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II. Paratextes et enjeux politiques

Taking a latitude: William Hay’s translations and imitations of Martial

John T. Gilmore
p. 90-103


Cet article analyse les traductions et imitations du poète romain Martial par William Hay dans Select Epigrams of Martial (1755), ainsi que le paratexte dans un sens large du terme : l’aspect physique du livre, par exemple, ou bien encore les annonces publicitaires que l’imprimeur-éditeur choisit de faire figurer à la fin. L’absence d’une dédicace et l’absence presque totale d’annotations, deux caractéristiques des pratiques traductives de l’époque, sont aussi étudiées. La traduction de Hay a fait l’objet de deux publications simultanées, l’une assortie du texte latin, l’autre non. On avancera comme hypothèse de travail que le texte latin fait office de paratexte, paratexte qui fonctionne comme un commentaire éclairant les traductions. L’ouvrage de Hay – presque une étude de cas – donne donc au lecteur moderne un aperçu particulièrement intéressant des pratiques traductives courantes en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle, notamment en ce qui concerne les questions de sexualité et de genre.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 . Hereafter referred to SE.
  • 2 . References to Martial’s Latin text (Martial, 1902) are from the Oxford Classical Text (OCT). The (...)

1In 1755 the British politician and miscellaneous writer William Hay published a volume of poems with the title Select Epigrams of Martial.1 The ancient Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (c. 40 – c. 103 CE), usually known in English simply as Martial, was one of the most popular classical authors. His vivid descriptions of social life and often acerbic wit had an immediate appeal, while the fact that his work consisted entirely of epigrams, often no more than a dozen lines in length, and many of them consisting of a single couplet, encouraged their use as texts for study in European educational systems which until comparatively recent times placed a heavy emphasis on the learning of Latin. The same brevity made them attractive to translators, often gentleman amateurs who attempted rhymed versions of a few poems which particularly took their fancy, rather than working their way systematically through the poet’s entire works. Anthologies such as those by Bohn (Martial, 1860), and, more recently, Sullivan and Boyle (Martial, 1996), give an indication of the very wide range of writers who produced translations of Martial in English in many different styles over the centuries. Indeed, one of Martial’s poems (Martial, 1902: X, xlvii),2 on what makes for a happy life, is described by Sullivan and Boyle as “perhaps the most frequently translated poem in English literature” (Martial, 1996: xvii).

  • 3 . By the early nineteenth century Tutté’s edition of Hay’s Works had “become rare” or even “exceed (...)

2Hay’s collection is, therefore, not particularly unusual. Nor, as we shall see, is there anything strikingly different in the ways he approaches the task of translating Martial when we compare them with those of other eighteenth or nineteenth-century translators of classical Latin poetry. While at least one contemporary periodical gave Hay’s Select Epigrams a generally favourable review (Anon, 1755), and they were reprinted in his collected works (Hay, 1794), and drawn on extensively in Henry Bohn’s anthology of versions of Martial in the following century (Martial, 1860), they never became standard translations in the same way as Dryden’s Virgil or Pope’s Homer, which long enjoyed a wide readership and were recognised as canonical works of English literature in their own right.3 Nevertheless, Hay’s poems, taken together with their paratexts, offer an interesting case study in eighteenth-century British translation practices, and are particularly revealing about translation norms concerning references to sexuality and about gendered expectations relating to intended readerships.

  • 4 . Although the list has no page numbers, the make-up of the book indicates that the list of other (...)
  • 5 . Anon (1755), which makes clear that this price refers to the duodecimo edition.

3Recent work (e.g., Smith and Wilson, 2011) has extended Gérard Genette’s influential ideas on paratexts (Genette, 1987) where older literature is concerned. Paratexts can include not only things like a translator’s introduction, but also the physical appearance of the book and the context in which translations appear. Hay’s translations appeared in a neat duodecimo volume, well laid out and nicely printed on good quality paper—details easier to appreciate when handling a physical copy of the original edition rather than studying a digitised version. Even something apparently as basic as a publisher’s imprint can yield significant insights into a work (Smith and Wilson, 2011). Hay’s title page states that the book was “Printed for R. and J. Dodsley in Pall Mall.” Robert Dodsley was one of the most successful booksellers (a publisher, in modern terms) of the day, while the “J.” was his brother and partner, James. In two of his translations (SE: 53, 167), Hay replaces Martial’s references to his own bookseller (Martial, 1902: IV, lxxii; XI, i) with “Dodsley’s shop.” More than an allusion easily recognised by contemporaries, this is a claim to a position within an established literary system, something reinforced by the list of “Books printed for R. and J. Dodsley” at the end of the volume, after an “Index” which gave brief and occasionally whimsical descriptions of the poems under various subject headings, together with the numbers of the books into which Martial’s work was divided and the numbers of the individual poems.4 Four pages in length, the list of other books sold by the Dodsleys gives detailed descriptions of thirteen titles, all of them in various ways intended for what the subtitle of an anonymous compilation called Visions in Verse referred to as the “Entertainment and Instruction” of those who possessed, or at least aspired to possess, what another of the Dodsleys’ titles, the equally anonymous The Preceptor, referred to as “Polite Learning”, and who enjoyed the means to do so. The two cheapest items were priced at one shilling and sixpence, at a time when this was more than most labouring men could hope to earn in a day, while the most expensive was John Pine’s edition of Horace, “In Two Volumes Royal Octavo, beautifully engraved on Copper Plates, and adorned with great Variety of explanatory and ornamental Designs”. Originally published by subscription (1733-37), this was a masterpiece of eighteenth-century book production which still commands high prices among modern collectors. At the time Hay’s book was published, Dodsley was offering Pine’s Horace for one pound five shillings, and pointing out that this was a reduced price: it had earlier been on sale for two guineas. It is clear that we are not talking here about crudely printed street ballads which could be bought for pennies by the poor. Hay’s own volume sold for three shillings.5 These facts alone say something about the intended readership, even before we examine the contents of the volume more closely.

