Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
THE THIRD CENTURY OF EPIGRAMS
1. TO KING JAMES
Lately, great king, I was earnestly praying to the Muses that they give me a few poems worthy of you. They denied they could. Then I invoked Phoebus himself to give me some, and Phoebus himself denied no less.Why did he refuse? Because he doesn’t know how? Of course. So who would? You alone are capable of producing poems worthy of yourself.
2. AN EPITAPH OF ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF ENGLAND &c.
I was Elizabeth, a right choice virgin, just as was Penthesilea. But I was the greater. For as a virgin she only governed virgins, but as a virgin I ruled over men.
3. TO CITY MAGISTRATES
Those of you wishing to defend your cities stoutly, let your morality be their walls, ramparts, and garrisons.
4. A PARADOX: THAT GREECE IS NOT MENDACIOUS
Either there’s no veritas in vino or Greece is not mendacious, or, my Greek friend, you cannot do a good job of conducting yourself like a Greek.
5. TO PRINCE CHARLES
Your piety is so great, your probity and the grace of your speech, that I am amazed you were created a mortal.
6. TO GEORGE ABBOT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, PRIMATE OF ENGLAND &c.
Supreme prelate of the English, whose locks lofty grace has crowned under the patronage of Christ, with what beginning shall I praise you? With what an ending shall I fall silent? What shall I sing first, last, or in the middle? I have no idea. but if you want me to say this one thing, no man says you are unworthy of such a great station.
7. ANOTHER TO THE SAME
That which is a rare virtue even for a humble vicar, namely frequent preaching to his congregation, is a frequent thing for you, and it is to the public advantage of the realm. Hence you care for the welfare of your king, hence you consult for that of your flock.
8. A GRAMMARIANS’ MISTAKE
There is only one sun, only one universe. Do you speak of suns and universes, my grammatical friend?
9. TO MAURUS
I do not praise you, I can’t say why. I do not praise you, Maurus, but I can speak of you.
10. TO FUSCULUS
You think I am happy, Fusculus, happy with your dinner. But he could die of starvation and perish miserably, Fusculus, who is happy with your dinner.
11. TO KING JAMES
Your praise has penetrated to the west and to the east, it is familiar to the south and known to the north. No wonder that it is spread throughout all the world, for such great glory cannot be kept in one place.
12. TO AN ARROGANT PERSON
When you never greet your friends you are doing them a kindness: then you are not treating them haughtily.
13. TO SIR WALTER ASHTON, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO KING JAMES &c.
If you are unknown to me by sight, noble sir, you are not unknown by your deeds, they make you quite familiar to me. The Muses cannot fail to know a praiseworthy man, and I cannot fail to know your praises. You are pious and prudent, learned, and generous to your friends. How do I know this, you ask? Rumor proclaims it everywhere.
14. ON NAEVOLUS
Naevolus named me his only heir, because the physician told him he wasn’t going to die.
15. TO AULUS
Aulus, your table is always crammed with good dishes, but I’d prefer it to be jammed with learned guests.
16. TO HIS BROTHER DAVID
Eldest son of our father, you are not only the eldest but the one who deservedly earns first place, no less honor reflects on us. You may claim what nature gave you, and also claim what you virtue gave you. Whether it was your virtue or nature that set you in first place, in either case the honor equally redounds on us.
17. TO A VAIN MAN
You keep watch, you vain man, to see if I have taken off my hat at your approach and and prompt in kissing my hand to you. You wait until I greet you with such loud voice that the distant crowd can hear my sounds. Oh the shame of it! If I were to dignify you thus, you puffed-up donkey, what would I have to do when your mule passed by?
18. ANOTHER TO THE SAME MAN
Vanus, you always want to be closest to the wall. Let it be so. Thus you can be nearest to the shit.
19. TO NAEVOLUS
Naevolus, your heart is so shut to true honesty that nobody can catch a glimpse of it there.
20. TO JOHN DAVIES OF HEREFORD
If the English are not without a Vergil in Daniel, they also do not lack their Martial, Davies. Sylvester might be striving not to yield the disputed laurel to Daniel, but you, Davies, have no rival.
