Martial Epigrams 2.36, 8.47, 10.83, 12.7 (contributed by Matthew Liscovitz)

Martial wrote several epigrams about how people wear their hair, or lack of hair. These epigrams give a quirky insight into Roman thoughts on beauty not so different from ideas of self image today.

Matthew Liscovitz




Flectere te nolim, sed nec turbare capillos;

splendida sit nolo, sordida nolo cutis;

nec mitratorum nec sit tibi barba reorum:

nolo virum nimium, Pannyche, nolo parum.

nunc sunt crura pilis et sunt tibi pectora saetis

horrida, sed mens est, Pannyche, vulsa tibi.

Please don’t curl up your hair, but don’t tangle it either;

            I don’t want your skin to be spotless nor filthy;

may your beard be not like those of Mithraic priests nor of thieves:

            Pannychus, I don’t want a manly man, nor one not manly enough.

Now your legs prickle with hairs and your chest with bristles,

            but your mind, Pannychus, is plucked clean.




Pars maxillarum tonsa est tibi, pars tibi rasa est,

pars vulta est. unum quis putet esse caput?

Part of your jowls is clipped, part is shaved,

            part is plucked. Who thinks this is a single head?





Raros colligis hinc et hinc capillos

et latum nitidae, Marine, calvae

campum temporibus tegis comatis;

sed moti redeunt iubente vento

reddunturque sibi caputque nudum

cirris grandibus hinc et inde cingunt:

inter Spendophorum Telesphorumque

Cydae stare putabis Hermerotem.

vis tu simplicius senem fateri,

ut tandem videaris unus esse?

calvo turpius est nihil comato.

You, Marinus, gather sparse hairs from both sides

and cover the wide swath of your shiny bald head

with hairs from your temples;

but moved at the wind’s command they return

and they are brought back to their proper place

and surround your naked scalp with long follicles on this side and on that:

you will think that Hermetorus of Cydas stands

among Spendephorus and Telesphorus.

Are you willing to simply admit you are an old man,

so that you might finally seem to be one person?

There is nothing uglier than a comb over.




Toto vertice quot gerit capillos

annos si tot habet Ligeia, trima est.

If Ligeia has as many years

as hairs she bears upon the whole of her head, she is three.



Chosen and translated by Matthew Liscovitz.

Text from The Latin Library. Read more.


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