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February 01, 2007

Martial's epigrams

Joseph S. Salemi has engaged in the admirable project of translating previously Bowdlerized epigrams by Martial. Reaction to his work is worth remembering the next time you hear someone describe universities as places of learned debate and free enquiry. It is to laugh.

Responses were predictable: after reading some of my Martial translations in public, I was excoriated by the usual contingent of born-again Christians and militant feminists. Some academic careerists quietly urged me to drop the project of translating so repellent an author, lest I offend those inscrutable forces that dole out promotion and tenure. Editors showed even less spine; only six American journals out of fifty-four would publish selections from Martial--and this from a literary establishment that proclaims itself a defender of artistic freedom against Senator Helms. Typical was the comment of one trendy New York editor: "I enjoyed your translations immensely, but I could never print them."

Regrettably, the material is a bit risqué for the Flea. But well worth the look for anyone thinking Rome is misrepresenting the Romans.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at February 1, 2007 07:14 AM


Some of those translations are absolutely priceless.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2007 09:51 AM

I love it that these have survived despite their long lost context and many centuries of opprobrium.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2007 10:07 AM

They hardly count as cultural treasures, but are certainly fascinating glimpses into the more everyday Roman world.

I find the comments about the squeamishness of today's academia rather amusing given a recent experience. In our campus library I stumbled across a book in German from 1909 entitled Das Geschlechtleben des ukrainischen Bauernvolkes ("Sex Lives of Ukrainian Peasantry") that has some of the raunchiest jokes and stories I've ever read. That the academy of a century ago could countenance a work like this while today's academics flinch at Salemi's translations completely punctures their pretensions of being daring "transgressors"!

Posted by: Varenius [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 2, 2007 04:24 PM

Heh -- Martial sounds like he'd fit right in on certain blog comment threads. (Not mine! I reinforce ladylike politeness on my blog! Pinky swear.)

Posted by: Andrea Harris [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 3, 2007 11:44 AM