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THE FIFTH CENTURY OF EPIGRAMS
1. TO PRINCE CHARLES
Charles, who could praise you as you deserve with a worthy poem? For praise itself is less than your merits.
2. TO THE SAME
If Agesilaus is to be believed, it is the man occupying a position [rather than the position itself] which supplies all glory. Thus, lofty prince, there is no kind of poem that can contain your glory or add to it. Rather, you yourself confer glory on all things, you make clumsy verses fitting and good, and impart grace to ungraceful things.
3. THE SALIC LAW
The Salic Law prevented the English from becoming heirs to the kingdom of France, since it prevented its lilies from becoming interwoven. And if the English do not also possess Salic Law, they do have a Salic Lake, in which (as in England’s destiny) that law could be plunged into oblivion.
4. TO A FRENCHMAN, ABOUT THE SAME
Tell me, Frenchman, why your Salic Law refuses to admit the female sex to your succession? Your Maid of Orleans taught you what a woman could do, when she bravely wrested this kingdom back from the enemy. You are not ashamed to be the heir of a maiden, but you are ashamed to have a maid inherit the realm of a man.
5. ON THE FEMALE SEX
To overcome the female sex and bend it to your will is no easy thing, nor very safe. There was nothing that Hercules did not conquer, but the glory he garnered by besting Antaeus was less than that he gained by getting the better of Antiope.
6. TO THE READER
Read these verses of mine, I pray, by which I mean understand them. It’s quite another thing to read unless you neglect nothing.
7. TO THE REVEREND ANDREW DUNCAN
As long as you possess your venerable prudence regarding affairs, while you possess your venerable love and faith, while you are equally venerable in handling texts both sacred and profane, and are venerable with your venerable eloquence, and while you grow old while being venerable for your virtue, you will always regard you as wholly a Duncan.
8. TO A SPANIARD
Spaniard, should’t you beware of rashly hatching this egg? It is scarcely safe, if a hostile chick is within.
9. TO QUEEN ANNE
Born of the noble blood of scepter-bearing kings, oh queen, lofty glory of our land, what is strange about you having such wisdom of heart? For you are the divine child of your Sophia.
10. TO CHARLES HOWARD, LORD ADMIRAL OF ENGLAND &c.
If you were to be accorded poetry that matched your merits, noble sir, they would be superior to the odes of Phoebus. By divine inspiration your excellent nature, your great mind and invincible spirit fire your heart. In yourself the Maeonian bard accurately limned Ulysses, Minerva, and the good offices of faithful Perithous.
11. ON FRANÇOIS RABELAIS
Rabelais was no Anabaptist or Papist, nor yet again a man of the reformed religion. And so, if you inquire to what sect he belonged, he was either a non-sectarian or an atheist.
12. TO A COMIC ACTOR
You change your character along with your costumes so often that I am unsure whether you are a comedian or a chameleon.
13. TO CORDOLUS
Tell me, Cordulus, you bid us call you Heart (cor), is this not a great mistake? If you were previously called Cordolus, by this logic you could be called Deceit (dolus).
14. TO A GIVING PAUPER
Whoever you are who give gifts to a wealthy man, you are saying, “give me my own back twice over.”
15. ON MARSUS
Marsus has tithes, I admit, but he owes more. When he repays, Marsus only has a tenth.
16. THE YEAR OF JULIUS CAESAR AND POPE GREGORY
While Caesar and Gregory were very properly reforming the year, they were very improperly deforming the affairs of their jurisdictions. For the ancient shape of the state was overturned by Caesar, as was time-honored religion by the Pope. I prefer that Caesar’s civil conflagration be reformed, and I prefer that Gregory’s faith undergo a reformation.
17. TO BRISSO
I could more readily enumerate the waves of the sea than pronounce your praises, Brisso. Is this because they are countless? No, you’re quite mistaken. It’s because you have none to be counted.
18. ON VIRRO
He’s always corrupting his mind with brute lust. Bah! Now, Virro, you can scarcely be virile.
19. TO THE SAME
Virro, if no guest comes to your table, Virro, your brother eats bread made out wheat fit only for dogs, whereas you always eat bread made of soft white wheat even when you’re alone and guestless. So that your brother might eat similar bread, Virro, let many a guest come to your house.
