Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.01.21

C. Schöffel, Martial, Buch 8. Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner, 2002.  Pp. 723.  ISBN 3-515-08213-1.  EUR 120.00.  

Reviewed by Christer Henriksén, Lund University (
Word count: 2876 words

The past two decades have seen a virtual explosion in the writing of commentaries on the Epigrams of Martial. As late as 1985, there were modern commentaries only on Books 1 and 11; today (to the best of my knowledge), only Book 3 remains uncommented.1 Book 8, which is among the more interesting in Martial's output, dedicated to and focusing heavily on the emperor Domitian while avoiding coarse obscenity (which, it is worth noting, does not mean that it has no erotic epigrams), furnished the subject for Christian Schöffel's 2001 Erlangen dissertation, which is now presented to the public in a revised edition. It is one of the largest commentaries on a single book by Martial published so far, which may seem to be incongruent with the fact that Book 8 actually has the fewest poems (82) of any of Martial's 12 books of Epigrams proper. It is, however, not the shortest book; its unusually high number of "long" epigrams, rendering a total of 664 verses, places it near the median (720.2 verses per book) as the fifth shortest.2 Schöffel's commentary, however, is unusually extensive; I will return to some implications of this below.

Schöffel's book is divided into three main parts: introduction (pp. 10-50), text, translation and commentary (51-692) and indices (693-723). The introduction falls into six subsections (Überlieferungsgeschichte - Text, Apparat, Übersetzung - Beobachtungen zur äusseren Gestalt und Themenwahl - Grenzen autobiographischer Deutung - Gliederungsprinzipen und Leitstrukturen - Literarisch-historische Einordnung des achten Buchs), several of which have further subsections. In the actual commentary, each epigram is treated in consecutive order with Latin text, German translation, a discussion of character and structure and line-by-line commentary. The generous indices are divided into an index locorum memorabilium (listing passages from Martial as well as from other authors discussed in the book), index verborum, index nominum veterum, index nominum recentium and index rerum.

In the introduction, Schöffel discusses matters of overall significance for Martial in general and for Book 8 in particular. The issues addressed are all relevant, even though some are undoubtedly of greater interest than others. For instance, a hardened reader of commentaries on Martial sooner or later begins to wonder if it really is necessary to include a full discussion of the transmission of the text in each new commentary; there are questions that still call for attention -- for instance the issue of whether different versions of the text go back to Martial himself ("Autorvariante") -- but on the whole, no significant advances have been made in this field since the Teubner edition of Wilhelm Heraeus (1925, ed. correctior I. Borovskij 1976), and all relevant information is gathered and easily accessible in a number of editions and commentaries. This is one instance where Schöffel could have been content with referring to already published and easily accessible works to keep down the length of his own book.

On the other hand, a discussion of the text printed in the commentary is naturally indispensable. Schöffel here (p. 15) joins with several other recent commentators in preferring the OCT text of Lindsay and the Teubner of Heraeus/Borovskij to the Teubner and Loeb texts of Shackleton Bailey. There is in my opinion no doubt that this is a correct approach. When it comes to the text of Martial, Shackleton Bailey, in spite of the extensiveness and brilliance of his earlier work, has done as much to confuse matters as to elucidate them.3 However, Schöffel does not clearly state on which edition his own text is primarily based; acknowledging his repudiation of Shackleton Bailey and his return to Lindsay/Heraeus, he also says that he does not flinch from incorporating more rarely accepted readings, if there are important arguments speaking in their favour. I suppose, though, that the text printed by Schöffel is ultimately based either on Lindsay or on Heraeus, though I dare not say which. It would have been helpful, I think, to clearly state which one of these is closest to Schöffel's own text, and to supply a list of divergences from this text, so that the reader can easily form an idea of how often (and in what degree) Schöffel differs.

