Martial

Last updated
Martial
Martialis.jpg
BornMarch, between 38 and 41 AD
Augusta Bilbilis (now Calatayud, Spain)
DiedBetween 102 and 104 AD
Augusta Bilbilis
OccupationAuthor
Nationality Roman
Genre Satire
Notable worksEpigrams

Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as Martial /ˈmɑːrʃəl/ ) (March, between 38 and 41 AD – between 102 and 104 AD) was a Roman poet from Hispania (modern Spain) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams , published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561 epigrams, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets.

Contents

Martial has been called the greatest Latin epigrammatist, [1] [2] and is considered the creator of the modern epigram.

Early life

Knowledge of his origins and early life are derived almost entirely from his works, which can be more or less dated according to the well-known events to which they refer. In Book X of his Epigrams, composed between 95 and 98, he mentions celebrating his fifty-seventh birthday; hence he was born during March 38, 39, 40 or 41 AD (x. 24, 1), [3] under Caligula or Claudius. His place of birth was Augusta Bilbilis (now Calatayud) in Hispania Tarraconensis. His parents, Fronto and Flaccilla, appear to have died in his youth.

His name seems to imply that he was born a Roman citizen, but he speaks of himself as "sprung from the Celts and Iberians, and a countryman of the Tagus"; and, in contrasting his own masculine appearance with that of an effeminate Greek, he draws particular attention to "his stiff Hispanian hair" (x. 65, 7).

His home was evidently one of rude comfort and plenty, sufficiently in the country to afford him the amusements of hunting and fishing, which he often recalls with keen pleasure, and sufficiently near the town to afford him the companionship of many comrades, the few survivors of whom he looks forward to meeting again after his thirty-four years' absence (x. 104). The memories of this old home, and of other spots, the rough names and local associations which he delights to introduce into his verse, attest to the simple pleasures of his early life and were among the influences which kept his spirit alive in the stultifying routines of upper-crust social life in Rome.

He was educated in Hispania, a part of the Roman Empire which in the 1st century produced several notable Latin writers, including Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger, Lucan and Quintilian, and Martial's contemporaries Licinianus of Bilbilis, Decianus of Emerita and Canius of Gades. Martial professes to be of the school of Catullus, Pedo, and Marsus. The epigram bears to this day the form impressed upon it by his unrivalled skill in wordsmithing.


Life in Rome

The success of his countrymen may have been what motivated Martial to move to Rome, from Hispania, once he had completed his education. This move occurred in AD 64. Seneca the Younger and Lucan may have served as his first patrons, but this is not known for sure.

Not much is known of the details of his life for the first twenty years or so after he came to Rome. He published some juvenile poems of which he thought very little in his later years, and he chuckles at a foolish bookseller who would not allow them to die a natural death (I. 113). His faculty ripened with experience and with the knowledge of that social life which was both his theme and his inspiration; many of his best epigrams are among those written in his last years. From many answers which he makes to the remonstrances of friendsamong others to those of Quintilian it may be inferred that he was urged to practice at the bar, but that he preferred his own lazy, some would say Bohemian kind of life. He made many influential friends and patrons and secured the favor of both Titus and Domitian. From them he obtained various privileges, among others the semestris tribunatus, which conferred on him equestrian rank. Martial failed, however, in his application to Domitian for more substantial advantages, although he commemorates the glory of having been invited to dinner by him, and also the fact that he procured the privilege of citizenship for many persons on whose behalf he appealed to him.

The earliest of his extant works, known as Liber spectaculorum, was first published at the opening of the Colosseum in the reign of Titus. It relates to the theatrical performances given by him, but the book as it now stands was published about the first year of Domitian, i.e. about the year 81. The favour of the emperor procured him the countenance of some of the worst creatures at the imperial courtamong them of the notorious Crispinus, and probably of Paris, the supposed author of Juvenal's exile, for whose monument Martial afterwards wrote a eulogistic epitaph. The two books, numbered by editors XIII and XIV, known by the names of Xenia and Apophoretainscriptions in two lines each for presentswere published at the Saturnalia of 84. In 86 he produced the first two of the twelve books on which his reputation rests.

From that time till his return to Hispania in 98 he published a volume almost every year. The first nine books and the first edition of Book X appeared in the reign of Domitian; Book XI. appeared at the end of 96, shortly after the accession of Nerva. A revised edition of book X, that which we now possess, appeared in 98, about the time of Trajan's entrance into Rome. The last book was written after three years' absence in Hispania, shortly before his death about the year 102 or 103.

