So you pretend to fear you may be hit
By pointed epigrams, the shafts of wit?
To seem a worthy foeman you aspire,
How vain alike the fear and the desire!
Against fiercest bulls the lion’s wrath may rise,
He scorns to war with puny butterflies.

[Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 12, epigram 61, ll. 1-6 (12.61) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

"To Ligurra". (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

You dread my verse, and sting of wit,
Which put you in a shaking fit:
Would seem of rank to entertain
Such fears: your fears and hopes are vain.
'Tis at the bull that lions fly,
While rats run unregarded by.
[tr. Hay (1755)]

Lest a little living song
Make thy fame, Ligurra, long;
Thou would'st have thy terror seen:
Vain thy wish as fear, I ween.
At the bulls the lions rise,
Never rush on butterflies.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 3, ep. 31]

You are afraid, Ligurra, lest I should compose verses on you, some short and pungent epigram, and you wish to be thought a proper object of such rear. But vain is your fear. and vain your desire! Libyan lions rush upon bulls; they do not hurt butterflies.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

You are afraid, Ligurra, I should write verses on you, and some short and lively poem, and you long to be thought a man that justifies such fear. But vain is your fear, and your longing is vain. Against bulls Libyan lions rage, they are not hostile to butterflies.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

You say you're scared I'm going to aim
A lampoon at you, something brief
And lurid, and half proudly claim
You're a marked man. Wishful belief!
Misapprehended apprehension!
African lions pay attention
To bulls, they don't hunt butterflies.
[tr. Michie (1972)]

Ligurra's fearful I'll contrive
Some pungent piece, some sprightly ditty,
And longs to be considered worth it.
Longings baseless! Baseless fears!
The Libyan lion paws the Libyan bull
But does not bat the butterfly.
[tr. Whigham (1987)]

You are afraid, Ligurra, of my writing verses against you, a brief, lively poem, and you long to seem worthy of such an apprehension. But idle is your fear and idle your desire. Libyan lions roar at bulls, they do not trouble butterflies.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Ah Ligurra, you’re quite afraid that I might write
About you. Some nasty, pithy, diamond-shard of spite
As is my wont. In fact, you quite like the idea.
Well, don’t get your hopes up I’ll gratify that fear.
I may be beastly but I claw with discretion,
No stepping on insects, flattered to be flattened.
[tr. @mym [2005]

You fear I'll write a brief and lively poem
attacking you, Ligurra, and you yearn
to seem one who would merit such a fear.
Your wish is vain and so is your concern.
Lions of Libya roar at bulls; they leave
butterflies unmolested.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem --
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.
[tr. @sentantiq (2018)]

See also Ben Jonson (1572-1637):

Sir Inigo doth fear it, as I hear,
And labors to seem worthy of that fear,
That I should write upon him some sharpe verse,
Able to eat into his bones, and pierce
Their marrow. Wretch! I quit thee of thy pain,
Thou'rt too ambitious, and dost fear in vain:
The Lybian lion hunts no butterflies,
He makes the camel and dull ass his prize.

Added on 3-Dec-21 | Last updated 8-Mar-23
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