21. ON PHILARGUS
Why is Philargus said to worship money so? He thinks that money [nummum] is his god [numen].
22. TO A PUBLIC SPEAKER
If there chanced to be a huge shoe on a small foot, nobody would deny the cobbler was incompetent. And you, who wrap petty matters in a huge shroud of oratory, tell me what manner of speaker you should be held to be.
23. ON A MAN OVER-ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT ANTIQUITY
This fellow is well-versed about antiquities, this man thinks of antiquities. But he’s grown oblivious to everything happening nowadays.
24. MOSES AND AARON
What the hand is to the mind, such was Aaron to Moses. The one gave, the other took.
25. TO THE REVEREND THOMAS JOHNSTON
Either I am mistaken, Johnston, or your intellect, character and breeding cannot long remain concealed. But if they do, it is not my Muse’s fault, for she numbers you among distinguished men.
26. ON MARCUS
Do you know why Marcus writes such marginal verse? When he writes, he drinks only water.
27. TO KING JAMES
Had not God and nature made you a king, God and your virtue would have done so.
28. THE TOMB OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Now let chattering antiquity hold its tongue about the Mausoleum, and let all glory belong to the Maryleum. Just have a look at the piled-up mass of marvels on this tomb, traveler. Have a look and scarce believe your eyes.
29. ON LIVIDUS
Lividus, I’m not surprised that you carp at my poetry.You write no verse, you like no verse.
30. ON A TURK
You great horrible monster, from whom the eye of faith has been taken away, you Turk, I wouldn’t be surprised if you turned into a Cyclops.
31. ON GEORGE BUCHANAN
To the same degree that your learned poetry garnered you fame, your pen made you infamous. Wicked pen, born from the unhappy wings of screech-owls, with which you scourged your mistress! She was the erstwhile Mary Queen of Scots, whose honor will revive, without the bidding of this bilious bard.
32. TO A CERTAIN MAN, ABOUT THE LAWYER AULUS
Aulus is a rascal, you say. But you’re wrong. Aulus is not a rascal, he’s rascality itself.
33. ON A CERTAIN MAN NAMED MONETUS
As far as the grammarians are concerned, Monetus is a solecism, you’re supposed to say moneta [“money”], and anybody having this name is also deceptive. And so, since he is deceptive in fact and false in name, Monetus can be called counterfeit money.
34. FRAUD’S TOMB IS NOWHERE
I’ve seen many tombs belonging to many men, but I’ve never seen the tomb of fraud. What’s the reason? Because nor mortal has ever seen, nor ever will see, fraud truly dead.
They were born together, in manners they were as one, and they shared the same death. Their bones are entombed in one place.
36. ON IDA
Do you know why noble Ida wears a plume in her hat? Or why she’s marked by the plume of a general? Because, just as he is general over his army, she is general over her husband. Out of the house he’s in command, at home she is.
37. TO AN IMPECUNIOUS FRIEND
When a friend gives something you and you have nothing to give, if you have a grateful impulse I praise you. It’s enough for you to have had the wish.
38. TO A WEALTHY FRIEND
Receive this welcome and remarkable thing in lieu of a gift, namely nothing, a thing which I have acquired cost-free. For nothing is more valuable than virtue, nothing is more precious than gold, and nothing is more welcome than supreme authority.
39. AN EPITAPH OF HIS GRANDFATHER ARCHIBALD
This was the last war the English waged against the Scots, and I pray that it will always continue to be the last one. Here Archibald fell in the unlucky fight, and died as a dear sacrifice for his nation. But may the beings of heaven forgive you, you English! Thus I, his grandson, forgive you now.
40. ON UMBRIO
“No woman is ever chaste,” says Umbrio. Isn’t he proving that his mother is a whore?
41. ON A DISSIMULATOR
Whoever you are that dissimulates, remember to do so as you are yielding your deceitful neck to the gallows. And if you do so quickly, before anyone catches on, I will regard you as an accomplished dissimulator.
