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Wordle: Martial VI 



Phryx, a notorious drunkard, Aulus, was blind

in one eye and half blind in the other.

The physician Heras said to this man, “Beware if you drink:

If you drink wine, you will see nothing.”

Phryx, laughing says to his eye, “You will be strong.”

But immediately he orders eleven measures to be mixed for him

one after another. Do you ask the outcome?

Phryx drank wine, his eye drank venom.

LXXVIII meter: Hendecasyllabic

Pō tōr|nō bĭ lĭs|Aū lĕ|lū mĭ|ne̸ ͜ū nō.

Lūs cūs|Phrȳx ĕ răt|āl tĕ|rō quĕ|līp pŭs.

Huīc Hē|rās mĕ dĭ|cūs “Bĭ|bās că|vē tō

Vī nūm|sī bĭ bĕ|rīs nĭ|hīl vĭ|dē bīs.

Rī dēns| Phrȳx ŏ cŭ|lō “Vă|lē bĭs”|īn quīt.

Mīs cē|rī sĭ bĭ|prōtĭ|nūs dĕ|ūn cēs

Sēd crē|brōs iŭ bĕt.| Ē xĭ|tūm rĕ|quī rīs ?

Vī nūm| Phrȳx, ŏ cŭ|lūs bĭ|bīt vĕ|nē nŭm.



A Satire on a careless drunk who would rather have alcohol than his own two eyes makes for an entertaining epigram. Mockery of people who over eat and over drink is a popular theme that Martial enjoys to poke fun at. Wine was a very important commodity for the Romans and it was drunk by both the rich and the poor. Wine was served with almost every meal and most was watered down so that it was not so strong. (Grace,1947). Phryx must have enjoyed wine a little too much and could not moderate himself.

Medicine in ancient Rome was not that developed, but doctors knew enough about health and diet. H. H. Huxley writes about different types of Roman patients in his article about Greece and Rome. He references the doctor, Heras, who warns, Phryx, not to drink so much. Most doctors appear to have Greek names, such as Heras, who is also referenced in Juvenal. “The low status of the physician is well brought out in those epigrams of Martial in which a doctor becomes an undertaker, an eye-specialist, a gladiator.” (Huxley,1957.)

After Heras warns him that he may go blind, Phryx orders “eleven more measures” and laughs at his eye. Taverns in Rome catered to heavy drinkers. Apparently they did not care about physical health. As many knew how to drink moderately, drunks like Phryx just didn’t care. Martial’s pun at the end, “his eye drank venom” is quite literal. Blindness is a common side effect for excessive drinking. (Flemming).

Flemming, Stuart. Roman Wine: A Window on an Ancient Economy.

Grace, Virginia. “Wine Jars.” The Classical Journal. 42 (1947): 444-452.

Huxley, H.H. Greek Doctor and Roman Patient. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1957.


M. Kolodziej