Christer Henriksen (ed.), A Commentary on Martial, Epigrams Book 9
- Editor’s Note Link 1 Lascivam tota possedi nocte puellam,
- Editor’s Note2 cuius nequitias vincere nemo potest.
- Editor’s Note3 Fessus mille modis illud puerile poposci:
- Editor’s Note4 ante preces totas primaque verba dedit.
- Editor’s Note5 Inprobius quiddam ridensque rubensque rogavi:
- Editor’s Note6 pollicitast nulla luxuriosa mora.
- Editor’s Note7 Sed mihi pura fuit; tibi non erit, Aeschyle, si vis
- 8 accipere hoc munus condicione mala.
The speaker has spent a night with a girl who proved unsurpassable in her licentiousness, satisfying his every desire without batting an eyelid. Anal intercourse was not a problem, not even fellatio, presented here as the height of sexual daring while still, it seems, being acceptable. There is an intensification, then, in the sexual acts alluded to (the general nequitiae, illud puerile, and the inprobius quiddam) over the first three distichs. At the same time, the verbs used become vaguer: first, the speaker 'demands' illud puerile and is promptly 'given' it, then, he dares no more than 'ask' for the inprobius quiddam (smiling and blushing at that), which the girl only 'promises' to perform (albeit without delay); but as if not really daring to spell it out, the text does not say that she actually did so.
Through these distichs of increasing intensity and vagueness, the reader is brought to the riddle of the concluding distich: as far as the speaker is concerned, the girl was 'pure', but she will not be if Aeschylus wants to receive the same service on a 'bad condition'.
The meaning of the last distich is a classic problem in Book 9. To Friedländer, it was 'völlig unklar', in reaction to which various scholars have proposed different explanations. Some have argued that the condicione mala was payment; so Prinz (1930: 116), who is followed by Killeen (1967), taking it as meaning magno pretio. Killeen also compares 9. 4, in which the character of Aeschylus turns up again, paying a big sum of money to the prostitute Galla so that she will not reveal the nature of the services supplied. Payment seems like a vapid explanation here,1 but the Aeschylus of 9. 4 may be relevant; see below.
Another explanation was proposed by Housman (1907: 247 = 1972: 725), who took the distich as implying that the girl would perform fellatio only if her lover performed cunnilinctio. Considering Martial's views of active oral sex on the part of the male, such a demand may have been reason enough for his speaker to decline. Thus, Housman argues, he did not 'pollute' the girl's mouth, and so she is pura (compare 9. 63. 2) as far as the speaker is concerned, but she will not be if Aeschylus accepts on the same terms.2
Obermayer argues that the girl did perform fellatio on the speaker and still remained pura because 'unter bestimmten Bedingungen bzw. mit bestimmten Partnern ist passiv-rezeptiver Oral- und Analverkehr nicht rufschädigend'; it would all depend on the person on whom the act was performed. In this respect, the speaker would be an acceptable partner because he is purus, but Aeschylus (assuming that he is the Aeschylus of 9. 4) would not because of his unconventional sexual preferences (which make him an impurus): 'Der narrateur stilisiert sich zu einem purissimus, mit dem selbst Oralverkehr nicht "befleckend" sei, Aeschylus hingegen wird als impurus denunziert: Ihn zu fellieren habe Folgen (condicione mala): puella impura erit!'3
I am not entirely convinced that a girl, in a context such as this, could actually perform fellatio on a man and remain pure, regardless of the moral qualitites of the man in question. The foremost objection, I think, is to be had from 9. 63. 2, which seems to presuppose that the one performing fellatio was sullied, whether concretely, morally, or both. Furthermore, Obermayer's interpretation of the condicio mala may need some refinement, because condicio cannot mean 'consequence' but must allude to some kind of agreement. Previous scholars have regarded it as an agreement that would have been harsh from the man's point of view (thus arriving at either a hefty price or at cunnilinctio).4 Obermayer's variant demands that it be taken as harsh from the point of view of the girl; and if it were the very act of performing fellatio on Aeschylus that would make her impura, then the very request for fellatio from such a character as Aeschylus would itself be a condicio mala: 'the girl will not be pure, Aeschylus, if you want her to perform fellatio on you on the condition that she performs fellatio on you'.
Note the similarity of this epigram to 12. 65, a poem about a certain Phyllis, as proficient as the girl of this epigram, which also ends with an unexpected demand: Formosa Phyllis nocte cum mihi tota | se praestitisset omnibus modis largam, | et cogitarem mane quod darem munus … rogare coepit Phyllis amphoram vini (1–3, 9).
1 If the girl demanded money she would be a prostitute and, if she was a prostitute, it would have been obvious from the very beginning that she expected to be paid. In any case, her demanding money would not be particularly shocking, nor is such an interpretation congruent with Martial's generally complacent view of prostitutes (see Sullivan 1991: 168).
2 See, though, Obermayer's introduction to his chapter 'Das Motiv des unreinen Mundes bei Martial (ore impurus)', in which he concludes that 'In heterosexuellen Beziehungen ist die Fellation durchaus erwünscht und stigmatisiert die ausführenden puella keineswegs' (Obermayer 1998: 214). There is, however, a problem to Obermayer's argument, as women could obviously also become impurae by practising fellatio; see note on 9. 63. 2 above.
