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The Emperor and his Virtues: The Qualities of Domitian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

R.A. Pitcher
University of New England


Martial 9.79:

Oderat ante ducum famulos turbamque priorem

et Palatinum Roma supercilium:

at nunc tantus amor cunctis, Auguste, tuorum est

ut sit cuique suae cura secunda domus.

tam placidae mentes, tanta est reuerentia nostri,

tam pacata quies, tantus in ore pudor.

nemo suos — haec est aulae natura potentis —,

sed domini mores Caesarianus habet.

Martial’s ninth book of epigrams contains twenty-nine poems out of a total of one hundred and three which refer to Domitian in some way, providing the largest group of epigrams concerned with an individual in a single book of Martial. The suppression by Martial of his tenth book of epigrams and its reappearance with the Domitianic references expunged means that Book 9 is the last book in which poems to Domitian form an integral part; it can be expected therefore that Martial’s attitude toward Domitian will find its most confident expression in this book.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 1990

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1 The epigrams concerned with Domitian in some way arc numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24, 28, 31, 34, 36, 39, 42, 64, 65, 66, 70, 79, 83, 84, 86, 91, 93, 97, 101. An interesting discussion of the major references to Domitian in this book can be found in Garthwaite, J., Domitian and the Court Poets Martial and Statius (Dissertation, Cornell University, 1978)4386Google Scholar, which is concerned with the question of Martial’ s sincerity throughout this book. It is the vocabulary, however, which is of interest in this paper, the raw materials, as it were, with which the impression of an emperor is constructed.

2 Wallace-Hadrill, A., ‘The Emperor and his Virtues’, Historia 30 (1981) 298323Google Scholar, discusses the question of ‘virtues’ and though denying that a generally agreed canon of virtues played any role in the charismatic justifica ti on of the emperor’s power, suggests that ‘ we should look at the way that individual sources adapt general assumptions that the ruler should be virtuous to their own purposes.’ See especially pp. 300-307 for discussion of The Canon of Virtues.

3 For discussion of Nerva, and his closeness to Domitian, see Garzetti, A., Nerva (Rome, 1950)Google Scholar, Syme, R., Tacitus (Oxford 1958Google Scholar) chapter 1 and Appendix 2, and Jones, B.W., Domitian and the Senatorial Order (Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society 132, 1979) 4, 37, 39.Google ScholarWaters, K.H., ‘Traianus Domitiani Continuator’, AJPh 90 (1969) 385405 has some pertinent comments on the reign of Nerva.Google Scholar

4 Cf. also 14.34.1, describing a falx: Pax me certa ducis placidos curuauit in usus. The pax is the work of Domitian.

5 The remaining uses of placidus in Martial are Spect. 4.1; 1.22.1;3.67.8;5.31.3;6.64.29;8.21.3; 70.1; 9.61.2; 10.58.1.

6 Particularly notice the use of the phrases si pudor est 2.37.10; 3.74.5; 87.4; 7.95.16; 10.90.9, and sit pudor 8.3.3; 64.15; 9.50.11; 12.56.4; 63.6; 97.10. Also the exclamations o pudor 8.78.4 and pro pudor 10.68.6.

7 Other occurrences in Martial 1.34.7; 35.9; 52.9; 109.14; 2.93.2; 3.27.4; 46.10; 68.5; 11.27.7; 45.7; 12.94.11.

8 See Spect. 4.1; 4.8.4; 5.28.4; 7.32.4; 42.4; 64.6; 8.70.1; 9.99.4; 10.30.12; 51.6; 11.26.1; 12.57.24; 62.2. The two references to Nerva are 5.28 and 8.70. The reference to Antonius Primus in 9.99 deserves attention: quern genuit Pacts alumna Quies, for it presents the idea that quies follows pax, a benefit Domitian has conferred on Rome.

