Christer Henriksen (ed.), A Commentary on Martial, Epigrams Book 9

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pg 168The skill of Agathinus, the master juggler, is overwhelming. With swift limbs he hurls the shield up in the air and catches it on his foot, on his back, on his head and on his fingertips, although the stage is slippery from sprinkles of perfume and the wind blows hard; it seems as though he is trying to avoid the shield, which is seeking his body of its own accord. To keep the shield in constant motion is child's play for Agathinus; to drop it would take practice.

The juggling with a shield appears only in this epigram, but cf. the pilarii juggling with balls, who arouse the same admiration as Agathinus. Quintilian refers to their tricks as miracula illa in scaenis and describes their skill in a way very similar to Martial's account of Agathinus: ea quae emiserint ultro venire in manus credas et qua iubentur decurrere (Inst. 10. 7. 11); cf. also Manilius' description of a pilarius in 5. 168–71 (on the dexterity of those born under the Twins) ille potens turba perfundere membra pilarum | per totumque vagas corpus disponere palmas, | ut teneat tantos orbes sibique ipse reludat | et velut edoctos iubeat volitare per ipsum. There are pictures of pilarii preserved on gravestones, and also occasional epitaphs, like that of the imperial freedman P. Aelius Secundus, who was pilarius omnium eminentissimus (CIL 6. 8997); see Schneider in RE xx. s.v. pilarius 1320 ff.

The poem is so full of Ovidian echoes as almost to seem like an Ovidian cento; see the commentary on lines 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 below. It may be observed, too, that the poem is unusually dactylic. None of the hexameters have more than two spondees (lines 5, 7, and 9), 1 and 3 only one. All pentameters are completely dactylic except for line 4, which has one spondee in the first hemiepes. Such a high concentration of dactyls is naturally unusual. It would be noticeable even in Ovid, who writes a very dactylic verse. Here, the speed of the dactyls obviously serve to illustrate Agathinus' juggling. But in connection with the verbal echoes from Ovid, it would probably have given the poem a particularly Ovidian feel. It may be that Martial, in describing a virtuoso juggler, wanted to present his poem in the style of the foremost virtuoso of his own trade. On Martial's metre, see further Introduction, 2.

1. Summa … pericula ludas: 'play with the utmost danger', namely, of the shield falling on the ground (thus Friedländer ad loc.); the accusative is internal (cf. K–S i. 277). The expression has no exact parallels, but similar expressions are listed in the TLL, s.v. ludo 1780, 59 ff.

Agathine: Gr. ʼΑγαθῖνος‎. He seems to have been a real person, perhaps, like the mimic actor Latinus in 9. 28, a member of Domitian's staff of entertainers (like the Aelius Secundus above, who would also have been engaged at the court).

2. non tamen efficies: a direct borrowing from Ov. Pont. 2. 2. 24 non tamen efficies ut timeare mihi, cf. Met. 13. 64.

parma: a small shield, round or oval, used by the lightly armed velites as well as the cavalry and the Thracian gladiators (cf. note on 9. 68. 8 parmae). This is the only instance of its being used by a juggler, but cf. Juv. 5. 153–5, which mentions a pg 169monkey, dressed up in helmet and parma and armed with a spear, riding on a she-goat; see Lambertz in RE xviii. s.v. Parma 1, 1539 ff.; cf. also 9. 20. 10.

3. Nolentem: Martial takes the rendering one step further than do Manilius and Quintilian (above); whereas these two authors describe the balls as following the pilarius of their own accord, the skill of Agathinus is so great that it seems as if his hands are actually trying to avoid the chasing shield.

tenuisque reversa per auras: cf. Ov. Ars 1. 43 (of the suitable girl) haec tibi non tenues veniet delapsa per auras. The ending per auras is much favoured by Lucretius (14 instances), Vergil (17), Ovid (19), and Silius (31) but is found only five times in Statius and seven in Valerius Flaccus. Martial has it also in 1. 3. 11 and 1. 6. 1.

4. ungue: metonymy for 'fingertip' (cf. Juv. 10. 53).

