Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.11.22

Ruurd Nauta, Poetry for Patrons. Literary Communication in the Age of Domitian (Mnemosyne Supplement 206).   Leiden:  E.J. Brill, 2002.  Pp. xiv, 493.  ISBN 90-04-10885-8.  $98.00.  

Reviewed by Bruce Gibson, University of Liverpool (
Word count: 1847 words

This volume represents an invaluable contribution not only to the scholarship of the Flavian period, but to the literature on ancient patronage as well. As the title indicates, this is not a book about patronage in the reign of Domitian seen in terms solely of the relationship between poets and patrons; Nauta also considers the issue of modes of reception as well. The combination of philological and, it should be said, historical expertise and an interest in the theory and practice of reception shows that philology and theory do not have to be diverging paths for contemporary scholars.

The book's structure is admirably transparent. An introduction sets up the main issues and is followed by three triads of chapters. The first triad deals with issues of non-imperial patronage in Martial, with chapters on patronage, modes of reception, and the functions of Martial's epigrams. The second triad of chapters corresponds closely to the first and deals with Statius, with the same sequence of chapters on patronage, modes of reception and functions of the Silvae. The final triad of chapters deals with Domitian: here the chapters deal with the emperor as patron, modes of reception of poetry for the emperor, and the functions of poetry for the emperor. There is no formal conclusion to the book, though there is a useful appendix giving an overview of the datings of the poetry of Martial and Statius.

This rigorous but clear structure of the book in fact allows for the possibility of two modes of reading. Nauta himself notes (ix-x and 34) that it is possible to read the book both 'vertically' (reading the triads of chapters in a linear fashion) or 'horizontally' (reading, for example, the chapters on patronage, 1, 4 and 7, in each of the three sections). Perhaps it should be pointed out that this reviewer read 'vertically', reading all the chapters sequentially.

Patronage is of course a subject which has received much attention in more recent times. Indeed Peter White has argued that we should altogether dispense with modern notions of literary patronage as benign support of an artist in favour of a recognition that the relationships between poets and prominent or wealthy figures were categorised in terms of the language of amicitia.1 However, as Nauta shows (14-18), the replacement of the language of 'patronage' for the language of 'friendship' is not without its own problems, since there are occasions such as Juv. 5.12-18 where the nebulous term amicitia appears alongside such blunt words as rex and cliens. Nauta's solution is to refrain from loose usages of 'patronage' and 'friendship' and to use a strict definition of patronage which comes not from literary studies but from sociology. This strict definition entered the field of classical studies in the work of R.P. Saller, who insisted on a definition of patronage as a relationship which was characterised by reciprocity, duration and asymmetry.2 It is a major strength of Nauta's method that, once he has defined how he will use terms such as 'patron' and 'patronage', the definitions are maintained without deviation. This allows him, for example, to accommodate the fact that there are of course poems in Martial addressed to figures who are really equals, and therefore not patrons according to the criterion of asymmetry (73).

In the chapters on Martial, Nauta's interest in questions of reception allows him to raise important questions. Thus he points out that there are poems where it is not clear who the addressee is, which raises the issue of whether or not the original audience could recognise such addressees (39-42). However, his claim that cases where a first person speaker addresses a real person must be deemed to be utterances by Martial himself (48) is open to argument; the logical possibility of an address to a real person from a persona must always be an option. Mart. 8.41, addressed to the real Faustinus and incorporating references to Athenagoras (on whose identity, see Mart. 9.95 and 95b), could be one example: the speaker, who complains about Athenagoras' failure to send gifts, does not have to be Martial here. In the second Martial chapter there is much useful discussion of the implications of such issues as oral or written delivery of poems, and the rôle of 'presentation poems'. Nauta rightly insists that 'presentation poems' are poems which accompany the published book, rather than leftovers from previously circulated private collections (107-118). He also considers wider issues of readership such as the part played by libraries, though perhaps his discussion (132-6) of Martial's claims in 7.88.3-4 that everyone in Vienne is reading his work ('me legit omnis ibi senior iuuenisque puerque / et coram tetrico casta puella uiro') does not take into account the possibility that such evidence may be of uncertain value, since Martial here is drawing on and echoing earlier literary claims to readership or audience such as Hor. Carm. 3.1.4 'uirginibus puerisque canto'. The third Martial chapter deals with the 'functions' of Martial's poems and is notable for its inclusion of a section on 'Panegyric and Carnivalisation' (166-89), in which Nauta considers the implications of Martial's inclusion of jesting and satirical material alongside more straightforwardly panegyric addresses to patrons. There is some subtle and valuable consideration of the implications of symposia and the Saturnalia as loci for presentation of poetry to patrons, such as the discussion (174-5) of Mart. 1.20, where Martial wishes a Claudian mushroom on a mean host: Nauta points out that this poem could have been presented to a real host, since the odious fictional host of the poem would illustrate by contrast the good qualities of the real host. In this section, Nauta makes judicious rather than unthinking use of Bakhtin, seeing Martial as 'multi-styled and hetero-voiced' (182), yet rejecting the political implications of Bakhtin's treatments of carnival laughter and dialogue in his reading of Martial.

