Martial: Greek Mythology in Roman Spectacle

The following are selections from Martial’s De Spectaculis Liber. I have selected according to the theme “Greek Mythology in Roman Spectacle”, including epigrams that contain reference to display of a particular myth as a spectacular display in the Amphitheatre. The text of the De Spectaculis Liber is slightly fragmented, creating some confusion in the numbering of the epigrams given here. I have used the same numbering that is found in Shackleton-Bailey 1993 vol. 1, Introduction to the Loeb Classical Library edition on Martial. Additionally, line 2 of 32 (28 : 27) contains contamination from the following line; I have followed Shackleton-Bailey’s practice by including the Heraeus supplement monstra quibus fudit in translation of the passage.

Shayna Slininger



9 (7)


Qualiter in Scythica religatus rupe Prometheus

    adsiduam nimio pectore pauit auem,

nuda Caledonia sic uiscera praebuit urso

    non falsa pendens in cruce Laureolus.

Viuebant laceri membris stillantibus artus               5

    inque omni nusquam corpore corpus erat.

Denique supplicium dignum tulit: ille parentis

    uel domini iugulum foderat ense nocens,

templa uel arcano demens spoliauerat auro,

    subdiderat saeuas uel tibi, Roma, faces.               10

Vicerat antiquae sceleratus crimina famae,

    in quo, quae fuerat fabula, poena fuit.


Translation in clear English

Just as Prometheus, bound on  Scythian cliff
fed the ever-returning bird from his bountiful chest,
So did Laureolus, hanging on a cross quite real, put forth
his unprotected organs to the Caledonian boar.
The pieces of his torn up limbs were still living, dripping blood,
and in the whole of his body, the body was nowhere.
In the end, his punishment was appropriate: that man
slit the throat of his parent or his master, injuring with a sword,
or he, raving mad, despoiled some temple of its secret gold,
or perhaps he laid savage torches beneath you, Rome.
The accursed man exceeded the sins of ancient tale,
in him what was before only a story was retribution.

Second version, with close attention to Martial’s word order

As on the Scythian cliff, bound Prometheus
fed with his bountiful chest the insistent bird,
bare organs thus he offers forth to the Caledonian boar,
on a cross not false, hanging Laureolus.
They were living on, the pieces of his mutilated members, dripping;
and in all his body, nowhere was the body.
In the end the punishment was fitting — that one
stabbed the neck of his parent or his master, injuring with a sword,
or a temple he — being crazed — plundered of its secret gold,
of he laid beneath you, Rome, savage torches.
The wicked man exceeded crime of an ancient story,
in him, that which was a tale was a punishment.

14 (12)
Inter Caesareae discrimina saeua Dianae

    fixisset grauidam cum leuis hasta suem,

exiluit partus miserae de uulnere matris.

    O Lucina ferox, hoc peperisse fuit?

Pluribus illa mori uoluisset saucia telis,               5

    omnibus ut natis triste pateret iter.

Quis negat esse satum materno funere Bacchum?

    sic genitum numen credite: nata fera est.


Among the savage contests of the Caesarean Diana — the hunt in the arena
a pregnant sow had been transfixed by a light spear,
and an offspring emerged from the wound of the wretched mother.
Oh wild Lucina, was even this giving birth?
She, that mother, would have wished to die wounded by many spears
so that a sorrowful path would lie open for all her children.
Who would deny that Bacchus sprung from maternal ruin?
In this way was brought forth a god — believe that beast is born.

19 (16b)
Vexerat Europen fraterna per aequora taurus:

    at nunc Alciden taurus in astra tulit.

Caesaris atque Iouis confer nunc, fama, iuuencos:

    par onus ut tulerint, altius iste tulit.


A bull carried Europa through his brother’s sea:
but now a bull carried Alcides to the stars.
Compare, Fame, the young bulls of Caesar and Jove beside one another:
though they bore an equal burden, this one – Caesar’s bull – brought his load higher.

30 (26)
Lusit Nereidum docilis chorus aequore toto

    et uario faciles ordine pinxit aquas.

Fuscina dente minax recto fuit, ancora curuo:

    credidimus remum credidimusque ratem,

et gratum nautis sidus fulgere Laconum

    lataque perspicuo uela tumere sinu.

Quis tantas liquidis artes inuenit in undis?

    aut docuit lusus hos Thetis aut didicit.


A chorus of well-trained Nereids frolicked over the whole water
and have painted the easy waters in various conformations.
The trident was menacing with straight tooth, the grappling hook, menacing with curved:
We believed that there was an oar, we believed there really was a ship,
and even the star of the Laconians, dear to sailors, in a clear bay.
Who devised such tricks in the flowing waves?
Thetis herself either taught these amusements or learned them.

32 (28; 27)

Line 2 of 32 (28 : 27) contains contamination from the following line; I have followed Shackleton-Bailey’s practice by including the Heraeus supplement monstra quibus fudit.

Saecula Carpophorum, Caesar, si prisca tulissent,

   †non amarathon cum† barbara terra fera,

non Marathon taurum, Nemee frondosa leonem,

    Arcas Maenalium non timuisset aprum.

Hoc armante manus hydrae mors una fuisset,               5

    huic percussa foret tota Chimaera semel.

Igniferos possit sine Colchide iungere tauros,

    possit utramque feram uincere Pasiphaes.

Si uetus aequorei reuocetur fabula monstri,

    Hesionen soluet solus et Andromedan.               10

Herculeae laudis numeretur gloria: plus est

    bis denas pariter perdomuisse feras.

If ancient ages had brought forth Carpophorus, Caesar,
ages when a savage earth formed wild monsters,
Marathon would not have feared the bull, nor leafy Nemea the lion,
nor would the Arcadians have feared Meanalus’ boar.
When he fitted his hands with armor, the Hydra would have had only one death,
and being struck once would have been enough for the whole Chimaera.
Carpophorus would have been able to harness the fire-bearing bulls – without the help of the Cholchian Media;
he would have conquered both of Pasiphae’s beasts.
If the ancient tale of the sea monster were told again,
he, alone, would set free both Hesione and Andromeda.
Let the fame of Hercules’ achievement be enumerated: it is more
to have thoroughly tamed twenty beasts at once.



Chosen and translated by Shayna Slininger.

Text from The Latin Library. Read more.


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