9 See Syme, R., Tacitus (Oxford 1958) 1 and 2Google Scholar: ‘Nerva practised that discretion which men called “quies” if they approved, otherwise “inertia” or”segnitia”.’ Cf. Syme, R., “The Colony of Cornelius Fuscus: An Episode in the Bellum Neronis’, AJP h 58 (1937) 718,Google Scholar esp. 8-9. It is Tacitus who develops the implication of political inactivity, as in Annals 14.47 and Agr. 6 where it is understood that political survival rests in inactivity, so it is misleading to read too much political shading into the references to Nerva.

10 The blushing of Trajan is a measure of his sense of pudor. It is instructive to compare the parallels with Domitian ‘s complexion, mentioned by Pliny at §48 of the Panegyric : femineus pallor in corpore, in ore impudentia multo rubare soffusa. This is usually taken to mean that Domitian ‘s rubor is a sign of impudentia, rather than pudor. Durry ‘s French translation offers a more accurate interpretation ‘une pâleur de femme sur le corps, sur le visage une impudence masquée d’une épaisse rougeur.’ The evidence of Suetonius (Dom. 18.2) and Tacitus (Agr. 45, Hist. 4.40) discussed by Helmbold, W., ‘The Complexion of Domitian’, CJ 45 (1950) 388389Google Scholar indicates that a blush was generally considered a favourable characteristic. Further details of the importance of physiognomy can be found in Evans, E.C., ‘Roman Descriptions of Personal Appearance in History and BiographyHSCP 46 (1935) 4384Google Scholar, and Physiognomies in the Ancient World’, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 59.5 (1969), esp. 5-17, 4658.Google Scholar

11 Cf. 5.1.6 ñeque enim aderat alius, qui defunctae pudorem tuerelur. For pudor as a quality evident in others, see also Pan. 24.3, where an individual’s pudor, not Trajan’s superbia puts an end to conversation; 60.5 nouerai pudorem, nouerai moderationem hominum; 76.8 tanius pudorfascibus; 69.1 sollicitudini pudorique candidatorum … consuluisli. The application of this quality to personified Egypt, 31.6, and the empire, 82.4, underline its significance. Other uses of pudor in Pliny are found at Epp. 2.9.1; 14.4; 20.12; 3.3.3; 9.5; 20.4; 4.11.9; 7.1.3; 9.3; 17.8; 8.18.7; 9.27.2; 33.6; Pan. 91.2.

12 In his correspondence with Trajan, Pliny quotes an edict of Nerva which states me securitatem omnium quieti meae praelulisse (10.58.7), a confession used to substantiate the claim that Nerva was a man of political retirement. However, the usage here indicates nothing more than a conscious preference for ‘a quiet life’, a sentiment shared by most, if not all, of the senatorial classes.

13 4.23.4, istudpulcherrimae quietis exemplum, and Pan. 86.2, non quielis gloria cuiquam inuidere, both show that Quies was admired. Minkius Macrinus preferred the honesta quies of an equestrian to the dignitas (or ambitio) of a senatorial career (1.14.5), explained by Sherwin-White, The Letters of Pliny 118 as a ‘public career free from the political dangers of a senatorial career’. This is evidently not ‘retirement’. Other uses of quies are found at 1.3.3.; 6.1; 2.11.1; 5.5.5; 6.16.3; 8.1.3; 9.1; 9.6.1; 33.10; 10.87.2; Pan. 79.5.

14 See Pan. 4.5; 8.6; 19.2; 46.1; cf. Epp. 10.82.1

15 See Pan. 52.6; 77.3; 69.4 (cf. 76.5).

16 Pan. 47.1.

17 See also 4.17.3; 6.31.9; 7.11.3; 24.5; 8.24.6; Pan. 18.2; 93.3; 95.5.

18 See also 5.1.10.

19 See 7.1.6 and Pan. 23.2.

20 3.1.2; 5.6.14,45; 9.26.4; Pan. 20.1; 30.4.

