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

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Martial's views of the Roman schoolmasters are pervaded by two facts: their habit of always shouting and their beginning their lessons already at sunrise, which kept the poet from sleeping. These facts obviously caused the poet enough irritation never to mention a schoolmaster without alluding to both or at least one of these facts, hence the clamosus magister in 5. 84. 2, the tumidus rauca voce magister of 8. 3. 15, the matutinus magister in 9. 29. 7, his exhortation to the schoolmaster at last to let his pupils enjoy their summer holidays in 10. 62, and Martial's reason for staying in the countryside, as expressed in 12. 57. 4–5: negant vitam | ludi magistri mane, nocte pistores. The poet adds to this unsympathetic picture of the schoolmaster by depicting him as bitter, stern, threatening, and odious to his pupils; but the view of the schoolmaster as being utterly wicked was probably not a reflection of the general opinion (see further SG i. 176 ff.).

The pun of this epigram is rather similar to 1. 95, in which a certain Aelius makes a lot of noise in the courts, hoping to be paid to shut up: Quod clamas semper, quod agentibus obstrepis, Aeli, | non facis hoc gratis: accipis, ut taceas.

1. Quid tibi nobiscum est: Martial picked up this type of phrase from Ovid's indignant question at the beginning of Tristia 2 (Quid mihi vobiscum est, infelix cura, libelli, | ingenio perii qui miser ipse meo?) and used it to introduce 2. 22, in which he regrets that his poetry has won him the favour of one Postumus (Quid mihi vobiscum est, o Phoebe novemque sorores?, 2. 22. 1). Here, Martial has (uniquely) turned the phrase around to mean 'what do you want from me?', as if the magister was trying to get the speaker's attention by shouting.

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ludi … magister: the teacher at the Roman elementary school, the ludus litterarius or litterarum. For want of appropriate premises, the lessons often took place in pergulae towards the street (or even in the street itself), marked off only by a curtain, which did nothing to keep the noise inside (see Blümner 1911: 314 ff.).

2. invisum … caput: 'hateful individual' (see instances of this sense of caput in TLL, s.v., 404, 4–408, 7); with the epithet invisum Verg. A. 9. 496 (where the meaning, according to Hardie, rather is 'life'), Ov. Ib. 50, Sen. Her. f. 920, and Thy. 188.

pueris virginibusque: this phrase, referring to the fact that the Roman elementary school was mixed (cf. 8. 3. 15–16; Blümner 1911: 317–18), is naturally modelled on Hor. Carm. 3. 1. 4 virginibus puerisque canto and was first tranferred to dactylic poetry by Ovid Fast. 5. 50 and Tr. 2. 370, the latter probably being the model of Mart. 3. 69. 8; cf. also Ov. Fast. 1. 628.

In spite of earlier instances in dactylic verse, the connection to Horace remains so strong that it must have been impossible to read this phrase without thinking about the first of the 'Roman Odes'. Martial may mean to ascribe to the magister the attitude of the speaker in Horace (odi profanum volgus et arceo, Carm. 3. 1. 1), a man who likes to style himself the benefactor of boys and virgins, a priest of the Muses (carmina non prius | audita Musarum sacerdos | virginibus puerisque canto, 3. 1. 2–4), but whom Martial's speaker dismisses with his own odi et arceo—the remark that the magister is actually an invisum caput to those he aspires to teach.

3. Nondum cristati … galli: cf. 14. 223 (Adipata) Surgite: iam vendit pueris ientacula pistor | cristataeque sonant undique lucis aves. The adjective cristatus is first applied to the cock by Ovid, in a passage which seems to have influenced the present line (Met. 11. 597–8): non vigil ales ibi cristati cantibus oris | evocat Auroram; also Fast. 1. 455–6 nocte deae Nocti cristatus caeditur ales, | quod tepidum vigili provocet ore diem.

The teaching frequently began in the early morning, cf. Ov. Am. 1. 13. 17–18 tu [sc. Aurora] pueros somno fraudas tradisque magistris, | ut subeant tenerae verbera saeva manus; Juv. 7. 222–3; Blümner 1911: 318 and 379–80.

