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Theatre Sports and Martial's Literary Programme in Epigrams, Book One

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

John Garthwaite*
University of Otago
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In spite of their amorphous appearance Martial's books of epigrams are carefully crafted, especially at the beginning of the volumes where the poet typically sets the scene and outlines ideas to be expanded in the body of the collection. Any analysis of the opening of Book 1, however, is complicated by the likelihood that the surviving text is a revised version (subsequently published as part of a codex edition of two or more books), the original having been released on its own in traditional roll form. So, among others, 1.1 and 1.2 are generally considered to be later additions, written for the compendium, leaving 1.3 as the first epigram and intended introduction of the original book. Regardless of the date of the first two epigrams, 1.3 does seem in both tone and content to perform a prefatory role, as Citroni especially has argued.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 2001


An earlier version of this paper was presented in the Classics Dept. of the University of Newcastle on Tyne. I would like to thank the members of the Department especially Professors John Moles and Jerry Paterson for their helpful comments. My thanks also to the anonymous referees of Antichthon for their perceptive criticism.

1 Cf. Holzberg, N., Martial (Heidelberg 1988) 3442Google Scholar; Kay, N., Martial Book XI: A Commentary (London 1985) 56Google Scholar; Fowler, D., ‘Martial and the Book’, Ramus 24 (1995) 31 ffCrossRefGoogle Scholar; Scherf, J.Zur Komposition von Martials Gedichtbüchern 1-12’ in Grewing, F. (ed.), Toto Notus in Orbe: Perspektiven der Martial-Interpretation (Stuttgart 1998) 119138Google Scholar. All references in this article to the text of the epigrams are from the Loeb edition of Shackleton Bailey, D.R., Martial (Cambridge Mass. 1993)Google Scholar.

2 For a survey of the issue cf. Citroni, M.M. Val. Martialis epigrammaton liber primus (Florence 1975) ixxxiGoogle Scholar.

3 Note also Lindsay's suggestion that the omission of 1.1 and 1.2 in one manuscript and displacement in another are perhaps due to their being placed outside the body of the text (extra ordinem paginarum) in the ancient editions (Lindsay, W. M. [ed.] M. Val. Martialis Epigrammata [Oxford 1969] ad. loc.)Google Scholar.

4 Citroni, M., ‘Un Proemio di Marziale’ in Studia Florentina Alexandra Ronconi Oblata (Rome 1970) 81 ffGoogle Scholar.

5 The allegorical possibilities of the lion-hare cycle were suggested briefly by Ahl, F.M, ‘Politics and Power in Augustan Poetry’, ANRW 32.1 (1984) 85–6Google Scholar, and endorsed by Holzberg (n.l) 76 ff. But this interpretation has since been rejected, most recently by Römer, F., ‘Mode und Methode in der Deutung panegyrischer Dichtung der nachaugusteischen Zeit’, Hermes 122 (1994) 108–9Google Scholar.

6 Cf. Citroni (n.2) 4-7.

7 Cf. Erb, W., Zu Komposition und Aufbau im Ersten Buch Martials (Frankfurt am Main 1981) 9Google Scholar. Note also White, P., ‘The Presentation and Dedication of the Silvae and Epigrams’, JRS 64 (1974) 4061Google Scholar.

8 Cf. Dickie, M., ‘The Disavowal of Invidia in Roman Iamb and Satire’, PLLS 3 (1981) 183208Google Scholar; and Rudd, N., The Satires of Horace (Cambridge 1966) 128 ffGoogle Scholar.

9 The sincerity of Martial's plea may be doubted, and even some of his contemporaries might have found it unconvincing as they read the epigrams; for in his obituary of the poet, the first word that springs to Pliny's mind in assessing Martial's talents is that he was a clever man (erat homo ingeniosus, Epist. 3.21.2).

10 E.g. 2.71.3-4; 2.77.7-8; 4.14.13-14; 5.5.5-6; 7.99.7.

11 For another version of the story cf. Val. Max. 2.10.8.

12 On the Floralia cf. RE 6.2749-52 (Wissowa). On mime cf. RE 15.2.1727-64 (Wüst); Fantham, E., ‘Mime, the missing link in Roman literary history’, CW 82 (1988) 153–63Google Scholar; Beacham, R.C, The Roman Theatre and its Audience (London 1991) 129–40Google Scholar. For the influence of mime on literature see especially McKeown, J.C., ‘The Augustan Elegy and MimePCPS 25 (1979) 7184Google Scholar and Panayotakis, C., Theatrum Arbitri: Theatrical Elements in the Satyrica of Petronius (Leiden 1995)Google Scholar.

13 Cf. also Martial, 8.67.4.

14 Note also Cicero's portrayal of Antony as the personification of a character from mime, at one moment destitute then suddenly rich (persona de mimo, modo egens, repente dives, Phil. 2.65). For the reversal of status typical of the adultery mime, see the sources listed below, n.31.

