19 December 2014

Martial on Saturnalia (Yuletide reading)


[Marcus Valerius Martialis (c10040-c10103 HE) suggests some appropriate Saturnalia gifts and their labels:]
T
o the reader: The whole multitude of presents contained in this thin little book will cost you, if you purchase it, four small coins. If four is too much, perhaps you may get it for two, and the bookseller, Trypho, will even then make a profit. These distichs you may send to your entertainers instead of a present, if money is as scarce with you as it is with me. The names of all the articles are given as headings; so that you may pass by those which are not to your taste.
Lentils: Receive these Egyptian lentils, a gift from Pelusium; if they are not so good as barley, they are better than beans.
Leeks: Whenever you have eaten strong-smelling shreds of the Tarentine leek, give kisses with your mouth shut.
Beans: If the pale bean boils for you in the red earthenware pot, you may often decline the suppers of rich patrons.
Asparagus: The delicate stalks cultivated on the coast of Ravenna will not be more grateful to the palate than this wild asparagus.
Raisins: I am a grape not suited to the cup or to Bacchus; but, if you do not attempt to drink me, I shall taste like nectar
Pine cones: We are the apples of Cybele; keep at a distance, passerby, lest we fall and strike your unfortunate head.
A jar of plums: These Syrian plums, which come to you enclosed in a wattled conical basket, had they been any larger, might have passed for figs.
Damascene plums: Accept these foreign plums, wrinkled with age: they are good for relaxing constipated bowels.
Ducks: Let a duck be brought to table whole: but only the breast and neck are worth eating; return the rest to the cook.
Mushrooms: To send silver or gold, a cloak or a toga, is easy enough, but to send mushrooms is difficult.
Ham: The ham is quite fresh; make haste, and delay not to invite your best friends; I will have nothing to do with a stale ham.
Egyptian beans: You will deride this Egyptian vegetable, with its wool that sticks so closely, when obliged to tear its obstinate filaments with teeth and hands.
Attic honey: The bee that throngs Thesean Hymettus has sent you this noble nectar from the forest of Minerva.
Alban wine: This wine is sent from Caesarean hills, from the sweet vineyard that flourishes on Mount Iulus.
Faleenian wine: This Massic wine comes from the presses of Sinuessa. Do you ask in whose Consulate it was bottled? It was before consuls existed.
Fundi wine: This wine of Fundi was produced in the splendid autumn of Opimius. The consul who saw it made drank of it when matured.
Trifoline wine: I, Trifoline wine, am not, I confess, of the first order but I hold, at least, the seventh place.
Nomentan wine: My Nomentan vineyard yields this wine. If Quintus is your friend, you will drink better.
Pelignian wine: The Pelignian vine-dressers send turbid Marsic wine. Touch it not yourself, but let your freed-man drink it.
Vinegar: Disdain not this amphora of Egyptian vinegar. It was much worse when it was wine.
Caeretan [wine]: Let Nepos place Caeretan wine on table, and you will deem it Setine. But he does not give it to all the world; he drinks it only with a trio of friends.
Perfumes: Never think of leaving perfumes or wine to your heir. Administer these yourself, and let him have your money.

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