20. ON COTTA
You tell me that you alone are praised by one and all, Cotta, but you can’t say who praises you. If this is what it means to be praised by one and all, I would just as soon that you have nobody to praise you.
21. RIDDLE ABOUT A ROASTING-SPIT
Tell me the point of something which, the more determinedly you push on it, the smaller it gets towards its end?
22. TO SIR HENRY SPELMAN
Earnest supporter of the Parnassan sisters, Spelman, always to be honored by the Clarian god, whether you are making verses or pondering the doings of the ancients, you write with elegance and understand our sacred laws, no man surpasses you, no man takes precedence. Rather you are wont to surpass all men, and yet you make no boast of this either.
23. ON PLUTIUS
Plutius is mistaken in thinking nobody praises him, for Apuleius sings his praises.
24. ON ANDRAGORAS
Andragoras challenges everybody to a fight, belligerently saying, “Does any man dare tweak my ears?” And he does not protect them or try to fend off impending danger. What’s the reason? Andragoras has no ears.
25.TO HIS BOOK
Have no fear that are you friendless, my book. If your deficiency is my doing, so is your defense.
26. TO A COURTIER-POET
You only admire masters, my poet, and laud nobody but the greatest monarchs. Don’t scorn me, I beg you, although I am a lesser man. Oh how I crave to please you!
27. TO THE ANTIQUARIAN JAMES MAXWELL
You grow old over your studies, Maxwell, that but all but kill yourself with with your work. But by this means you will be able to rise up as a new Phoenix. For you, dying for these studies is life.
28. ON A CERTAIN PONTINIANUS
If there is a man in whom raging arrogance holds sway, or is so inconstant that he is moved by the slightest breeze; if there is a man in whose corrupt heart burns with avarice and knows how to break his sworn oath, and if there is a whom the sacred Muses despise, Pontinianus can serve for all of these.
29. ON OECOLAMPADIUS
It’s not stranger there’s so much light in this lamp, since it is the lamp of the very house of God.
30. TO JAMES MARQUESS OF HAMILTON &c,
You possess the immortal name of the king of our British land, and you also possess the character of a king. The king has granted you this name, for your character is worthy of your name, and your name of your character. The fabric of your great body matches that of your great spirit, so that you can be a second Achilles.
31. AN EPITAPH OF HENRY PRINCE OF WALES
Why was Henry oppressed by such an early death? So that he could be snatched up to heaven all the quicker.
32. TO JAMES HAMILTON, EARL OF ABERCORN
For what shall I praise you? For your ancient pedigree? In all the world there’s scarcely a one more distinguished. And indeed, you yourself match that breeding with your nature and personal virtues, no man better. For, if you chose, virtue could surpass this, it can only be surpassed by itself, and can only surpass itself.
33. TO ANDREW BOYD, STEWARD TO KING JAMES
Your clan is indeed great, none more powerful, none richer, none possessed of greater virtue. But you show that your own mind is greater than your clan. What your clan cannot achieve, Boyd, your mind can.
34. ON A CERTAIN MAN
A certain fellow who chanced to be praised by my Muse dissimulates, as if he owes me nothing.
35. ON GLAUCA
She says that her hair is her own, and she’s telling the truth. For she bought it.
36. ON GUTTURNIO
Gutturnio possesses bright-red nose in which Bacchus’ bright-shining comets wield their fires, a great mouth, a face framed by great big ears, a gullet such as Philoxenus would scarcely crave, a fat paunch protruding for three feet and huge legs and shins. Is he not a very great man?
37. TO A CERTAIN MAN
You don’t seek the precepts of salvation from Scripture, for all your salvation comes from looking at pictures.
38. ON THE DANAAN
If Rome is to the Latins what Troy was to the Phrygians, there will not be lacking a Dane who will be a Danaan [a Greek].
39. TO PRINCE CHARLES
Charles, our world possesses nothing loftier than you save only our Caesar, who could say I am praising you in a bland poem? For you make my bland poem a grand one.
40. TO QUINTIA
If you want to know what makes you loving, I’ll tell you. This makes you loving, Quintia, that he loves you.
