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.
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.
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.”