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THE SECOND CENTURY OF EPIGRAMS
1. TO KING JAMES
Let others receive tithes but, great monarch, I ask you to accept the firstfruits of my Muse.
2. TO SIR GEORGE VILLIERS, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO KING JAMES AND MASTER OF THE HORSE
Who does not like fields and the royal villa of the fields, and who does not like learned art? For the Muses dwell in villas and fields and admirable art thrives in great cities. So if all men like a villa and all like art, Villiers is wholly pleasing to all men everywhere.
3. ANOTHER, TO THE SAME
The villa of Mars once contained the gods of heaven, but lately the villa of art holds our earthly one.
4.THE EPITAPH OF SIR JOHN GRAHAM &c.
I was formerly that Graham or grain for my George, in whom he often found peaceful repose. Why did I wretchedly wither in my springtime, before the coming of my autumn. Much art in my villa could not avert this misfortune. Thus, alas, lilies are the first to wilt.
5. ON GEORGE BUCHANAN’S HISTORY OF SCOTLAND
It is no wonder that there are fictions and many falsehoods in this history. Its author was a consummate poet.
6. TO CORDUS
You call me unlearned, Cordus, but give me a hearing. What if I should be more learned than Socrates? Is this not sufficient? He knew this one thing, that he knew nothing. But I know two, for I know that you too know nothing.
7. AN INFANT’S EPITAPH
One of the Fates stabbed this infant after its birth, and the day which was its entrance was also its exit.
8. ON MAURUS, A MARRIED GRAMMARIAN
Maurice, you used to devote yourself only to your books [libri], but now you devote yourself to your children [liberi].
9. ON THE EPIGRAM
The best kind of epigram is the two-liner, if you want to conceal much substance in a few words. The kind that follows, the four-liner, hopes to claim its rightful place, if you want to disclose your thought more profusely. And the six-liner is the final kind. Exceed that number and you are not writing an epigram.
10. TO QUEEN ANNE
Why can’t the year [annus] be called after Anne [Anna], just as the month we customarily call May takes its name from Maia? If it is a great name to have one’s name given to a month, how great a one is it to have your name given to a year?
11. TO HER DAUGHTER ELIZABETH
If Elizabeth had not been queen before you, you would be the first Elizabeth on this earth.
12. AN EPIPTHALAMIUM FOR THE SAME AND FREDERICK, PRINCE PALATINE OF THE RHINE
The right select Elizabeth has married her elect husband, may holy Hymen favor the sacred bonds of wedlock! May the Nymphs forever strew their marriage, may the Graces give baskets of flowers and Venus roses. May both be happy and live to see their late-born descendants. Thus may they live, thrive, and always choose to be loving.
13. AN EPITAPH OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS
After I saw such a great conflagration of my realm, such as could scarcely be quenched by the hand of a Hercules, I departed, so as not to witness things worse than death itself. Nor did death itself conquer my mind.
14. ANOTHER, OF THE SAME PERSON
As I overcame my fate [sortem], so I overcame my death [mortem.] For me, fate was inferior to my mind, for me death was inferior to my mind.
15. ON DANICUS, A LAWYER
Danicus, since you create more suits than you litigate, I call you a breeder of cases, not a pleader of cases.
16. TO CHARLES FITZGEOFFREY
Fitzgeoffrey, you very placid drinker of the sacred stream, for whom a vein of inspiration flows in your candid heart, if your Muse can die, if your fame can perish, an urn can be readied to preserve your witty jests.
17. ON PRIESTLINGS, TO CORBULUS
Corbulus, just as those who make bridges are called pontiffs [pontifices], why cannot those who make meat be called carniffs [carnifices]?
18. ON PONTIFFS OF THE SAME KIND
If you work a miracle with that consecrated bread of yours, I don’t call you pontiffs, but rather paniffs [panifices].
