Stealing Home from Martial’s Third Base Epigram
I admit to this peculiarity: I read one thing and a completely different thing pops into my notebook. I recently finished Martial’s Epigrams. They’re out of copyright since they were composed in c.40 – 104 CE, the pre-book days of publishing. Several of them made me laugh out loud, which probably shows my wit is old-fashioned. Most of the jokes I know are certainly from that era. I’m working on a very big book and my method is unusual, not to say novel–’cause you’d all groan at such a pun. I am writing the whole thing at once rather than working from end to end.
As I devoured Martial’s clever quips, I would sometimes stop and read the Latin (badly) and a transformed version would make its way into the draft of my book. Here are several widely dispersed scenes, all caused directly or obliquely by my Roman friend:
Doctor Willard, recently a physician, now has a job where he’s a mortician: same clientele but a slight change of condition. (Parody of Nuper erat medicus)
You know, Keith, when you freely allowed everyone to touch your sister there were no takers. Since you appointed Tim Healy as a body-guard, she’s had a randy horde on her heels; You’re an ingenious fellow. (Parody of Nullus in urbe fuit tota)
“You do insults. I’ve heard you. But have you ever tried to do compliments?”
“Don’t be silly, we’re boys.”
“Here, give it a try.” Megan though a moment, “Habib is naughtier than Catullus’s sparrow. Get the idea?”
“I like this,” Habib said, sitting up with a nefarious smirk.
“What are you doing with your face?” Duncan asked, a hint of defensiveness dusting the fringe of his words.
“It’s a wicked smile with a pinch of derision because I though of a good one: Duncan is more seductive than any bird, and Megan is more pure than a dove’s kiss.”
“Habib is the most precious Indian treasure,” Megan joined in.
“Bollocks,” Duncan lost the thread, “he’s a fake dog poo. Put him side by side with a real dog poo and nobody can tell the difference.” (Parody of Issa est passere nequior Catulli)
Mrs. Iqbal-Nash shrouded herself in the tinted darkness of the car. Mister Iqbal read her good-bye note, his hands frozen in place and his voice shivering in the heat, “Into the care of my late mum and dad, Ron and Cilla, I commend the soul of my little loved one, Habib.” He stopped a moment, the slightest catch in his voice. His lips hugged one another until they were ready to move on. “Look after him in those shadows we can’t see through. He’d be seventeen in four months if…” The silence flowed back into the red bricked hall. His father looked down and decided not to forsake his son’s eulogy. “I hope his word games don’t annoy you too much. I hope the leaves fall gently on his ashes in the Water Wood that he loved so much. It’s the one where his feet fell gently on the leaves every Autumn.” (Transforms Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, geneterix Flacilla, puellam)
He remembered an advert for the Job Shop: If you want to make some money, join a band. If intellect isn’t your thing, we have openings for auctioneers and architects. (Vaguely related to Cui tradas, Lupe, filium magistro)
“See, that’s why we don’t bet on no races. That number three dog dropped back on the last curve; he was winning a bribe for losing the race.”
“What’s a dog gunna do with money?”
“Buy hisself a rabbit. He knows they ain’t ever going to catch the one in their race.” (Suggested by Vapulat adsidue veneti quadriga flagello)
If you’re stuck for a big story idea–that plot thing that creative writing teachers seem to think is important–try grabbing some small ideas and seeing if they fit together to suggest a story. What have you got to lose? Apart from an evening reading Latin jokes and dirty limericks.