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Editor’s Note2.1

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To be sure, you could bear three hundred epigrams; but who would bear you, or who would read you all the way through, O book? Learn now the advantages of a compact booklet. The first is this, that I waste less paper. Second, the copyist will manage it all in just one hour and so will not devote himself exclusively to my trivialities. The third point is this: if anyone actually reads you, no matter how bad you may be, you will not be tiresome. The partygoer will read you when his five measures have been mixed, but will finish before the cup placed before him begins to grow lukewarm. Do you think you have taken sufficient precautions by means of your great brevity? Alas, how many people will find you long even so!

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Editor’s Note
Themes. The beginnings of Martial's books are without exception marked by one or both of the themes "emperor" and "book," and most books return to one or both of these themes at their ending as well (Weinreich 1928: 27; see Merli 1993 for an overall analysis of Martial's book openings). Book II illustrates the pattern perfectly: 2.praef. and 2.1 concern the book itself, and 2.2 turns to praise of the emperor; 2.91 involves both emperor and book, 2.92 the emperor, and 2.93 the book. Indeed, any reader of Martial will be struck by the extent to which his poetry is concerned with describing, advertising, or defending itself. In Book II alone, see 2.praef., 2.6, 2.8, 2.22–23, 2.71, 2.77, 2.86, 2.91–93, with Sullivan 1991: 56–77, Fowler 1995, Roman 2001. The present epigram is thus characteristic in its self-referentiality, but also in its (mock-) modest tone, for which see 3.1, 5.1, 6.1 (with Grewing), 10.1, 11.1 (with Kay), 12.1, 13.1, and contrast 1.1, 8.1, 9.praef. For general discussion of the ancient book see Kenyon 1951, Kleberg 1969, Cavallo 1975, and Blanck 1992.
  This poem's opening and closing words are echoed in the final epigram of the eighth book of epigrammata seria by Henry of Huntingdon (ca. 1080–1155): "Ferre libri poteras epigrammata plura petisque. / desine! quam multis est, mihi longus erit" (Maaz 1992: 144).
Editor’s Note
Structure. On a bipartite scheme, 1–10 outline the situation, and the final couplet offers pointed commentary. But a tripartite structure suggests itself perhaps more immediately: 1–2 (the book could have been three times as long but would have repelled readers); 3–10 (advantages of a short book); 11–12 (readers may nonetheless be bored). At the same time there is a framing, or ABA, structure: in the first couplet the poet tells his book that no one will read it if it contains as many as 300 epigrams, while in the last he observes that many readers will be bored even if it contains only a few epigrams.
  The body of the poem enumerates three succinctly described advantages (primum, deinde, tertia) introduced by the line "at nunc succincti quae sint bona disce libelli," itself a model of simple clarity. The list is pleasingly varied in syntax and metrical structure: rather than dedicating a couplet to each of the three advantages of a short book, the poet describes the first in a single line (4), the second in an entire couplet (5–6), and the third in a couplet (7–8) that is then expanded upon with a concrete illustration in yet another couplet (9–10). This structural tricolon crescendo is combined with a progression in content: from writer (who wastes less paper) to copyist (who wastes less time) to reader (who will avoid boredom). In short, the protest that readers will be bored is made in a neatly turned piece that does its best to counteract tedium.
Editor’s Note
1 ter centena: The number is not randomly chosen, as the ideal limit for Martial is clearly 100 epigrams per book (cf. 1.118, cited on 11 below), and indeed, with the exception of the Xenia and Apophoreta, his books fluctuate around this limit, ranging from 82 poems in Book VIII to 118 in Book I.
Editor’s Note
1 poteras … ferre: Either "you could have borne" (Ker, Izaac, Norcio, Scandola) or "you could bear" (Shackleton Bailey, Barié and Schindler, Ceronetti); see OLD s.v. 12b) or "to endure, bear" (OLD s.v. 20: cf. 2.75.1).
Editor’s Note
2 liber: The technique of addressing his own verse is particularly characteristic of Martial: see 1.3, 1.70, 1.96, 3.2, 3.4–5, 4.86, 4.89, 5.10, 7.97, 10.104, 11.1, 12.2. Howell ad 5.10 traces the device back to Catullus 35 "and probably to Hellenistic poetry, if not earlier." See Citroni 1986 for detailed discussion of the technique in Horace, Ovid, and Martial; Borgo 2001 sees an especially close link with Hor. Epist. 1.20. A related device also favored by Martial is the personification of the book or verses: see on 2.93.2.
