Commentary notes can be accessed by clicking on a blue square. The Latin text can be accessed by clicking on a green square.
THE SIXTH CENTURY OF EPIGRAMS
1. TO PRINCE CHARLES
I dedicate my prayers to God, Charles, and my verses to you. May God grant you have a care for my Muse.
2. TO THE SAME
Piety, probity, wisdom and virtue compete for first place in you. One makes you famous, Charles, another makes you dear to God, the third makes you upright, and the fourth makes you pious. I congratulate you! Which is victorious? None. For the one which has won is bested by you, thanks to its gift.
3. TO THE READER
Don’t read what I tell you to, or what someone else has prescribed. Rather read that which best pleases your nature.
4. TO POPE LEO
I’m not surprised that you chose the name of a beast. I am surprised that you want to be called Leo, since you’re a wolf.
5. TO CYCLICUS
Cyclicus, you’re pleasant, upright, harmless, friendly and learned in Greek and in Latin. That’s all well and good. But your great shortcoming is that you’re a poet.
6. ON TOBACCO
Because you make men drunk, should you be called petun? I’d rather call you a potion. You call a potion Do-Baccho [“I give to Bacchus”] when a man is drunk. Thus wine’s fumes are banished by yours.
7. TO A WEALTHY MISER
Although Holy Writ teaches us that it is always better to give than to receive, this greedy miser contends that it is better to receive. And he doesn’t only receive, but rather receives and plunders. But if he refuses to give, and wants to receive everything, in the end let him therefore receive a noose for his neck.
8. ON MARRIAGE
I don’t like a marriage where goods are not held in common. For if both husband and wife can say “these things are mine, ” they can perhaps say “this son is mine, that daughter’s mine.”
9. ON TOBACCO
Because tobacco is given to the wine-sodden, why isn’t it better called do-Baccho [“I give to Bacchus”]?
10. TO THE PHILOSOPHER ANDREW AIDIE
Whether you should be Αἴδιος [“Immortal”] or ought to be called Αἰδώς [“Veneration”], both names suit your merits. The one is an honor, and according to the other you’ll outlive the centuries. Take both, and thus your honor will grow eternal.
11. A MISER’S INVITATION
Whenever this miser issues me an invitation, he only does so when he’s home alone. But when he invites many of his friends to dinner, I’m never invited to join the meal. Why does he do this, you ask? Because I’m his familiar. But I’d prefer to be familiar with his dinner.
12. TO PATRICK HANNAY
Who would compete with you, Hannay, concerning the antiquity of your stock, since your family is descended from Romans? Two Hannaeuses have enjoyed distinction, a poet and a philosopher, and you can join them as a third Hannaeus.
13. TO ZOILUS
I’m not taxing your virtue, want to know why? It’s because you have no virtue. Understand?
14. TO A DETRACTOR
Why, my detractor, do you thus torment my epigrams? Why do you rip up everything while making that silly face? This verse is unmetrical, that word is not good Latin, and, you say, this is hard to read or off-color. Not a single point escapes your notice, you carp at everything. For you have no idea what’s good and what’s bad.
15. TO A BOASTER, ABOUT HIS REPUTATION
I do believe this reputation of yours can soar above the stars, for it’s light and has no weighty substance.
16. TO GAURUS
Those things you walk around in, that leather in which your foot takes pride, once was a stinking cowhide, Gaurus. I’m surprised at the arrogance that strikes your heart when you pass me by thus without doffing your hat. Rather see what you do and don’t disdain your old friend. A cow exists in nothing but its hide.
17. TO HIS BROTHER ARCHIBALD
You know how unfriendly this world is, Archibald, and everybody acts for his own benefit, not that of his kith and kin. Either brotherly love has never existed, or at least is rare nowadays. But your dear love is not rare for me.
18. TO A WOMAN
If you don’t want to sell meat, woman, close up your butcher’s stall. I mean, cover your bosom.