Hay’s Preface and principles of selection

4The title page can yield more than the imprint. The title itself indicates that we have in our hands Select Epigrams of Martial, something which is also suggested by the physical appearance of the book, its relatively small size and comparatively large type and generous layout. Some at least of Hay’s contemporary readers would have been aware that Martial had composed over 1,500 epigrams; Hay gives his own versions of 260, or a little under 17% of the total. The title page refers to the Select Epigrams as “Translated and Imitated by William Hay, Esq; With an Appendix of some by Cowley, and other Hands.” The appendix adds only fifteen more poems. We may note in passing how the addition of “Esquire” to Hay’s name on the title page indicates his status as a gentleman, and move on to the preface which immediately follows, in which we may hope to find some discussion of the translator’s principles of selection as well as of his approach to the translation of the poems which he has selected.

5Hay’s preface is relatively short, but raises a number of interesting points, both in terms of what he says and what he does not say, especially when we compare it to his translations themselves. He begins by saying:

Some years ago, the following performance was undertaken for amusement; and it is hoped the revisal and publication will not be thought entirely vanity. If it may sometimes excite mirth in the reader; that is not the principal aim and intention: which is to make him wiser, by exhibiting a picture of life by a masterly hand. (SE: i)

6The suggestion that the epigrams are “a picture of life” echoes a statement by Martial himself, who in one of his best known pieces states that his poems have nothing to do with mythological stories, but treat instead of ordinary human life:

Quid te vana iuvant miserae ludibria chartae?
hoc lege, quod possit dicere vita ‘Meum est.’
non hic Centauros, non Gorgonas Harpyiasque
invenies: hominem pagina nostra sapit. (Martial, 1902: X, iv, 7-10)

[How do the empty jests of wretched paper help you? Read this, of which life can say, “It is mine.” Here you find no Centaurs or Gorgons or Harpies: our page knows man.] (our translation)

7Hay renders this as:

  • 6 . Some of Hay’s contemporary readers would have seen an allusion here to Alexander Pope’s philosop (...)

From idle tales what pleasure will remain?
Read for to live; all reading else is vain.
Never on monsters my invention ran;
My every page an essay is on man.
SE: 141)

8But what exactly is “the following performance”? Hay says, “What shall I call it? It is a translation or imitation of Martial; or both” (ibid.: i). He does not offer a definition of the terms “translation or imitation”, though some of what he says later suggests what he may have had in mind. Instead, he moves on immediately to expand on the point made by his title by emphasising that he has not translated the whole of Martial:

Not of all his epigrams; that would be unpardonable. Many are full of obscenity, beneath a man: others of adulation, unbecoming a Roman: and great numbers, concerning his own writings are omitted, for fear of cloying the reader. Some few will not admit of a translation: and not a few are too trifling to deserve it: and of this last sort, perhaps I might have been forgiven, if I had retrenched more. What I have selected are generally moral or instructive; in which a great variety of characters is introduced; and the follies and foibles of many are justly ridiculed. (ibid.: i-ii)

Ancient and modern manners

9He then argues at some length that

[t]hese follies and foibles are the same in all ages; and among all people, resembling each other in opulence […] What was practised at Rome, near seventeen hundred years since, is now going on at London. Shift but the scene, and you would think Martial was lashing our times. The cap fits exactly. (ibid.: ii)

10The parallel between Rome of the first century and Britain in the eighteenth was a commonplace of the period, but, as Hay indicates, it was not necessarily a favourable one. Nor, of course, was it exact, as Hay was well aware:

Many of the Roman customs are very different from ours: and in those cases I am forced to take a latitude; and make the parallel suit as well as I can. For instance: supper was their best meal, and dinner is ours; and therefore when the Roman sups, the Englishman often dines. I cannot make the last a candidate for the consulate; but I can for a seat in parliament. He goes not to Baiae, but Bath: not to Anxur, but Harrow. He baths not every day, but appears at Ranelagh, &c. (ibid.: ii-iii)

11Baiae was a seaside resort on the Bay of Naples popular with upper-class Romans in the first century CE, while the English spa town of Bath reached the height of its fashionable appeal in Hay’s lifetime. Anxur (modern Terracina) was a seaside town in the Roman province of Latium, while Harrow in the eighteenth century was still outside London itself, but conveniently close for those who wanted a change from city life. Ranelagh Gardens, opened to the public in 1742, were a fashionable and expensive place of entertainment in London (the price of admission was two shillings and sixpence).