These twelve books bring Martial's ordinary mode of life between the age of forty-five and sixty before us. His regular home for thirty-five years was the bustle of metropolitan Rome. He lived at first up three flights of stairs, and his "garret" overlooked the laurels in front of the portico of Agrippa. He had a small villa and unproductive farm near Nomentum, in the Sabine territory, to which he occasionally retired from the pestilence, boors and noises of the city (ii. 38, xii. 57). In his later years he had also a small house on the Quirinal, near the temple of Quirinus.

At the time when his third book was brought out he had retired for a short time to Cisalpine Gaul, in weariness, as he tells us, of his unprofitable attendance to the bigwigs of Rome. For a time he seems to have felt the charm of the new scenes which he visited, and in a later book (iv. 25) he contemplates the prospect of retiring to the neighbourhood of Aquileia and the Timavus. But the spell exercised over him by Rome and Roman society was too great; even the epigrams sent from Forum Corneli and the Aemilian Way ring much more of the Roman forum, and of the streets, baths, porticos, brothels, market stalls, public houses, and clubs of Rome, than of the places from which they are dated.

His final departure from Rome was motivated by a weariness of the burdens imposed on him by his social position, and apparently the difficulties of meeting the ordinary expenses of living in the metropolis (x. 96); and he looks forward to a return to the scenes familiar to his youth. The well-known epigram addressed to Juvenal (xii. I 8) shows that for a time his ideal was happily realized; but the evidence of the prose epistle prefixed to Book XII proves and that he could not live happily away from the literary and social pleasures of Rome for long. The one consolation of his exile was a lady, Marcella, of whom he writes rather platonically as if she were his patronessand it seems to have been a necessity of his life to always have a patron or patronessrather than his wife or mistress.

During his life at Rome, although he never rose to a position of real independence, he seems to have known many writers of the time. In addition to Lucan and Quintilian, he numbered among his friends Silius Italicus, Juvenal and Pliny the Younger. The silence which he and Statius, although authors writing at the same time, having common friends, maintain in regard to one another may be explained by mutual dislike. Martial in many places shows an undisguised contempt for the artificial kind of epic on which Statius's reputation chiefly rests; and it is possible that the respectable author of the Thebaid and the Silvae felt little admiration for the life or the works of the bohemian epigrammatist.

Martial and his patrons

Martial was dependent on his wealthy friends and patrons for gifts of money, for his dinner, and even for his dress, but the relation of client to patron had been recognized as an honourable one by the best Roman traditions. No blame had attached to Virgil or Horace on account of the favours which they received from Augustus and Maecenas, or of the return which they made for these favours in their verse. That old honourable relationship, however, greatly changed between Augustus and Domitian. Men of good birth and education, and sometimes even of high official position (Juv. i. 117), accepted the dole (sportula). Martial was merely following a general fashion in paying his court to "a lord," and he made the best of the custom. In his earlier career he used to accompany his patrons to their villas at Baiae or Tibur, and to attend their morning levees. Later on, he went to his own small country house, near Nomentum, and sent a poem, or a small volume of his poems, as his representative at the early visit.

Martial's character

Pliny the Younger, in the short tribute which he pays to him on hearing of his death, wrote, "He had as much good-nature as wit and pungency in his writings". [4] Martial professes to avoid personalities in his satire, and honour and sincerity (fides and simplicitas) seem to have been the qualities which he most admires in his friends. Some have found distasteful his apparent servile flattery to the worst of the many bad emperors of Rome in the 1st century. These were emperors Martial would later censure immediately after their death (xii. 6). However, he seems to have disliked hypocrisy in its many forms, and seems to be free from cant, pedantry, or affectation of any kind.

Though many of his epigrams indicate a cynical disbelief in the character of women, yet others prove that he could respect and almost revere a refined and courteous lady. His own life in Rome afforded him no experience of domestic virtue; but his epigrams show that, even in the age which is known to modern readers chiefly from the Satires of Juvenal, virtue was recognized as the purest source of happiness. The tenderest element in Martial's nature seems, however, to have been his affection for children and for his dependents.

Martial's Epigrams

Martial's keen curiosity and power of observation are manifested in his epigrams. The enduring literary interest of Martial's epigrams arises as much from their literary quality as from the colorful references to human life that they contain. Martial's epigrams bring to life the spectacle and brutality of daily life in imperial Rome, with which he was intimately connected.

From Martial, for example, we have a glimpse of living conditions in the city of Rome:

"I live in a little cell, with a window that won't even close,
In which Boreas himself would not want to live."
Book VIII, No. 14. 5–6.

