Friday, 10 September 2021

Martial's Narnia

Martial has a cherished country neighbour who is hardly ever around -- he is in Narnia instead.
Narnia exists; it is an old Roman settlement, today called Narni. It sits on high ground above the river Nera (the ancient Nar) in southern Umbria, and was a strategic waypoint on the ancient Via Flaminia the linked Rome to the Adriatic. C. S. Lewis chose the name from a map because he liked the sound of it, allegedly, though if you go to Narni (please do, it's lovely) you will see lots of old carvings of lions.
Here is Martial 7.93. politely asking Narnia if he can have his friend back. For the first time this is me doing Martial in verse:

Hemmed by your silvered stream of sulphur-spring,
And perched upon so steep a mountain cleft
That one may scarcely climb it: NARNIA,
Why must your fancy all too often be
To steal my Quintus, leaving me bereft
As you extend his slow captivity?
My little country place, Nomentum way —
Why must you ruin it, whose worth to me
Was having him next door? O Narnia,
Please do not take advantage; let him be,
Restore my Quintus, and in turn I say
Enjoy your bridge for all posterity.
Two arches of that bridge, built by Augustus and restored by later emperors, are still there along with massive chunks of the rest. The Nera runs through one of the surviving arches; a high-speed train line through the other. We recently visited Narnia and its bridge in the company of our excellent chum Agnes Crawford, of Understanding Rome. The bridge is easy enough to find and is imposingly atmospheric.

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