The rest of the introduction is devoted to literary and historical matters. Some of these, while informative, are completely uncontroversial, like the chapters on "Epigramm- und Verszahl" (3.1.) and "Metrik" (3.3.), while others invite further discussion. This is particularly the case with what Schöffel has to say on the panegyric poems to Domitian, of which Book 8 has more than any other book save for its follow-up Book 9.4 Schöffel has divided his discussion in two sections, one on the "Anteil panegyrischer Gedichte" (3.2.) and, 14 pages ahead, another on "Panegyrische Epigramme" (6.2.). Actually, matters of relevance for the poems to Domitian are treated in several other chapters as well, particularly in "Historischer Rahmen" (6.1.) and "Architektonische Grosstruktur im Buchinneren" (5.4.). While this, to a certain degree, may be unavoidable, it gives a somewhat "fractured" impression. In the interest of clarity, it would have been desirable to gather most information on this subject under a single heading in the introduction. Such considerations aside, it must be said that throughout his commentary Schöffel takes a very sound approach to Martial's panegyrics to Domitian, considers them in the panegyric tradition in which they must be viewed (e.g., pp. 17 f.), and discusses them without subjective opinions and without using the disdainful and even derisive vocabulary which until recently has almost seemed mandatory for the subject. However, his treatment of Martial's panegyrics in the introduction is not, I think, as helpful to the reader as it might have been. For instance, the reader who turns to the heading "Panegyrische Epigramme" on p. 31 does not find quite the survey that he has reason to expect from the heading; instead, the chapter concentrates on the dating of the panegyric epigrams. Above all, there are three important issues that do not get the attention they deserve. First, Schöffel does not put sufficient emphasis, I feel, on the sudden and extremely marked rise in the frequency of imperial poems between Book 8 and all preceding books (this rise is evident from his discussion of percentages in 3.2., but it could have been more clearly stressed). Second, he does not address the resulting question, viz. why this increase in imperial poetry occurs in Book 8 all of a sudden. Third, he does not call enough attention to the fact that the imperial panegyrics in Book 8 are part of a larger series of poems glorifying the Second Pannonian War, which begins in Book 7 and ends in Book 9; in this respect, at least, these three books may be seen as a "triad".5 Several passages in the commentary suggest that Schöffel has had thoughts in this direction,6 but much more could have been made of it, and the matter treated in the introduction. This is not to say that the section on panegyric poems (6.2.) does not have its merits. Schöffel shows very sound judgement in his treatment of the issues of chronology, and is completely right in dismissing Friedländer's impromptu theory advanced for some of the poems. I am deeply impressed with his consideration of matters such as the time necessary for the tempering of opus caementicium for the dating of 8.65.

Another important chapter is that which deals with "Grenzen autobiographischer Deutung" (4.), not because it brings any particularly new ideas into the debate but because it highlights a problem which is of essential importance to the study of Martial (perhaps more than any other Roman author) and about which there are still highly diverging opinions. Schöffel's commentary is actually the first to devote a heading of its own to this critical issue, which should mean that it has a greater chance of catching the attention of the reader otherwise unfamiliar with the problems of ancient poetry. If, as I have said, Schöffel's views on this matter are not revolutionary, they are perfectly sensible; he adopts a cautiously suspicious attitude towards the historical applicability of the statements of the poet's persona, without a priori rejecting the possibility of their actually possessing a historical or autobiographical value. Due to the large uncertainty inherent in this matter, Schöffel refrains from trying to connect separate statements of the persona to the reality of Martial the poet, "zugunsten einer Interpretation der Epigramme als eigenständiger literarischer Einheiten". Generally, this approach works comparatively well, though sometimes the commentator quite unavoidably meets with problems. For example, in the introductory note on 8.24 (p. 239), Schöffel says that the poems in which the speaker expresses petitions to the emperor "ganz offensichtlich als Bitten des Dichters selbst gelesen werden sollen: Die Gleichsetzung Martials mit dem Sprecher seiner Gedichte ist hier also intendiert". In my opinion, and in spite of the rather vague argumentation ("ganz offensichtlich"), this is a reasonable assumption, particularly as regards petitions for more concrete favours (like the request for water supply to the speaker's [here certainly = Martial's] city house in 9, 18). Schöffel continues by establishing that "innerhalb dieses Rahmens nimmt das vorliegende Gedicht eine Sonderstellung ein", inasmuch as 8.24 is not really a petition, but a poem dealing with the "Theorie des Empfängers (d.i. Domitians) mit epigrammatischen Petitionen". This is undoubtedly a correct analysis, but the reader wonders why Schöffel has chosen to group an epigram on the theory of poetical petitions to the emperor with those that are in fact such petitions. There is a difference between these categories not only in content (theory vs. practice), but inevitably also in the role of the speaker. In the latter case, there may be reason to identify him with the poet, in the former, there is no reason whatsoever.

