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Wednesday: January 18, 2006

An Epigram of Martial

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:27 AM GMT-0500

Amissum non flet cum sola est Gellia patrem,
    si quis adest, iussae prosiliunt lacrimae.
non luget quisquis laudari, Gellia, quaerit;
    ille dolet vere qui sine teste dolet.

In private she mourns not the late-lamented;
If someone’s by her tears leap forth on call.
Sorrow, my dear, is not so easily rented.
They are true tears that without witness fall.

This is Martial 1.33, not precisely a joke, but neatly translated by J. V. Cunningham. The meter is elegiac couplets.

Tuesday: January 17, 2006

An Ancient One-Liner

Filed under: — site admin @ 12:25 AM GMT-0500

This is number 104 in the Philogelos, an ancient Greek joke-book:

A greedy man writing his will made himself his own heir.

Philárguros diathékas gráphwn heautòn kleronómon étaxen.

Not very funny? It’s actually better than average for the collection.

Sunday: January 15, 2006

A Squib Fit for a King

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:33 PM GMT-0500

Brutus, quia reges eiecit, consul primus factus est:
hic, quia consules eiecit, rex postremus factus est.

Brutus, because he threw out the kings, became the first consul.
This man, because he threw out the consuls, has become the latest/last king.

These lines of verse (trochaic septenarians) are irretrievably anonymous but securely datable to the first few months of 44 B.C. According to Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars (Book I, 80.3), someone wrote them on Caesar’s statue shortly before he was assassinated. The point is that Caesar has added himself to the list of kings of Rome, eighth after – long after – Tarquinius Superbus, deposed by the first Brutus. But there is more to it than that: our anonymous patriot hopes that Caesar will be not only the latest but the last king of Rome because he will soon be assassinated, and no one will dare emulate him. He got half his wish: his target was soon ‘the late’ Julius Caesar, but was of course succeeded by dozens more kings-in-all-but-name.