but you might at least
Comb your hair from time to time.
And I donít expect your skin to glow, but you could just
Bathe every now and then.
And please don't trim your beard like an ageing gay,
Or let it go wild like a man in the dock,
For you know that I donít like too much manliness, Pannychus,
But nor do I like too little.
In short, your legs are hairy and your chest is covered
With bristles, but your mind, Pannychus, is bald.
Text in Latin
flectere te nolim, sed nec turbare capillos;
splendida sit nolo, sordida nolo cutis;
nec mitratorum nec sit tibi barba reorum:
nolo uirum nimium, Pannyche, nolo parum.
nunc sunt crura pilis et sunt tibi pectora saetis
horrida, sed mens est, Pannyche, uulsa tibi.
Martial here gives advice to his friend (and
/ or perhaps lover) Pannychus on his appearance. He in fact attempts something like a practical definition of virtue in
urging Pannychus to find
the 'mean' between two opposites, not too manly, but not too effeminate, not too
washed, but not filthy, his hair combed, but not styled and waved. All this
accurately reflects Aristotle's ideas about virtue being the mean point
between two extremes, as, for example, bravery lies between the extremes of
cowardice and foolhardiness, generosity between prodigality and meanness.
Martial ends the poem on a different note, however, with his quip about
Pannychus' mind being bald. Yes, in the final analysis, for the
poet, wit is
more important than virtue. Poetry, after all, is a business.
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