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Selected Epigrams
Martial
Translated with notes by Susan McLean
Introduction by Marc Kleijwegt

Finalist, Literary Translation Award, PEN Center USA

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
Matthew Roller, Laura McClure, and Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Series Editors

“Write shorter epigrams” is your advice.
Yet you write nothing, Velox. How concise!

This lively translation accurately captures the wit and uncensored bawdiness of the epigrams of Martial, who satirized Roman society, both high and low, in the first century CE. His pithy little poems amuse, but also offer vivid insight into the world of patrons and clients, doctors and lawyers, prostitutes, slaves, and social climbers in ancient Rome. The selections cover nearly a third of Martial’s 1,500 or so epigrams, augmented by an introduction by historian Marc Kleijwegt and informative notes on literary allusion and wordplay by translator Susan McLean.

 

Author. Photo credit, Name

Susan McLean is a professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. She won the 2014 Donald Justice Poetry Prize for a collection of her own poems, The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and in 2009 her collection The Best Disguise won the Richard Wilbur Award.

 
Author. Photo credit, Name

Marcus Valerius Martialis, or Martial (ca. 40–104 CE), made his way to Rome from Iberia (now Spain) and won renown across the Empire for his humorous epigrams.

 

 


 

Praise

“But you know who I recently learned makes me laugh as hard as anyone in print? Martial, the ancient Roman poet and satirist—an actual 2,000-year-old man and still funny! . . . I had never read Martial until I picked up his Selected Epigrams in a new edition with delightfully snarky translations by Susan McLean, a poet herself. . . . [Martial] would have been great on Twitter, and rappers might well appreciate his flair for the corrosive put-down.”
New York Times Book Review

“A neatly chosen, crisply rhymed selection of [Martial's] most pungent sallies; perfect bedtime reading.”
Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement

“Martial has long been hamstrung in translation by the impossiblity of reproducing his witty obscenities. But now Susan McLean has given us a neatly chosen, crisply rhymed selection of his most pungent sallies. Perfect bedtime reading.”
—Peter Green, Times Literary Supplement

“The next best thing to reading Martial in the Latin. McLean’s selection of poems from the twelve books, the meter and rhyme she’s chosen to use, and the tone and accuracy of her translations capture perfectly in English Martial’s catalog of human nature and urbane (and sometimes wickedly funny) wit. Her notes on the poems, which give just the right amount of information, help the reader when necessary to make the 2,000 year cultural leap from Martial’s time to our own. In short, this is the best verse translation of Martial I know of.”
—Art Spisak, University of Iowa

“The Roman satirist Martial hasn’t had a good deal hitherto from his translators. An older generation suppressed his hilarious obscenities, while today it’s his racism, sexism, class prejudice, and callousness towards the ugly, deformed, or slaves (no poet was ever less P.C. than Martial) that cause offense. Now Susan McLean, a witty and metrically skillful poet in her own right, has seen her opportunity in Martial. Her rhymed quatrains are as sharp and pointed as Martial’s own elegiacs; the Roman’s insults and obscenities are preserved with style and relish. Martial has at last found a translator who not only possesses all the disparate skills needed for the job, but has clearly enjoyed herself hugely while doing it.”
—Peter Green, translator of Juvenal’s Satires

 

 

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