Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Then, There's Martial's Take On Things:

Issa est passere nequior Catulli,
Issa est purior osculo columbae,
Issa est blandior omnibus puellis,
Issa est carior Indicis lapillis,
Issa est deliciae catella Publi,
Hanc tu, si queritur, loqui putabis.
Sentit tristitiamque gaudiumque. . . .
et desiderio coacta ventris
gutta pallia non fefellit ulla,
sed blando pede suscitat toroque
deponi monet et rogat levari.
Castae tantus inest pudor catellae,
ignorat Venerem; nec invenimus
dignum tam tenerā virum puellā.
Hanc ne lux rapiat suprema totam,
pictā Publius exprimit tabellā,
in quā tam similem videbis Issam,
ut sit tam similis sibi nec ipsa.
Issam denique pone cum tabellā:
aut utramque putabis esse veram,
aut utramque putabis esse pictam.


Issa is naughtier than the sparrow of Catullus,
Issa is purer than the kiss of a dove,
Issa is more seductive than all the girls,
Issa is more precious than Indian diamonds,
Issa is the darling of Publius, his tiny puppy.
If she whines, you will think (that) this girl is speaking.
She feels sadness and joy.
and (when) compelled by the impulse of her bladder
not a single drop has befouled the covers,
but with her sweet paw she nudges (you) and from the couch
forewarns (you) that she needs to be put down and asks to be lifted up.
There is a very great sense of modesty in this virtuous little puppy,
she does not know Love; nor do we find
a mate worthy of a girl so delicate.
In order that (her) last day not snatch her altogether,
Publius portrays (her) in a painted picture,
in which you will see an Issa so similar
that she herself is not so similar to herself.
In short, place Issa alongside (her) picture:
either you will think that one is real,
Or you will think that the other is painted.


A couple interesting points here: The meter is hendecasyllablic (11 syllables on the line) - something a bit jarring at first, but easy to get the hang of reading aloud. Developed by the Greeks, its jaunty feel seems to be incongruous with the subject of Catullus's dead sparrow mourning. (I'd like to think that he was playing.) A generation later, Martial worked it in his somewhat biting but still affectionate elegy of Publius's heart's desire.

Also, there's a fair number of folks who believe that Issa was a Maltese, one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Based on the images I've seen, could easily understand how someone could fall under the spell of such a little sweetie.

Image thanks to Dog and Collar dot com.

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