Sunday, 4 December 2016

Martial: a life spent well is a life lived twice.

Antonius Primus was a friend and admirer of Martial and in return Martial mentioned him in various epigrams and even devoted some complete epigrams to him. In this epigram Martial portrays him as a complacent old man, looking with satisfaction back on the life he has lived. We might well feel envy for such a happy life, were it not that this vir bonus is also known from another source: `This man, though an offender against the law, and convicted of fraud in the reign of Nero, had, among the other calamities of war, recovered his rank as a Senator. Having been appointed by Galba to command the 7th legion, he was commonly believed to have often written to Otho, offering the party his services as a general. Being slighted, however, by that Prince, he found no employment during the war. When the fortunes of Vitellius began to totter, he attached himself to Vespasian, and brought a vast accession of strength to his party. He was brave in battle, ready of speech, dexterous in bringing odium upon other men, powerful amidst civil strife and rebellion, rapacious, prodigal, the worst of citizens in peace, but in war no contemptible ally.’ (Tacitus, Historiae, 2.86). Of course both accounts are not mutual exclusive: combined they show that a questionable character can be satisfied with his life. They also show that judging a person is a matter of perspective: Martial as friend, Tacitus as historian.

Martial, X.23

Iam numerat placido felix Antonius aevo
       Quindecies actas Primus Olympiadas
Praeteritosque dies et tutos respicit annos
       Nec metuit Lethes iam propioris aquas.
Nulla recordanti lux est ingrata gravisque;                            5
       Nulla fuit, cuius non meminisse velit.
Ampliat aetatis spatium sibi vir bonus: hoc est
       Vivere bis, vita posse priore frui.

numero: to count, enumerate
aevum: (old) age
quindecies actas Olympiadas: as the Olympic games took place every fourth year, one would expect that Antonius was sixty. However, if inclusive counting is used, he would be 75. Translators and commentators differ on this point. The idea of inclusive counting has always escaped my ratio.
praeter-eo: to pass by, go by
Lethes propioris: of Lethe (coming ever) nearer (Lethe is the river of death, surrounding the underworld. Lethes is a Greek genitive)
recordanti: for him remembering (recordor)
lux = dies
amplio (-are): to increase, amplify
cuius meminisse: memini (to remember) only occurs in the perfect tense, but it has a present meaning. It is both constructed with the accusative or – as here – with the genitive.
fruor fructus (+ abl.): to enjoy
hoc est vivere bis, vita posse priore frui: whatever the character of Antonius Primus, Martial has certainly a point in general.

Translation: Bohn's Classical Library (1897)


The happy Antonius Primus now numbers fifteen Olympiads (75 years) passed in tranquillity; he looks back upon the days that are gone, and the whole of his past years, without fearing the waters of Lethe to which he daily draws nearer. Not one day of his brings remorse or an unpleasant reflection; there is none which he would be unwilling to recall. A good man lengthens his term of existence; to be able to enjoy our past life is to live twice.

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