Epigrams 9.61 and 12.50: A Living Estate and a Sterile Mansion

In my seventeenth-century literature class, I teach Ben Jonson’s poem “To Penshurst.”  He borrows from both of these (and other) epigrams in that poem. I wanted my students to read them, but I could not find translations of these two pieces that were well adapted to my needs in the course, so I made these myself. These poems, along with Martial 3.58, form a nexus of classical references for Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst,” which itself became widely imitated in the seventeenth century.

Professor Marlin E Blaine, California State University, Fullerton

9.61
In Tartesian lands there’s a famed estate,
          where wealthy Cordova courts calm Baetis,
fleeces turn yellow with natural gold,
          and living gilt anoints Hesperian sheep.
Mid the buildings, embracing all the houses,
          the thick-maned platan tree of Caesar stands,
by th’unvanquished guest’s fruitful right hand set;
          the shoot began to grow then from that hand.
The grove must sense its father and its lord,
          it so thrives, and with boughs seeks the lofty stars. 
Beneath this tree have drunken fauns oft played
          and late-night flute alarmed the quiet house,
and through lorn fields fleeing nocturnal Pan,
          the rustic Dryad hid beneath these fronds; 
the household reeked of Bacchus’s carousing,
          and the shade grew lusher as wine was spilled.
Grass turned red, strewn with wreaths of yesterday,
           and none could tell which roses were his own. 
O beloved of gods, O great Caesar’s tree,
          fear not iron and sacrilegious fires:
Expect unending honors to your fronds;
          it wasn’t Pompey’s hands that planted you.   

  Trans. Marlin E. Blaine

In Tartesiacis domus est notissima terris,
       qua dives placidum Corduba Baetin amat,
vellera nativo pallent ubi flava metallo
       et linit Hesperium brattea viva pecus.
aedibus in mediis totos amplexa penates              5
       stat platanus densis Caesariana comis,
hospitis invicti posuit quam dextera felix,
       coepit et ex illa crescere virga manu.
auctorem dominumque nemus sentire videtur:
       sic viret et ramis sidera celsa petit.              10
saepe sub hac madidi luserunt arbore Fauni
       terruit et tacitam fistula sera domum;
dumque fugit solos nocturnum Pana per agros,
       saepe sub hac latuit rustica fronde Dryas.
atque oluere lares comissatore Lyaeo              15
       crevit et effuso laetior umbra mero;
hesternisque rubens deiecta est herba coronis
       atque suas potuit dicere nemo rosas.
O dilecta deis, o magni Caesaris arbor,
       ne metuas ferrum sacrilegosque focos.              20
perpetuos sperare licet tibi frondis honores:
       non Pompeianae te posuere manus.

12.50
Groves of laurel, groves of plane, groves of airy pine,
          and baths not meant for one you have, alone.
And your hundred-columned portico stands tall.
          The onyx glitters, trod beneath your foot;
A fleeting hoof assails the dusty track,
          and flow of running water sounds throughout.
Long atriums gape.  But for dinner-guests or sleep
          There’s no room anywhere. How well you do not dwell!


Trans. Marlin E. Blaine

Daphnonas, platanonas et aerios pityonas
     Et non unius balnea solus habes,
Et tibi centenis stat porticus alta columnis,
     Calcatusque tuo sub pede lucet onyx,
Pulvereumque fugax hippodromon ungula plaudit,              5
     Et pereuntis aquae fluctus ubique sonat;
Atria longa patent. Sed nec cenantibus usquam
     Nec somno locus est. Quam bene non habitas!

Here’s a link to the Ben Jonson poem ‘Penshurst’, that imitates Martial’s poems.

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