Martial is famous - or infamous – for his satirical, sexual explicit and misogynistic poetry, actually the reason why he is still rather widely read. The following poem has nothing of that all, but is a moving poem on the death of a girl of nearly six: Erotion. Her parents were slaves, or at least her mother. Martial must have been very fond of her and this epigram is a tribute to her short life.
Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvula ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae, 5
vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi. 10
Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla: Martial’s deceased parents
commendo (-are): to intrust, commend
oscula… deliciasque meas: apposition to puellam
deliciae –arum: darling
parvulus: diminutive of parvus
horresco horrui: to be terrified
nigras umbras: i.e. the phantoms of the deceased
Tartarei canis: Cerberus, the hound of Hades. He had three heads, hence ora.
prodigiosus: unnatural, prodigious
impletura: about to fulfil
frigus –oris (n.): coldness
bruma: the shortest day, but by extension also used for `winter’ and in poetry also for `year’.
ni = nisi
minus totidem dies: the same amount of days less, i.e. she died six days before her sixth birthday.
patronos: Martial’s parents serve now as Erotion’s patrons. Her death has set Erotion free, but a freed slave needed a patronus under Roman law, who had the responsibility for some material welfare and could serve as a representative in court.
blaesus: lisping, speaking indistinctly
garrio: to chatter
caespes –itis (m.): turf, grassy field
Translation by A.S. Klyne.
To your shades Fronto, and Flacilla, this child
I commend: she was my sweet and my delight.
Little Erotion shall not fear the darkened shades
nor the vast mouths of the Tartarean hound.
She’d have completed her sixth chill winter,
if she’d not lived a mere six days too few.
Now let her frisk and play among old friends
now let her chatter, and so lisp my name.
And let the soft turf cover her brittle bones:
earth, lie lightly on her: she lay lightly on you.