Martial: Books and Hooks

Quod tibi Decembri mense, quo uolant mappae
gracilesque ligulae cereique chartaeque
et acuta senibus testa cum Damascenis,
praeter libellos uernulas nihil misi,
fortasse auarus uidear aut inhumanus.
Odi dolosas munerum et malas artes;
imitantur hamos dona: namque quis nescit
auidum uorata decipi scarum musca?
Quotiens amico diuiti nihil donat,
o Quintiane, liberalis est pauper.

Because in December’s month, when napkins fly
about, and slender spoons, and wax tapers, and paper,
and pointed jars of dried damsons, I have sent you
nothing but my home-bred little books, perhaps I
may seem stingy or impolite. I abhor the crafty and
cursed trickery of presents; gifts are like hooks;
for who does not know that the greedy sea-bream is
deceived by the fly he has gorged  Every time he
gives nothing to a rich friend, O Quintianus, a poor
man is generous.

—Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial), Epigrams V:xviii (from A Christmas Celebration)

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