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