Mr Bamboo’s translation service

Getting the thumbs up.

Since I published that entry about thumbs in which I mentioned Montaigne’s essay, Of Thumbs, I’ve had several hits looking for this quote from one of Martial’s epigrams. (BTW, I deplore the use of lower case v in Latin, but most people won’t be searching for “uocibus”.)

Sed nec vocibus excitata blandis,
Molli pollice nec rogata surgit.
MART. 1. xii. Epig. xcix. 8.

which Florio translates as

It wil not rise, though with sweet words excited,
Nor with the touch of softest thumb invited.

The whole epigram is

Uxor cum tibi sit puella, qualem
Votis uix petat inprobus maritus,
Diues, nobilis, erudita, casta,
Rumpis, Basse, latus, sed in comatis,
Uxoris tibi dote quos parasti. [5]
Et sic ad dominam reuersa languet
Multis mentula milibus redempta;
Sed nec uocibus excitata blandis,
Molli pollice nec rogata surgit.
Sit tandem pudor, aut eamus in ius. [10]
Non est haec tua, Basse: uendidisti.

Although I understand about none of this, I know (from having read some of Martial’s epigrams long ago – just in case you’re wondering) that mentula means “dick, prick, cock, knob, willy, tool, tackle, wang, schlong, etc.” and tends not to appear in your average Latin dictionary. That, I’m guessing, is probably the actual subject of surgit because I can’t work out from those lines why the participles are otherwise feminine. A fairly literal translation would be “It rises neither excited by charming words nor invited by the gentle thumb.” As Montaigne says

And it seemeth the Latines likewise, take them sometimes in this sense, id est, for the whole hand.

My own attempt to turn the lines into a heroic couplet ends up com­pres­s­ing lines 7 to 9 in the following paraphrase:

Since num’rous Saviours cause thy Prick to stand,
Nor Charms are needed nor a gentle Hand.

Nor… nor… is a common construction for neither… nor… in Augustan verse, which, I assume, is in imitation of Latin nec… nec… The saviours are Martial’s “multis… milibus”.


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