Years ago I bought a small book containing Greek erotic poems, Anthologiae Graecae Erotica. The editor and translator W. Paton left some poems untranslated or sought refuge into Italian, assuming that his English readers would be less offended when they read such a poem in this language. Well, this book is from 1898 - at the end of the Victorian age – so we need not be surprised (but Italian translators translate these epigrams into English in order not to shock their public?).The same happened with the Loeb edition of Martial, published in 1919: explicit material was translated into Italian. I discovered this when I decided to post this epigram by Martial, which I happened to find this evening in a Dutch book about humour in Antiquity. The Loeb edition is on internet and I wondered how this would be translated – if at all. This means that as far as I can see, there is no English translation of this epigram and many other explicit epigrams by Martial on internet. And that is really a shame. True, there are some recent translations of such epigrams on the web, but a complete modern translation of this poet is a desideratum, as it gives an insight into Roman mentality in the first century AD. After all, we are not living anymore in the Victorian age.
In this poem Martial addresses a certain Labienus about his custom of shaving his body hair. For all those who think that this is a modern trend for men: here is the evidence that it is not. Martial can understand why he does that with some parts of his body, but one question remains…
Martial, Epigrams book 2, 62
Quod pectus, quod crura tibi, quod bracchia uellis,
quod cincta est breuibus mentula tonsa pilis,
hoc praestas, Labiene, tuae — quis nescit? — amicae.
Cui praestas, culum quod, Labiene, pilas?
pectus pectoris (n.): breast
crus cruris (n.): leg
vello velli vulsum: to rob, make free from (+abl.)
cinctus: around (cingo cinxi cinctus: to go around)
tondeo totondi tonsum: to shave
praesto praestiti praestitum: to take upon one’s self, perform
pilo: to deprive of hair
The Loeb translation:
Il perche ti dissetoli il petto, le gambe, le braccia,
il perche la rasa tua mentola e cinta di curti peli, chi
non sa che tutto questo, O Labieno, prepari per la
tua arnica? Per chi, O Labieno, prepari tu il culo
che dissetoli ?