Editor’s Note
3 succincti: Literally "having one's clothes gathered up by a belt, girdle, or sim., to allow freedom of movement" (OLD s.v. 1; Mart. 7.35.1, 12.24.7, 14.86.1; cf. 2.46.7); here figuratively, "compact, concise" (OLD s.v. 1c).
Editor’s Note
3 libelli: One of the most common of Martial's designations for his own poetry; see Grewing ad 6.1. The literal sense of the diminutive is sometimes dominant (10.1.1–2: "si nimius videor … esse liber, legito pauca: libellus ero"), but it more often refers to the lightweight aspect of Martial's poetry, as opposed to such heavier genres as epic. In any case the term brings with it an element of mock-modesty. Prominent examples of the programmatic use of libellus by other authors include Catull. 1.1 ("cui dono lepidum novum libellum") and Juv. 1.86 ("nostri farrago libelli est").
Editor’s Note
4 brevior quod mihi charta perit: Martial begins with the most practical consideration; for the imagery, compare 6.64.23 ("miseras et perdere chartas"), 13.1.3 ("perdite Niliacas, Musae, mea damna, papyros"), Juv. 1.18 ("periturae parcere chartae"), Auson. Epigr. 35.1–2 ("si tineas cariemque pati te, charta, necesse est, / incipe versiculis ante perire meis"), Sidon. Apoll. Carm. 9.10 ("iubes … perire chartam").
Editor’s Note
5 una peraget librarius hora: Compare 4.89, where both the reader and the librarius tire after eighty-nine epigrams. The functions of the librarius were to copy out manuscripts, as here, and to sell the copies (in which case he might also be called a bibliopola: see 14.194 with Leary ad loc.); sometimes both functions were performed by one and the same man. Martial refers to librarii again at 1.2, 2.8.3, and 4.89.8–9; see further Kleberg 1969 and McDonnell 1996. In the present case it is not clear whether (as Nauta 2002: 130 assumes) the librarius is Martial's own slave, in which case tantum emphasizes nugis, or a hired specialist, in which case the adverb emphasizes meis.
  The MSS of families α‎ and β‎ read the present tense peragit (printed by Schneidewin, Lindsay, and Shackleton Bailey), while family γ‎ reads the future peraget (printed by Gilbert, Heraeus, and Friedlaender). The latter seems slightly preferable in view of the universally transmitted serviet in 6: there would thus be a sequence from present tense (perit) in the first of the three advantages to future tense in the remaining two (peraget, serviet, legeris, eris), although precisely for this reason one might argue that peragit is the lectio difficilior.
Editor’s Note
6 nugis serviet … meis: The original meaning of nugae (whose etymology is unclear, and which always appears in the plural) is "that which is unprofitable or absurd" (OLD s.v. 1), a secondary meaning is "things not serious, frivolities" (OLD s.v. 3). The term is often used to refer to literary works of a light character, as opposed to, for example, epic or tragedy: see Catull. 1.4 (with Swann 1998: 53–54) and Hor. A.P. 322. Like Catullus, Martial applies it quite insistently to his own work: see 1.113.6, 2.86.9, 3.55.3, 4.10.4, 4.72.3, 4.82.4, 5.80.3, 6.64.7–8, 7.11.4, 7.26.7, 7.51.1, 8.3.11, 9.praef., 10.18.4, 12.praef., 13.2.4, 14.183.2.
  Seemingly the only modern translation to bring out the imagery of slavery present in the verb serviet is that of Barié and Schindler: "und ist nicht auf so lange Zeit der Sklave meiner poetischen Nichtigkeiten."
Editor’s Note
7 si cui forte legeris: How are we to interpret the dative? Ker and Shackleton Bailey take it as a true dative (if you are read to anyone), thus seeing a reference to the practice of having one's lector, usually a slave, read aloud to one (Starr 1990–1991). Others understand cui as a dative of agent: if you are read by anyone. This is somewhat more probable; Martial usually speaks of people directly reading his epigrams for themselves, and indeed in an epigram at this book's end the emperor is imagined picking up a scroll of Martial's epigrams to read it himself (cf. 2.91.4: detinuere oculos tuos; admittedly, at 7.99.3–4 Martial's poems are read aloud to the emperor). For the dative of agent, compare Sp. 27.6 ("huic percussa foret tota Chimaera semel"), 2.6.12 ("totus tibi triduo legatur"), 7.14.5 ("Stellae cantata meo"), and perhaps 2.84.4 (reading "esse huic occisus"). Although KS 2.1.324–325 claim that such datives are much rarer with present-stem than with perfect passive verb forms, they actually cite quite a few examples of the former.
