Main Text

1. MARTIAL'S LIFE AND WORKS

The only external ancient evidence regarding Martial is limited but valuable: Pliny the Younger's letter to Cornelius Priscus, datable to no later than a.d. 105, records Martial's death and reveals a few precious details (Epist. 3.21). Otherwise, as is the case with most ancient authors, our knowledge is fairly sketchy and largely dependent upon inferences drawn from the poet's own work. It has long been recognized that we must approach the latter with great skepticism in view of the fact that epigram is not autobiography; the relationship between poetic persona and the historical figure of the poet himself is particularly complex in the case of Martial.

  On such an apparently straightforward point as whether or not Martial ever married, for example, the epigrams themselves offer conflicting perspectives: sometimes he speaks as a married man, sometimes as a bachelor (see on 2.91.5, 2.92.3). Yet there are certain basic facts about himself to which he alludes in a consistent manner and which have generally been taken to be autobiographical: his name and that of his hometown, his approximate age, and the facts that he had the status of "knight," or eques, and had been awarded the ius trium liberorum. Exercising due caution, we can thus reconstruct a bare outline of the poet's life. His name was Marcus Valerius Martialis (1.5, 2.praef; Plin. Epist. 3.21); his parents were almost certainly named Valerius Fronto and Flaccilla (5.34); he was born in Bilbilis in Spain pg 4(1.49, 1.61, etc.) between a.d. 38 and 41 (10.24, 12.60) in the month of March (see 9.52.3: nostras Martias Kalendas; comparing 8.64 and 10.87, Lucas 1938 convincingly reconstructs a Roman practice of observing birthdays on the first day of the month in which they fell); he came to Rome around 64 (10.103) and spent most of his life thereafter in Rome, with the exception of a stay of about a year's length in Forum Cornelii (modern Imola) around 87 (Book III passim); sometime between 98 and 101 he returned to Spain (Book XII passim), where he died before 105.

  These bare bones can be fleshed out to a certain extent. It is clear, for example, that he had received a respectable education in Spain (9.73); that he did not pursue the obvious career path in rhetoric, whether in the schools or in the courtroom (2.30, 2.90); that once in Rome he sought and obtained the friendship and patronage of such well-known men as Decianus (2.praef.), Regulus (2.74.2), Atedius Melior (2.69.7), and L. Arruntius Stella (1.7, 7.14, 12.2); that through his poetry he had some access to, but apparently no close relationship with, the emperor (2.91); that, despite complaints (and occasional boasts) of modest means, he was never desperately poor but owned slaves and an estate at Nomentum (2.38) and eventually obtained the status of eques, which required a fortune of at least 400,000 sesterces; that he was awarded the ius trium liberorum by the emperors Titus and Domitian (2.91–92); and that at Rome he lived for some years in a third-floor apartment on the Quirinal (1.108, 1.117) but eventually acquired a house (9.18, 9.97, 10.58, 11.1).

  The activity for which Martial won fame both in his own lifetime and afterward was the writing and publishing of epigrams (see below), and indeed his decision to publish only in this genre—as opposed, for example, to his contemporary Statius, who in addition to the occasional poetry known as the Silvae published an epic Thebaid and a partial Achilleid—seems to have been fairly unusual, even bold. The publication itself of these poems would have taken various forms, but the most common pattern is clear: individual epigrams were circulated informally and later gathered together in collections, or "books," which the poet himself published by giving to a bookseller, who then copied the manuscripts and sold them to the public (2.1, 2.6).

  The chronology of this publication is in its general outlines fairly clear; for more detailed argumentation, see the introduction to Friedlaender. The earliest extant book, transmitted with the generic title Epigrammaton liber but usually referred to as Liber de spectaculis or Liber spectaculorum, celebrates the opening of the Flavian Amphitheater, or "Colosseum," in a.d. 80 and must have been published soon thereafter. Next come two collections of poems on the subject of gifts and food items at the Saturnalia, which call themselves the Xenia and Apophoreta but which are labeled Books XIII and XIV respectively in our manuscripts; on internal grounds it has been argued that these came out, probably separately, in 84–85. Thereafter, beginning with Book I in early pg 586, Martial published single books of epigrams at approximately one-year intervals (10.70); with the exception of Books XIII and XIV, Martial himself assigned the books the numbers they still bear—itself a novel practice (see on 2.93). Book II probably appeared in late 86 or early 87; we cannot know, of course, how much earlier the individual poems themselves were written.

  We also know that Martial published at least one revised edition of his works, as Ovid had done with his Amores. Book X originally appeared in a.d. 95 in a form now lost to us, followed by Book XI in December of 96, a few months after the death of Domitian. But after the death of Domitian's successor Nerva in 98, Martial published a revised edition of Book X (see 10.2), which is the version transmitted to us in the manuscripts. It is also likely that Martial brought out a revised edition of Book I in codex form at some later date (see 1.1–2).

  Indeed, many scholars have been struck by the contrast between the defensive stance adopted in certain epigrams of Book II (e.g., 2.1, 2.6, 2.8) and the confidence of such pieces as 1.praef., 1.1 ("toto notus in orbe Martialis"), 1.2, and 2.22. One possible explanation (Citroni; Nauta 2002: 93, 132–133) is that the latter poems had not appeared in the original editions of Books I and II and were composed only later, for a hypothetical second edition of Martial's epigrams brought out around a.d. 93 and containing the present Books I–VII (for this "revised edition," see Schneidewin, Dau 1887, Immisch 1911, Prinz 1911). Lehmann 1931: 36 proposes a more extreme hypothesis: that the present Book II was actually the first book of epigrams published after the Liber de spectaculis, Xenia, and Apophoreta, and that the present Book I was published for the first time in the "second edition" (see further on 2.93). If Martial did publish a revised collection of Books I–VII, our current text of Book II may derive from the revised version, the earlier version, or just possibly a collation of both effected by a later editor (see below, section 5).

logo-footer Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.
Access is brought to you by Log out