Friday, August 3rd, 2012...9:50 amChris Francese

A Fabulous Punishment (Martial, De Spectaculis 7)

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Martial De Spectaculis 9

The epigram writer Martial describes a mythological enactment in the arena, the execution of a slave which was staged to resemble a popular mime based on the story of a notorious bandit, Laureolus. He compares his fate of being exposed to a bear to that of the mythological hero Prometheus, punished by Zeus. It comes from a set of poems meant to commemorate the inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheater, that is, the Colosseum in Rome.

Qualiter in Scythica religatus rupe Prometheus

Adsiduam nimio pectore pavit avem,

Nuda Caledonio sic viscera praebuit urso

Non falsa pendens in cruce Laureolus.

Vivebant laceri membris stillantibus artus 5

Inque omni nusquam corpore corpus erat.

Denique supplicium <meruit quo crimine tantum?>

Vel domini iugulum foderat ense nocens,

Templa vel arcano demens spoliaverat auro,

Subdiderat saevas vel tibi, Roma, faces. 10

Vicerat antiquae sceleratus crimina famae,

In quo, quae fuerat fabula, poena fuit.

The text is that of Kathleen Coleman, M. Valerii Martialis Liber Spectaculorum  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 82. Line 7 is defective in the manuscripts, and the supplement printed here is due to Leonfranc Holford-Strevens.

Here is my translation:

Think of Prometheus, tied to his Scythian crag, feeding the tireless

 bird of prey with his too abundant thorax.

Just so ‘Laureolus’, hanging on no mock theatrical cross,

 gave his naked guts to a Scottish bear.

His mangled limbs lived on, dripping gore, until on his body

there was no body left at all. So, what

heinous crime merited such retribution? Either the guilty

man slit his master’s throat with a sword,

or in his madness robbed a temple of its hidden gold, or else

he put a savage torch to you, dear Rome.                                            10

The criminal had outdone misdeeds of ancient story, but in his case

 what was fiction became a punishment quite real.


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