gifting pets in Martial’s epigrams / by Anthony Gibbins

Book 14 of Martial’s Epigrams is a collection of 222 two-line verses, with a twelve-line verse serving as introduction (praemia convivae det sua quisque suo let each one give his guest an appropriate prize). The theme is gifts of the Saturnalia, the Saturnalia being a Roman holiday during which gift giving was tradition. A number of these verses refer to the giving of pets, some which we will take a look at here. It seems appropriate, under the circumstances, to begin with a parrot, then a chatterbox magpie, then have one about a puppy. To finish, and for something a little different, a copy of Homer on parchment.


psittacus a vobis aliorum nomina discam:

     hoc didici per me dicere: CAESAR HAVE. 73

psittacus As a parrot discam I shall learn a vobis from you nomina the names aliorum of others: didici I have learned dicere to say hoc this per me by myself: HAVE Hail CAESAR Caesar!


pica loquax certa dominum te voce saluto:

     si me non videas, esse negabis avem. 76

loquax As a chatterbox pica magpie saluto I greet te you certa with a sure voce voice: si if non videas you do not see me me, negabis you will deny [me] esse to be avem a bird.


delicias parvae si vis audire catellae,

     narranti brevis est pagina tota mihi. 198

si If vis you wish audire to hear delicias the whimsicalities parvae of [this] small catellae puppy, tota a whole pagina page est is brevis [too] short mihi for me narranti telling [it].


Ilias et Priami regnis inimicus Ulixes

     multiplici pariter condita pelle latent. 184

Ilias The Iliad et and Ulixes Ulysses inimicus unfriendly regnis to the kingdom(s) Priami of Priam latent lie hidden pariter together condita stored-up multiplici in many folded pelle parchment.


Look! A parrot is sitting in the store. ‘I love you, father!’ the bird says again. The father and son laugh. ‘That parrot is a chatterbox,’ the store keeper explains to them.