12Hay then noted that he had included in the appendix “such epigrams as I found in Cowley” (ibid.: iii), that is, Abraham Cowley (1618-67), a poet who had been enormously popular in the late seventeenth century, but who was no longer so much read by the time Hay’s book appeared, “or the Spectator” (ibid.), the collection of essays originally published in periodical form between 1711 and 1714, which were edited and largely written by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, and which had an enduring influence on ideas of taste throughout the eighteenth century and beyond. Hay described the translations in his appendix as “a desert to a coarse entertainment” implying that readers would find them better than his own efforts, and commenting that “I am far from thinking, that I am a favourite of the muses, or that Apollo will place me in any eminent station” (ibid.). Indeed, he goes on to suggest,

little can any of my countrymen now expect to succeed on their own fund. […] English poetry hath been carried to its height; and as the Latin from the Augustan age was in its decline; ours is so at present. Not very many are the pieces now extant, and one may venture to prophesy, that fewer will appear heareafter, which can or will be read with pleasure, after Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Pope. (ibid.: iv)

13Hay concludes by claiming that none of his poems were aimed at particular individuals, even if he might have used here and there some “common name or title” (ibid.):

Were I to censure others, my own foibles would reprove me. And it would ill become me to ridicule my neighbour, who lay so open to ridicule myself […] If any thing is applied, I am innocent: and there can be but one of these two persons to blame; either he, who applies unjustly; or he, who deserves the application. (ibid.: v)

14This hints at another of Martial’s best known epigrams, which concludes by saying of his own poems:

Hunc servare modum nostri novere libelli,
Parcere personis, dicere de vitiis.
(Martial, 1902: X, xxxiii, 9-10)

[Our little books have known to observe this limit, to spare individuals, to talk of vices.] (our translation)

15In Hay’s version this becomes:

For in my writings ’tis my constant care,
To lash the vices, but the persons spare.
SE: 147)

16We are brought back to the earlier part of Hay’s preface, to the claim made for the “moral or instructive” nature of the epigrammatist’s work (ibid.: i), or at least of those parts of it which the translator has selected.

Hay’s “latitude” and Dryden’s typology of translation

17One thing which may strike a modern reader is that Hay does not discuss the differences between classical Latin prosody and English prosody, and the question of whether Martial (or other Latin poets) should be translated into verse or prose. While French writers of the period showed a preference for translating poetry, whether in Latin, classical Greek, or a modern vernacular, into French prose, Anglophone writers normally translated verse as verse. Hay offers no comment on the fact that he has chosen to translate Martial’s unrhymed, quantitative Latin verse into rhymed, accentual English verse. He uses the so-called “heroic couplet”, that is, lines of iambic pentameter rhyming in pairs, which had been used in Dryden’s Virgil and Pope’s Homer, and which was employed by innumerable other English poets of the period for both original and translated works.

18Hay’s reference to taking a latitude is reminiscent of John Dryden’s famous discussion of translation in his preface to a collective translation of Ovid’s Epistles (first published 1680):

All Translation I suppose may be reduced to these three heads.

First, that of Metaphrase, or turning an Authour word by word, and Line by Line, from one Language into another […] The second way is that of Paraphrase, or Translation with Latitude, where the Authour is kept in view by the Translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly follow’d as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not alter’d […] The Third way is that of Imitation, where the Translator (if now he has not lost that Name) assumes the liberty not only to vary from the words and sence, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the Original, to run division on the ground-work, as he pleases. (Venuti, 2012: 38-42)

19Hay’s translations are somewhere between Dryden’s second and third types. An example of his “Translation with Latitude” is his line “Here lies a matron, for her years rever’d” (SE: 157). This renders Martial’s “Bismea Romano spectataest vita Terento” (Martial, 1902: X, lxiii, 3 [OCT has “Tarento”]), which is more literally “Twice my life was seen by the Roman Terentus.” The reference is to a place in the Campus Martius in Rome, where the Secular Games were held in honour of the gods, supposedly at intervals of a hundred years or more. In other words, the subject of the epitaph was claimed to have twice attended the Secular Games. Hay keeps the essential point, that she was of advanced years, and by paraphrasing avoids the need for a note. He uses a similar strategy throughout, and the only notes in the entire collection are those in a few places indicating that other epigrams from the same book by Martial can be found in the appendix, and one to a poem where Hay’s version is very much an imitation in Dryden’s sense of the term: he substitutes the names of English authors for the Roman ones mentioned by Martial, and needs to explain the references which he himself has introduced to the names of ancient British tribes in order to use them as geographical indicators (SE: 13; Martial, 1902: I, lxii [I, lxi]).

20Some of the ways in which he uses modern parallels for Roman examples are described by Hay himself in his Preface, but the list could easily be extended. Sometimes the changes appear arbitrary, but are nonetheless effective:

Welsh judges two, four military men,
Seven noisy lawyers, Oxford scholars ten,
Were of an old man’s daughter in pursuit.
Soon the curmudgeon ended the dispute,
By giving her unto a thriving grocer.
What think you? did he play the fool, or no, Sir? (
SE: 69)

  • 7 . SE: 81, 131; Martial, 1902: VII, ix; IX, lxxxviii. See also SE: 71; Martial, 1902: VI, xix. Hay (...)