19. AN EPITAPH OF HENRI LE GRAND, KING OF FRANCE. HENRI SPEAKS
Born to a tiny kingdom, I left behind a great one, but one that would have been greater had I lived. But treachery prevented me from fulfilling these threats. For the undisguised sword of Mars and a visible hand could not destroy me, but when my power seemed to be carried to its ultimate apex, than I experienced your deceit, you traitor.
20. TO QUEEN ANNE
Noble offspring of Jove, you may be the royal consort Anne to others, but to your king you are Zeus-sent.
21. TO WALTER STEWART, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO KING JAMES &c.
Scion of noble men for whom, thanks to Gods favor, splendid fame shines on your fine virtue, I congratulate you, for you are entering upon the path by which a man mounts to the stars. Oh, let my good wishes be fulfilled, thanks to your good deserts! Just as your original ancestor adopted the of Stewart instead of his own, so let his name be an omen of your lot.
22. TO AN ORATOR, ABOUT A POET
You say the poet’s raving, and I admit that he is. But he raves in verse, while you do the same in prose.
23. TO LIVIDUS
You sneer at my epigrams because they are two-liners, Lividus, and you call them puerile. Two-liners they are, I admit, and yet they are not those of Cato. Have no fear, I’m not criticizing your morals.
24. TO SIR WILLIAM ALEXANDER OF MENSTRY &c.
Once Greece could boast of three tragic bards, Aeschines [sic!], Sophocles, and its misogynist. But Great Britain can boast of a single bard equal to these three: yourself, Alexander. But it could say that you are not just their equal, but their superior in spirits, if not in years.
25. ON AULICUS
You say nobody is born without dislike. You choose to dislike me rather than to have pity on me.
26. TO JOHN MOYLE, GENTLEMAN
Let him who boasts himself to be a Maro without acknowledging his own name cease being a Maro. Or, if Maro wishes to persist in being such, let him be so only in Latin. Now you, an English would-be Maro, will be a Moyle.
27. ON A LAME MAN
The king sent for the lame man, but he didn’t come. Why should he? He had no feet.
28. TO ROBERT FALCONER OF BALLANDRO
Falconer, darling of Bellona and thunderbolt of Enyo, you who have a threefold defense surrounding your breast because your great names speak of your being a scythe in battle (falcem belli), a manly sort (ἄνδρα), and an Ares, nobody will deny you to be a man of war, but your supreme glory is that, while being a soldier, you maintain a pious heart.
29. TO A FELLOW GUEST
A serving-wench is bringing me a pie containing a fat haunch of venison. Have a guess, fellow guest, why she’s bringing it to me. She only brings it to table so she may take it away again.
30. THE EPITAPH OF THE POET JOHN DOUGLAS
He who was the first turned my Muses’ attention to poetry and bid them drink of the sacred waters, Douglas, that glory of the Pierian Muses, lies in this tomb, together with his heart and the corpse of our friendship. To him I dedicate these verses and my due gestures of piety, eternal monuments of my sense of obligation.
31. ON GLAUCA
You sprinkle your locks with perfume, Glauca, and, trust me, you don’t do so without good reason. They don’t belong to your head, Glauca, but rather they are purchased. They belonged to a hanged woman or a whore.
32. ON MARRIED LIFE
Many men dispute much about married life, holding various opinions. But that marriage strikes me as best where the husband issues the orders.
33. ON BIBO
You say you never drink when away from home, Bibo, and this is why: you don’t drink since nobody invites you.
34. ON AN ADULTERER
He sleeps with a friend’s wife, calling her common property. For friends hold all things in common.
35. TO CACOZELUS
Who, I ask, is so foolish or so supine that he could endure having you for a minister? Who could tolerate you bawling from a pulpit with your hoarse voice, or speaking of things you don’t understand? If a gown, if tithes, if performing the duties of office could make a man a minister, then a muleteer could be one just as much as you.