19. ON MATHO
Matho, what everybody suspects about you, and the way in which they would like you to be more modest, is made manifest by those who have given you a tutor, a man than whom nothing is more prudent or modest.
20. ON THE SAME
You tell me, Matho, that I’m frittering away my years on trifles. Better on trifling than on troublemaking.
21. TO NAEVOLUS
Why are you always asking me what I’m doing, Naevolus? Don’t you have anything better to do but ask me what I’m doing?
22. TO HIS FATHER GAVIN
Dear father, venerable old man, whose eightieth winter has passed by sweetly under God’s guidance, let this short poem survive under your name, as a sign of my affection and pledge of my dutifulness.
23. TO NAULICUS
When you’re counting your donkeys, Naulicus, you’re making a mistake in your arithmetic. You should have added yourself to the count.
24. ON LUCRETIA
What good did it do you, savage woman, to stain your hand with your own blood, and to have chosen to die so undeservedly? “There was no other way in which the injury to my reputation could have been made good, the dishonorable stain on my chastity?” Is that what you say? So you were conscious of your wrongdoing. If you had not been guilty, why, you criminal woman, did you rush to your death?
25. AN OFF-THE-CUFF EPIGRAM ABOUT A TRAVELER
He’s a huge man, but puny if you consider his mental endowments. For he has nothing of a man but the body.
26. LIPSIUS ON HIS DEATHBED
As Lipsius lay a-dying, he pondered in his heart what suitable gift he might bequeath to Mary’s statue. In lieu of incense he gave her a thick coat. For he saw that the Lady’s miracles had grown frigid.
27. TO KING JAMES
It is not enough, lofty king, for Apollo to defer to you. For Pallas also defers to you regarding wisdom.
28. TO WILLIAM HERBERT, EARL OF PEMBROKE AND CHAMBERLAIN OF THE ROYAL HOUSEHOLD &c.
It would be a strange thing, great lord, if I were not to wish to include you in my pages and recall your praises. But I could not rehearse your mind and the morals in your heart, or your breeding and fortune so briefly. They require a longer opus: it is sufficient for this poem to contain you, in the way that a small ring contains a great diamond.
29. TO THE READER
You read this through, but with with difficulty. You have more difficulty in praising my bad meters. Don’t praise me, read me with a happy face.
30. ON COTTA
You want to drink, Cotta, but you have no purse. What’s worse, you have no money.
31. ON CACOZELUS
Cacozelus, you are seeking for learning in a learned minister. Cease seeking for learning and seek God.
32. ON THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
Let not the Academy be the first glory to its inmates, nor the Lyceum to its Peripatetics, nor let the Stoic sect admire its Stoa or Tully laud his own house to the skies. Let all old and new sects defer to the Muses of Oxford; instead of the lot of them, praise be to this one great school.
33. WHAT KIND OF FRIEND HE WOULD CHOOSE FOR HIMSELF
I want a man who is friendly, loyal to me, and devoid of all haughtiness, to be like a second self. But the man praises me to my face and wounds me behind my back, let the dogs have his disloyal heart.
34. ON A CERTAIN WOMAN
“Why,” I asked , “is she being driven around in that coach?”I looked more closely and saw it was a cartload of dung.
35. TO WORTHY KNIGHTS
Men who match Mars manually and the Muses mentally, nobody can reasonably refuse to call them knights.
36. TO THOSE UNDESERVING OF THE TITLE OF KNIGHT
You knights, to whom neither martial virtue nor the Muses’ glory granted this rank, but whose wealth enlarged with proud titles, I think you are knights [equites],but the common folk think you are merely horses [equos].
37. A PARADOX: VIRTUE ALONE ENNOBLES
Those who wish ancient money to ennoble a family are mistaken: only old-time virtue truly makes men noble.
38. TO CEDRUS, ABOUT HIS CREDITOR
Take it when he offers, Cedrus, the opportunity for gain is short-lived. If he gains any understanding of you, he’ll give you nothing.