3 Obermayer 1998: 223–4.
4 So also Watson and Watson (2003: 242), who prefer to 'suppose that the puella readily agreed to fellate M., and did so, but in the case of Aeschylus insisted on a quid pro quo in the shape of cunnilinctus. In performing the latter, Aeschylus, ore pollutus, as his name suggests … , in turn defiled her'; see the note on 9. 4. 3 for their interpretation of the name Aeschylus in this context.
1. Lascivam … puellam: the elegant, chiastic position of the words seems to underline the speaker's enthusiasm for the girl's proficiency and his own satisfaction (note the central position of possedi) at having her, if only for one night. Lascivus, 'free from restraint', is naturally a positive quality in this context, as in Ov. Rem. 727–8 (the words of the deserted lover looking at the bed in which he spent an amorous night with his girl) 'Hic fuit, hic cubuit; thalamo dormivimus illo: | hic mihi lasciva gaudia nocte dedit'; OLD, s.v., 4.
2. vincere nemo potest: nemo αγ; nulla β. Although both words give an acceptable meaning, Housman advocated nemo as being better established in the manuscripts and as giving a better sense, taking vincere as 'exhaust' (with reference to Sal. Cat. 20. 12 summa lubidine divitias suas vincere nequeunt): 'nemo amator quicquam nequitiae rogare potest, quod puella praestare nolit' (Housman 1907: 247 = 1972: 725).
3. fessus mille modis: modi refers to sexual positions (see TLL, s.v., 1267, 57–63, to which should be added Lucr. 4. 1263–4 et quibus ipsa modis tractetur blanda voluptas | id quoque permagni refert). Their number, as noted by Gibson on Ov. Ars 3. 787-8 (mille modi veneris), was proverbially infinite;5 see Am. 3. 14. 24 inque modos Venerem mille figuret amor, Ars 2. 679–80 venerem iungunt per mille figuras: | invenit plures nulla tabella modos.
Hinds fittingly sees Martial's use of mille modi as a reaction to Ovid's 'thousand positions': 'even in its most unclothed moments, Augustan elegy has a decorum, and, even here, the restrained physicality of Ovid's mille modi stays euphemistically away from (in pornographer's parlance) all anal and oral action. And, interestingly, it is precisely thus that Martial seems to editorialize on his predecessor's erotic number-crunching'. Consequently, when Martial says fessus mille modis, he does not mean 'tired by a thousand positions' but 'tired of the "thousand positions" '.6
5 For mille modi as denoting an infinitely large number, see Bömer on Ov. Met. 5. 596 and cf. H–Sz 211.
6 S. Hinds, 'Martial's Ovid / Ovid's Martial', JRS 97 (2007), 113–54 (here 128).
illud puerile: anal intercourse (see TLL, s.v. puerilis, 2524, 69–75); the closest parallel seems to be Apul. Met. 3. 20 intecti atque nudati bacchamur in Venerem, cum quidem mihi iam fatigato de propria liberalitate Photis puerile obtulit corollarium ('although I was already exhausted, Photis, out of her own liberality, offered me the boy routine as an extra'). See also Williams' note on 2. 60. 2 (supplicium puerile).
4. ante preces totas: 'before I had finished my prayers'. The construction falls somewhere between the ab urbe condita construction with omission of the participle (for example, factas) and the ab urbe condita construction with adjectives. The former, treated by Heick 1936: 67–8, is not a fully apt description, as totas conveys too much of the sense not to be vital to the construction; no instances involving a similar adjective are presented by Heick. Nor does the a. u. c. construction with adjectives completely make the point, since one could omit totas and still have a perfectly intelligible construction (which then would pass as an a. u. c. construction with omission of the participle). Obviously, there is both brachylogical and colloquial influence on the construction.
Ker wanted to alter totas to totum, as he felt ante … prima verba to be a contradiction of ante preces totas. He was rightly contradicted by Hudson-Williams, whose analysis of the line—'the first phrase, ante preces totas, gives the general picture, the second, primaque uerba, is limitative and more precise'—seems more apposite.7
7 A. Ker, 'Some explanations and emendations of Martial', CQ 44 (1950), 13; A. Hudson-Williams, 'Some other explanations of Martial', CQ 46 (1952), 27.
5. Inprobius quiddam: fellatio; compare 2. 61. 2, in which a tongue that licks 'the groins of men' is called inproba, and 3. 82. 32, where one Malchio (a 'significant name', see Fusi, ad loc.) is given the same attribute because he is a fellator. On Martial's views of oral sex, see note on 9. 27. 14.
6. luxuriosa: 'wanton' (cf. 7. 91. 4 mentula luxuriousa of the phallus of Priapus). The frequency of the word, which is otherwise rarely found in poetry (four instances in Ovid, one each in Lucan and Juvenal), is comparatively high in Martial, being found seven times in various contexts.8
7–8. Sed mihi pura fuit etc.: for the interpretation of the final distich, see the introduction above.