Though Statius and Martial are treated (at least as regards non-imperial poetry) in separate sections of the book, it should be pointed out here that both sections are rich in comparative discussion where it is relevant. Indeed, readers who insist on considering only Martial or only Statius will still be able to find helpful comparative material without reading about the other poet, though they will miss out on Nauta's oustanding contribution in treating both poets on the same scale in one book. The section on Statius opens with a useful account of the poet's life, concentrating in particular on Silv. 5.3, the poem where Statius deals with the life of his father.3 Nauta then treats the same issues of asymmetry, duration, reciprocity and initiative as were found in the first Martial chapter, whilst at the same time conveying invaluable background information along the way: the discussions of Statian prosopography deserve to become standard treatments. The issue of 'initiative', whether patron or poet was the first to suggest a composition, is an interesting one: Nauta is right (244-5) to stress that initiative need not solely be that of the patron in such relations, but his suggestion (247) that Silv. 5.1, the consolation to Abascantus (Domitan's ab epistulis) for the loss of his wife, was written in response to 'an order from Abascantus' is ultimately unprovable,4 since it depends on whether or not we wish to take seriously Statius' remarks in the prose letter preceding Silv. 5.1; the year's delay in composing the poem (Silv. 5.1.16-17) might make it less likely that Abascantus would have ordered such a poem, since his wife's death would have been that much less topical.

The second Statius chapter, on 'modes of reception', draws attention to the 'mimetic technique' found in many of the poems in the Silvae, by which Nauta means the presence of reactions from the speaker of a poem to events which happen during the course of the utterance (261). Nauta is right to draw attention to Statius' use of this technique, but in the case of Silv. 3.3 one may reasonably ask whether the present tenses used to describe the end of the cremation at lines 178-82 are historic present tenses (particularly as they follow the perfect 'uidi' in 176) rather than an example of this mimetic technique, as argued by Nauta on p. 262. He also valuably emphasises the importance of writing as a mode of communication in Book 4 (277-9). The chapter ends (285-90) with a bold reconsideration of the case for publication of the first three books of the Silvae as a unity, analogous to the publication of the first three books of Horace's Odes. Nauta makes a convincing case for separate publication, dating Book 1 to 92 AD, Book 2 to 93 AD, and Book 3 to 94 AD at the earliest. Only one of his arguments is unsatisfactory, the assertion that anticipations of literary immortality only appear from Book 2 onwards (288), which is confounded by Silv. 1.6.98-102, where Statius proclaims (at the end of the book!) the immortality of the Kalends of December in a way which recalls such programmatic passages as Hor. Carm. 3.30.7-9 and Virg. A. 9.448-9. The third Statius chapter considers the 'functions' of the Silvae, and as with the corresponding chapter on Martial, there is much of value here, such as the section on 'In praise of quiet' (308-23); there is also an interesting examination of Silv. 1.2, the epithalamion of Stella and Violentilla in the light of Domitian's revival of the lex Iulia as part of his concern with private morality (295-301). Nauta's prosopographical expertise also allows him to raise the intriguing possibility that Atedius Melior may have had Vitellian connexions (312-15).