39. ON DEATH
If sleep is death’s sister, as poets have feigned, why is the tomb not also the brother of the bedroom?
40. TO THOMAS BILSON BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
You ornament held in common by the Muses, right worthy Bishop Bilson, a man deserving of being commemorated in enduring strains, your books are monuments showing how stoutly and imperturbably you do battle against the enemies of Christ. As often as the heads of this Hydra rise up against the Faith, you are wont to cut them back, a new Hercules.
41. ON CATUS
Catus deceives all the friends he has. Whoever wants to be tricked will befriend him.
42. TO A CERTAIN MOMUS
Permit me my innocent jokes. Why am I not permitted to caper, when you are permitted to carp?
43. ON A BEGGAR
There’s no need to ask why I refuse to believe you. You scarcely believe yourself.
44. ON A MERCHANT
The merchant says there’s nobody to whom he’d rather sell than me, not even if the purchaser were the king himself. Thus says the merchant, but we believe whatever he tells a customer as much as we believe Satan is God.
45. ON A WEDDED COUPLE
Your wife calls you her heart and soul, and she’s your own dear heart. So live as a pair.
46. ON A CERTAIN CURIO
Curio strives to climb Mt. Parnassus, but the Muses throw him down headlong. Yet he says, “If I can’t climb your mountain, I should think I can climb the mountain of Venus [mons Veneris].”
47. ON COTTAM
Whether or not he has reproached the wicked, Cotta has reproached everybody. In the eyes of somebody to whom nobody is a good man, who can be a bad one?
48. ON AULUS
Aulus, you owe me a shilling. “I don’t owe you,” you swear. You shouldn’t swear. I’d rather lose my shilling.
49. ON GAULUS
It’s not enough that you are arrogant, Gaurus. You also desire to be said and thought to be so.
50. TO PRINCE CHARLES
You hope of your father and your nation, right lofty Prince Charles, you reborn hope of the Muses’ choir, grow as the constant consolation of your people, like another Charlemagne. Thus you will be a Charilaus.
51. TO THOMAS EGERTON, LORD ELLESMERE, LORD CHANCELLOROF ENGLAND &c.,
Oh you, distinguished by undying titles of reputation and great for your fasces of office, worthy to be counted among the highest gods, now the Thames may call itself by the name of Cephissus and this noble stream may admire its own waters. If the cave of Themis is not present, her courtroom nevertheless is. If Themis herself is not present, you are nevertheless here as her spokesman.
52. ON THE SAME
Most learned Thomas is so well-versed in the arts of Themis, that she who used to be Themis is now Thomas.
53. TO WILLIAM KERR, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO KING JAMES &c,
Whether you compete in the dance, in strumming the bellied lute, in playing at the ball or in running, Kerr, is any man your equal? When it comes to consulting the Pythia, Apollo could scarcely compete against your intellect.
54. TO NARCISSUS, A READER
I admit you please your reader, Narcissus, but this is because you are the reader of your own book.
55. TO CERDUS, A MERCHANT
You want to have your name in my books, Cerdus. But I don’t want my name to be in yours.
56. TO A LOVER
I would have every lover understand that, unless love provides the sunlight, a woman is only a shadow and image of a man. A shadow follows a departing man and flees him when he approaches. Thus, to get your darling to follow, you need to flee.
57. ANOTHER TO THE SAME MAN
Love is the sun and a woman is man’s light shadow.Who, save perhaps a madman, chases after his own shadow?
58. ON A MISER
Songs move the gods above, songs move the shades below, but your wallet is moved by no song.
59. TO AN ELDEST SON
You are not wealthy by your own doing, but by your father’s gift. For he sired you before your brothers.
60. TO MATTHEW SUTCLIFFE, DOCTOR OF BOTH LAWS AND DEAN OF EXETER &c.
Let Constantinople crow about its Chrysostom and Bostra boast of its Beryllus. Let the Cappadocian applaud his Phoenix alone, let Crete rejoice in Titus, and Smyrna adore Polycarp. But England will never fall silent about its Sutcliffe.