15 For ludi and ioci e.g. 1.35.13; 4.49.2; 5.15.1. For nugae e.g. 1.113.6; 2.1.6; 2.86.9; 3.55.3.

16 Cf. Catullus 50.1-6; 68.17 for the poems as ludi and ioci, and 1.4 as nugae. Newman, J.K., Roman Catullus and the Modification of Alexandrian Sensibility (Hildesheim 1990) 742Google Scholar, shows how these terms were identified initially with the vituperative and socially subversive elements of Roman comedy and mime, and were adopted by Catullus in particular to characterise his topical, satirical poetry.

17 On parallels with Horace (and Ovid) cf. Citroni (n.2) 23 ff.

18 For epigrams in which Martial addresses his book cf. Howell, P., A Commentary on Book One of the Epigrams of Martial (London 1980) 110Google Scholar. On the poet's concern for his reputation cf. especially 2.1 and 3.2; and on his certainty of immortality 1.61; 7.84; 8.3; 10.2.

19 Cf. Howell (n. 18) 111.

20 The depiction of the book's performance in 1.3, brief though it is, seems to borrow the imagery of the mime as well as that of the amphitheatre. For the book's sudden change of fortune from people's favourite to ignominious victim is reminiscent of the violent reversals which typified the comic stage; while the portrayal of a character tossed in a blanket, imitating what seems to have been a popular form of ridicule at the time (cf. Suetonius, Otho 2), also recalls the roughly physical humour of the mimic performance.

21 For the lion-hare epigrams as a ‘cycle’ cf. Barwick, K., ‘Zyklen bei Martial und in den kleinen Gedichten des Catull’, Philol. 102 (1958) 291–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 E.g. libelles vernulas, 5.18.4; cf. also 3.1.6.

23 For the permitted insolence of vernae cf. Horace, Sat. 2.6.66; Seneca, Const. Sap. 11.3; Martial, 1.41.2; 10.3.1. Cf. further, Howell (n.l8) 193. On vernae in general cf. Rawson, B. (ed.), The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (London, Sydney 1986) 186200Google Scholar.

24 Cf. Vergil, Georg. 3.9; for the additional echoes of Ennius cf. Citroni (n.2) 29.

25 On the plagiarism (or Fidentinus) cycle of Book 1 cf. Barwick, (n.21) 308-9. To Barwick's list (1.29, 38, 52, 53, 66, 72) we can also add 1.63.

26 Of course, Martial does proclaim at 1.1.2 that he is ‘known throughout the world’ (toto notus in orbe) though, as I noted earlier, this epigram may well have been written considerably later than the original Book 1. It does seem unlikely that Liber Spectaculorum, Xenia and Apophoreta would have been sufficient to give Martial such universal acclaim before the publication of Book 1; nor would any private, pre-publication circulation of selections (libelli) as argued by P. White (n.7) 40 ff. It is worth noting that Martial does not boast again of world-wide popularity until 5.13, after which the claim becomes more frequent (e.g. 6.64.25; 8.61.3; 10.9.3-4). And when he does speak between Books 1 and 5 of the extent of his fame, his claim is much less ambitious; at 3.95.7 he says only that he is ‘known throughout the towns’ (notumque per oppida nomen), Book 3 having been published from Cisalpine Gaul (cf. 3.1).

27 Elsewhere e.g. 10.100; 12.63.

28 On the date cf. Citroni (n.2) x, n.2. It is worth noting that Martial does not use supercilium elsewhere in a positive sense but, especially joined with triste, with the uncomplimentary notion of misguided or even hypocritical censorship. At 1.24.2, for instance, he points out the grim frown (triste supercilium) of the censoriously Stoic Decianus who has just married—as a bride. Cf. also 11.2.1-2 where he banishes the grim frown and stem looks of an inflexible Cato (Triste supercilium durique severa Catonis/frons)from the licence of his Saturnalian verse.

29 Cf. Suetonius, lui. 49.4. Commenting on the same triumph, Dio reveals (43.20) that the mockery of the triumphator involved political as well as sexual jests. Newman (n.16) 38 & 83, notes that triumphalis licentia is associated with mime in both Catullus and Horace.

30 Note Martial's reference at 7.8.7-9 to Domitian's tolerance of the soldiers’ ‘light-hearted insults’ (festa convicia) and their ‘jests and flippant verses’ (iocos levioraque carmina) at his triumph (in this case that of A.D. 89). In Achilleae Comae. Hair and Heroism According to Domitian’, CQ 47 (1997) 209-14, L. Morgan argues for Domitian's willingness (at least in the earlier part of his reign) to make and share a self-deprecating joke.

