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Theme 2. Advice on how to live (i) >

Martial

Epigram Book II, No XXXVI >
 poem commentary and criticism  

Belgian postcard c1940
The Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York

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English Translation

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.

 

Commentary

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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