Martial [Marcus Valerius Martialis]

Gideon Nisbet (ed.), Oxford World's Classics: Martial: Epigrams

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  • Nascere Dardanio promissum nomen Iulo,
  •    uera deum suboles; nascere, magne puer,
  • cui pater aeternas post saecula tradat habenas,
  •    quique regas orbem cum seniore senex.
  • ipsa tibi niueo trahet aurea pollice fila
  •    et totam Phrixi Iulia nebit ouem.



Come to birth, you earnest pledged to Dardan Iulus,* of the true divine lineage; come to birth, great boy, that your father may after long ages pass on the reins of everlasting power; that you may rule the world as an old man alongside one older. With her snow-white finger, Julia herself will draw out golden threads for you,* spinning them from the whole of Phrixus' fleece.

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Editor’s Note
6.3 Come to birth, you earnest pledged to Dardan Iulus: the tone and content of this poem echo Virgil, Eclogue 4, the famous 'Messianic Eclogue'. Iulus, son of Aeneas of Troy ('Dardan') and mythic progenitor of the Julian gens, is familiar from Virgil's epic of Roman origins, the Aeneid. 'Earnest': the Latin nomen, 'name', sometimes has the figurative sense of a debt, a sum offered as guarantee, or an entry in a ledger; the anticipated child is owed to the Imperial line by Fate.
Editor’s Note
Julia herself will draw out golden threads for you: the deified niece of Domitian, but her name also reminds readers of the Julian Law against adultery, established by Augustus in 17 bc and revived by Domitian, and to which the surrounding poems (6.2, 6.4, and cf. 6.7 and 6.22) allude. Mentioning her also helps prop up the 'Julian' pedigree optimistically trailed in line 1 (the Flavians were of modest country stock, with no blood connection to the great patrician families). The three Fates or Parcae legendarily spun threads that measured out the lifespan of each mortal; here the dead Julia assumes their role, spinning a special thread for the expected Imperial heir from the Golden Fleece of legend.
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