Craig A. Williams (ed.), Martial: Epigrams: Book Two
Themes. This straightforward monodistich makes a joke at the expense of someone's physical appearance. The humor is of a type common enough pg 265in Martial and elsewhere (cf. 2.35), but the present epigram also draws on the piquancy of contrast: between Sextus' boast and the quite different reality but also between ardere and sub aqua, a technique also found at 1.62.4–5 ("dum Baianis saepe fovetur aquis, / incidit in flammas"). For jabs at the arrogant or boastful, compare 3.26, 3.95, 7.41, 7.76.
Structure. Like most monodistichs, the poem falls into two halves corresponding to its two lines: Sextus' complacent boast (1) is followed by Martial's put-down (2). Laurens 1989: 297–298 calls attention to the opposition between dicis at the poem's beginning and habes at its end and helpfully compares 10.84: "Miraris quare dormitum non eat Afer? / accumbat cum qua, Caediciane, vides." (Do you wonder why Afer does not go to bed? You see the woman he is sleeping with, Caedicianus.)
1 ardere: Literally "to burn, to blaze," an ancient metaphor for erotic passion; compare 1.62.5 with Citroni, OLD s.v. ardere 7. Here its literal meaning provides the basis for a contrast with the image of water in the following line. For this type of wordplay (Freud's "empty" and "full"), see on 2.67.
2 faciem sub aqua … natantis: There have been various attempts to explain this. Collesso suggests "pale and bloated" ("pallidam nempe et turgidam, ex eo quod, ut aiunt, sub aqua augescant omnia"); Ker and Norcio, "bloated and disfigured"; LaPenna 2000: 97 sees an allusion to pallor; and Prinz 1911: 75 to a cadaverous appearance. Citing Ov. Met. 6.376, on the Lycian farmers transformed into frogs ("quamvis sint sub aqua, sub aqua maledicere temptant"), Barié and Schindler propose that Sextus' face resembles that of a drunk or a frog, but the parallel seems strained. Shackleton Bailey cites with approval the suggestion of Housman 1931a that there is an allusion to underwater sexual practices of a kind mentioned by Suetonius (Tib. 44).
2 Sexte: For the name, frequently occurring in Martial but not attached to a single clear personality, see on 2.3.1.