Find Location in text

Main Text

Editor’s Note2.17

Translation

A woman barber sits right at the entrance to the Subura, where the bloody whips of the torturers hang and where many a shoemaker occupies the Argiletum. But this barber does not cut hair, Ammianus: she does not cut hair, I say. What does she do, then? She fleeces.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
Themes. We return to the choliambic meter (see on 2.11) but are introduced to a new topic. The implication of the final words is not only that this woman charges too much, but that the services she offers go beyond those of a barber: in short, that she is a prostitute (see on 5 below). For barbers, usually male, who shaved beards and trimmed hair and who are sometimes the object of satire, see on 2.48.2. For prostitutes with a fixed place of business, see 1.34 (Submemmi fornice), 6.66 ("quales in media sedent Subura"), 11.45 (cella), 11.61 (a fornix in the Subura).
  There is a comparable joke, with the sex roles reversed, in 4.28. Here Chloe has given all her possessions to Lupercus, and the speaker comments, "vae glabraria, vae tibi misella: / nudam te statuet tuus Lupercus"—that is, he will "strip" her both of her clothes and of her possessions.
Editor’s Note
Structure. A single sentence describing the tonstrix at work (1–3) is followed by an additional detail that complicates the picture (sed, 4). The paradoxical remark that, although a barber (tonstrix), she does not actually cut hair (tondet) is reinforced by the repetition non tondet, inquam, and shades into a riddle: quid igitur facit? There is a progression from the three-line opening sentence to a shorter sentence ending with the deictic repetition (4–5), to an even shorter rhetorical question (5), to a one-word sentence that brings the point home; but at the same time each line, a unit in itself, introduces an increasing degree of specificity in content.
  For the introductory technique of anchoring the action in a specific place, compare 1.12, 3.19, 3.47, 4.18, 7.80, 9.40, 9.59, 9.61, 10.79, 11.82; see 2.72 for an introduction that anchors the action in a specific time. There are Greek predecessors, but Martial's descriptions tend to be longer (Siedschlag 1977: 35 n. 1).
Editor’s Note
1 Suburae faucibus sedet primis: The Subura was a famous district of Rome, more or less coextensive with the valley between the southern end of the Viminal and the western slope of the Esquiline Hills. Various sources describe it as noisy, busy, crowded—in short, quintessentially urban (see Juv. 3.5, where the speaker prefers even Prochyta, a small island off Misenum, to the Subura). Most revealing among Martial's many allusions to the Subura are 12.18, where the clamosa Subura, along with the Aventine and Caelian, is a feature of the busy city life, and 12.21, where both the media Subura and the Capitoline function as emblems of Rome. The district was also known for its brothels: see 6.66.2 (quoted below, on sedet), 11.61, 11.78 (a prostitute is, significantly, called Suburana magistra), and Priap. 40.1 with Stumpp 1998: 166–169. Martial's phrase faucibus primis, attested only here and perhaps an ad hoc designation (cf. prima Subura at 12.2.9), would seem to refer to the southern opening of the valley, that is, the area just behind the later Forum Transitorium (Richardson 1992: s.v. Argiletum).
  As Shackleton Bailey notes, the verb sedet contributes to the implicit portrayal of the woman as a prostitute: compare 6.66.2 ("famae non nimium bonae puellam, / quales in media sedent Subura") with OLD s.v. sedere 1c.
Editor’s Note
2 cruenta pendent qua flagella tortorum: There is some disagreement as to the precise meaning of this phrase. Collesso vaguely explains: "hoc est, locus ubi rei puniebantur." Friedlaender and Barié and Schindler suggest that Martial is referring to the shops of those who made whips that could be used in torture; in this case, the adjective cruenta is proleptic. Platner 1929: s.v. "Subura" suggests that the primae fauces Suburae lay near the Praefectura Urbana, where torture was carried out. Sen. Epist. 51.4 ("quemadmodum inter tortores habitare nolim, sic ne inter popinas quidem") implies that certain areas of Rome were known for tortores just as others were known for their taverns, and perhaps the part of the Subura where this tonstrix works was one of the former.
