Epigrams by Martial are very instructive for our knowledge of daily life at Rome. I never realized that shoemakers had to chew the leather of old shoes to make it supple again: a repulsive practice especially when the shoe was old and dirty (luto putre: dirty (puter, putre) with mud (lutum). A job not to be envied! However the unknown shoemaker in this epigram has inherited an estate at Praeneste from his patron. Praeneste is a city 25 km eastern of Rome and was a favourite summer resort for wealthy Romans due to it cool breezes.
Martial leaves us in the dark about how this shoemaker was made an heir. Some manuscripts read in line 3 decepti patroni: `deceived patron’ and this is the reading of the text at Perseus, but the text below is from the Latin Library. The translation below follows the reading decepti.
Martial is clearly full of resentment against the shoemaker – or at least pretends to be in this poem – and wonders why he as a well-educated man, living from his poems, ever took up his job as an underpaid poet, whereas an uneducated man could become so rich. A sentiment still valid today for many educated, but poorly paid writers and scholars.
Martial, book 9, LXXIII
Dentibus antiquas solitus producere pelles
et mordere luto putre vetusque solum,
Praenestina tenes defuncti rura patroni,
in quibus indignor si tibi cella fuit;
rumpis et ardenti madidus crystalla Falerno 5
et pruris domini cum Ganymede tui.
at me litterulas stulti docuere parentes:
quid cum grammaticis rhetoribusque mihi?
Frange leves calamos et scinde, Thalia, libellos,
si dare sutori calceus ista potest. 10
produco produxi productum: (here) to make longer, stretch out
pellis –is (f.): skin, hide
mordeo morsi morsum: to bite
solum: sole of a shoe
rus ruris (n.): lands, estate
indignor indignatus sum: to deem unworthy, be indignant
cella: cell, small room
rumpo rupi ruptum: to break
ardenti Falerno: Falernum was expensive wine. The shoemaker mixes it with hot water – as was common praxis (yuck!) – and so breaks the expensive crystal glass.
prurio: to itch
Ganymedes: a reference to the beautiful young man reaped by Zeus from earth to become his wine –pourer. Here also used for toy-boy.
litterula: literary learning
docuere = docuerunt
quid cum...mihi: what have I to do with, wat use was it for me
frango fregi fractum: to break
calamus: reed, pen
Thalia: the muse of poetry
scindo scidi scissum: to tear
sutor –is (m.): shoe-maker
calceus: shoe, half-boot
Translation: Bohn's Classical Library (1897), adapted by Roger Pearse (2008).
You, whose business it once was to stretch old skins with your teeth, and to bite old soles of shoes besmeared with mud, now enjoy the lands of your deluded patron at Praeneste, where you are not worthy to occupy even a stall. Intoxicated with strong Falernian wine, too, you dash in pieces the crystal cups, and plunge yourself in debauchery with your patron's favourite. As for me, my foolish parents taught me letters. What did I want with grammarians and rhetoricians? Break up, my muse, your flowing pen, and tear up your books, if a shoe can secure such enjoyments to a cobbler.