36. ON A CERTAIN MAN
You’re learned, but perhaps you’ll be able to deny this. So you’re not learned. Can you deny that?
37. TO MARIANUS
Were I to give you a gift, you’d be richer than rich. I’ll give you nothing, Marianus, for you’re rich enough.
38. ON A CERTAIN MAN
You’re learned, noble, and rather eloquent. Become nobler, more learned and more eloquent, what’s it to me?
39. THE EPITAPH OF GAVIN DUNBAR, THE BROTHER OF THE POET’S GRANDFATHER ARCHIBALD
At Glasgow I was a tutor, a prelate, and likewise a Chancellor who enhanced, nourished and helped the pious hearts and realm of my king and nation with my intellect, my holy offices, my goodly counsel. Secure, loving, and praying, I supported the helpless, the learned, and God. I lived ten lustra [fifty years], I flourished, I died.
40. THE UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN, BUILT THERE BY BISHOP GAVIN,THE BROTHER OF THE POET’S GREAT-GRANDFATHER
Just as the effort was his, so it is the glory of Gavin, that now the University of Aberdeen flourishes with its learned ministers and raises its lofty head to the stars. Here he established the first beginnings of such a great school
41. THE SAME GAVIN’S BRIDGE OVER THE DEE
The swollen Dee glides around Aberdeen with its surging waters, uncrossable by any horses. And since a prelate caused a bridge to be built here, did he not show he was a true pontiff [pontifex, “bridge-maker”]?
There was once the bridge of Caius, now there’s that of Gavin. Thus he is famous for all time.
43. TO THE REVEREND JAMES ADAMSON OF PENNINGHAM
Do you imagine, Adamson, that I have possibly forgotten you and could keep my silence about the sacred gifts of your mind? You are learned and prudent, and a faithful Christian minister. If I were to keep my silence about this, your reputation could not.
44. THE DEATH OF THE REV. ROBERT ROLLOCK OF EDINBURGH
When Rollock’s pure mind was about to migrate through the air to highest heaven, he said, “My mind, continue suffering yourself to be pent up in this dark prison. Very soon you will depart in freedom, start on your way.” He spoke, and, bursting all the bonds of his lifeless body, he quickly beheld the countenance of God.
45. BRIDES OF OUR AGE
Formerly a woman was given to a man for the sake of help [opem]. But now she is given for the sake, not of help, but of wealth [opes]. A wife is taken either for the sake of wealth, or for that of doing The Deed [opus]: the beautiful for the sake of The Deed, the unlovely for her wealth.
46. TO HOMER
Once upon a time you were always speaking of the “well-greaved Achaeans.” Nowadays you can properly describe the English as such.
47. ON MAEVIUS
He doesn’t change his shirt once within a single year. If you ask the reason why, Maevius has only a sole single shirt to his name.
48. ON HIMSELF
What good does it do me now that I derive my noble pedigree from countless ancestors on both my father’s and my mother’s sides? Both my father and my mother were born of distinguished stock, as were their mothers, and also their fathers. So too my kinsmen and my entire clan, and yet in the meantime I am nothing but a poverty-stricken poet.
49. TO MISTRESS ANNE GORGES &c.
You are possessed of rare faith, piety, prudence, candor, beauty, and the grace conjoined with that beauty. In you each and every virtue flourishes so much that it is doubtful whether this one or that takes precedence.
50. TO THE SAME
I can hardly say whether your mind or your hand is better. Your mind is much-knowing, your hand is healing.
51. TO RICHARD CAREW OF ANTHONY
Whether you choose to imitate historians or poets in their art, nor explain obscure points of law, you excel all men. I am unsure whether you will be another Vergil, another Livy, or another Papian, but, since you excel in a multiplicity of tongues, thus you can be another dear [carus] Scaliger.
52. TO THE SAME
I’m not surprised if you have the name of a dear man, distinguished Carew. For men call dear whatever is rare.
