Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Steal One Day Out of Thy Life to Live

Martial 2.53, tr. Abraham Cowley in his essay Of Liberty:
Would you be free? 'Tis your chief Wish, you say,
Come on; I'll shew thee, friend, the certain Way.
If to no Feasts abroad thou lov'st to go,
Whilst bounteous God does Bread at home bestow;
If thou the Goodness of thy Cloaths dost prize
By thine own Use, and not by others Eyes;
(If only safe from Weathers) thou canst dwell
In a small House, but a convenient Shell;
If thou without a Sigh, or Golden Wish,
Canst look upon thy Beechen Bowl and Dish;
If in thy Mind such Power and Greatness be,
The Persian King's a slave, compar'd with thee.
The Latin original:
Vis fieri liber? mentiris, Maxime, non vis:
  sed fieri si vis, hac ratione potes.
liber eris, cenare foris si, Maxime, nolis,
  Veientana tuam si domat uva sitim,
si ridere potes miseri chrysendeta Cinnae,
  contentus nostra si potes esse toga,
si plebeia Venus gemino tibi vincitur asse,
  si tua non rectus tecta subire potes.
haec tibi si vis est, si mentis tanta potestas,
  liberior Partho vivere rege potes.
Cowley translates rather freely and softens Martial's coarseness. The prose version of Walter C.A. Ker is more literal:
Do you wish to become free? You lie, Maximus; you don't wish. But if you do wish, in this way you can become so. You will be free, Maximus, if you refuse to dine abroad, if Veii's grape quells your thirst, if you can laugh at the gold-inlaid dishes of the wretched Cinna, if you can content yourself with a toga such as mine, if your plebeian amours are handfasted at the price of twopence, if you can endure to stoop as you enter your dwelling. If this is your strength of mind, if such its power over itself, you can live more free than a Parthian king.
Here is the second stanza of Cowley's Ode to Liberty, also in his essay Of Liberty:
'Tis Morning; well; I fain would yet sleep on:
  You cannot now; you must be gone
  To Court, or to the noisie Hall:
Besides, the Rooms without are crouded all;
  The Stream of Business does begin,
And a Spring-Tide of Clients is come in.
Ah cruel Guards, which this poor Pris'ner keep!
  Will they not suffer him to sleep?
Make an Escape; out at the Postern flee,
And get some blessed Hours of Liberty.
With a few Friends, and a few Dishes dine,
  And much of Mirth and mod'rate Wine.
To thy bent Mind some Relaxation give,
And steal one Day out of thy Life to live.
Oh happy Man (he cries) to whom kind Heav'n
  Has such a Freedom always giv'n!
Why, mighty Madman, what should hinder thee
From being ev'ry Day as free?

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