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Martial

< Epigram Book X, No XLVII (c94, 54)

Engraving by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677)

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English translation

These are the things, most prolific, fruitful 
And inventive Martialis, that make life good.
Property you acquire not by working
But through inheritance: fertile land,
A welcoming hearth and no litigation.
Few, if any, civic honours.
A quiet mind and a natural way,
A healthy body, simple discretion,
Like minded friends, and a quick understanding,
Without the burden of too much intelligence. 
Nights without drunkenness, but free from anxiety,
A bed thatís not sad, but is nonetheless chaste,
And sleep that makes the night go quickly.
Finally not to wish for the end
But to face oneís death with equanimity.

Latin original

Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
Iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
Res non parta labore, sed relicta;
Non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
Lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
Vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
Prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
Convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
Nox non ebria, sed soluta curis;
Non tristis torus, et tamen pudicus;
Somnus, qui faciat breves tenebras:
Quod sis, esse velis nihilque malis;
Summum nec metuas diem nec optes.

Commentary

We do not find in Martial the ascetic impulse that is evident in Wordsworth's verse (Lines left on a seat) reproduced later. Martial's vision is rather one of having adequate means, adequate intelligence, and adequate comfort, a situation which produces a quiet mind, in all a close parallel for Robert Greene's 'mean that 'grees with country music best' (see Greene's Farewell to Folly). Rome at the time of Martial had many of the same problems and concerns as our modern society, and their poets often speak with a singularly 'modern' voice. If properly translated, they also express a very manly, vigorous and common-sense idea of poetry and society, qualities that are enhanced by a language that encourages clarity of thought, a clarity which is often lost in translation, especially under the hand of translators whose idea of poetry is conditioned by the flowery language and extravagant metaphor of the Romantic poets. Roman poets have a similar urban longing for the supposed simplicity of rural life, and for rest for over-stimulated senses. In short, the same link is made between consciousness, habit, and contentment as below in the poetry of Wordsworth.

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