21Hay has kept the numbers the same as they are in Martial’s poem (Martial, 1902: VI, viii). “Judges”, “military men” and “lawyers” are close enough for “praetores”, “tribuni” and “causidici”, but Martial uses no adjectives here, and there is no very obvious reason why the judges become Welsh and the lawyers noisy in Hay’s version (though he introduces uncomplimentary references to lawyers in some of Martial’s other poems where these are not present in the source text).7 Hay’s “Oxford scholars” are simply poets (“poetae”) in Martial, and the “thriving grocer” is an auctioneer (“praeco”) to whom Martial gives the name Eulogus, but no qualifying adjective. The changes give a neat concluding rhyme which echoes Martial’s direct address to a certain Severus, but they also transform the Roman poem into a decidedly British one, even if the essential point is preserved – that the father prefers wealth to social status when it comes to choosing a husband for his daughter. This goes beyond Dryden’s definition of “Translation with Latitude” towards his idea of “Imitation”, where the translator is “taking only some general hints from the Original, to run division on the ground-work, as he pleases” – a metaphor taken from music, and referring to the composition of variations on a theme (Oxford English Dictionary, “division, n., I, 7”).

Roman and British empires

22Another way in which Hay transforms his source texts is his introduction of references to Britain’s overseas trade and colonial empire. In a poem where Martial talks about someone bragging of the money he is owed by individuals (Martial, 1902: IV, xxxvii), this becomes investment “in bank, and South-Sea funds […] in India stock, and India bonds”, while property let out to tenants, farms and flocks in Italy, become rents, not only from Kent and Essex, but also from Britain’s Caribbean colony of Barbados (SE: 47). When Martial complains of the self-importance of a man who claims to have the latest news from all parts of the Roman world, Hay’s updating includes changing the line “Scis, quota de Libyco littore puppis eat” (“You know how many a ship leaves the Libyan shore”) to “What ships are coming from each sugar isle”—again, referring to the Caribbean colonies (Martial, 1902: IX, xxxvi [IX, xxxv], 8; SE: 121). There are similar changes in other poems. The Roman who plans to go to the limits of the known world, that is, among the Britons, becomes an addressee who is asked: “Do you an India voyage then design?” (Martial, 1902: X, xliv; SE: 151). One who seeks a Roman provincial governorship wishes in Hay’s version to “be made governor of some plantation”, in terminology which, again, suggests Britain’s overseas colonies (Martial, 1902: XII, xxvi; SE: 193). When Martial talks of expensive drinking vessels (“crystalla”, made of rock-crystal, or possibly glass) brought from the eastern Mediterranean as part of a cargo from Egypt, Hay says “ships from China bring you cup and jar”, alluding to eighteenth-century Europe’s fascination with oriental porcelain (Martial, 1902: XII, lxxiv; SE: 209). Taken together, these often ingenious and striking parallels remind readers that in Hay’s time Britain’s power and influence extended over a much greater geographical area than those of the Roman Empire at its height, and suggest a more positive view of the comparison between Britain and ancient Rome than might at first appear from the translator’s preface. They might also suggest that the Preface’s self-deprecating comments about the exhaustion of English literary talent and the translator’s own limitations are not to be taken entirely seriously. While Neil Rhodes (2011) has drawn attention to the way in which translators’ prefaces can express concerns not only about the status of the translator in relation to his source text, but also about the translator’s social status more generally, this does not seem to be the case with Hay, and his expressions of modesty may be no more than conventional.

Omissions, translation, and patronage

  • 8 . SE: 37, 97, 99, 111, 123, 145, 163, 179, 199, 207; Martial, 1902: III, xliv; VIII, xx; VIII, xxi (...)
  • 9 . SE: 49-51, 71-3, 87, 101, 145, 197; Martial, 1902: IV, lvi; VI, xx, VII, xliii; VIII, xli; X, xi (...)
  • 10 . For legacy-hunting, see SE: 49-51, 99, 115, 121, 175, 177, 197; Martial, 1902: IV, lvi; VIII, xx (...)

23Where the question of selection is concerned, it is instructive to compare Hay’s statements in his preface with the actual content of his book. He says that “not a few” of Martial’s epigrams are “too trifling” to deserve translation (SE: i) and it is noticeable that he includes none from Books XIII and XIV, which are mostly very short poems intended to accompany presents. Many in which Martial talks about his own poems are indeed omitted, but Hay does include quite a number in which Martial lampoons other poets, real or imaginary, for their failure to realise that nobody will actually want to read or listen to their appalling doggerel, or for their attempts to pass off the work of better poets (such as Martial) as their own.8 He also includes some in which the poet seeks a favour or complains of friends not fulfilling promises of favours fast enough.9 Nevertheless, these, like the various poems about legacy-hunters which suggest that these were as much a feature of eighteenth-century British society as they were of ancient Rome, need to be read against a conspicuous absence from the paratexts.10 Unlike many contemporary works whose writers were anxious to gratify a present patron or a possible future one, Hay’s book has no dedication. While his biographer claimed that “Mr. Hay’s income was always small for the place which his birth had assigned him in society”, he was a landowner, a Member of Parliament, and connected by marriage to the family of the Duke of Newcastle, one of the leading politicians of the day, who was Prime Minister at the time Hay’s book was published. His standing in society combined with “a judicious œconomy joined to a power of resisting personal indulgences” gave him a degree of independence, and he was a loyal, but not uncritical supporter of the Whigs in politics (quotations from Nichols, 1812-15: VI, 349; other details from Nichols, and Taylor, 2004). Something of this may also be hinted at in Hay’s version of a poem in which Martial suggests that if his own age had patrons as generous as Virgil’s patron Maecenas had been in an earlier generation, then new Virgils might arise. Martial ends with