42. TO THE REVEREND JOHN ADAMSON , HIS FORMER PRECEPTOR
Adamson, most faithful devotee of the sacred Word, under whose hand I gained the glory of my laureation, with you showing the way, the writings of the old Stagirite plainly disclosed themselves to my mind. And you molded peaceful manners in my heart. Whatever I know, I know thanks to you.
43. TO THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Alma mater of learned men, second beacon of the English race, from whose excellent light it takes its enlightenment, queen of the Muses’ choir, may great Apollo make your offspring enduring for all time.
44. TO QUEEN ANNE
I have no idea if Britain is named after Brutus, but I do know that the greater part of Britannia is taken from Anna.
45. TO SIR ROBERT AYTON, SECRETARY TO QUEEN ANNE &c.
Ayton, sated with Phoebus’ inexhaustible streams, the living marrow of Pallas and the goddess Suasion, Mars bestows his honors alone on other knights, but Mars and Apollo join in conferring them on you. Let one of your hands grasp the pen and the other the sword, and thus you will be worthy of both your titles.
46. TO THE SAME
You are such a great man that Latium, nay not even Quintilian himself, could scarcely pronounce your name. You are Eton or Ethos [Character personified], and it hardly matters which, for you by yourself possess all endowments of mind.
47. ON A CERTAIN DOMINICAN
Since your heart is tainted with the venom of Hell, I don’t call you a dog, I call you a Demonican.
48. TO EDWARD COKE, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE KING’S BENCH AND SUPREME LORD OF ENGLAND AFTER THE KING &c.
The mouth of Themis, the tongue of Suasion, and the mind of Minerva: albeit you are one man you possess the gifts of three goddesses.
49. TO KING JAMES, ABOUT THE SAME MAN
Although laws have perished with the great passage of years and rights have been reduced to light ashes, you will find these reborn from the heart of Coke, so that you may see them renewed thanks to his care.
50. TO SIR FERNANDO GORGES, COMMANDER OF THE FORT OF PLYMOUTH AND THE POET’S MAECENAS
Famous captain, and a knight to manages to combine Pallas and Mars, acting so that both gods extol your titles, Fernando, since for your name you in your greatness of spirit possess the noble name of a great sovereign. For you have all the powers of a king in your fair body as well as a strong mind. All you lack is the destiny.
51. TO THE SAME
At this point in my book I am subordinating you to the King, because he has no better subordinate, whether you delight in Mars or the Muse. You are a Maecenas to the Muse, your soldiers honor you as a Mars, and our Augustus alone has the need of your merits.
52. ON UNWORTHY MAYORS OF CITIES
What happens to an almanac after its year is over, this is what is wont to befall an unworthy mayor. For when both of them have finished their year, they are both nothing else but a used-up almanac.
53. TO AN EPIGRAMMATIST
Be easy on me, you who write epigrams. I don’t like hard foolery.
54. TO ROME
Come tell me, Rome, why do you praise the eagle more than the goose? The latter saved you, the former has often plundered you.
55. ON STUDENTS OF DIVINITY
Many men have only studied religion so they might neglect all humanity.
56. TO JAMES STUART, LORD OF OCHILTREE &c.
The noble pedigree of your father, which first shone bright by a better fate, but quickly was all but extinguished, has at length blazed forth with new honor in you, his son, and a new founder possesses this ancient treasure. So congratulations on your virtue, you may set yourself before your ancestors. Let things grow better, in proportion to your deserts.
57. ABOUT HIMSELF, TO A VAIN MAN
You boast of your breeding, you vain man. Let my own be ever so noble, but, if I wish, I can boast of my brains rather than my breeding.
58. ON MARCULUS, A MATHEMATICIAN
When you boast that you could consume a month in teaching your brand of mathematics, Marculus, I am not surprised. For your method of abstraction was unknown to the mathematician of old. He was want to abstract essence from subject things [i. e., subject to our senses], whereas you subtract things themselves from reason.