Editor’s Note
8 odiosus: The tone of the adjective ranges from extreme ("disagreeable, offensive": OLD s.v. 1) to mild ("tiresome, boring, annoying": OLD s.v. 1). Martial uses it on only one other occasion, again with reference to a literary text (8.6.1: "archetypis vetuli nihil est odiosius Aucti").
Editor’s Note
9 te conviva leget: For the reading of Martial's poetry at convivia, see 2.6.8, 5.16.9, and especially 4.82.5–6, where the poet once again hopes that his verses will be read before the evening is too far gone. For convivia in general see D'Arms 1984, 1990, 1991. Nauta 2002: 93 reminds us that "the symposiast will not read the book in silence, but will recite it out loud to his drinking companions."
Editor’s Note
9 mixto quincunce: The noun quincunx means "five-twelfths," here of the liquid measure called the sextarius. Since one-twelfth of a sextarius was also called a cyathus, a quincunx is the equivalent of five cyathi. Martial's allusions to the number of cyathi drunk in one sitting or evening range from one (1.106) to five (11.36.7) to seven (3.82.29) to a hyperbolic fifty (1.27.2); compare Pl. Per. 771a (seven), Hor. C. 3.19.12 (three or nine), Plin. N.H. 28.64 (four). In short, the quincunx of the present epigram is hardly an excessive amount, approximating 227.5 milliliters and thus a large modern glass of wine; the moderate amount is part of the point. Martial's mixto reminds us that, at least in polite company, both Greeks and Romans drank wine mixed with water in varying proportions (Marquardt 1886: 332–333; cf. the joke at 6.89, with Grewing).
Editor’s Note
10 incipiat positus quam tepuisse calix: Given the range of meanings of the verb and the absence of any further specification in this context, the phrase positus calix may mean "the cup that has been placed before him" (Izaac, Barié and Schindler, Norcio, Ceronetti, Scandola) or "the cup he has put aside" (Ker), but the former seems more likely; compare 1.43.2 ("positum est nobis nil here praeter aprum") with Citroni, 6.94.1 ("ponuntur … chrysendeta Calpetiano"), V. Aen. 1.706 ("pocula ponant"), V. Copa 37 ("pone merum et talos").
  Heated wine was served especially in the winter, and Martial's point—surely exaggerated—is that a reader can get through Book II so quickly that his cup of heated wine will not even become tepid; see further on 2.6.12. In 12.1 Martial proudly claims that the entire twelfth book, containing ninety-eight epigrams, can be read in less than a winter hour, itself less than a modern hour.
Editor’s Note
11–12 esse tibi … videris? / ei mihi … eris! The technique of posing a question and immediately supplying an answer by way of making a pointed comment at the end of an epigram appears very frequently indeed in Martial: see on 2.7.8. For such a question followed, as here, by a correction or denial, see 2.4.6 ("lusum creditis hoc iocumque? non est."), 2.26.3–4 ("rem factam … credis habere? / erras."), 2.40.8 ("o stulti, febrem creditis esse? gula est."), 2.47.3 ("confidis natibus? non est pedico maritus"), 2.83.4–5 ("credis te satis esse vindicatum? / erras").
  Wills 1996: 431–432 cites this couplet in his discussion of "couplet or double-line framing," but the fact that the forms of esse are differently inflected makes the pattern somewhat less compelling than in other examples of the phenomenon (1.32: non amo te … non amo te; 1.75: dimidium … dimidium).
Editor’s Note
11 brevitate: This is a virtue to which many ancient poets laid claim, heeding Callimachus' dictum μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν‎. On several occasions Martial expresses the concern that an overly long book will bore his readers: see, among others, 1.45, 1.118, 2.6, 4.29, 4.82, 7.85, and 8.39, with Borgo 2001. In 4.29 he makes the point that a reader may just be able to manage a whole book, but more than one book is simply too much: "obstat nostris sua turba libellis / lectoremque frequens lassat et implet opus."
Editor’s Note
12 ei mihi: The interjection, which occurs frequently in Plautus, Terence, Ovid, and elsewhere, but only here in Martial, adds a tone of pathos: the poet wrings his hands, worrying whether the public will like his book.
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