31 For Latinus as derisor elsewhere in Martial cf. 13.2.3; 2.72.2-4; 3.86.3; 5.61.11-12. Also luvenal, Sat. 6.44. Ovid, Trist. 2.497-520, notes how Augustus allowed an exemption from the rules of censorship for adultery mimes, despite their blatant obscenity and the way they subverted the social order by having the husband deceived and the crafty lover, or derisor, triumphantly acclaimed. In particular Trist. 2.505-6:

Cumque fefellit amans aliqua novitate maritum,

plauditur et magno palma favore datur.

Cf. also Cicero, pro Caelio 65. Reynolds, R.W., ‘The Adultery MimeCQ 40 (1946) 7784CrossRefGoogle Scholar, pieces together the popular, anti-authority role of the derisor typified by Latinus.

32 Cf. Newman's comment (n.16) 101-2: ‘Martial often draws an analogy between his nugatory poetry and the mime. This should not be taken only as excusing obscenity…. It also presupposes dialogue, the discovery of a truth among the participants that even so slips between their gTasping fingers, the revelation that inspires laughter, the publicised confidence that loses its shame and threat….’ (my italics).

33 Ir The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans (Princeton 1996) 107-8 and 137–44Google Scholar, Carlin Barton catalogues a long tradition of derisores like Latinus, installed as imperial favourites and given the role of what might be called the court jester, being allowed to indulge in a personal humour, even ridicule, forbidden to others. Their privileged status within the court may also be compared to that, in lesser households, of the verna whose impudence Martial has just compared to the spirit of his book.

34 Cf. Howell (n.l 8) 116; and 118 for the familiarity of the use of the praenomen.

35 Interestingly, the only other time when Martial puts a reply into the emperor's mouth (5.15.5), he similarly portrays him as ignoring the point of the poet's remarks; cf. my essay ‘Putting a Price on Praise; Martial's Debate with Domitian in Book 5’ in Grewing (n.l) 166.

36 The notion that the book is fit only to be submerged or burned, or used as food-wrapping, becomes a common joke in Martial e.g. 14.196; 3.2; 3.100; 4.10; 5.53; 9.58.

37 Holzberg (n. 1) 77-8 points out that in 1.7 Martial continues to use animals to represent a book of poetry, characterising the poems of Stella and Catullus as a dove and sparrow respectively.

38 Martial, however, most often uses deliciae and lusus, both separately and together, to describe a small pet, either animal or child, such as the lapdog Issa who is her master's delight (Issa est deliciae Catella Publi, 1.109.5), or the infant whom Bassa calls her plaything and delight (lusus deliciasque vocal, 4.87.2). For other examples cf. 5.34.2; 6.28.3; 7.14.2; 8.26.4; 8.82.6. Certainly, on this basis, the image would suit the tiny hare, the elusive pet of the lions, rather than the great beasts themselves.

39 E.g. Spect. 12.5-6; 20; 33.3-4.

40 The hare's desire for a glorious self-sacrifice is also ironically reminiscent of the ostentatious martyrdoms of the imperial regime's Stoic opponents, exemplified by Cato and Thrasea. Martial mocks their self-serving suicides earlier in the book (1.8) when he praises Decianus for practising Stoic virtues without feeling the need to offer himself as an easy victim (pectore nec nudo strictos incurris in ensis, 8.3). Martial has no time for the man who buys fame cheaply with his blood (8.5), preferring one who wins praise without dying (hunc volo, laudari qui sine morte potest, 8.6). Similarly, perhaps, the hare (and by implication the book) is advised to follow the lead of Martial's friend (on whom cf. also 1.24; 39; 61) in adopting a laudable independence but not a suicidal rashness.

41 E.g. 1.112.1; 2.68.2; 4.83.5; 10.10.5.

42 Geyssen, J., ‘Sending a Book to the Palatine: Martial 1.70 and OvidMnemosyne 52 (1999) 729CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Holzberg, N., ‘Neuansatz zu einer Martial-Interpretation’, WJA 12 (1986) 210Google Scholar also interprets the protection afforded to the hare by the lion as representing Martial's hopes for imperial sponsorship.

43 Weinreich, O., Studien zu Martial (Stuttgart 1928) 98103 analyses 1.104 as a review of the whole series.Google Scholar

44 For saevus used of lions, e.g. Lucretius, Nat. Nat. 3.306; Ovid, Met. 4.102.

45 Cf. the comments of Sullivan, J., Martial: the unexpected classic (Cambridge 1991) 1011CrossRefGoogle Scholar ; Coleman, K., ‘The liber spectaculorum: perpetuating the ephemeral’ in Grewing (n.l) 1723Google Scholar.

46 Cf. Holzberg's ideas (n.l) 88 ff. on the relative freedom enjoyed by writers in the minor genres such as epigram and satire to criticise authority by means of realistic character portrayal and use of topical issues. Holzberg (n.42) 212-3 similarly relates the possible insignificance of a minor genre like epigram to the immunity given to the hare compared to the lion's regular victims.

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