41. TO ALEXANDER SEATON, EARL OF DUMFERMLINE, LORD CHANCELLOR OF SCOTLAND &c.
You are the sweet beloved of the Muse, glory of learned men, honor of peace, and darling of your nation. You place the public weal ahead of your private affairs, you subdue the proud and raise up the innocent, so that, if a throng of the virtues should ever choose to dwell on earth, it might elect to recline in the seat of Seton.
42. TO THE SAME, OTHERWISE
If the choicest of virtue is to dwell in any home at all, you, Seton, will be the man who in every respect will supply its seat.
43. ON A MISER
Tell me, for I’d like to know, why are you called a miser [avarum]? Is it because you crave gold [aves aurum]?
44. ON A WIFE
I don’t care that this woman speaks Greek and Latin, or that she knows French and Italian. I don’t like all those tongues in one person. For it seems to me that even a single tongue in a wife is excessive.
45. ON A USER OF TOBACCO
Horace once said that “we are dust and shadow.” But now you say, “I am smoke and fire.”
46. ON VIRRONIUS
How can Virronius drink from the same glass with you? He doesn’t even allow the wine to be poured from the same cask. Do you want me to tell you why this Virronius acts thus? He give you watered wine, while he drinks his undiluted.
47. TO ANCIENT POETS
Moses can be called a Muse, and Aaron a mountain-man or a mountain, if the Jews are to be believed. So come hither, you bards, and confess your thefts, you who conceal God’s holy words beneath fables. The pages of holy Scripture offer you this Mt. Pindus, but Urania offers you that one.
48. TO HIS BROTHER GAVIN
Since the brothers of your grandfather and great-grandfather were both bishops of the same name of Gavin, why are you not learned, or why am I not a Gavin? Perhaps both of us will be prelates.
49. TO ZOILUS
You injure and rend good poets and stupidly raise your evil laughs. If I catch you, Zoilus, you’ll keep your silence.
50. ON THIEVES
Who made the bad suggestion that thieves’ ears should be cut off? Thieves are scarcely wont to work harm with that part of their bodies. For what wrong do ears do? An ear steals none of these things. If you must cut off some part of a thief, cut off his hand.
51. TO CORNUTULUS
You want to be like Jove, Cornutulus, and that’s a fact. Europa gave him horns, your bride gives you yours.
52. ON OLIPHUS
Oliphus carries on his back the chest he has sold, nor is this oppressive. Isn’t this Oliphus an elephant?
53. TO CURIO
Curio does ill to complain that his servants are a burden. For he carries them about on his back.
54. THE EPITAPH OF HIS GRANDMOTHER JONET MURE
I was thrice married, and singlehandedly bequeathed heirs to three manors, to the houses of Newark, Barre and Baldoon. I a Mure of Rowallan, the daughter of a knighted Boyd, a product of the House of Boyd. After having made these men of noble stock heirs, I was made an heiress of God.
55. ON A CERTAIN MAGESTELLUS, REVEREND BY TITLE
He thinks it a fine thing to be called by the title The Reverend, although there’s nothing reverend about him save the name. But if he wants a title that matches the facts of his case, he who was The Reverend will be called The Irreverent.
56. ON BASSUS, A TAVERNER
You drink bad wine, Bassus, but sell fine vintage to others. This is tantamount to letting others drink while selling to yourself.
57. TO DOMINUS PHILIPS, BISHOP OF MAN
Man is a tiny center-point between three kingdoms: around it lie the English, the Scotch, and Ireland. Since you have your see at this center, right worthy prelate, three kingdoms reverence your titles.
58. TO JEAN DE MIRANDE, NAVAL JUDGE AT LA ROCHELLE &c.
What gravity you possess, and what experience of affairs, and at the same time what sound intellect and judgment! I scarcely know how to conceive of these things, let alone describe them to you, your gifts are beyond my powers of conception. Thus De Mirande’s qualities needs must be admirable. So will you not be a wonder of your age?
59. TO HENRY REGINALD ON HIS VERY LEARNED DAUGHTER BATHSUA
Bathsua writes such learned verses, Reginald, that I could believe her to be the tenth Muse. How blessed I could think you to be for this blessed child, since none but gods are wont to sire goddesses!
60. TO A CERTAIN MAN
Because you own many books you want to be thought learned. Thus a bookseller is also learned. Get the point?
