“Aestate pueri si valent, satis discunt.”

There is a little poem in the Epigrams of Martial which reminds us not to work children too hard during the summer, not to over schedule them or task them with too many organized activities or lessons.

Ludi magister, parce simplici turbae:
Sic te frequentes audiant capillati
Et delicatae diligat chorus mensae,
Nec calculator nec notarius velox
Maiore quisquam circulo coronetur.
Albae leone flammeo calent luces
Tostamque fervens Iulius coquit messem.
Cirrata loris horridis Scythae pellis,
Qua vapulavit Marsyas Celaenaeus,
Ferulaeque tristes, sceptra paedagogorum,
Cessent et Idus dormiant in Octobres:
Aestate pueri si valent, satis discunt.

This little poem has a fun verb in it, the opposite of a deponent.  Vapulo, active in form but passive in meaning, “to be beaten”.

You should try your hand, but here is my fast version:

O schoolmaster, spare the simple gang,
thus with long hair may they listen to you while thronging your classes
and let the student body esteem a sumptuous table
and let no math teacher or shorthand tutor
be crowned with are greater circlet.
Bright lights from flaming Leo are warming
and burning July ripens the toasted harvest.
The bristling Scythian leather straps
by which Marsyas Celaenus was beaten,
the gloomy rods, the scepters of the pedagogues,
let them leave off and sleep until the Ides of October:
if during the summer boys are healthy, they learn enough.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. AnAmericanMother says:

    Some things never change.
    But I view with alarm that my co-workers’ children are going back into school the first full week of August. And they didn’t get out of school until well after Memorial Day.
    We ran wild from Memorial Day (Yankee, not Confederate) until the first full week after Labor Day. Sometimes we went to camp or went on long trips, sometimes we just played vacant lot baseball, climbed trees, built forts, and caught frogs and fish (yeah, I was an awful tomboy!)
    They aren’t really learning anything more than we did, there are so many “teacher work days” and short holidays that it amounts to the same number of days we were in. And so many parents would just as soon have the kids in school year round as then they don’t need to find a babysitter. Also really hurting are summer camps, including the Sc0ut camps, and other traditional summer activities for kids. They have lost a whole month of the summer.

  2. Geometricus says:

    It’s helpful to know that the Latin word for my role at school is “calculator.” Although I doubt the “calculator” taught Geometry in ancient Rome, which is what I do. Just not in ancient Rome, but 21st-century Minnesota. But when I teach statistics (not invented as a discipline until about 200-300 years ago) I guess I would be more of a ‘calculator.’

  3. albinus1 says:

    I would quibble only with your translation of the third line. delicatae … mensae isn’t accusative, so it isn’t the direct object of diligat, and I can’t find any circumstance in which diligo takes the dative, so it must be genitive; and thus the direct object of diligat is <te in the previous line. (Te is also the direct object of audiant, and of course in Latin verse having a single direct object do double duty is no problem.)

    So, the boys are the “chorus of the dainty table”. One source I checked rendered it as, ” may the throng of the tender desk esteem you”, but pointed out that here delicatae is a transferred epithet — i.e., it is, of course, actually the pupils (chorus) that are delicatus, not the mensa. Another source I checked rendered the line as, “and [may] a dainty bevy round your table be fond of you” — again, transferring the epithet. Mensa can mean any sort of table, so here Martial is evidently using it for the teacher’s desk, and depicting the students as a throng crowding (or, in a sense, dancing — the original meaning of chorus in Greek) around it. This line thus seems to pick up and expand on the frequentes in the preceding line. Mensa can also mean a course of food at a meal, but I think the context requires the basic meaning “table”, and that it refers to the teacher’s desk.

    I would also render line 8 as “The Scythian’s hide, fringed with bristling straps”. This and the next line make an odd reference to Marsyas. In most versions of the story, Marsyas was flayed alive after losing a music contest with Apollo. Martial here seems to refer to a different version of the story, unless I’m missing something.

    I would add that this epigram appears to be in one of my favorite meters, the choliambic, also known as the scazon or “limping iambic”. Catullus 8 is also in this meter. Because it makes the reader slow down at the end of each line, it seems to reinforce Martial’s admonition in the poem: to “slow down”.

    [So… if you have a bead on this poem… where’s your version?]

  4. Trad Catholic Girl says:

    I came up with something entirely different. How about:

    Games Master, spare the simple people:
    So you frequently listen to the professor’s lectures
    and delicately bring the crowd to the altar,
    and let no computer, shorthand writer, or anyone of great size
    go around in a circle of bystanders.
    Hot lights flame the white lion Julius and toasts the grain gathered for harvest.
    The horrid curly head Scythian bound with leather straps,
    for which the man loved by Cybele was beaten,
    the harsh rod used to punish children in the royal kingdom,
    be left alone and stay dormant until October:
    if silly children are strong enough to run in different directions until the end of summer.

  5. ejcmartin says:

    I especially like the last line. I see my boys ages 9 and 5 getting out looking at bugs, birds, plants, and rocks etc. I look back to my own childhood and realize what a great gift it is just to be. It’s a shame that in our modern scheduled world this seems to be often stifled.

  6. @Fr. Z: Nice find. Martial is great. Thanks!

  7. lu3777 says:

    Thanks, Father! Never again will I feel guilty for not homeschooling during the summer! :)

  8. Patti Day says:

    Trad Catholic Girl: Your translation was great. I had a good laugh about the computer. I still need to look up the curly-headed guy and the other one so crulely bound up in leather. And we had the nerve to complain about the sisters with the wooden rulers!

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