Friday, December 29, 2006

Martial's Drinking Game

David Meadows, the rogue classicist, is wondering about an epigram of Martial that is bandied about here and there to support the claim that 'the Romans' (always a loaded phrase) would toast their ladies with a drink for every letter of their names. Unable to find the epigram due to the old-fashioned habit among old-fashioned writers of forgoing citations (as though everyone with a proper education should recognize every classical reference, as when Tully ruefully remarked ... you get the picture), David has asked for help in locating a verse translated in part as 'Six cups to Naevia's health go quickly round!'

That would be Martial 1. 71:

Laevia sex cyathis, septem Iustina bibatur,
Quinque Lycas, Lyde quattuor, Ida tribus.
Omnis ab infuso numeretur amica Falerno,
Et quia nulla venit, tu mihi, Somne, veni.
The custom, via this epigram, has even found its way into the Oxford Latin Dictionary under bibo 1 d, 'to toast (a name, by drinking once for each letter).'
Let Laevia be drunk with six glasses, Justina seven,
Lycas five, Lyde four, Ida three.
Let all my loves be recounted from the Falernian (wine) consumed,
and since none comes, you, Sleep, come to me.
David was right, I think, in suspecting the claim to be spurious in that the context makes it clear that this wasn't a custom, but simply a sad and lonely night for poor old Martial, drinking himself to sleep over thoughts of girls gone by.

That's why I've translated bibatur as 'let her be drunk' rather than 'let her be toasted.' The idea of a toast is misleading. Martial is not 'drinking to the health' of all the girls he knew before; rather, the alcohol acts as a surrogate for each.

It's heart-breaking, really.

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