As Jo-Ann Shelton has written, "fire was a constant threat in ancient cities because wood was a common building material and people often used open fires and oil lamps. However, some people may have deliberately set fire to their property in order to collect insurance money." [5] Martial makes this accusation in one of his epigrams:

"Tongilianus, you paid two hundred for your house;
An accident too common in this city destroyed it.
You collected ten times more. Doesn't it seem, I pray,
That you set fire to your own house, Tongilianus?"
Book III, No. 52

Martial also pours scorn on the doctors of his day:

"I felt a little ill and called Dr. Symmachus.
Well, you came, Symmachus, but you brought 100 medical students with you.
One hundred ice-cold hands poked and jabbed me.
I didn't have a fever, Symmachus, when I called you –but now I do.
Book V, No. 9

Martial's epigrams also refer to the extreme cruelty shown to slaves in Roman society. Below, he chides a man named Rufus for flogging his cook for a minor mistake:

"You say that the hare isn't cooked, and ask for the whip;
Rufus, you prefer to carve up your cook than your hare."
Book III, No. 94

Martial's epigrams are also characterized by their biting and often scathing sense of wit as well as for their lewdness; this has earned him a place in literary history as the original insult comic. Below is a sample of his more insulting work:

"You feign youth, Laetinus, with your dyed hair
So suddenly you are a raven, but just now you were a swan.
You do not deceive everyone. Proserpina knows you are grey-haired;
She will remove the mask from your head."
Book III, No. 43
"Rumor tells, Chiona, that you are a virgin,
and that nothing is purer than your fleshy delights.
Nevertheless, you do not bathe with the correct part covered:
if you have the decency, move your panties onto your face."
Book III, No. 87
"'You are a frank man', you are always telling me, Cerylus.
Anyone who speaks against you, Cerylus, is a frank man."
Book I, No. 67
"Eat lettuce and soft apples eat:
For you, Phoebus, have the harsh face of a defecating man."
Book III, No. 89

Or the following two examples (in translations by Mark Ynys-Mon):

Fabullus' wife Bassa frequently totes
A friend's baby, on which she loudly dotes.
Why does she take on this childcare duty?
It explains farts that are somewhat fruity.
Book IV, No. 87
With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
check the end for cheese.
Book VI, No. 36

Along with Roman graffiti, the Epigrams are important sources for Latin obscene words.

Reception

The works of Martial became highly valued on their discovery by the Renaissance, whose writers often saw them as sharing an eye for the urban vices of their own times. The poet's influence is seen in Juvenal, late classical literature, the Carolingian revival, the Renaissance in France and Italy, the Siglo de Oro, and early modern English and German poetry, until he became unfashionable with the growth of the Romantic movement.

The 21st century has seen a resurgence of scholarly attention to Martial's work. [6]

Notes

  1. Czigány, Lóránt. "Janus Pannonius". Library of Hungarian Studies. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  2. Johnston, Patricia A. "Epigrams and Satire in Latin Poetry". Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  3. Not necessarily March 1, on account of the habit of celebrating one's birthday on that day if one had been born during that month: D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Martial. Epigrams. Edited and translated by D. R. S. B. (Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1993), vol. I, p. 1 n. 1.
  4. Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.21
  5. Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 65.
  6. Lucci, Joseph M. (2015). "Hidden in Plain Sight: Martial and the Greek Epigrammatic Tradition". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved January 19, 2017.

Related Research Articles

Epigram brief poem

An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Greek: ἐπίγραμμα epigramma 'inscription' from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein 'to write on, to inscribe', and the literary device has been employed for over two millennia.

<i>Satires</i> (Juvenal) book by Juvenalis

The Satires are a collection of satirical poems by the Latin author Juvenal written in the early 2nd century AD.

Otho Augustus

Otho was Roman emperor for three months, from 15 January to 16 April 69. He was the second emperor of the Year of the Four Emperors.

Caratacus King of the Britons

Caratacus was a 1st-century AD British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe, who led the British resistance to the Roman conquest.

Lucan Roman poet

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet, born in Corduba, in Hispania Baetica. He is regarded as one of the outstanding figures of the Imperial Latin period, known in particular for his epic Pharsalia. His youth and speed of composition set him apart from other poets.

Statius Roman poet of the 1st century AD (Silver Age of Latin literature)

Publius Papinius Statius was a Roman poet of the 1st century AD. His surviving Latin poetry includes an epic in twelve books, the Thebaid; a collection of occasional poetry, the Silvae; and an unfinished epic, the Achilleid. He is also known for his appearance as a guide in the Purgatory section of Dante's epic poem, the Divine Comedy.

