Latin · Rome · Translation

Translation: Martialis, my dear

Of late, I have been reading a lot of Martial (Martialis). I find his crude prose and commentary amusing. His poems are quite good for understanding Roman sex and sexuality. For example, one may read his poems and come to understand that oral sex given to both man and woman was considered a passive act, and therefore a source of mockery. Also, that sexuality was a more fluid thing in the Roman world.

But I did not post this to give a long lecture about Roman sexuality, though I invite anyone who wishes into an historical discussion about such things. I welcome, as always, the mutual sharing of knowledge.

Let me present to you my favourite Martial epigram of the hour. Number 2.49:

Vxorem nolo Telesinam ducere: quare?
Moecha est. Sed pueris dat Telesina: uolo.

Translation:

I do not want to make Telesina a wife: why?
She is a whore (adulteress). But Telesina gives to boys (in other words, sleeps with them): I will.

To make this more understandable to English readers, Martial begins by saying he does not want to marry Telesina because she is an adulteress. Then he makes the statement that she likes boys. It is a moment of revelation for Martial, who, when considering that a marriage of Telesina would perhaps bring an influx of pretty boys into the midst, reconsiders and decides that he will marry her. Meaning that he too rather likes boys in bed.

A break down of a piece for Latin learners who wish to understand the parts of the sentence.

Vxorem: this is using the inscription method common wherein a U and a V is written the same. The word is really uxorem, which comes from the noun uxor… wife. Uxor is a third declension feminine noun, which takes the accusative case because it is modifying the subject of the sentence, Telesina, which is first declension feminine, accusative case. Remember: GNC. Gender, feminine, check. Number, singular, check. Case, accusative, check. Truly, anyone who undertakes the study of Latin soon learns to cringe and groan whenever they see GNC.

Nōlō: This is the verb of this part of the entire piece. It is the first person singular of the infinitive nōlle, which means “to not want.” By the “ō” at the end of the word, we know that this word is to mean, “I do not want.”

Telesinam: Telesinam is a name of a woman. She is the object of this part of the sentence, indicated by the “am” at the end of her name. The “am” case ending is the case ending for the first declension singular accusative case, and we use the accusative case to indicate the direct object of a sentence. Case endings are what make Latin so very easy, but also so very difficult.

Dūcere: is in its infinitive form, so it is a “to…” verb. The word dūcere means, “to lead,” “to drive.” I changed the meaning of the word a bit to make the sentence have a better sounding translation.

Moecha: This just simple means “adulteress,” “whore,” etc. By using the verb “est,” meaning “she is,” Martial is calling Telesina the unkind names above.

Sed: “But.”

Puerīs: Puer is a second declension word, and the “īs” ending is the plural dative/ablative ending. We can guess that the word is meant to be the dative form due to the presence of the verb “dat,” which means “to give.” The dative form is used when we wish to indicate that something is intended to be “to” or “for.” Since puerīs is the word in the dative form, it is meant for them. Puerīs means “boys.” Get it? Dative/dat? We call it the dative form after the third person conjugation of the verb dare. Telesina, in the nominative form, is clearly the subject of the sentence, and is thus the one giving to the boys.

Volō: This is another irregular verb like nōlō. Nōlō means to “not want,” and volō means to “want.” Just like nōlō is the first personal singular, indicated by the “ō,” so too is volō. In other words, “I want.”

26 thoughts on “Translation: Martialis, my dear

  1. I must say Marius, I always love it when you give us lessons like this, particularly in literature. I am a lit major, so this is so easy (and fun!) for me to soak up 🙂

    1. I make myself do a Latin translation a day, even if it is but a small piece of poetry. In this way, I can keep Latin as a part of my life.

      You are a literature major? Tell me what this entails, please.

      1. Hmmm, it mostly entails a lot of analyzing. We’re supposed to analyze every single sentence that we come across in reading.

        We read a lot of classics. Well, I guess they’re more “modern” classics: the Brontes, Milton, Hardy, Poe, etc.

        This is my last year as an undergrad, and then I go on to grad school! Which I am super nervous about.

        As a side note, I’m also a journalism major. Which is pretty awesome too because I absolutely love talking to people.

        1. I do love Milton. Bianca used to tease me endlessly over my love for Paradise Lost, which she found insufferably dull.

          Will you be continuing your major in literature when you proceed to Graduate school?

  2. 🙂 “Epigrammata” was laying in my lap when I discovered this post. Most I still don’t get with at least a little help from the other page containing the translation but I think I’m quite good at finding words which belong together. Seriously, I have the feeling as if Martialis likes to group nouns at the one end of the sentence, and their respectives adjectives at the other end and in the middle there is a vocative.
    In your explanation it sounds so easy and logical.

    One question: Would you have liked to be an acquaintance of Martialis? I’m sometimes not so sure, for I imagine he had a natural talent for finding people’s weak spot and little mercy in telling them.