21 Siluae 3.3.167

22 Respectively Siluae 3.1.179; 1.3.22; 2.2.9; 3.3.43; 2.1.167; 3.15.

23 Siluae 1.2.201.

24 Lycomedes Ach. 1.286,729,845; Laius Th. 4.623; Phoroneus Th. 2.219; Limon Siluae 3.1. 149.

25 Th. 7.195; 1.202.

26 Th. 12.298.

27 Silu. 3.4.17.

28 Respectively Silu. 4.3.150; Ach. 2.31; Silu. 3.2.106; 3.2.3.

29 Mu. 2.3.64.

30 There is one example of a parenthetic nec pudor est at Th. 1.273.

31 In the Siluae, see 2.1.40 (Glaucias); 2.6.48 (a slave of Flavius Ursus); 5.1.65 (Priscilla); 5.2.72 (Crispinus); 5.3.218 (Statuts’ father).

32 Note its use with honos here: quantus honos quantunque pudor.

33 E.g. 1.671 raptum pudorem.

34 Thus Stella gives reuerentia to Venus, Siluae 1.2.101; Bacchus and Dione are restrained from speaking to Jupiter by reuerentia, Th. 1.289; Hypsipyle is described as having reuerentia breathing from her face, Th. 5.27.

35 Virtually ‘sleep’, e.g. Th. 5.134 imago quietis; of a ghost, 12.449 uigilum turbata quies.

36 In a few instances, quies is presented as undesirable, or unwanted. Describing Atedius Melior in Silu. 2.3Google Scholar Stalius contrasts pigra quies, iniqua potenlia and spes improba with blandus honor and hilar is cum pondere uirlus, a fact which indicates that in certain circles at least ‘sluggish quiet ‘ was not to be pursued. In the Thebaid are to be found inuisa quies, 7.11Google Scholar, and longam indignata quietem, 12.652Google Scholar, the first referring to rest, or sleep, the second to quiet or inactivity, but of a pent-up storm, hiemps, not a person, insidiosa quies at Silu. 1.4.57Google Scholar, coupled with pigra obliuio uitae, describes a certain lethargy of Rutilius Gallicus’ illness, not any more sinister inactivity. When one glances at other usages of quies, it is found as the particular quality to be seen in forest groves, Th. 4.423Google Scholar; 10.89. As something to be desired, note Th. 8.45Google Scholar, perferre implacidam quietem, and 12.7Google Scholaraegra quietem paxfugai, but especially Silu. 5.1.76Google Scholar, pit iuuenis nauamque quietem intactamque fidem, where the coupling with fides indicates the thought associations of the word.

37 Hardie, A, Stalius and the Siluae (Liverpool 1983) 177178Google Scholar, summarises the situation well: “The quies of the environment, in which the Anio falls silent when passing by (20 ff.; cf. quies at 29 and 41) is the physical foil to Vopiscus’ άταφαξία and to his calm pursuit of intellectual interests’.

38 Lucreti, T.Cari De Rerum Natura Libri Sex, ed. Bailey, C. (Oxford 1947) 3.1502.Google Scholar

39 See Jones, C.P.The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom [Loeb Classical Monographs] (Cambridge Mass. 1978) 115123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

40 This recalls the silentiarii: cf. Alföldi, A., Die monarchische Repraesentation im römischen Kaiserreich (Darmstadt 1980) 38Google Scholar (repr. from MRDAI 4950 [1934-35]).Google Scholar

41 On Heracles as model hero, see Anderson, A.R., ‘Heracles and his successors. A study of a heroic ideal and the recurrence of a heroic type’, HSCP 39 (1928)758Google Scholar. Also, Galinsky, G.K., The Heracles Theme (Oxford 1972).Google Scholar

42 See 5.65 and 9.64,65,101. J. Garthwaite, op.cit. 147-167, discusses Hercules and Domitian.

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