Ergo ero Virgilius, si munera Maecenatis
Des mihi? Virgilius non ero, Marsus ero.
(Martial, 1902: VIII, lvi [VIII, lv])

[Shall I therefore be Virgil, if you give me the gifts of Maecenas? I will not be Virgil, I will be Marsus.] (our translation)

24Martial’s point appears to be that, even with generous patronage, he would not be an epic poet like Virgil, but that he might be a new Domitius Marsus, a contemporary of Virgil’s, who was also part of Maecenas’s circle. Though virtually none of Marsus’s work now survives, he was a poet important in the development of the Latin epigram, and he seems to have been admired by Martial as a significant predecessor (Ramage, 1959). Hay’s version gives the poem’s conclusion a different twist:

I’ll Virgil be, might I like favours hope:
No: ’tis not Virgil I will be, but Pope.
SE: 105)

25This would appear to say that Hay aspires to be a great poet writing in English rather than in Latin. In the context of a poem about patronage however, it is surely important that, while Pope enjoyed the friendship of many distinguished and influential figures, he was also very successful commercially as a writer and made strong claims for his own independence in works like his Epilogue to the Satires (1738) (Pope, 1969: 324-5). Unlike Martial, Hay may here be rejecting patronage.

  • 11 . Cf. Martial, 1902: VIII, xxx; X, xxv; and the discussion of these poems in Fitzgerald, 2007: 57- (...)

26Hay accuses Martial of “adulation, unbecoming a Roman”, and does not translate any of the poems in which Martial flatters the Emperor Domitian. Nor does he include any from the Liber de Spectaculis, Martial’s early work celebrating the shows put on in the newly built Colosseum in the reigns of Titus and Domitian. Hay translates a number of Martial’s poems on episodes in Roman history, including one on Mucius Scaevola, who thrust his own hand into a fire to show his bravery after a failed attempt to assassinate the Etruscan king, Lars Porsena. However, he does not indicate that Martial may be describing a re-enactment of this scene involving the torture of a condemned criminal for the entertainment of an audience in the arena, and he does not translate two further poems on the same theme in which this is made more explicit (Martial, 1902: I, xxii [I, xxi]; SE: 7).11

  • 12 . The Essay went through several editions and appearances in anthologies, as well as being reprint (...)
  • 13 . SE: 111, 183, 189; Martial, 1902: VIII, lxxix; XII, vii; XII, xxiii.

27His general avoidance of the theme of physical cruelty brings us to Hay’s comment in his preface about ridicule, and his statement that “it would ill become me to ridicule my neighbour, who lay so open to ridicule myself” (ibid.: v). For the understanding of this, we need to go beyond Hay’s text and its paratexts to biographical information. Hay was a hunchbacked dwarf who said of himself, “I am scarce five feet high […] my Back was bent in my Mother’s Womb” (Hay, 1754: 4), and who wrote movingly in his Deformity: An Essay about how his social status and comparative wealth were not enough to protect him from frequent personal insults.12 He does include in his appendix a translation from the Spectator of one of Martial’s poems which suggests that physical deformity is akin to moral deformity (SE: 239 [mispaginated 139]; Martial, 1902: XII, liv), but this theme is absent from his own translations and he does not attack identifiable individuals on grounds of personal appearance. Nor does he translate, for example, poem XIV, ccxiii, which appears to assume that restricted height is a joke in itself. He does include a few poems which treat old women who have lost their looks as a fit subject for humour, though in one of these he leaves the subject’s gender ambiguous where it is explicit in Martial.13 Nevertheless, he avoids the more extreme examples of this theme, such as poem IX, xxxvii, in which Martial ridicules a perhaps imaginary addressee in obscene terms as an old woman whose make-up, false teeth and false hair cannot make her attractive enough to persuade a man to make love to her, even though she offers a large sum of money.

Obscenity in translation: source text as paratext?

28It was notorious that a significant number of Martial’s poems used language or dealt with topics which later periods considered to be obscene. Modern scholars (e.g., Leary, 2014; Lawton, 2014) have explored some of the ways in which translators, editors and anthologists (especially compilers of texts for school use) attempted to deal with this through expurgation, omission and obfuscation. Dryden suggested that

The sence of an Authour, generally speaking, is to be Sacred and inviolable. If the Fancy of Ovid be luxuriant, ’tis his character to be so, and if I retrench it, he is no longer Ovid. It will be replyed that he receives advantage by this lopping of his superfluous branches, but I rejoyn that a Translator has no such right […] (Venuti, 2012: 41)

29This might appear to suggest that if Martial is obscene, then the obscenity should be preserved in a translation. But Dryden quickly rules this out:

In two Cases only there may a seeming difficulty arise, that is, if the thought be notoriously trivial or dishonest; But the same Answer will serve for both, that then they ought not to be Translated. (ibid.)

  • 14 . SE: 37, 205-7, 211; Martial, 1902: III, xliv; XII, lxi; XII, lxxvii.