    1. I am glad that I am not the only one who feels as if I should rearrange Martial’s Latin before I even get to the English translation. I give my thanks to case endings for helping in the gradual unwinding of Martial’s prose.

      I try to break it down into easy parts because things like sentence order and parts of a sentence can be so confusing. Naturally, it is much easier to understand for the purpose of translating when I myself disassemble the Latin into its individual parts, individually assess each word’s individual purpose in the sentence, and then reconstruct it like a puzzle into something coherent.

      I would have loved to meet Martial once, but I dare so by no means would I wish to be an acquaintance of his. I would soon enough find my vices and nature scathingly rendered in a short but effective statement. You are too right to think he would be too keen to discover your every weakness and exploit it for entertainment. I’ve much too much pride to have friends about who insult me. He was a genius with words and insult, but I would never have wanted this talent directed toward me.

      1. Breaking the texts down into smalles pieces is a good idea. The only disadvantage is that it needs a little time, a dictionary to check alternate meanings and an extra sheet of paper. Not very handy to take on the bus. But on a dask with all material ready it’s somehow relaxing.

        I wonder if Martialis was nicer to his friends. Whenever he writes of the emperor he is very flattering but I’m not sure if that’s not just mockery, too.

        1. I am a horribly messy translator. I use a pencil with a very sharp tip, and my translations are covered in markings… things like gen.m.s. and 3rdDecl.neut and imp., complete with arrows that pull together adjectives and nouns. Oh, it is a mess. Though at least I do my alternate language on a notecard, make sense of it, and then write it on formal paper. But it would be quite an awful and frustrating affair to do it without the desk space I need to spread out books, cards, and papers.

          Martialis must have had some friends– for a man with his wit and mouth, to not have friends would have been dangerous. But Romans could be terribly crude at times, and likewise enjoyed anything outside the realm of typical decorum. Though to be his friend, I imagine you would have to be able to take a joke well.

  3. Eh, I’m honestly not sure. I feel pressured from all sides of the table to do different things. My family wants me to actually go straight into televised journalism which sort of scares me to death. While I love it, there is just so much pressure from society to fit into their mold. I have to keep myself a certain weight, keep my appearance up, keep up my young appearance up, etc. Which is fine now, because I think I look great, but I’m sort of panicked about getting OLD. hahaha.

    As for Literature, I would absolutely love to proceed with it to graduate school, except I totally lack the confidence to do so. I mean, I think I’m somewhat smart, but everyone that I’ve talked to in grad school is absolutely brilliant. It’s very intimidating, and I don’t know if I can measure up to their standards.

    So all in all, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

    1. Getting old is an agonising worry, especially for women. Women are judged harshly on their appearance. At the end of it all, you must do what you feel would satisfy you and no one else.

      Perhaps you are humble and fail to see your own brilliance. I think most scholars look around themselves at other scholars and say, “I am out matched!” Yet that they are there speaks to their talents and intelligence. You simply must square your shoulders and tell yourself, many times if necessary, that you deserve to be amongst your esteemed peers because you are too of their league.

      Between you and me, sometimes I don’t even know what the hell I am doing.

      1. Marius, it means the world to me that you offer such amazing words of encouragement. Yes, you are right, I am very humble, but I am humble to the point where it is very self-depricating. So I don’t see it as a very good thing.

        I honestly wish I was alive five hundred years ago, so that I could witness your school in Venice and be a part of that. I think you would be able to teach me so much; you ARE teaching me so much in only the few short days I’ve been talking with you. It’s been a pleasure.

        1. Between you and me, I also wish that I could go back 500 years and return to my school, my boys, and my beautiful Venice.

          It is my pleasure to have you here in my company, sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. Indeed, there could be no me here if not for the you.

  4. I am a horribly messy translator. I use a pencil with a very sharp tip, and my translations are covered in markings… things like gen.m.s. and 3rdDecl.neut and imp., complete with arrows that pull together adjectives and nouns. Oh, it is a mess. Though at least I do my alternate language on a notecard, make sense of it, and then write it on formal paper. But it would be quite an awful and frustrating affair to do it without the desk space I need to spread out books, cards, and papers.
    A pencil with a very sharp tip plus the complete casus, nummerus, genus description? That’s my old Latin teacher exactly 🙂 . He turned out to be a jerk in the end but he was a teacher beyond comparison.

    1. Your Latin teacher has the correct way of it. Even if I have GNC cards. I have ones for each declension, and various cards for tense, sometimes only one for all verb conjugations, and sometimes separate ones if endings are conjugated slightly different. It is a sort of organised translation chaos. But I come alive when I do it, truly. I say the Latin words aloud so that I can enjoy the feeling of each one on my tongue. And, as you know, correct pronunciation is very important since the difference in a word’s tense, in some cases, is only indicated by where the stresses of the vowels are.