4. murmure … saevo verberibusque: evoking the same associations as Ov. Am. 1. 13. 18 just quoted. Corporal punishment of boys and girls alike was a distinctive element in the Roman school throughout antiquity and is mentioned by Plautus as well as Ausonius. A notorious example is the famous grammarian L. Orbilius Pupillus, the plagosus Orbilius in Horace's Ep. 2. 1. 70–1 (see Brink, ad loc.); see further Blümner 1911: 319.

sonas: thus β‎. Editors have generally adopted the reading of T tonas, but sonas is much more effective if taken as a humorous allusion to the noise from Tartarus in Verg. A. 6. 557 hinc exaudiri gemitus et saeva sonare | verbera, tum stridor ferri tractaeque catenae.

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5. Tam grave percussis etc.: the line has an air of the Cyclopes' toiling in the Aetna, as in Verg. G. 4. 171–3 alii taurinis follibus auras | accipiunt redduntque, alii stridentia tingunt | aera lacu; gemit inpositis incudibus Aetna; the expectations built up by such a line are intentionally left to fall rather flat in the following clause.

6. causidicum etc.: the reading of β‎ and γ‎ (β‎ erroneously has medico for medio), printed by the editors from Friedländer onwards in preference to that of T causidico medium … equum, which, while possible, is illogical.

The line alludes to an equestrian statue of a lawyer, probably meant to be placed in his own home (cf. Juv. 7. 125–6), since equestrian statues in public places were limited to the imperial family and to equestrian members of the State administration and high-ranking officers of the equestrian order.1 In Martial's day, knights could not, by performing mere civil service, qualify themselves for the higher offices open only to members of their order,2 and Martial therefore cannot have had in mind a knight who by his work as a lawyer had gained access to a praefecture, for example; more likely, he is mocking a lawyer who, while of equestrian rank, was not entitled to an equestrian statue, but, by putting one up, displayed what Martial probably considered some degree of hubris.

7. magno … amphitheatro: Martial is, of course, thinking of the Flavian amphitheatre, which had a capacity of about 50,000 spectators (Platner–Ashby 1929: 10).

This is the only instance in Book 9 of a word of more than four syllables at the end of the hexameter (the only word of four syllables being found in 9. 59. 9). Such a verse ending is a rarity in classical Latin hexameter; Vergil, for instance, has five instances of in the Eclogues (four being forms of the name Alphesiboeus), two in the Georgics, and 13 in the Aeneid. Catullus has six, with one exception in the longer poems (three in 64 and one each in 62 and 68), the exception being found in 97. 5. In the verse of Lucretius, the pentasyllabic ending is much commoner; according to Bailey (1947: 115–16), there are no less than 303 instances. In this respect he follows Ennius, who has more pentasyllabic endings than any other poet, although the restrictiveness seen in Catullus and Vergil had begun in the poetry of Cicero.3

pg 288In Martial there are 20 such endings, made up of a variety of words. Many are proper names, predominantly Latin but also some Greek, others are words of Greek extraction such as the present, which is also the commonest word used by Martial in this position (four instances, of which three are found in the Liber Spectaculorum), whereas a few are regular Latin words.4 Although the use of such endings is very much higher in Ennius and Lucretius than in later poets, the instances in Martial can hardly be regarded as metrical archaisms; for instance, there seems to be no reason to be archaic in a verse such as Non cenat sine apro noster, Tite, Caecilianus (7. 59. 1). It is another thing, of course, in the one instance where Martial actually quotes Ennius (11. 90. 5 attonitusque legis 'terraï frugiferaï'). In that case, though, the archaism is not so much the pentasyllabic word in itself as the disyllabic scansion of the genitive ending. Rather, I would consider a line ending such as this a 'metrical graecism', because the type is much more common in Greek (there are 38 instances in book 1 of the Iliad alone), and Martial seems to use it predominantly with words of Greek origin.

8. parmae: metonymy for the 'Thracian' gladiator, armed with the small, round shield called parma (see Lambertz in RE xviii. s.v. parma 1543–4; cf. note on 9. 38. 2 parma). These gladiators were generally matched against the scutarii (armed with the oblong scutum), who, according to Martial, mostly came out on top; cf. 14. 213 [Parma] Haec, quae saepe solet vinci, quae vincere raro, | parma tibi, scutum pumilionis erit (and see Leary's note, ad loc.). Consequently, the shouts of approval of the parmularii, the supporters of the Thracians, would have been all the louder when they did win.