30“Dishonest” is here used in the obsolete sense of “Unchaste, lewd, filthy” (OED, s.v.). Not only does Hay’s preface refer to some of Martial’s epigrams as “too trifling” to be worth translating, he appears to condemn others for being “full of obscenity, beneath a man” (SE: i). This might suggest that Hay agreed with Dryden’s belief that such material “ought not to be Translated.” It is certainly the case that many of Martial’s grosser offerings are omitted, but after these comments in the preface, the reader may well be surprised by what Hay does include. References to excretion and flatulence can perhaps be explained away by the period’s lack of squeamishness about such matters.14 Sex, however, does occur in Hay’s pages, with some frequency, as in the following poem in which Martial appears to rebuke a censorious busybody:

Jack and Tom haunt each bawdy-house in town:
What’s that to you? Is not their skin their own?
Harry at vast expence maintains a whore:
What’s that [to] you? ’Tis Harry will grow poor.
SE: 81)

31This appears unabashed, but it needs to be seen in the context of two more paratexts which have not yet been mentioned. The first is the fact that Hay does supply the Latin text of the poems he translates. If we look at the opposite page, we can see what Martial actually wrote:

Paedicatur Eros, fellat Linus: Ole, quid ad te,
De cute quid faciant ille, vel ille, sua?
Centenis futuit Matho millibus: Ole, quid ad te?
Non tu propterea, sed Matho pauper erit.
(Martial, 1902: VII, x)

32For those who understood Latin, it would have been immediately clear that Hay has toned down and altered his source text very considerably. Martial’s is not the language of clinical detachment, but of frank obscenity:

Eros is fucked in the arse, Linus sucks cocks: what is it to you, Olus, what they do, this one or that one, with their own skin? Matho pays hundreds of thousands [of sesterces] to fuck: what’s that to you, Olus? Because of that, not you, but Matho will be poor. (our translation)

33Near the beginning of the collection, Hay has the following short poem:

Your wife’s the plainest piece a man can see:
No soul would touch her, whilst you left her free:
But since to guard her you employ all arts,
The rakes besiege her. ---- You’re a man of parts!
SE: 15)

34Hay is faithful to the general idea, but “The rakes besiege her” is a decidedly genteel rendering of what Martial actually says: the wife now attracts an “ingens / turbafututorum”, “a mighty crowd of fuckers” (Martial, 1902: I, lxxiv [I, lxxiii], 3-4).

35A recurrent strategy in Hay is the replacement or toning down of references to homosexuality. In a poem which talks of what the listener may imagine the speaker’s wishes to be, Hay includes in the list the idea that

[…] when my mellow guest is put to bed,
He may admire the beauty of my maid.
SE: 119)

36What Martial says is:

  • 15 . OCT has “nec … velis” (“you would not wish”).

Aestuet ut nostro madidus conviva ministro
Quem permutatum nec Ganimede velim […]
(Martial, 1902: IX, xxiii (IX, xxii), 11-12)

[… that my tipsy guest may be aroused by my (male) servant, whom I would not wish to exchange even for Ganymede.] (our translation)

37The vocabulary and grammar of the Latin make it clear that “noster minister” refers unambiguously to a male servant, not a “maid” as Hay has it, while Ganymede was, of course, in classical mythology the beautiful boy who was kidnapped by Jupiter, king of the gods, to be his cup-bearer on Mount Olympus. In another poem, Hay describes an idle connoisseur who looks at a long list of expensive luxury items before making only a trivial purchase. Near the beginning, among “the choicest rarities in town”, he

Ravish’d admires a Ganymede’s soft mien;
Not such as is at common auctions seen;
But an old painting, capital, and rare;
Shewn to the curious, and preserv’d with care.
SE: 127)

38Hay’s Ganymede is the subject of a mythological painting, and the homosexual overtones can be dismissed by thinking of it as simply a work of art like the “china jar, or marble vase” or the other items mentioned in the poem. The character in Martial, however, “inspexit molles pueros, oculisque comedit” (“looks at delicate boys, and eats them with his eyes”) and it is clear from the context that Martial is not talking about works of art at all, but about actual boys who are being offered for sale as sex-slaves (Martial, 1902: IX, lx [IX, lix], 3.)

39The same sort of thing can be found in James Grainger’s translation of the Roman poet Tibullus, first published in 1758. While the novelist and critic Tobias Smollett ridiculed the way Grainger tied himself into knots when he endeavoured to disguise what was going on in a poem addressed by Tibullus to a boy by turning the object of the Roman poet’s desire into “the lovely Maid”, this could not deceive those who could understand the source text, which Grainger printed with his translations (Gilmore, 1999). This brings us to the final paratext in Hay, an “Advertisement” which appears immediately after the preface:

The bookseller hath been at the expence of two different impressions of these epigrams, to accommodate the reader.

One is in Octavo; with the English only; that they may not be incumbered with the Latin, who do not understand it.

The other is in Duodecimo; with the original in the opposite page; for the ease of comparing it with the version. ---- He hopes, that this Edition will be received in schools, to introduce young gentlemen to an intimate acquaintance with the best parts of a valuable classic. (SE: vii)

40The wording suggests that this was due to Dodsley, rather than to Hay, but whichever was the case, it makes a number of assumptions about the translation, and about Latin in eighteenth-century British society.