61. TO THE SAME MAN
Since you possess a pure heart, venerable gravity, a honeyed voice, a cheerful mind, and a learned and charming hand, he who desires to understand the duty of a perfect priest should keep you before his eyes. This is what he desires.
62. ON TARATALLA
Why does Taratalla cultivate such long hair? Is it not to hide her large ears?
63. TO CORDULUS
He who imagines you praise worthy men is mistaken, Cordulus. For you praise men like yourself.
64. TO JOHN GRAHAM, EARL OF MONTROSE &c.
If your only praise were because of your lovely pedigree, Graham, few men could equal you in praise. For among the British no family is more ancient than the Grahams, if the historians are to be believed. But you are commended, not just for this antiquity, but also because of your virtue. Virtue alone makes you a man.
65. ON SCAURUS
You should not be angry at my Muses, Scaurus. It is not you I am criticizing, Scaurus, but just your disdain.
66. ON A TOURIST
Since you have visited all seas and lands, tourist, it remains for you to see Hell or the North Pole.
67. TO DOMINUS DE LA CHAPELIÈRE, PASTOR OF LA ROCHELLE
Since virtue is the greatest activity of a great preacher, nobody can deny you are a great one. And since the grace of divine honey is in your words, Chapelière, I regard you as greater than great.
68. TO A CERTAIN LAME HUSBAND
Your wife is blind, and you’re lame in both feet. Give her your eyes, and she’ll give you her feet.
69. TO CORDUS
Cordus, you should be named Cordolus, not Cordus. For in truth you are heartless.
70. ANOTHER ON THE SAME MAN
You boast that you are a captain in Apollo’s camp, Cordolus, and yet, as I see, you are a trifling man. For soldiers follow their captains through fearful battles, but you chase after your boys in safe places.
71. ON MARCULUS
Why goad your jenny, Marculus? She seems to have been born quite dutiful enough, since she carries her father.
72. THAT WE MUST DIE
Just as we see that seeds cast by farmers with a careful hand first decay, and then take life and attain to the sunlight, multiplying themselves in various ways, thus every man should be Christ’s seed in the field, and needs to die so that he may grow more luxuriantly.
73. ON CANDIDUS, A PLEADER OF THE COMMON LAW
You are said to be only a pleader of the common law. And so, Candidus, you are an uncivil lawyer.
74. ON MILO
Milo concealed himself among wanton women, and did a fine job of hiding. Here he lived well, says he.
75. TO DOMINUS BALFOUR, PHILOSOPHER AND PRESIDENT OF THE COLLEGE OF GUYENNE AT BORDEAUX
No sooner had I seen your Problems, Balfour, than I said “Aristotle wrote this.” Then just imagine what I thought after I had read, re-read and understood it: “The man who wrote these things is greater than Aristotle, or, if not, certainly he was not inferior.”
76. TO MILVIUS
Whatever I do is nothing. That’s what you say, jealous Milvius. And so I’m doing nothing when I break your head.
77. ON GLAUCA
Since Glauca is as painted as a picture, and since a picture should not speak, she’ll keep her silence if she’s smart. For a talking picture is a monstrosity.
78. TO A DICER
If I recall aright, you used to have four shillings. One toss of the dice took away two, another took away two more. Now your play can be more carefree for all time. For you have nothing more to lose.
79. TO PONTILIANUS
Where can you get intelligence, you ask? Not from that brain of yours, Pontilianus.
80. TO A WOULD-BE POET
If you’re abstemious, you can never be a poet. But if you drink well, you can be.
81. ON DIOGENES AND DIONYSIUS
Dionysius resembled Diogenes in this one thing: a moveable barrel served as home for them both.