59. ON A DISSIMULATOR
He who dissimulates captivates everybody, including the man who is captivated by no captiousness. But the captive of his dissimulation does not have him for a dissimulator twice.
60. ON A SHOW-OFF
You want to seem very expert. I want a man to be expert, but not very much so.
61. THE UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS
St. Andrews is the foremost university of the Scottish nation, in terms of date, fortune, condition, and place. But even if it stands supreme in its understanding of things, other institutions are vying with it, not without praise.
62. ON PAETUS
I don’t know why you praise so many poets, Paetus. I do know that none speaks your praises.
63. ON DANICUS
You’re always saying “I refuse,” “I refuse” is what you’re always saying. Do you want a hundred pounds? Then finally say “I accept.”
64. TO WILLIAM KERR OF GATESHAW
If the captain of Ithaca gained great praise for “knowing the manners and customs of many cities,” how much honor is due to you, Kerr, who know every kind of manners and all the world, since you are a flesh-and-blood man?
65. THE CONCORD OF THE SISTER UNIVERSITIES OF OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE
Just as Oxford and learned Cambridge admit they are sisters, so no man would deny it. Their entire quarrel is which is the firstborn, for the one claims to be the elder and the other refuses to be the younger. So that they might but an end to this strife, let them therefore be twins, created by a single childbirth.
66. ON THE SAME
As they are sisters, so let them be twins: Oxbridge and Camford.
67. ON A BAD POET
You write sweet songs, with soft-flowing measures, and you imagine they will never perish. You’re wrong: harsh and pungent ones live longer, but they too go rotten, unless they are sprinkled with some salt of wit.
68. A MISERLY MASTER
I am not a master [dominus] because I’m worthy of that title. I’m called such because I give less [do minus.]
69. ON CURIUS
Curio says he’s content to live on a little. Indeed, for he lives by his wits.
70. TO KING JAMES
The delightful olive presides over our British folk, James; peace and quiet are enjoying your tranquil yoke. Therefore we happily thank you for such a great gift, and your realms delight in your guardian spirit.
71. TO JOHN MURRAY, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO KING JAMES &c.
Oh thrice-dear to our god on earth, thrice-dear to the Almighty, Murray, and also the great hope of my Muse, why is such a noble name conferred on your merits? Do you have it because you are easy (ῥάδιος) of manners? There’s no doubt about it, you are so easy and graceful to your friends. And so, Mor-ραδιον, King James should adore you.
72. ON POETRY
Not all times are suitable for the reading of poems, nor is every place. He is wise who knows to recite when the time and the place require, but he is wiser who knows how to keep silent.
73. ON KING JAMES’ ANGELS
Few men seek after Jehovah’s guardian angel, but very many seek after James’ angels.
74. TO ALEXANDER RAMSAY M. D.
Since you are Rami-σεος, a god of the branch (rami θεός), I mean a second Apollo among physicians, what a great honor this is for you! For this is the golden branch of the Underworld that is carried about, to which the Trojan’s branch must yield. For that one of his guided living souls to Hades, but this one of yours has more often fetched back ones that were extinct.
75. THE EPITAPH OF JOHN MURRAY
Great Murray is not dead, only that man is dead whom imperious death snatches away. But death has no empire over the Muses and Phoebus’ undying gifts, and he was a poet.
76. TO MARS
Drop the M from your name, Mars, and you’ll lose your oaken toughness. Thus you will become venerable art [ars] for learned men.
77. TO TOBIE MATHEW, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK &c.
Tobie, you can truly be said to be a Tobias, such is your charity. And you can properly be called a Matthew, for you have his mind and his modesty. But you can see that you are more: for I say that as a single person you embody the natures and names of two.
78. ON SCHIOPPE
You learned and shrewd parasite of your master, Schioppe, how well you have a name composed of […] [“shadowed”] and ὄψ [“voice”]. For, lest your swindle be manifest to the silly common folk, you hide your voice under a shadow, you rascal.
79. TO AVITUS
Tomorrow you’ll become prudent, Avitus, you’re always saying tomorrow. It’s not enough to say that. Rather you should start today.