61. CORNUTUS’ HOROSCOPE
Virgo possesses his heart, Cancer his head, and either Taurus, Aries or Capricorn his brow.
62. ON THE ASTROLOGER DAVID ORIGANUS
I am not surprised that this man understands the causation of the stars and can enumerate the heavenly Houses. For he himself is from the stars, and it does not matter whether you call him Origanus or Erigone.
63. ON GRETSER AND BARONIUS
Gretser grunts and Baronius bellows. The one is a great beast, the other is a Jesuit scion of swine.
64. TO SIR FULKE GREVILLE, PRIVY COUNCILLOR TO KING JAMES &c.
Greville, you eternal glory of the Boeotian Sisters, what a fine name, what a fine surname you have! You are called Greville [Gravelus] because your grace gives you a veil, which you can use as a sail to vault over the stars whenever such is your volition. You are Fulke because, just as Atlas provides a fulcrum for the stars of the heaven, so you provide one for the Astraea of your native land.
65. ABOUT HIMSELF, TO A WEALTHY MISER
Shouldn’t you ask who I am? Ask who I am. “But you’re a pauper,” you say. I am what you cannot be, even if you sell everything you own. But that which you are, any man at all can be.
66. WOMAN’S CONSTANCY
Woman, I admit, is constant. For a woman is only constant in her inconstancy.
67. TO CORNUTULUS
Tell me the gender of your children, Cornutulus. Are they masculine, neuter, or female? They aren’t masculine, for you’re barely a man yourself. They aren’t female, for neither are you. Yet they can’t be neuter. What remains? That they are of a common or doubtful gender.
68. ON THE SAME
You are such a Cornutus that I can hardly tell you whether you have more hairs or horns [cornua].
69. A HUNTING DOG
Nobody catches a hare better than I, and this is the way of it: when the hare is on a plate, nobody catches it better.
70. ON A DRUNKARD
Since you take such delight in visiting a tavern [tabernam], perhaps you can also go to Tibernum.
71. TO MATTHEW CRAWFORD
Since the partner of your chamber still lives and thrives, Crawford, let him also be mindful of you. Let these verses attest this to you, and let them attest that in you Pallas has joined hands with the Muses.
72. TO AN UNCONSTANT MAN
In part you’re like a Spaniard, in another part you’re like a Frenchman. Tell me, who could imagine you to be a single man?
73. TO RUFUS
Being learned, Rufus, you want to seem a worthy man. But a man who is learned is almost no man at all.
74. ON GREAT BRITAIN,TO KING JAMES
Why should not this is island be called one of the Fortunate Isles, since it has been a happy island? It is Albion, I admit, but it could also be called Olbion. It is the happy realm of a happy prince.
75. TO SIR ROBERT CAREY, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO PRINCE CHARLES &c.
Brave and men are born of brave and good men, and Jove’s eagle does not father a cowardly bird. Nor, Carey, if your consummate modesty should care to dissimulate your breeding could it do so. For your manners, for your mind with its royal endowments prevent this, and proclaim “this is the mind of a king.”
76. TO MASTER SILK
To be like the moon, Master Silk, you change your silken garments once a month, as you tell me. And I admit that you are like the moon. Want to know why? Not because you change your silken garments this way, but rather your brain.
77. ON A TOBACCO-SMOKER
You can’t get anything out of a bag save what you put into the bag. What can come from your smoky self save smoke?
78. TO JOHN NICHOLAS, PHYSICIAN AND CLERGYMAN
Nicholas, you right learned interpreter of God’s Word, and at the same time a reborn light of the medical choir, congratulations on these new titles you are always gaining. May you fly about on the common folks’ lips, may your reputation thus lift you to the stars. Physicians are only concerned with the care of bodies, but, just as you are a healer of the mind, so you are of the body.
79. TO THAUMANTIA
What does it matter how much you paint your face, Thaumantia? For your nose proclaims you for what you are. You can alter your appearance with false color, but you can’t change that huge nose.
80. ON A DWARF
The shorter the man, the closer the ground. So when he suffers a tumble, it is to his advantage to be short. He has only a little distance to fall.
81. ON CATUS
Catus has only one vice. Want to know what it is? It’s that he’s entirely worthless.