82. ON WILLIAM COTTON, BISHOP OF EXETER
Your gravity and steadfastness, worthy of a prelate, and your great understanding of things make you not just the Cotton, but also the Cato [Caton] of your age, venerable sir.
83. ON AULUS
He eats and gobbles down much, but he’s deprived of his eyesight. And so, as the matter stands, Aulus’ stomach is larger than his eyes.
84. ON GLAUCA
This face in which you take pride, Glauca, is scarcely your own. For it belongs to your painter.
85.TO BATHSUA REGINALD
Apollo would scarce vie with you in song, Bathsua. But you can best him if you choose.
86. ON A JEALOUS MAN WHO FANCIES BEARDLESS YOUTHS TO BE UNLEARNED
Why do you call young men whose beards are scarcely longer than their teeth unlearned, you jealous fellow? Evidently you think that erudition is bearded and resides in hair and outward appearance. Young men have their knowledge “inside the skin” and within.
87. ON A CERTAIN TALKATIVE ATTORNEY
Why give me narrations of dire courtroom-squabbles, contentions, spats, and mindless threats? Why tell me of puffed-out cheeks and verbal thunderbolts? So that I might admire a lawyer’s divine points? If a lawyer deserves a reputation on this score, why should not a chatterbox old lady boast of herself?
88. TO ZOILUM
Since for you, my verses hang in the balance, Zoilus, in the same spirit I'd like to see you hanging from the gallows.
89. ON VINEGAR
Vinegar supplies a flavor and refreshes a weary man’s spirits, and there’s no better medicine for sudden ills. Turn off your fountain, you Naiads Henceforth my Muse will drink nothing but vinegar.
90. TO KING JAMES
Oh king of the blood of heroes, the glory of so many ancestors, with your titles you are to reckoned as greater than Hercules. For once upon a time he garnered his honors with his club, but you’ve gained yours with your pen.
91. TO HIS DAUGHTER ELIZABETH
Oh thrice-blessed daughter of our thrice-blessed king, only daughter of your father and of your nation! Is there any perfection of the female sex which does not exist in you to the degree that it cannot be surpassed? Your beauty surpasses the artist’s hand, your wisdom surpasses your beauty, your virtue surpasses your wisdom. Nothing survives to surpass this.
92. TO A BOASTFUL WEALTHY MAN
You who so greatly preen yourself upon your wealth should be on your guard, if you are wise, and bear in mind that that the first step to felicity is fel [“gall”], and that without fel there’s no felicity.
93. ON THE WORLD
It is not remarkable that nothing is upright in this world, since the world is tilted on its axis.
94. ON A CERTAIN IGNORANT PRIEST
Since you grasp at every tithe, you ignorant priest, why not also get yourself one tenth of a brain?
95. TO DAUCUS
Although you teach nothing, Daucus, you want to be reckoned a doctor. Be whatever you wish, as long as you don’t teach.
96. TO THOMAS ERSKINE, KNIGHT OF THE RIGHT NOBLE ORDER OF THE GARTER, VISCOUNT FENTOUN &c.
When our British hero chanced to be wrestling with that Antaeus of Perth, you hastened to come to his aid, not because he could not defeat the deadly monster by himself, but because he did not choose to sully his sacred hands. But this is your greatest praise: this new son of Jupiter bade you be his Perithous in the fight.
97. TO THE SAME, ABOUT THE FAMILY OF ERSKINE
How did the Erskine family acquire such a noble name? Is it because Ares moves [κινεῖ] their martial hearts?
98. A REPLY TO SOMEBODY
Inasmuch as the Good is all-transcendent, you rightly deduce that there’s no good man in the world. But since the Bad is also all-transcendent, I thus conclude that there’s no bad man in the world.
99. TO A FRIEND AND DRINKING-COMPANION
When you so often toast my health, be careful lest you lose your health.
100. ON GLAUCA
Glauca, you wear a man’s tunic, collar, and hat. Get a pair of pants and, if I’m not mistaken, you’ll be a man.
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