Passing now to the main section of the book -- the actual commentary -- it must first of all be said, that it is very detailed and addresses most questions any reader might have regarding the individual poems. Each epigram is treated in three parts, viz. "1. Text und Übersetzung", "2. Charakter und Struktur" and "3. Kommentar". The text is in each case followed by a meticulous apparatus, and part two opens with a short bibliography listing works of immediate relevance to the poem under discussion. Schöffel is usually careful in giving references to the work of other scholars, whether he shares their opinion or not, thus providing the reader with the means to form her or his own view about the matters discussed.

I have found few things worthy of comment that Schöffel passes over in silence. Nor have I found anything that is definitely wrong. It is in the nature of things, however, that in a commentary stretching over 641 pages, there are many things about which a reader may have a different opinion than the commentator, and many things about which the last word has not been said; under such circumstances, Schöffel's carefulness in giving references to the work of other scholars. I will refrain from making list a here of instances on which I disagree with Schöffel. Suffice it to adduce, very briefly, the following three instances, one of a problem about which I differ from the commentator, the second of an issue in which it is possible, by relatively simple means, to get somewhat further in corroborating the commentator's thesis, the third of a matter which, in my opinion, should have merited a note.

To begin with, I am not sure I agree with Schöffel in his conclusion about the expression secretos ... triumphos in 8.15.5, which Martial uses to refer to the ovatio celebrated by Domitian following his return from the Second Pannonian War. Schöffel states that designating an ovatio as triumphus "verfehlt natürlich die historische Realität" and concludes that the adjective secretus "charakterisiert ... eine Handlung als inoffiziell und privat: Ein secretus triumphus ist also eine Triumphfeier ohne die offiziellen Ehren eines Triumphes ... und könnte geradezu als ein "ziviler Triumph" übersetzt werden". To me, this seems too prosaic an interpretation, which deprives the expression of the element of imperial cult inherent in it. I take this secretus triumphus of Domitian not merely as a "civil triumph", but as an act which in essence actually is a triumph, regardless of how it is performed. It is a triumph, because it is celebrated by Domitian, the dominus et deus in Martial's poems, returning from the Second Pannonian War in total -- at least as Martial presented it in his verse -- victory, and the fact that it does not have the full features of a iustus triumphus, Martial probably wanted to ascribe to the emperor's modesty. In the same vein, he refers to Domitian's saepe recusatos ... triumphos in 9.101.19.

In 8.32 the name Aretulla appears. This name is transmitted both as Aretulla (the β mss, printed by Heraeus, Shackleton Bailey and others) and as Aratulla (the αγ mss, printed by, among others, Scheidewin, Friedländer and Lindsay), and Schöffel (p. 296) is content to say that "β die überzeugendere Lesart bewahrt zu haben" and to refer to Heraeus' explanation of the name as a diminutive of Aretius. Checking the CIL will help solve the problem: In CIL VI (the volume of inscriptions from the city of Rome), there is not a single instance of either Aretulla or Aratulla, which provides a good hint about the rarity of the name. In the other CIL volumes, I have been able to find a single instance of Aretulla (12, 4128), none of Aratulla, which strongly speaks in favour of the former. There is little doubt, then, that Aretulla is correct.

As an instance of a matter which would have deserved comment, I mention the last poem of the book, which addresses the emperor and introduces the metaphor of collections of poetry and wreaths (serta); exactly the same closing device is used in Book 13 (coronae roseae). The absence of this fact from the commentary may also serve to illustrate what I feel to be an occasionally too narrow perspective on Schöffel's part; in some further instances (and it must be said that they are not numerous), he might have looked beyond Book 8 and taken a broader grasp of Martial's oeuvre as a whole.