Editor’s Note
3 Argique Letum: Argiletum (originally probably Argilletum) was the name of the zone connecting the Subura with the area of the imperial fora; it was also applied, as here, to the main street of this zone. This was one of the city's major thoroughfares, constituting a principal approach to the forum area; a stretch of ancient roadway still runs alongside the Curia. To judge by Martial's allusions, the Argiletum was a center of trade, containing booksellers' and cobblers' shops, and perhaps also brothels (1.2, 1.3, 1.117). The name is most likely derived from argilla, referring to the clay that was dug nearby (cf. Lauretum, Aesculetum, Quercetum; Jordan 1878: 1.1.181). This etymology is cited by ancient commentators along with an alternative, mythic derivation: that a certain Argus, variously identified, was killed nearby (Varro L.L. 5.157, Serv. ad Aen. 8.345, Mart. Cap. 3.273). The insertion of -que into the midst of Argiletum, a device that gave the poet metrical flexibility, obviously depends on the latter etymology (Argi letum, "death of Argus"). The same division of the word is found at 1.117.9 ("Argi nempe soles subire Letum") but nowhere else in extant Latin.
Editor’s Note
4 ista tonstrix, Ammiane, non tondet: For paradoxical formulations toward the end of epigrams, see on 2.12.4. For the parenthetical vocative leading into the final point, see on 2.3.2 and 2.18.8. The name Ammianus has already appeared at 2.4.1, and Friedlaender suggests that since the name there refers to a man whose relationship with his mother is suspiciously intimate, here Martial may be implying that he has visited the tonstrix himself, and not for a shave. But it is not clear that a Roman readership would have been inclined to make any connection between incest and a visit to a prostitute.
Editor’s Note
  4–5 non tondet, / non tondet, inquam: The use of inquam to mark a gemination is a technique probably influenced by the rhetorical tradition (cf. Cic. Verr. 5.162: "crux, crux, inquam"; Cic. Font. 3: "nemo, nemo, inquam"). Wills 1996: 65–66 cites several instances from poetry (Lucil. 110–111; Ov. Met. 13.284; [V.] Catal. 9.55; Sil. 2.302–303, 11.570; Mart. 6.64.7–8: "felicis carpere nugas, / has, inquam, nugas").
Editor’s Note
5 quid igitur facit? For the question leading up to the conclusion, see on 2.7.8. Combined with the earlier paradoxical statement ista tonstrix non tondet, the question has the effect of a riddle. For comparable mental puzzles at the end of epigrams, see 2.28.5 ("ex istis nihil es fateor, Sextille: quid ergo es?") and 3.88.2 ("dicite, dissimiles sunt magis an similes?"), and for the riddle format in general, see 2.33 and 13.11 with Leary.
Editor’s Note
5 radit: For the execution of the final point by means of a single word see, in Book II alone, 2.33.4 (fellat), 2.49.2 (volo), 2.56.4 (dare), and 2.73.1 (again fellat); Rodón Binué 1987: 292–293. In the present case, translators and commentators agree that there is a double meaning in radit, but what is it? Almost certainly there is a pun on a financial second meaning (thus already Collesso): this barber doesn't shave, she strips her customers of all they've got (cf. Pers. 3.49: "damnosa canicula quantum raderet"). The pun is reproducible by English "fleece" (Bridge and Lake, Shackleton Bailey). Prompted by the hint of prostitution already made in the first line, some have looked for sexual double meaning in radit: the variorum commentary proposes that the verb may suggest glubit, famously used in Catull. 58 to evoke the peeling back of the foreskin and likewise the climactic final word in a poem imagining a woman in action at street corners and in alleys ("in quadriviis et angiportis") (similarly, Plass 1985: 202, LaPenna 2000: 94 n. 19). Yet "peeling" or "stripping" (glubere) and "shaving" (radit) are hardly the same thing. Housman 1931b: 82 thus argues that there is no sexual double meaning in radit.
logo-footer Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.
Access is brought to you by Log out