41There was indeed another edition of Hay’s work, which printed only the English versions of the poems. But if the Latin of the poems is an option, rather than an integral part of the work as a whole, then it appears as if Martial’s own words are not so much the source text as a sort of paratext to Hay’s renderings, which are treated as the primary version. This may make us think again about the translator’s conventional expressions of literary inadequacy in his preface. Secondly, just as Hay referred in his preface to “the reader” as “him”, the advertisement makes assumptions about gender, and also about class. It is clear that “those who do not understand” Latin are those who have not been to the sort of schools attended by “young gentlemen”, that is, those who are female and those who are from less affluent backgrounds. In the eighteenth century, a good knowledge of Latin was a distinctly gendered form of cultural capital—while there always were some women who attained it, they were few and far between. Similarly, while some boys of working-class origin were able to receive a classical education as a result of scholarships or patronage, together with the chance of upward social mobility which this brought with it, they were very much a minority.

42Finally, we may recall Hay’s claim in the preface that the epigrams he selected were “generally moral or instructive” (SE: i) and note how this is echoed by the bookseller’s hope “that this Edition will be received in schools, to introduce young gentlemen to an intimate acquaintance with the best parts of a valuable classic” (ibid.: vii). Even in the twentieth century, English schoolboys were inspired to intellectual endeavour by the thought that the passages in which the popular bilingual Loeb editions printed the Latin on both sides (or, alternatively, replaced the Latin with Italian rather than English) were where the dirty bits were to be found (Lawton, 2014; personal experience). Similarly, it seems more than likely that eighteenth-century “young gentlemen” would pay particular attention to those passages where discrepancies could be found between Hay’s English and Martial’s Latin. The language of the Advertisement makes further assumptions about the potential purposes of the translation, and the function of the source texts as paratexts. The edition with the Latin texts in parallel would lead, so it was hoped, to “an intimate acquaintance” with the Latin of “a valuable classic”, and this was clearly perceived as being part of a desirable educational process, at least where the “young gentlemen” were concerned. Without the Latin texts, on the other hand, the very same translation could help to serve a directly opposite purpose, that of restricting access to the same “valuable classic”, except in a censored and distorted form, where those who were normally denied access to a classical education were concerned. If it was a good thing for the “young gentlemen” to improve their knowledge of Latin literature and Roman culture, the writer of the Advertisement saw the exclusion of others from this as something to be perpetuated: those “who do not understand” Latin already, are not to be “incumbered” with it (SE: vii).

43A good knowledge of Latin inevitably led to a good knowledge of the more lurid aspects of Roman sexual life. The study of Hay’s paratexts suggest that this was complacently accepted, and perhaps even regarded as “moral or instructive” by the translator himself, and by the bookseller whose other titles offered in the list at the back of the volume included a “Dialogue on the Art of Preaching” which was “Inscribed to the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Nevertheless, if such knowledge was part of “polite learning”, it was clearly not deemed suitable for everybody, and it necessarily excluded those who had not had the sort of education which Hay himself had enjoyed and to which Dodsley envisaged the bilingual edition of the Select Epigrams of Martial contributing, that is, most of the less affluent in British society, and nearly all women. As Danielle Clarke suggests (Clarke, 2011), gender itself can be a paratext.

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Corpus texts

Martial, 1755, Select Epigrams of Martial, trans. William Hay, London, R. and J. Dodsley.

, 1902, M. Val. Martialis Epigrammata, edited by Wallace M. Lindsay, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Works cited

Anon., 1755, review of Hay, Select Epigrams of Martial, Monthly Review, XII, p. 189-191.

Clarke, Danielle, 2011, “‘Signifying, but not sounding’: gender and paratext in the complaint genre”, in Smith, Helen and Wilson, Louise (eds.), Renaissance Paratexts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 133-150.

Fitzgerald, William, 2007, Martial: The World of the Epigram, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press.

Genette, Gérard, 1987, Seuils, Paris, Éditions du Seuil.

Gilmore, John [T.], 1999, “Tibullus and the British Empire: Grainger, Smollett and the politics of translation in the mid-18th century,” The Translator, 5, p. 1-26.

Harrison, Stephen, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), 2014, Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Greek and Latin, London, Bloomsbury.

Hay, William, 1754, Deformity: An Essay, London, R. and J. Dodsley.

, 1794, The Works of William Hay, Esq., edited by Francis Tutté, 2 vols., London, printed by J. Nichols; and sold by J. Dodsley [and two others].

Lawton, Philip, 2014, “For the gentleman and the scholar: sexual and scatological references in the Loeb Classical Library,” in Harrison, Stephen and Stray, Christopher (eds.), Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Greek and Latin, London, Bloomsbury, p. 175-196.

Leary, Timothy J., 2014, “Modifying Martial in nineteenth-century Britain,” in Harrison, Stephen and Stray, Christopher (eds.), Expurgating the Classics: Editing Out in Greek and Latin, London, Bloomsbury, p. 127-142.

Martial, 1860, The Epigrams of Martial[:] Translated into English Prose [,] each accompanied by one or more verse translations, from the works of English poets, and various other sources, edited by Henry G. Bohn, London, Henry G. Bohn.

, 1996, Martial in English, edited by John P Sullivan and Anthony J. Boyle, London, Penguin Books.

