Monday, 18 March 2019

Martial 5.42: two versions

Two versions of a poem much loved by translators.

Thieves may break locks, and with your cash retire:
Your ancient seat may be consumed by fire:
Debtors refuse to pay you what they owe:
On your ungrateful field the seed you sow;
You may be plundered by a jilting whore:
Your ships may sink at sea with all their store:
Who gives to friends, so much from Fate secures;
That is the only wealth forever yours.
-William Hay, 1755

Money will come and go: we all know that.
The most important thing in life
Will always be the people in this room.
Right here, right now.
Salute, mi familia.
-Dominic Toretto, 2011
Image result for salute mi familia

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Mycenae and Troy

The cities of Homer are sunk in dust, but live forever in his Iliad.

I lie here desolate beneath the dust, 
Mycenae, less to see than any knoll. 
And yet whoever who looks on Ilium, 
That famous town whose walls I trampled down, 
And purged the house of Priam — they shall know 
What strength I owned. If age has slighted me, 
I am content in Homer’s witnessing.

I, sacred Ilium, that storied town 
Whose tower-studded walls were famed in song: 
Stranger, the dust of time has eaten me. 
In Homer, though, I rest inviolate, 
Behind my gates of bronze. Achaean spears 
That ruined Troy can never root me thence; 
I shall be reside upon the very lips 
Of every single Hellene yet to come.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Gregory of Nazianzus: two epitaphs for his brother

I'm currently at work on a selection from book 8 of the Anthology. This one is a collection of epigrams by a single author: Gregory of Nazianzus 'the Theologian' (d. 390), best friend of Basil of Caesarea and eventually Archbishop of Constantinople. Paton, translator of the Anthology for the Loeb series, is very sniffy about book 8 --
I should personally have preferred to follow the Teubner edition in omitting this book... Gregory evidently enjoyed making verses, but the epigrams make somewhat tedious reading, as there are so many on the same subject.
I think he's terrific, though. He is a learned poet, but his epigrams are personal and moving. Most of them are terribly sad. Basil dies; his parents die (his mother of a long and painful illness); his brother dies: and Gregory counts the rosary of his grief in chains of epigrams. Here are two for that brilliant brother of his. The second has Gregory's poetic signature worked in, a trait I've also seen in one of his poems for Basil.
91On Caesarius [his brother] 
Wisdom and everything it comprehends:
Geometry, the stations of the stars,
The stratagems of the logician’s art,
Grammar and history too, and speaker’s force:
Caesarius alone of mortal men
With subtle mind and soaring intellect
Could grasp them all. Alas! Now like the rest
He is become a scattering of dust. 
On the same 
Gregory’s handiwork. In sad regret
For best of brothers, I proclaim to men
That they should hate and scorn this mortal life.
Who was so fine as my Caesarius?
Who of all men could match him, or could claim
So great a name for wisdom? None that live;
But he has flown from life, gone suddenly,
As might a rose from all the other flowers,
As does the dew from off the leaves at dawn.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Impossible vistas, a speciality

Julius' mixed-up vistas are only a problem if we go to Martial for straight reportage -- but poets of his age were not invested in representing Rome and its hinterland 'as it really was'.

To get a better grip on what Martial does with Julius' villa, we can turn to a contemporary and fellow poet. Statius published the first three books of his Silvae in the early nineties, a few years after Martial's fourth book (AD 89), and included some remarkable descriptions of suburban villas. In Silvae 1.3, we visit the villa of Manilius Vopiscus at Tibur (modern Tivoli); in 2.2 the scene is Pollius Felix's seaside place at Sorrento, an upscale coastal resort then as it is today. Indeed, the modern visitor who goes in search of Pollius Felix should pack a swimming costume: you can still take a dip in his ancient private maritime grotto.

Vopiscus' place is harder to pin down with precision but visitors are pointed towards a set of ruins within the steep valley of the beautiful Villa Gregoriana. Have a look for yourself, in the online translation of the poem, part of the vast suite of resources made available for free online by the estimable A. S. Klein.

Fascinating place. IT DOESN'T ADD UP, not readily or in any systematic way. But this doesn't mean Statius is an idiot who wandered off from the tour and got lost.  In an article published in 1988 in Illinois Classical Studies (13: 95-11), 'Horace and Statius at Tibur: An Interpretation of Silvae 1. 3', Carole Newlands noted that in both 1.3 and 2.2., Statius "makes it impossible for the reader to reconstruct his patron's villas" (sound familiar)? Newlands developed and explored an argument already made in part by other scholars, along the lines that Statius' disorderly descriptions are in fact carefully designed; that the poet is hitting the reader with a sensory medley that evocatively recreates the WOW effect of visiting for the first time, all with a view to making the owner look amazing.

Newlands actually found these suggestions worked a bit patchily for some passages in Statius' descriptions, but they give a pretty good account of Martial 4.64. Julius' villa is being all it can be; it delivers everything a suburban home of this kind possibly could, all at once. As poetry for a patron, it makes perfect sense; it only becomes problematic if we insist on reading it as Martial's substitute for a panoramic photo, as what he sees through the telescope from the terrace.

And that's almost all I have to say about Martial on Monte Mario, except...