Quintilian ancient Roman rhetor

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman educator and rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. In English translation, he is usually referred to as Quintilian, although the alternate spellings of Quintillian and Quinctilian are occasionally seen, the latter in older texts.

Claudius Claudianus, usually known in English as Claudian, was a Latin poet associated with the court of the emperor Honorius at Mediolanum (Milan), and particularly with the general Stilicho. His work, written almost entirely in hexameters or elegiac couplets, falls into three main categories: poems for Honorius, poems for Stilicho, and mythological epic.

Marcus Antonius Primus Ancient Roman general

Marcus Antonius Primus was a senator and general of the Roman Empire.

Silius Italicus Roman consul, orator, and Latin epic poet

Silius Italicus, in full Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus, was a Roman consul, orator, and Latin epic poet of the 1st century CE. His only surviving work is the 17-book Punica, an epic poem about the Second Punic War and the longest surviving poem in Latin at over 12,000 lines.

Scorpus Roman charioteer

Scorpus, also known as Scorpius was a famous charioteer in Roman times who lived at the end of the 1st century AD. Scorpus rode for the Green faction during his lifetime and accumulated 2,048 victories. As one of the most famous drivers in Roman history, Scorpus earned extraordinarily large amounts of money; his income surpassing that of professional Roman sponsors. Scorpus died young, at 27 years of age.

<i>The Twelve Caesars</i> 12 biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire, written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus in 121 CE

De vita Caesarum, commonly known as The Twelve Caesars, is a set of twelve biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.

Latin obscenity is the profane, indecent, or impolite vocabulary of Latin, and its uses. Words deemed obscene were described as obsc(a)ena, or improba. Documented obscenities occurred rarely in classical Latin literature, limited to certain types of writing such as epigrams, but they are commonly used in the graffiti written on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Ennio Flaiano Italian writer

Ennio Flaiano was an Italian screenwriter, playwright, novelist, journalist, and drama critic. Best known for his work with Federico Fellini, Flaiano co-wrote ten screenplays with the Italian director, including La Strada (1954), La Dolce Vita (1960), and .

Homosexuality in ancient Rome gay and lesbian sexuality in ancient Rome

Homosexuality in ancient Rome often differs markedly from the contemporary West. Latin lacks words that would precisely translate "homosexual" and "heterosexual". The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/feminine. Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and his household (familia). "Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself. The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. Acceptable male partners were slaves and former slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of infamia, excluded from the normal protections accorded a citizen even if they were technically free. Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were off limits at certain periods in Rome, though professional prostitutes and entertainers might remain sexually available well into adulthood.

Juvenal ancient Roman poet

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, known in English as Juvenal, was a Roman poet active in the late first and early second century AD. He is the author of the collection of satirical poems known as the Satires. The details of the author's life are unclear, although references within his text to known persons of the late first and early second centuries AD fix his earliest date of composition. One recent scholar argues that his first book was published in 100 or 101. Because of a reference to a recent political figure, his fifth and final surviving book must date from after 127.

Paris was an actor in Rome in the 1st century AD.

Inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheatre Roman games held in 80AD

The inaugural games were held, on the orders of the Roman Emperor Titus, to celebrate the completion in AD 80 of the Colosseum, then known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. Vespasian began construction of the amphitheatre around AD 70 and it was completed by his son Titus who became emperor following Vespasian's death in AD 79. Titus' reign began with months of disasters – including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a fire in Rome, and an outbreak of plague – he inaugurated the completion of the structure with lavish games that lasted for more than one hundred days, perhaps in an attempt to appease the Roman public and the gods.

Temple of the gens Flavia building in Rome, Italy

The Temple of the gens Flavia was a Roman temple on the Quirinal Hill, dedicated by Domitian at the end of the 1st century to other members of the Flavian dynasty. It was sited at the ad Malum Punicum, on a site near the present-day junction of Via XX Settembre and Via delle Quattro Fontane. This site was near the residences of Vespasian and Vespasian's brother Titus Flavius Sabinus.

Sulpicia was an ancient Roman poet who was active during the reign of the emperor Domitian. She is mostly known through two poems of Martial; she is also mentioned by Ausonius, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Fulgentius. A seventy-line hexameter poem and two lines of iambic trimeter attributed to Sulpicia survive; the hexameters are now generally thought to have been a fourth- or fifth-century imitation of Sulpicia.

References

Works