5. lubrica Corycio … pulpita nimbo: the stage is slippery from having been sprinkled with sweet wine mixed with saffron (Plin. Nat. 21. 34), which, because of its fragrance (considered equal to that of the rose), was used to freshen up the air in dining-rooms, baths, and theatres. The epithet Corycius is used because the best saffron was that which thrived in the caves of Mt. Corycus in Cilicia (Plin. Nat. 21. 31); cf. 3. 65. 2 and see Orth in RE 2/iii. s.v. Safron 1730; Ruge in RE xi. s.v. Korkyros 4, 1452; TLL suppl., s.v. Corcyrus 660, 47 ff.

6. celeres … Noti: this phrase is also in Ov. Fast. 5. 686 with the same position in the metre as here. For celer as an attribute of winds, cf., for example, Hor. Carm. 1. 12. 10 and see TLL, s.v. celer 751, 24 ff.

vela negata: in the theatre, as in the amphitheatre, awnings could be stretched out over a system of poles and crossbeams to protect the spectators from the sun. They were naturally a welcome arrangement (at Pompeii they were mentioned even in the advertisements for gladiatorial games in the phrase vela erunt; cf., for example, CIL 4. 1177 and 1180), but their use was made impossible by strong wind; cf. 11. 21. 6 Pompeiano vela negata Noto (with Kay's note). As the wind in this case is tearing the vela that has been 'denied the spectators', negata must refer to awnings that have been rolled up because of the wind. In cases where the vela could not be used, Martial recommends the use of sunshades (14. 28 with Leary) or a sun-hat; thus 14. 29 (Causea) In Pompeiano tecum spectabo theatro: | nam flatus populo vela negare solet.1

For the prosody, cf. also Ov. Ep. 2. 100 expectem pelago vela negata meo?, Am. 2. 16. 22 dare non aequis vela ferenda Notis.

7. securos … neglecta perambulat artus: because of Agathinus' skill, his limbs are securi ('sure, steady'), as he is free from the fear of dropping the pg 170shield, which moves about his limbs seemingly neglected by him. Securus is similarly used in 11. 11. 2 et mihi secura pocula trade manu (cf. Kay ad loc.). For perambulo as conveying a sense of steadiness and ease, see TLL, s.v. perambulo 1185, 61–2.

There is an Ovidian echo also in this line; cf. Ov. Ep. 9. 135 mens fugit admonitu, frigusque perambulat artus.

8. ventus et unda: the unda being the sprinklings of saffron of line 5. The juncture is Ovidian, appearing twice in his pentameters (Am. 2. 16. 46, Ep. 7. 44), both with the same position as here.

9. ut peccare velis: concessive ut, which is 'relatively rare in Augustan poets other than O(vid)' (Knox on Ov. Ep. 1. 116, who counts seven instances in the Heroides alone); perhaps, this too should be considered an Ovidianism.

cum feceris omnia: 'though you have done everything', cf. 6. 93. 11–12 Cum bene se tutam per fraudes mille putavit, | omnia cum fecit, Thaida Thais olet (where the indicative should probably be ascribed to the 'Verszwang'; cf. H–Sz 624–5).

10. ut tibi parma cadat: Martial often ends an epigram by repeating one of the opening lines, sometimes with a slight variation; in Book 9, see poems 46, 55, 57, 77, 78, and 100. Similar methods of 'embracing' a poem can be observed also in Greek epigram (for example, AP 11. 254, 11. 308, 11. 310 (Lucilius), 11. 186 (Nicarchus) ); see Siedschlag 1977: 123–4; cf. Joepgen 1967: 101–2.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 Leary, like most editors, prints Pontanus' conjecture nam flatus, whereas Heraeus, followed by Housman, retained the reading of TβMandatus, taking it as the name of a velarius amphitheatralis (see Leary on 14. 29. 2). On vela, see also Fensterbusch in RE 2/v. s.v. Theatron 1414; Friedländer in J. Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, 3, 2. Aufl. besorgt von Georg Wissowa (Leipzig, 1885), 533–4.
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