53. TO W. OGSTON, PYLADES TO ALEXANDER UDNEY
Since the anagram of your name wants you to be οὐδένι Gνωστόν [“known to nobody”], as Pylades was said to be known to his friend, how well you thus live! For he who is not known to anybody is concealed. And he who does a good job of concealing himself lives well.
54. ON SOMEBODY WHOSE NAME MAKES THE ANAGRAM VILIS NOTUS [“VILE BLOT”]
There’s no reason for me to put your name in my pages undisguised, for you are a vilis notus in all respects. Understand?
55. TO FANNIA
Your face is store-bought, Fannia, as are your teeth. Did you buy your tongue? No, you possess quite enough of that.
56. TO GEORGE SIBBALD
Whether you choose to express yourself in Greek, or in the Latin language, or in Hebrew tones, to set forth sacred things or the art of great Machaon, or recount old-time deeds recorded by ancient books, there is no man to whom you must defer. Rather than you deferring to a single man, learned Sibbald, everything should defer to you.
57. THE FRIENDSHIP OF THESEUS AND PEIRITHOUS
The famous Theseus hastened to dark Orcus for the sake of Peirithous’ loyal friendship. Antiquity witnessed only a single Theseus, whereas our times see many a Peirithous.
58. TO KING JAMES
Some adore the image of Peter, and others that of Paul. But I, great sir, prefer only your own.
59. TO SIR ROBERT KERR OF ANCRAM, GENTLEMAN OF THE BEDCHAMBER TO PRINCE CHARLES &c.
If the greatest virtue is to love one’s king and his honor, to love one’s nation and the son of his king, this greatest virtue assuredly belongs to you. If this is the greatest praise, then the greatest praise will be yours too. And this is the greatest virtue, the greatest praise. Let Envy itself sound your praises.
60. TO THE SAME
In you, the name comes from the thing, not the thing from the name. For Kerr, you do a fine job of giving the thing its name. For it is not dear (carus) because such is your name, but you have the noble name of Kerr because you are indeed dear.
61. ON FRANCIS DRAKE
If Drake could have guarded all the gold of the Hesperides he fetched for us, he could have been another dragon.
62. THE DEATH OF HENRI LE GRAND, KING OF FRANCE. HENRI SPEAKS
When Loyola’s crew, which I had banished from my realm, was recalled with my permission, in vain they often tried to lessen my heart’s unfriendliness, striving to possess it once more. They could not do so with a living man’s heart, so they strove to gain it after I had been murdered, and now in their savagery they possess that for which they had so often sought.
63. THE SAME, TO THE JESUITS OF LA FLÈCHE, TO WHOM THE THE KING’S HEART WAS GIVEN FOR BURIAL
La Flèche, although that heart which you wholeheartedly sought is in your possession, you will not find it flexible. For you did not possess it while alive, and, although you have it now that it is deprived of the light, you still do not possess it.
64. TO THE BROTHERS GAMALIEL AND JEAN DE MIRANDE
I congratulate you on your minds, you lads who have been enhanced by the better Muses. Run your father’s noble course, as you are doing. He is sped along by Themis, by the Sisters consecrated to Phoebus, by his faith, conjoined with piety, and by his pure life. By these arts he earned himself the pinnacle of honors, and by these your father’s honor is to be gained by yourselves.
65. TO PLOUTA, A WIDOW
Do you imagine, Plouta, that this man whom your wealth makes your husband was ever smitten with love for you? He loves your gold, your money and lands, and not you. If you are rich, you can be the wife of any man you desire.
66. TO PETER GOLDMAN M. D.
“Now at length the golden centuries have returned to the world.” But these golden ages have produced none other such as you.
67. TO THOMAS DEMPSTER OF MUIRESK &c.
Historian, poet, and orator: just as Dempster is a single man who combines these, so he is excellent in them all. As a Livy he’s all but a Livy, as a Vergil all but a Vergil, as a Cicero, nothing other than a Cicero. But as a Dempster, he’s not just as Dempster: rather, he’s a Cicero, a Livy, and a Vergil rolled into one.
