BMCR 1998.05.22

98.5.22, Martial, Buch VI (Ein Kommentar)

, Martial, Buch VI : ein Kommentar. Hypomnemata ; Heft 115. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997. 592 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9783525252123. DM 160.

There are two types of commentaries: those that help you understand a piece of literature and those that help you write another commentary. Farouk Grewing has managed to do both with considerable success. His work starts with a very compact 55 page introduction that covers some standard topics like text, arrangement of poems (some schemes on pp. 44 and 45 are too complicated), the recurring motif of adultery and the open end of the collection. After the full bibliography which takes us to page 66, follow 526 pages of in depth commentary on each poem. G. follows a set pattern: remarks on the addressee and the poem as a whole, structural analysis and finally line-by-line commentary. There is, unfortunately, no index. The book is a slightly modified version of his 1996 Göttingen dissertation. And what a dissertation it is! If this is the new standard in German dissertations I can only recommend that scholars write their Habilitationsschrift before their PhD dissertation.

Grewing’s strength for the present reviewer lies in the fact that he painstakingly explains the joke in every poem and in so doing reveals many obscenities that would otherwise have escaped me. The main weakness of the commentary, and the author realizes this, is its sheer length. To be more precise, G. has a tendency to quote illustrative parallels endlessly and unnecessarily. On the other hand, he deals with some topics very briefly and superficially where he could really contribute something to our knowledge. It may be a hallmark of the Ph.D. that he quotes plenty of secondary works which at times say little more than G. does; contrariwise, I feel he could have tightened up many notes by more often referring to commentaries other than Nisbet-Hubbard and Navaro Antolín.

But let me begin with a few examples of successful explanations of jokes, many of them involving obscenities: 6.7.6 The ambiguity in moecha simpliciore as “open” or “once only”. 6.8 intro: the rich only want to marry among equals, the poor can only advance through marriage. 6.9. intro: The ambiguity of suscitat. 6.14.4 Being an excellent poet and NOT bragging about it is superhuman. 6.16.1 The sickle as a potential castration-tool. 6.44.6 people don’t get too close to Callidorus because his ozostomia betrays him as a fellator. Grewing gets a lot of mileage out of connecting bad breath with oral sex (cf. 6.50.6, 6.66.9, 6.69 intro, 6.81 intro). At 6.49.11 ficus is explained as either a wart on somebody’s bottom or a metaphor for the membrum muliebre; in either case the point is passive homosexuality. 6.67.2 Pannychus is rightly identified as a “telling name”. G. points out that one would expect him to be a sexual athlete of sorts who can do it all night long. However his patrician wife is the one with the insatiable appetite and he is unexpectedly in the dark about that. 6.54.4 the pathic tendencies of Sextilianus are alluded to. At 6.68.10 I like the obscene double entendre in sollicitare. 6.78.5 the word-play in valebis“you will be well” and “fare well”. 6.79 (intro) Lupus is revealed as a sham-Stoic. 6.89.6 oenophorum can be a wine-vessel or the tippler’s bladder. 6.92.3 venenum is that of the snake on the cup but also applies to the rot-gut in it.

A consistently good feature is G.’s sensitivity to “telling names” (in general 6.8.5, but also 6.21.1, 6.39.9, 6.81.1). He does not miss a single programmatic buzz-word, maybe because Art Spisak’s Loyola Chicago dissertation of 1992 is very good. This work should be in his bibliography rather than buried on p.412. I was also astonished by the scientific nature of G.’s note on 6.59.4 with footnote 58 on Rome’s climate as well as the one on sulphur-compound being the product of rotting eggs (6.93.5).

I also very much like his notes on anastrophe of main-clause conjunctions (6.2.2, 6.72.3), his note on hemistich-repetitions (6.6 intro), enjambment (6.6.2), ah pudet (6.10.4), the aemulatio with variation of Ovid (6.16.4), references to the deceased’s ingenium on epitaphs (6.28.7), the ambiguity in non liberorum at 6.39.2, Catianus’ at least phonetic association with cacare (6.46.2), licet as a concessive conjunction (6.49.8), colere in contexts of patronage (6.50.1), isocolic pentameters (6.51.4), the topos of sit tibi terra levis (6.52.5-6 at least until he starts vacuuming up passages again after “Vgl. ausserdem…”), the healing power of dreams (6.53.4), postponed nec (6.64.26), ancient Rome’s red-light districts (6.66.2), the quaeris -formula (6.67 intro), the connection between natural beauty and an ordered commonwealth (6.80 intro), the comes exilii (6.83.8) and salutatio matutina (6.88.1) to name but a few.