Apart from such lesser (and, I might add, rather scarce) shortcomings, there is a wealth of detail in this commentary. But this wealth of detail is not always a good thing. The book is obviously not aimed at beginners, and on more than one occasion the comments that are really interesting are somewhat overshadowed by information that seems unnecessary in a work on this level. Sometimes, the text could be substantially shortened by referring to another analysis of the same problem. For instance, in the note on 8.3.9 (p. 106), it seems redundant to devote 13 lines to reach the conclusion that the Muse Thalia is meant by nona sororum; a reference to Grewing's note on 6.47.4 would have been sufficient. Sometimes, too, the reader is given simply too much information. Earlier in the same poem, on 8.3.4 (teritur noster ubique liber; p. 102), there is some very interesting information about the book-roll, but this is hardly relevant for the understanding of the line on which comment is made. The same goes for the exposition on Roman lamps (candelae, faces, taedae, lucernae; p. 115), occasioned by the completely unproblematic occurrence of the word lucerna in 8.3.18; I fail to see how this helps us to a better understanding of Martial's text. In his zeal to comment on everything, Schöffel even finds reason to support (albeit in a footnote) the (not very surprising) fact that there were guest-rooms in Roman country houses. There is, of course, a fine balance between what to include and what not include in a commentary, and I fully sympathise with the concerns about this matter that Schöffel expresses in his preface (pp. 8 f.); I think, though, that the commentary, and thus also the reader, would have benefited from a somewhat stricter selectivity on the part of the commentator. Being quite aware of its length, Schöffel states that "Die beste Entschuldigung für die Umfang dieses Kommentars ist zwar, dass er nicht zur Lektüre bestimmt ist". But even if we regard his commentary as an encyclopaedia on Book 8, anyone who uses it as such will want to easily find answers to the questions for which he consults the book; and in this respect, the objections above are as relevant as for a commentary.

In conclusion, Schöffel's commentary on Book 8 has everything that might be expected from a modern commentary, a good text, lucid translations and a line-by-line commentary that testifies to the author's sound judgement and wide reading in his subject, that takes into account the relevant literature and that is well up to date. The load of information may, perhaps, by some readers be felt to be something of an impediment, but those who are willing to put some effort into finding what they are looking for will not be left without an answer. To the aid of the reader there are also the indices, which, having been conscientiously produced, are a very good help in navigating the book. Schöffel's work is a very welcome addition to the "corpus" of commentaries on Martial.


1.   Apart, of course, for Friedländer's 1886 commentary on the complete oeuvre of Martial. For Book 10, there is a commentary on selected epigrams only (J. Jenkins, diss. Cambridge 1982; unpublished). Commentaries on complete books are by M. Citroni (Book 1, Florence 1975), P. Howell (Book 1, London 1980; Book 5, Warminster 1995), C. Williams (Book 2, forthcoming Oxford 2004), R. Moreno Soldevila (Book 4, diss. Seville 2003, as yet unpublished), F. Grewing (Book 6, Göttingen 1997), G. Galán Vioque (Book 7, Leiden etc. 2002), C. Henriksén (Book 9, Uppsala 1998-99), N. Kay (Book 11, London 1985), M. Bowie (Book 12, diss. Oxford 1988; unpublished) and T. J. Leary (Book 13, London 2001, Book 14, London 1996). K. Coleman (Harvard) is preparing an edition of the Liber spectaculorum for the Clarendon Press, Oxford.
2.   The shortest book is Book 2 (550 verses), followed by 6 (617), 3 (648) and 5 (639); see, most conveniently, Grewing's commentary, p. 24 with n. 32. Schöffel has a useful discussion on pp. 16 f., demonstrating that the high proportion of "long" epigrams cannot be explained with reference to the frequency of panegyric poems.
3.   I fully concur with Schöffel's statement on p. 15, that the text, when all three manuscript families are in agreement, must be considered as sound "und sollte nicht ohne triftige Begründung divinatorisch geändert werden"; Shackleton Bailey more than once breaks this rule. See also Grewing's commentary on Book 6, p. 17, and my commentary on Book 9, pp. 35-36.
4.   Following Coleman, Schöffel states that by the widest possible definition, Book 8 has 23 panegyric epigrams (28%), Book 9 27 (26%). My own calculation gives the figures 24.4% for Book 8, 25% for Book 9 (see my commentary, vol. 1, pp. 21 f.).
5.   See my paper "The Augustan Domitian. Martial's poetry on the Second Pannonian War and Horace's Fourth Book of Odes", Philologus 146 (2002), pp. 318-338.
6.   For instance, when Schöffel on p. 170 (on 8.11.3) speaks of the Second Pannonian War, he adds "der in der Büchern 7-9 glorifiziert wird", a statement that is in itself suggestive of the larger concept of these books.

Read Latest
Index for 2004
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:29:03, Friday, 03 April 2009