The last section of the book offers three corresponding chapters on imperial patronage, dealing with both Statius and Martial. Nauta rightly offers the observation that Domitian's support for poetic contests could be seen as an exercise in 'community patronage' (328-35), and also emphasises the rôle of 'brokerage', interactions with prominent intermediaries, in the relations between poets and emperor (341-9). The second imperial chapter considers modes of reception, illustrating, for example, how unlikely it is that Statius would actually have recited at imperial ceremonies (357-63); Nauta rightly doubts that Silv. 4.1 would have been recited in the curia at an actual ceremony. There is also the valuable suggestion that the inclusion of imperial material may in fact have contributed to Martial's popularity (378). The final chapter considers the 'functions' of poetry for the emperor: here Nauta engages usefully with those who would rush to look for subversive treatments of Domitian in Martial and in the Silvae (421-36).

This book should last for a very long time. There are a few very minor blemishes and eccentricities in the book's production,5 but Nauta's deep knowledge of the ancient texts and a truly impressive fluency in the scholarly bibliography is marshalled with critical acumen and theoretical understanding such as to make this book invaluable for anyone interested in Roman literature. As I read this book, I was constantly impressed by how much one could learn from it, not merely in terms of the declared subject, patronage under Domitian, but also in a whole host of other areas as well.


1.   See P. White, 'Amicitia and the Profession of Poetry in early Imperial Rome', JRS 68 (1978), 74-92. White has also returned to this point in his more recent Promised Verse. Poets in the Society of Augustan Rome (Cambridge, Mass., 1993).
2.   R.P. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire (Cambridge 1982), 1.
3.   There are a couple of aspects of Nauta's treatment of Silv. 5.3 which are open to discussion; I include them in a footnote since they are not strictly speaking issues arising from the book's central theme of patronage in Domitianic literature. On pp. 200-1, Nauta is sceptical as to whether Silv. 5.3.176-84 really refers to Statius' father actually giving religious education, but, more strikingly, he seems to claim that the passage is really about Statius' father giving instruction in Latin poetry, something for which there is no evidence in the rest of the poem (200: 'Statius is still speaking of the explication of poets, focusing on an aspect which indicates both the change from Greek to Latin poetry and the high social status of his father's pupils'). If Statius' father had also taught Latin, Statius would surely have said so unambiguously in 5.3. Nauta also pours cold water on the idea that 5.3.178-80 indicates that Statius' father had taught Domitian, suggesting that Statius would have made more of this if it had been the case, but one might reply that a blunt assertion that Domitian had been a pupil would not necessarily have been tactful. On pp. 202-3, Nauta takes Silv. 5.3.41-63 as evidence that Statius was unable to give his father a grand funeral, but the references to spices in 41-3 are introduced as a prelude to the poetic edifice which Statius would wish to create (e.g. 5.3.48 'par templis opus'), which recalls the poetic temple envisaged at the start of Virg. G. 3; it is thus not clear to me that we can use this passage as evidence for Statius' modest financial circumstances.
4.   Cf. A. Hardie, Statius and the Silvae (Liverpool, 1983), 185-7 who argues that Abascantus' position with Domitian may have weakened after his wife's death.
5.   I list various minor points in this note. On p. 203, the future recitations of the Achilleid mentioned in Silv. 5.2 are referred to in lines 160-3, not lines 36-7, on p. 230 n. 134, a very useful note on puns on names in Statius, Silv. 5.2.152 'felix qui uiridi fidens, Optate, iuuenta' should be added to the list and the cross-reference to 'p. 230 n. 111' should read 'p. 224 n. 112', on p. 239 'uses to boast' is a very ugly translation of solet in Silv. 1 praef. 25-6, and on p. 307 n. 57, for 'White 1973b: 383-4', read '283-4'. There are some typographical errors as well: p. 125 'for [if] it did', p. 182 'in the case [of] the epigrams of Martial', p. 193 'pas over', p. 235 n. 146 'This [is] part of the solution', p. 261 'none of these three condition', p. 313 'op' (read 'up'), p. 336 'The other of emperors would then be Titus', p. 412 'dilemma's' (read 'dilemmas'), p. 432 'it would be too simplistic too read this', p. 459 (in the bibliographical entry for Laguna Mariscal 1994) 'Emérida'.

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