Even if the smaller shield gave the Thracians a disadvantage, Martial's picture of them may be influenced by the fact that Domitian favoured the scutarii and that it was in Martial's interest to do likewise (cf. Suet. Dom. 10. 1). Titus (Suet. Tit. 8. 2), as earlier Caligula (Suet. Cal. 54. 55), had favoured the Thracians; see also SG ii. 75–6.

9. Vicini: Martial makes himself the spokesman of all of those living around to lend further weight to his argument; these are not the complaints of one single whiner but of the entire neighbourhood. The plural is used to the same effect, e.g. by Horace in panegyric contexts such as Carm. 4. 2. 50–3 io Triumphe, non semel dicemus … civitas omnis dabimusque divis tura benignis; here, the plural emphasizes the loyalty and love for Augustus not only of Horace, but of the whole of Roman society.5

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10. vigilare … pervigilare: 'stay up late' and 'stay up all night' respectively. Martial elsewhere complains about the noise from the bakeries (see 12. 57. 5 quoted above), and the traffic (which was only allowed in at night) would also have been a constant nuisance (cf. Juv. 3. 236–8 with Courtney, and see Blümner 1911: 434–5); this line appears to consider such things bearable, as long as you could have enough sleep in the morning. But letting the noise of his early lessons succeed that of the nightly activities, the schoolmaster makes sleep altogether impossible.

The two halves of this sententious pentameter are almost identical in metrics and word order, clashing against the difference between simple and compound (cf. H–Sz 710 for this kind of word play), and between the opposites leve and grave. Compare 7. 85. 3–4, which uses dissymmetry (chiasm) to the same effect: Facile est epigrammata belle | scribere, sed librum scribere difficile est.

11. garrule: 'bawler', cf. Apul. Fl. 9 p. 30 praeconis vox garrula and Porphyrio on Hor. S. 1. 6. 42 hunc Nov<i>um dicit garrulum et vulgarem esse in causis agendis; TLL, s.v. garrulus 1698, 78–81.

11–12. quantum | accipis ut clames: which at any rate would not have been much. The teacher was dependent for his subsistence on the monthly merces, which the parents paid him for the education, but only for eight months, the period from July to October inclusive being free. The merces of the teachers at elementary schools was very low: according to Hor. S. 1. 6. 75, they were paid 8 asses monthly for each pupil, and Ovid calls them turba fere censu fraudata (Fast. 3. 829 with Bömer); cf. SG i. 178–9. Thus, they were often compelled to earn money on the side, for example, by drawing up wills (see Marquardt 1879–82: 92 ff. and Blümner 1911: 315–16).

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 See J. Bergemann, Römische Reiterstatuen, (Mainz am Rhein, 1990), 14.
Editor’s Note
2 Such qualification was possible from the reign of Hadrian onward; see Th. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, iii. 1. Abtheilung (Leipzig, 1887), 560–2.
Editor’s Note
3 See Bailey 1947: 115-16. Bailey remarks that Lucretius 'clearly felt no objection to the use of pentasyllabic and quadrisyllabic words at the end of the line; he seeks no justification for them, as Cicero does, and uses them at any time for convenience'. Of Cicero, he says that 'He is chary of the five-syllabled words, and with the exception of 388 posteriores, all the examples are of the proper name of constellations, (76) and 293 Anguitenentes, (193) Cassiepia, 23 Cassiepiae, 35 Taygeteque, the last three being of Greek origin, as is also the only four-long-syllabled word 3 Orionis. Similarly the three quadrisyllabled words which he uses 273 Capricornum, 311 Capricorno, 372 Aquilai are the names of constellations and in each case he is careful to "protect" the coincidence by preceding the words with a monosyllable.'
Editor’s Note
4 See Marina Sáez 1998: 162.
Editor’s Note
5 Maurach calls this 'soziative' (or even 'verbergende') plural but gives only a 'negative' instance, Hom Il. 9. 112, in which Nestor uses the 1st-person-plural πεπίθωμεν‎, 'let us persuade', when he counsels Agamemnon to make peace with Achilles; by including himself and all Greeks in the act of appeasing Achilles' anger, he makes the situation less humiliating for Agamemnon (Maurach 1995: 85).
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