Friday, 22 February 2019


Here is the other side of Julius' view, according to Martial (4.64.18-24):
On the other side [ILLINC], the driver on the Flaminian and Salarian Way lies in plain sight, although the car is hushed, so its wheels don't disturb a sleep so tranquil that bosuns' calls and shouting barge-haulers could not rouse you from it -- no matter that the Milvian Bridge is so close by, and the shipping that scuds down holy Tiber...
From Monte Mario, there is a good view down to the Milvian Bridge. Calling it 'so close by' (tam prope) might be poetic licence:

-- but it's there, clear enough, off to the left. My old iPhone might make it look further than it is (or seems to the naked eye).

If Julius is on Monte Mario, ILLINC now looks to be a pretty narrow segment off to the left of the available field of view. HINC, though, takes in a much wider sweep. From the Alban Hills at the extreme right of the view, off in the south-eastern distance, HINC swivels through Rome's iconic heart ('the seven imperious hills'), takes in what's straight ahead of the belvedere terrace (Anna Perenna across the river) -- and continues northward, to the left, to Fidenae and Rubrae. These two ancient settlements straddle the modern GRA, Rome's orbital motorway: Fidenae on the Via Salaria just inside it (not far past the old city airport), Rubrae a little outside it on the Flaminia.

It's not simply that HINC and ILLINC get seriously unequal shares: HINC doesn't respect ILLINC's boundaries. Draw a sightline to Rubrae (modern Saxa Rubra) or Fidenae from Monte Mario and they are to the left of Ponte Milvio, which is supposed to be in ILLINC.

What's more, Martial's description makes it clear that Julius' hilltop villa captures a bird's-eye view over both of those roads. Its height insulates it from the rattle of the carts, he says, but visitors strolling on the villa's terrace can make out individual traffic: you can see the drivers. It's a stretch beyond poetic licence to imagine Martial sipping an aperitivo and spotting individual hauliers queuing for the Milvian Bridge on Via Flaminia. As for the Salaria, not a chance. That exits Rome further East.



Is this a problem?

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Looking both ways

In the light of Sparsus' Janiculan pad, let's revisit that Monte Mario inscription again and see how it frames a selective vision of the content of the poem, and thereby of the view from Julius' alleged villa.  The five lines run:
Which I translate,
From here, on the one side, you can see the seven imperious hills and take in all of Rome -- the Alban hills too, and the Tusculans, and every cool spot in the city's orbit; and ancient Fidenae, and little Rubrae,...
There is no "on the one side" in the Latin, just a "From here", a Hinc (line 11). But what the excerption of these five lines conceals, is a matching Illinc, "From there", seven lines later (line 18), right after the sexy-gory Anna Perenna bit that the inscribers must have felt was a bit too much for Sunday-morning strollers.

The construction is carefully balanced: each word -- hincillinc -- cues up a seven-line description of what the visitor can see that way.

From a commanding ridgeline, I think the easiest way to take hinc and illinc is as verbal gestures: Martial's text is spreading its arms and inviting us to take in both sides of a vista, left and right. I'd absolutely be open to other readings -- if you have a different point of view, please let me know -- but if I'm right, the Monte Mario snippet is only telling us half of Julius's view. What's the side it's leaving out?

Friday, 15 February 2019

From the Greek Anthology: a scribe hangs up his tools

Callimenes, a scribe retiring from employment, dedicates the tools of his trade to the Muses, patron goddesses of the literature he has spent his career copying out.

The first version is by Philip, who compiled a Garland of epigrams by recent and contemporary poets in the middle of the first century AD.

The second is by a friend of Agathias, who compiled a Cycle of contemporary epigrams in the sixth century AD. Paul was a 'Silentiary' (Usher), a palace official in Byzantium. Philip's epigram was a popular model for imitation at that time: book 6 of the Anthology has half a dozen versions like this one.

This pair of poems is a striking example of Greek epigram's remarkable resilience and continuity: they could have been written five minutes apart, but in fact are separated by half a millennium.

Philip's Garland and Agathias' Cycle were important sources for Constantine Cephalas when he collated the biggest-ever compilation of epigrams, the work we know as the Greek Anthology, in the tenth century.
The disk of lead, that marked the column’s edge;
The penknife, notcher of his pointed reeds;
The guiding rule; dry pumice from the beach,
That porous sea-stone; these, Callimenes
Gives to the Muses. He has ceased from toil
Because his eye is clouded with old age.

Unwetted lead, that scribes the steadfast line
In which we root the letters’ harmony;
The ruler, helmsman of that rolling lead;
The porous, spongy stone; the well for ink,
Stained black; the ink-tipped pens, precise of line;
The sea-born sponge, soft flower of the deep; 
The knife, bronze carpenter of slender reeds:
These are the offerings of Callimenes
To laugher-loving Muses, since old age
Has spent in toil his eye and cunning hand.
A note on scribal tools: used with the ruler, the rotating lead disk drew a straight vertical margin. As it did so, it marked the papyrus or vellum with the regularly spaced intervals for the horizontal line guides (as in 6.66, immediately below). Scribes used pumice to smooth the surface prior to writing (cf. Catullus 1), and cut their pens from reeds; they could erase mistakes before the ink was dry by wiping with a sponge.