      1. 8 years ago I knew all the vocabulary of four textbooks by heart, including teir declension or conjuagtion. I was a lazy bum in general but long lists with irrgeular verbs could keep my attention for hours.
        I love the way you talk about translating Latin. I can feel your enthusiasm and it’s contagious.
        Declinating words aloud can also be funny. Try hic/haec/hoc for example. Repeating the whole decilnation a few times (and fast) sounds like guniea-pig talk.

        1. The good thing about any language is that all that matters is an understanding of the grammar. If you remember the basic rules, you can use a dictionary to get the words. Ignoring the difficulty of trying to find words like fui in a Latin dictionary under the letter F. Mercilessly confusing.

          I think “qui, quae, quod” is like the squeaking of a rodent myself. “Hic, heac, hoc” sounds like it could be the battle cry of flexing wrestlers.

  5. The good thing about any language is that all that matters is an understanding of the grammar. If you remember the basic rules, you can use a dictionary to get the words. Ignoring the difficulty of trying to find words like fui in a Latin dictionary under the letter F. Mercilessly confusing.

    I think “qui, quae, quod” is like the squeaking of a rodent myself. “Hic, heac, hoc” sounds like it could be the battle cry of flexing wrestlers.

    My dictionary has some of the irregular vebs in it in their different forms. If you look up fui, it guides you to sum. It also tells you that allatus is a form of aferre etc. But one is much faster when to know where to look.

    1. Then you have a good dictionary. I have an older one that if you were to try to look up a word like fui, you would not find it. You would have to know to find the string: sum, esse, fui, futurus… and thus look under the S category. At least some foreign language dictionary makers are becoming more merciful in their construction.

      1. It’s a special version for school use. The editors might have forseen that students don’t know all the verbforms. The only things I miss are a German to Latin part and “modern” (post-medieval) Latin expressions/use of words. When I read my Latin magazine I sometimes come across words that are not in there.

        1. I like a lot of the neo-Latin, which is, in many cases, very clever. My Latin dictionary must be comparatively bare, but I do not mind. After all, the internet is a great tool, as well.

  6. I like a lot of the neo-Latin, which is, in many cases, very clever. My Latin dictionary must be comparatively bare, but I do not mind. After all, the internet is a great tool, as well.

    Oh yes, pons has a very good online dictionary for Latin I like to use. But I also love my good old book. At the moment I translate a little in the morning before I go to the lab and before turning on any electronic devices. The pages still smell like school and it’s in a rather bad shape because some of the younger students used it as a ball once…They’ll graduate this year. I knew them when they could not sleep without their plushies, were afraid of ghosts and still shorter than even me, hahaha.

    1. My lovely scholar of Latin, tell me what you love the most about Latin. And then tell me what you dislike the most about Latin.

  7. Ok I’ll bite, tell me about Roman sex and sexuality.  If oral sex was passive was it still passive when shared between two women?  If so was it still a source of mockery?  Through out history we read of men together, why is it not much is written about women?  Are we women not as forthcoming with our exploits? I am sure it happened.  As far as you know, was this common in Rome?

    I wish we could adopt some of that fluidity today.  As a society we like to place people in a neat tidy category, the problem is we don’t always fit.  I know I don’t!  However I do enjoy it when I can take people by surprise.

    I was unfamiliar with Martialis so before I wrote I was reading some of his epigrams.  I love them!  Thank you for introducing me.

    1. Lesbianism is absent from historical sources because society was, for thousands of years, patriarchal. In Rome, sex was very much an act of domination and power, which were qualities that females lacked, at least in the Roman mind. Sex was also something only considered truly sex if there was penetration involved. Women, by biology, do not have the ability to penetrate other women. Therefore, it was largely considered that women could not have sex with other women due to the simple absence of a penis by which to have sex with. Yes they would rub and touch, but that wasn’t sex. Not to us.

      Also, there was not a lot of effort made to record the voices and lives of women. Male voices dominate, and so interest is in the male story, usually of his prowess or his degeneration.

  8. Also, there was not a lot of effort made to record the voices and lives of women. Male voices dominate, and so interest is in the male story, usually of his prowess or his degeneration.

    As interesting as those stories are I have always wondered about the untold stories. I realize that my wonderment is most likely futile, but thank you for helping me understand why. When I was in college a friend of mine talked me into taking a sociology class focusing on gender and sexuality with him (I needed an additional humanities credit.) To my surprise I enjoyed the class but the focus of it was more contemporary and it left me with questions.

    Was sex an act of domination and power because that was the nature of a male/female relationship or was it more to do with the natural role of a man; being the Master of the home and those in it?

    1. I would say that sex was an act of domination because of both the nature of men and women and because man was the absolute Master. It also had a lot to do with social expectations of masculinity. Masculinity was in how one man proved his power over another person, be it another man, a woman, or a child. It was the natural role of men to rule over those in his home, just as it was the natural position of women, children, and slaves to be ruled. This came to define all elements of private life from family function to male and female sexual relations.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.