68. TO THE CRITICAL READER
You say that these epigrams of mine are bad, and why not? You’re a good man, so you won’t have any place in my Books.
69. TO THOMAS DICKIE
You are a shepherd and a painter, Dickie, and a learned poet. So too was Vergil a pastor, a farmer, and a knight. Let the knight defer to the bard, let the farmer defer to Apelles, and let that shepherd defer to your shepherd self. He gave nothing but fodder to brute sheep, where as you feed Christ’s flock. So are you not the greater?
70. TO JOHN CAMERON
Although Theophrastus had the eloquence of a god, nevertheless a stammering old lady criticized him as if he were a stranger. The French Calliope would scarcely criticize you, Cameron, for you so surpass the eloquence of their gods.
71. TO CERDUS, A MERCHANT
Since “precious” is derived from “price,” Cerdus, and you sell everything at a price, you are a precious man.
72. TO JOHN GORDON, DEAN OF SALISBURY, MOST LEARNED IN HEBREW &c.
When you were born, Gordon, you lacked a tongue, but Hermes, seeing this, lent you his own. And so it is not strange that you speak with a divine voice. For this is not your tongue, it belongs to the god.
73. TO A LOVER
Eros wears two wings, one to flee you and one to pursue you, and thus you are always a lover in torment. When you love you go unrequited, but when you scorn a lover you are adored. What should you do? You should not love, so that you will be loved.
74. TO THOMAS FARNABY
Without light there’s no book, and light without a book is also nothing. Light lives with a book, and a book thrives with illumination. Without you, neither Seneca nor Aquinas is alive, but by your doing life and liveliness returns to them. And so, since authors live and thrive thanks to you, great author, you must live and thrive forever.
75. ON A THIEF
The Pythagorean letter uniquely pleases a thief. That’s true: thus a gallows can also please him.
76. TO A CERTAIN MAN FROM SANQUHAR
A single eye is a mark of wisdom: thus the bards’ learned page makes the Cyclopes one-eyed. A Cyclops has been created at Sanquhar, but for the most part he is designed to be hanged rather than be wise.
77. THE PALINODE OF LYCAMBES
Once Lycambes broke his promises to Archilochus and paid the forfeits for his treachery. But now Archilochus has broken his promises to Lycambes, and his faithlessness should pay the deserved forfeit. Once the iambic poem was an avenger of crime. So will the Lycambic now do the same?
78. TO HIS BROTHER ALEXANDER
Because you bear strength in your youthful frame and a loyal heart in your breast, either these things will make you worthy of your name, or I am mistaken and the credit of bards is only an empty tale.
79. SOCRATES AND A PAUPER
This one thing I know, Socrates, that I know nothing. And this is likewise the one thing I own, namely nothing.
80. TO THE REVEREND GEORGE THOMPSON
If you recall him, Thompson, don’t scorn your friend, who admires the tokens of your genius. I am the man who with these ears so often drank in your words, full of the honeycombs of Hybla, as they came from the pulpit. You’re Scottish, but you spoke so well in the French language that a Frenchman might imagine you were a fellow-countryman.
81. ON THE ANTICHRIST
I’d like to know the reason he’s called a wolf, when he carries horns on his forehead. A wolf has no horns, such is not the wolf. In this way he will be a monster of a wolf.
82. TO HENRY CHARTERIS, PRINCIPAL OF THE COLLEGE AT EDINBURGH
Charteris, you warden of the Muses (if ever you are to be called this), since all of Greece is in your brain, together with whatever is said by an Arab or by Apella the Jew, and everything said by the servants of God in later times, how well it will suit such great endowments for you to be the Principal of the Edinburgh school!
