Wisdom of the Ancients: Martial Book 8, Epigram 23

Today, I looked for an epigram which fulfilled the conditions of being short and simple.  Though the twenty-third epigram of Martial’s eighth book does not offer as complicated ideas as the last one I examined, it has a great punch line.

Esse tibi videor saevus nimiumque gulosus,
Qui propter cenam, Rustice, caedo cocum.
Si levis ista tibi flagrorum causa videtur,
Ex qua vis causa vapulet ergo cocus?


Culinary things in Rome

I seem to you to be savage and too dainty,

Rusticus, I who, on account of dinner, beat my cook.

If this cause seems trivial to you for whipping,

From what cause therefore do you wish that my cook be whipped?

Analysis of Poem

Not much to this poem.  I might add that this is the only place where the name Rusticus appears in Martial’s works, and the name implies that Martial’s guest is unsophisticated.  He’s a stoic on the level of Cato who does not recognize the importance of fine dining.  Therefore, he thinks that a cook does not deserve to be beaten for preparing inferior food, but Martial thinks otherwise.

The way Martial ends lines two and four with cocus seem to emphasize that he is speaking about a cook.  Though, caedo cocum mocks the opinion of Rusticus that his beating of the cook is savage.  For, caedo cocum could–in another context–mean “I cut down the cook” or “I killed the cook,” which is clearly an excessive punishment for making poor food!

Other than that, this poem features some nice use of alliteration which adds to the light feel of the poem.  The second line in particular is stuffed with k sounds.  The last features an interlocking order between the v’s and c sounds.  (Qua and causa have a similar consonantial quality.)  They serve to emphasize Martial’s point at the end: a cook’s only job is to cook.  Why else should he be punished except for making bad food?

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