Diary of the Plague Year: Day 85 8 June 2020: Boethius (477–524 AD)

‘Gazing at my grief-dejected face, Philosophy
Deplored my chaotic mind’ DE CONS. I.I.14
Just look at him! his mind has sunk deep down,
Has lost its inner light, become so dull;
It reaches out towards external darkness
Each time a toxic wave of worry swells
Into a tsunami, launched by worldly gales.
This was the man who loved the open heavens
And journeyed down the trackways of the skies.
He’d study rose-red suns and icy moons
And calculate the planets’ sinuous paths,
Subjecting them to mathematic laws.
This was the man devoted to enquiring
Why roaring hurricanes assault the sea
What spirit turns the sphere of the fixed stars
And why the sun climbs from the smouldering east
Then drops beneath the waters of the west;
And what ensures the gentle days of spring
Become so temperate that rosebuds pop
And multiply their beauty through the land;
And who at harvest when the time is ripe
Endows the autumn with its swollen grapes.
Revealing nature’s secrets was his life.
But he lies there, light of reason dead.
His neck’s encumbered by such heavy chains
His head is forced to loll towards the ground
To contemplate the uninspiring mud.


Diary of the Plague Year: Day 66 20 May 2020: Quotidian Poetry: Martial (40 AD – 102/104 AD)

Martial was known for his witty, scathing and sophisticated epigrams:

He’s healthy – yet he’s deathly pale;
Seldom drinks wine and has a hale
Digestion – but looks white and ill;
Sunbathes, rouges his cheeks – and still
Has a pasty face; licks all the cunts
In Rome – and never blushes once.
And then you are completely blindsided by:
To you, my parents, I send on
This little girl Erotion,
The slave I loved, that by your side
Her ghost need not be terrified
Of the pitch darkness underground
Or the great jaws of Hades’ hound.
This winter she would have completed
Her sixth year had she not been cheated
By just six days. Lisping my name,
May she continue the sweet game
Of childhood happily down there
In two such good, old spirits’ care.
Lie lightly on her, turf and dew:
She put so little weight on you.


Selected and translated by James Michie

Penguin Classics

Diary of the Plague Year: Day 31 15 April 2020: Quotidian Poetry Catullus (c. 87 BC to c. 55BC)



The yacht you see there, friends, says that she’s been
The fastest piece of timber ever seen;
She swears that once she could have overhauled
All rival boats, whether the challenge called
For racing under canvas or with oars.
And she can cite good witnesses – the shores
Of the terrible Adriatic, the wild seas
Off famous Rhodes, the island Cyclades,
Thrace’s Propontis and the savage bays
Of Pontus, on whose heights, in the old days
When she was still a yacht-to-be, she stood
And whispered with her leaves as a green wood
And, boxtree-clothed Cytorus, so do you,
My yacht maintains, remembering that the copse
That bore and raised her was your own hill-top’s,
That in your waves she dipped her first oar-blade
And then through mobs of violent seas conveyed
Her master safely, whether the wind played
A port of starboard tune, or Jove’s fair weather
Fell square astern and stretched both sheets together;
Yet never had to make a single vow
To the shore gods all the way, to where she now
Rides the transparent lake at anchorage.
But these are memories. Now, in her old age,
Retired to this calm haven, she devotes
Her prow to the Heavenly Twins, patrons of boats.


The Poems of Catullus

Translated by James Michie