83. ON SUFFUMUS
Sweet Suffumus differs from Alexander in odor: Alexander is said to smell good within, whereas Suffumus smells good without but reeks within. If you doubt this, take a closer sniff.
84. ON SOLANIO
It was winter when I sowed great praise in you, Solanio, and then springtime came on its dripping-wet horses. Next came summer, and then autumn, and no crop grew from my labor, although no chill harmed the seeds, no rains washed them away, and no heat scorched them. Alas! Have they been cast on barren soil?
85. TO DAVID DRUMMOND
“He who derives your name, Drummond, from “three mountains” is undoubtedly wrong. Actually it comes from twin-peaked Parnassus, and this is why you are wont to be such a great poet.
86. ON PARERGUS
Our Parergus does not wish to become a Peripatetic, for he’d prefer to remain seated. Nor a Pythagorean: he loves to eat meat. And he has no desire to be a Stoic, for he thinks it’s a vice to be good. So who does he want? Parergus wants to be a Cynic. Why? He knows how to wag his tail dutifully.
87. TO THE READER, ABOUT HIS BOOK
This book of mine is not excessive, made long by an afterpiece stuck on the end. It is not competing with Marsus’ epic about the Amazons. It only contains one hundred epigrams, and scarcely any of these exceeds a length of three couplets.
88. ON PRINCE HENRY AND PRINCE CHARLES
Henry died, and now shines in our heaven. Oh, would that Charles will not experience such transformations!
89. A WALLET, TO ITS OWNER
Why should I be hanged? I’m not a wallet which has stolen anything. Rather, like a husbandman I preserve what has been given to me. If you want me to return it, you must tweak my ears. For as often as you hang me you’ll get nothing.
90. TO CLARENCIEUX CAMDEN, ON HIS BRITANNIA
Since you have contained all the realms and places of this little world in this book, I wonder what place you yourself claim. I can scarcely say that you claim all or none, but I can confidently say that no place claims you. No wonder, for can this little place hold you, whom the wide world and its sky can scarcely contain?
91. ANOTHER TO THE SAME
While you make this little world to be familiar throughout the wide world, you too become well-known.
92. ON BRISSO
Once the great poet of Gascony said that no Breton [Britto] was a good man. But I imagine he said this in the Attic dialect, in which they used to say glotta for glossa. But if we want to speak truthfully and normally, then we should say that no Brisso is a good man.
93. A PURITAN ADDRESSES THE POPE
Since your victims are made of flesh, and since they drip blood, Pope, I do not call you a bishop, but rather a butcher.
94. CASAUBON’S SHADE ADDRESSES KING JAMES
How can I repay your gifts as they deserve, great king? I could scarce do so when alive, I can scarce do so when dead. For you invited me from my homeland to your realm, and you were the supplier of my fortune and my honor. Oh that I could have given you recompense, greatest sovereign, in the same way you gave me pensions!
95. ON MARIANUS
You wonder why I don’t believe you as you are lying, swearing so often by heaven and earth, and I have great reason. You’re the falsest of all men.
96. CHRIST ADDRESSES A PAINTER
Why are you always claiming to paint My body, you fool? Why am I so often befouled with your paint, rascal? If you wish to see Me, lift up your heart to the stars, and if you wish to paint My likeness, paint God.
97. ON SILK-WEARING BOMBUS
If men a worms, as the Bible says, then as far as I am concerned, Bombus, you’ll be a silkworm.
98. TO THE SAME, PUT DIFFERENTLY
If we are worms and ashes, then you can be a silkworm and tobacco-ash. For just as you wrap yourself in silk, so fire and tobacco-smoke issue from your fire-breathing mouth.
99. ON WOMAN,THAT SHE SHOULD BE GIVEN THE TOPMOST PLACE BY NATURE
Since all light things tend upward by nature, thus, woman, take the topmost position.
100. ON MOMUS
Since all my Books are bad in your eyes, Momus, let this be a bad ending for you too.