Nichols, John (ed.), 1812-15, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century; comprizing biographical memoirs of W. Bowyer, and many of his learned friends; an incidental view of the progress and advancement of literature in this kingdom during the last century, and biographical anecdotes of a considerable number of eminent writers and ingenious artists; with a very copious index, 9 vols., London, Nichols, Son, and Bentley.

Pope, Alexander, 1969 [1953], Alexander Pope: Imitations of Horace, with An Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot and The Epilogue to the Satires, edited by John Butt, London, Methuen (Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, Volume IV).

Ramage, Edwin S., 1959, “The De urbanitate of Domitius Marsus”, Classical Philology, 54, p. 250-255.

Rhodes, Neil, 2011, “Status anxiety and English Renaissance translation,” in Smith, Helen and Wilson, Louise (eds.), Renaissance Paratexts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 107-120.

Smith, Helen, 2011, “‘Imprinted by Simeon such a signe’: reading early modern imprints”, in Smith, Helen and Wilson, Louise (eds.), Renaissance Paratexts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 17-33.

Smith, Helen, and Wilson, Louise (eds.), 2011, Renaissance Paratexts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Stephen, 2004, “Hay, William (1695-1755), politician and writer,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, January 2008; accessed 10 April 2015.

Venuti, Lawrence (ed.), 2012, The Translation Studies Reader, 3rd ed., London and New York, Routledge.

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1 . Hereafter referred to SE.

For reasons explained below, all references are to the duodecimo edition of this work (Martial, 1755), not to the octavo edition which was published simultaneously. For biographical information, see Nichols, 1812-15: VI, 346-358, and Taylor, 2004. The account in Nichols is taken almost entirely from that in Hay, 1794, but includes a few additional details based on Nichols’s personal knowledge, including the fact that the Works were edited by the Rev. Francis Tutté, which is not stated in the Works themselves.

2 . References to Martial’s Latin text (Martial, 1902) are from the Oxford Classical Text (OCT). They are given by book and poem number, followed by line numbers where required. Where Hay’s numbering is different, the numbering used in the OCT edition is given in brackets. All translations from Martial which are not identified as being by Hay are by the present writer.

3 . By the early nineteenth century Tutté’s edition of Hay’s Works had “become rare” or even “exceedingly rare” (Nichols, 1812-15: VI, 358; IX, 151). By contrast, Bohn’s Epigrams of Martial was part of Bohn’s Classical Library, a very successful series he established; online catalogues of major libraries (Bodleian Library, British Library, Cambridge University Library) show that the Martial volume was reprinted several times in the nineteenth century and as late as 1926.

4 . Although the list has no page numbers, the make-up of the book indicates that the list of other books printed for the Dodsleys was an integral part of the volume, and not an extra which might have been inserted in some, but not all, copies.

5 . Anon (1755), which makes clear that this price refers to the duodecimo edition.

6 . Some of Hay’s contemporary readers would have seen an allusion here to Alexander Pope’s philosophical poem, An Essay on Man (first published 1733-4). Hay’s translations introduce a number of specific references to Pope (SE: 15, 29, 63, 105, 163).

7 . SE: 81, 131; Martial, 1902: VII, ix; IX, lxxxviii. See also SE: 71; Martial, 1902: VI, xix. Hay himself had some legal training, but there is no evidence that he ever practised as a lawyer.

8 . SE: 37, 97, 99, 111, 123, 145, 163, 179, 199, 207; Martial, 1902: III, xliv; VIII, xx; VIII, xxix; VIII, lxxvi; IX, li; X, xxi; X, c; XI, xciv; XII, xlvi; XII, lxiii.

9 . SE: 49-51, 71-3, 87, 101, 145, 197; Martial, 1902: IV, lvi; VI, xx, VII, xliii; VIII, xli; X, xiv [X, xv]; XII, xxxvi.

10 . For legacy-hunting, see SE: 49-51, 99, 115, 121, 175, 177, 197; Martial, 1902: IV, lvi; VIII, xxvii; IX, x; IX, xlix; XI, lxviii; XI, lxxxiv; XII, xl.

11 . Cf. Martial, 1902: VIII, xxx; X, xxv; and the discussion of these poems in Fitzgerald, 2007: 57-67.

12 . The Essay went through several editions and appearances in anthologies, as well as being reprinted in the author’s Works (Hay, 1794).

13 . SE: 111, 183, 189; Martial, 1902: VIII, lxxix; XII, vii; XII, xxiii.

14 . SE: 37, 205-7, 211; Martial, 1902: III, xliv; XII, lxi; XII, lxxvii.

15 . OCT has “nec … velis” (“you would not wish”).

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John T. Gilmore, « Taking a latitude: William Hay’s translations and imitations of Martial », Palimpsestes, 31 | -1, 90-103.

Référence électronique

John T. Gilmore, « Taking a latitude: William Hay’s translations and imitations of Martial », Palimpsestes [En ligne], 31 | 2018, mis en ligne le 11 septembre 2018, consulté le 20 octobre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/palimpsestes.2732

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John T. Gilmore

Maître de conférences à l’université de Warwick dans le Département d’anglais et de littérature comparée. En 2000, il a publié The Poetics of Empire: A Study of James Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane (Londres, Athlone Press) ; il est l’auteur d’articles portant sur la traduction, la poésie néo-latine, ainsi que sur la littérature de la Grande-Bretagne et des Caraïbes anglophones au xviiie siècle.

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