82. ON EROS
Whom does Eros not conquer? Or whom does he not seek to conquer? He not only conquers men, but also gods. Armed bands could scarcely defeat Mars, but Venus by herself could accomplish this. Nessus himself was unable to get the better of Hercules in open warfare, but Deianira could.
83. TO JAMES CRICHTON, LORD OF SANQUHAR &c.
A good man is such a rare thing that he does not know how to exist. So how much rarer is something yet better? Every rare thing is dear, but you yourself are rarer, and so, Crichton, how dear you are to me!
84. ANOTHER TO THE SAME
You are so good, you are so pleasing and welcome to your friends that it is doubtful whether you are Crichton [κρείττων] or dearer to your friends.
85. THREE MARRIAGES
A wealthy woman, a young girl and a hag took three husbands: the one was married for her money, the second for the sake of her fortune, and the third because of her wealth.
86. TO THOMAS KER OF YAIR
I am Dunbar, Ker, half yours, but (which is more) you are wholly dear (carus) to me. But a stubborn letter prevents me from being half yours. You are Carus to me, but I am Barus [“heavy”] to you. Therefore, so that I may match you in affection, I shall change it, and to my Ker I shall always be Duncar.
87. TO PONTICUS
I said hello three or four times, Ponticus. You didn’t respond, nor did you want to. To Hell with you.
88. EXPOSTULATION WITH BARONIUS, BAR-ON-I-OS: I-OAN-NES DUN-BAR
So you dare steal the last syllable of my surname and the first letter of my Christian name? Come on, give me back my bar, give it back, Baronius. And tell me, what will you be then if not a genuine ὄνος [“donkey”]?
89. TO DOMINUS COLUMIÈRE, PASTOR OF LA ROCHELLE
For me it is a matter of doubt, learned Columière, whether your erudition or your eloquence is the greater. For you are a second Chrysostom with your gold-sounding mouth, and in your understanding you reflect the intellect of a Socrates. But your eloquence must yield to your learning: the former makes you a source of wonder to your congregation, the latter makes you such to heaven.
90 TO A BOOKSELLER
I don’t want to please you just so you’ll sell me, for I value my freedom. But I give you my friendly advice, bookseller, so as to please me don’t sell me, but just my book.
91. TO THE SAME
I don’t want you to take my books to St. Paul’s cemetery. They’re not dead.
92. ON A BAD POET
No poet is so bad, crude or unlettered that he is not in the habit of taking great pleasure in his own Muse and disdaining the poems of others, even if they are preferable to the tunes of Phoebus. For a swan is despicable to a crow, and this poet adores his own verses as much as a wallowing cow does her calves.
93. TO PRINCE CHARLES
Charles, scion of demigods, great hope of your parents, for whose praises a wholehearted Apollo scarcely suffices, pray don’t scorn my Muses, modest though they are. Often small gifts please great gods.
94. TO FREDERICK, PRINCE PALATINE OF THE RHINE &c.
Frederick, who could enumerate for your benefit the lofty glories of your house and the distinguished names of the kings it has produced? For French Charlemagne himself bequeathed you this royal pedigree with its long succession. Just as your virtue grants that your blood succeeds him, so may your fortune be successful, as befits your merits.
95. ON WOMAN
No woman is good, but if a woman can be considered good, I’ll tell you how. A woman is a woe to man, but if you change the vowels in woman [mulier] into an E and an O, she’ll be better [melior].
96. TO A MISER
You say you only want to be praised when you are dead. How I long to speak your praises, you miser!
97. ON THE COMMON RUN OF NOBLEMEN
I’m not surprised that nobleman are rarely liberal these days. For nowadays few noblemen are Masters of the Liberal Arts.
Many profess to have learned the seven Liberal Arts, when they scarcely know a single one well.
99. ON AN ADULTERER
This adulterer says it’s only a boyish crime to possess another man’s wife, and that the guilt is slight. I don’t know if it’s boyish to father a son, but I do know that the boy that achieves this is no longer boyish.
100. ON AN OSTENTATIONS SCRIVENER
This man, who was accustomed to scribble on decaying paper, wears gowns dyed with North African purple. He covers his ankles with wool fetched from the island of Cos, his shins with silk, and soft threads make up his tunic. Why describe the rest? For, just as Bias was wont to boast, he can say “I carry about with myself all that I own.”
Go to the sixth Century