80. TO HIS MOTHER JONET
Because nobody praises his mother without praising himself, I shall not pronounce your praises. If I am found to be praiseworthy, the doing is all yours. Your praise is mine, and mine is yours.
81. ON MILVIUS
If you are a good-for-nothing, Milvius, you always will be. For a good-for-nothing is always a good-for-nothing, and nothing else.
82. ON LYCOPHRON
No sooner had my hand picked up difficult Lycophron than he slipped out of my hand. He fell, and I instructed my hand and foot to pick up the poet, but they were by no means willing. What to do? My limbs refused to obey me. What should I do? You’ve fallen, Lycophron, so lie there.
83. AN EPITAPH ON JOHN MACKIE
Here lies Mackay, the image of old-time simplicity, who set the standard for honest friendship. He is not covered by thick marble, for his plain simplicity and his friendship should be plain to see.
84. TO A CERTAIN COURTIER
You courtier, if wanton lust is dear to your heart, the sheepfold [caula] suits you better than the court [aula].
85. ON GŰNTHER, A PROFESSOR OF GREEK LITERATURE
When it comes to Greek, Günther, there’s no better professor than you, not if he were a Greek himself. You’re German, and no nation in all the world is more learned in Greek.
86. ON A CERTAIN MAN
What prevents you from taking so much pleasure in paintings, since like always takes pleasure in like?
87. ON THE SCALIGERS, JULIUS AND JOSEPH
Both father and son, born of noble blood, established the ultimate boundaries of the Pierian choir. Joseph refused to sire a son, lest he beget someone who would not follow in his father’s footsteps. For, just as there are only two great lights in heaven, so there could be no more than two on earth.
88. ANOTHER ON THE SAME MEN
I’m not surprised that the Scaligers climb to heaven, since they carry about with them the ladders [scalae] with which to climb.
89. ON A PURE ACADEMICIAN
Oh most learned of men who were or are, yet most foolish of men who were or are, how how I’d like you to become more prudent, my academician, or less expert.
90. TO DAUCUS
You say that you are lettered, Daucus, you say that you are learned. You are in the habit, Daucus, of saying that which is not so.
91. TO LIVIDUS
You keep exclaiming that my epigrams are too short, Lividus. I agree, if you think a giant to be short. Nothing is short to which you you can’t add anything. But the poems you write are long even when they are short.
92. TO MORIO
Do you want to become wise? You’re lying, Morio, you don’t want that. But if you do, this is how you can. Use counsel. Don’t make a racket using big words, and don’t please yourself too much. If you have this power, if you have such great strength of mind, you can be a Minerva, even if now you are a Morio.
93. TO MARCULUS
You claim that I never knew my mother, Marculus. And I think you never knew your father.
94. ON OLUS
The head and neck of a Spaniard, the back of a Briton, the thighs of a Swede, and the paunch of a Dutchman: these are all yours, I admit. Olus The only thing that’s missing is a sound mind in that brain of yours.
96. ON A CERTAIN CURIO
Curio has emptied his purse to buy gold slippers. He says that, because he has contempt for gold, he tramples it underfoot.
97. TO A CERTAIN MISER, A RETROGRADE POEM
You do a fine job of subsidizing the devotees of Phoebus, and you are unstinting with the the due rewards given to poverty-stricken Muses. Now I know that you scorn wealth, and, being a noble man, you have no love of gold. You are no common fellow, filthier than a pig.
98. TO ZOILUS
This deadly poem is sprinkled with dire hemlock. Are you accustomed to chewing, Zoilus? Go ahead, have a bite.
99. THE GAME OF CHESS
Tower, horseman, priest, king, queen, and footman. Just as the footman goes straight, he captures diagonally, attacking and capturing by this means. The king stands, unless he is compelled to take a single step. The priest moves and captures diagonally. The horseman advances and does his killing by a crooked path. The tower imperturbably dashes through the midst of the fray.
100. TO KING JAMES
The Muse takes her beginning from Jove, but as far as I am concerned, James, not only my beginning but also my ending will be taken from you.
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