Alongside such useful notes we also find some where the “Sammlerwut” of the commentator (and I know perfectly well what this is like) gets the better of G. and he just quotes endlessly. An excellent example, and one shall suffice, is his introduction to 6.50. G. outlines how Telesinus is blackmailing prominent society members because of their sexual practices. He compares Luxurius AL 316 SB. And then he goes on to quote any other passages on this topic that he can find: Juv. 1.73-6, 3.49-57, 2.58-61, Amm. 14.6.14, Tac. Ann. 6.4.2, Plin. Epist. 1.5.15 and finally Min. Fel. 9.5. Even if all those passages are pertinent, G. has made his point and certainly does not need to quote 16 verses of Juvenal in support. Sometimes, as at 6.18.3-4 in his note on dimidium animae meae the material thus collected could be digested better. Sometimes, as in footnote 40 on p.258 on Catullus 53, he collects stuff that has no place in a commentary on Martial. The question that one has to ask oneself in cases like these is “does my note help understand the text or at least make a point about my author in general?” And then, one has to have the guts to part with a paragraph or a whole page that took days to compile.

On the other hand, there are points where collections of sheer raw material would have been badly needed and added to our understanding not only of Martial but of Latin “Umgangssprache” or “Dichtersprache”. 6.3.5 trahet in the sense of spinning a thread could use at least a reference to OLD as could nebit one line later. 6.8.2 should go into the theme of paupertas poetae, e.g. Cairns, Tibullus, 20-1, Brink on Hor. Epist. 2.2.51-2. 6.10.11 breviter is labelled “kaum poetisch”, but how can that be if Vergil uses it 8 times (according to my count) in the Aeneid ? 6.13.2 Athena is the goddess of techne which explains everything. 6.21.1 gives a very economical account of the term vates in the Augustans, but adds nothing about Martial’s usage. At 6.23.2 he could have saved himself a lot of trouble by referring to McKeown on Ov. Am. 1.9.2. One line later blandus is a favorite of Propertius, hence Ov. Trist. 2.465 blandi … Properti. 6.24 In the introduction he tries to prove that Carisianus’ wearing a toga indicates that he has committed adultery. However, there is no evidence that this is true of males. The traditional explanation of the epigram as revolving around lascivus satisfies me: after all, a man wrapped up in 5.5 x 2.5 meters of linen is hardly sexy. 6.25.1 Labeling suboles poetic requires statistics. 6.27.4 needs a note on polysyllabic pentameter clausulae like the very economical one on spondeiazontes at 6.61.3. 6.27.8 he refers summarily to the Latin Thesaurus without saying what that reference is meant to illustrate. 6.28.8 the Inf. Perf. is aoristic. 6.29.2 is compared to AL 260.2 SB but evaluation is lacking. 6.30.1 Anastrophe of si : G. refers to the standard grammars, Maurach and Norden’s Anhang to Aen. 6. That’s not enough. In the age of the computer he could surely have given a survey of Martial’s usage (as he does in his remarks on the quaeris -formula at 6.67 intro), preferably compared to that of, say, Catullus, Horace’s Satires, Persius and Juvenal. 6.31.2 G. claims that the verb futuere is missing in elegy for reasons of genre rather than contents. Those two cannot be separated in the case of elegy. If the elegiac persona were getting it every night, elegy would lose its raison d’ être. 6.33.1 needs a note on adjectives ending in -bilis at least, like the one on adjectives in -osus at 6.21.4. At 6.35.8 the plain statement that there is enjambment could be augmented by a cross-reference to the useful note on this feature at 6.6.2 (the same is true at 6.46.2). I also find the pattern “enjambment followed by dactylic word and diaeresis” at the beginning of the pentameter worth a note. 6.38.8 What is the point of the “beautiful” chiasmus? At 6.44.3 G. should write at length on figurae etymologicae and briefly on the rare word dicterium rather than vice versa. 6.44.4 speculations about Laetoria having murdered her husband add nothing. 6.47.6 the model at Ov. Am. 3.4.18 needs to be evaluated. 6.54.2 the postponement of proper names is honorific, cf. Hor. Epist. 1.1.3, 1.5.3, 1.7.5, 1.13.2. 2.1.4. 6.58.1 the anastrophe of dum could use statistics in Martial and elsewhere. One verse later G. has missed an etymological association between piger and frigus. Etymological word-plays other than “telling” names are not one of G.’s strong points. At 6.58.8 surdos deos he should mention Galasso on Ov. Pont. 2.8.28. 6.63.5, 6.64.4 and 6.83.5 the alliterations should be evaluated like the anaphora and epanalepsis at 6.68.5-6 or anaphora at 6.82.3-4. 6.64.7 carpere conjures up the image of gnawing livor. 6.64.16-17 contains a particularly bare-bones note on golden lines. Again, if G. likes collecting data, he could have displayed his talent here. The same could be said of 6.65.3 where he could have collected all the nine or ten word hexameters in Latin literature from Ennius to Ausonius. 6.66.1 the note on non nimium could be tied in with the remarks about litotes. At verse 3 of the same poem vendebat is labeled “conativ” without another word. This one word comment costs an entire line in length, so why not refer to the standard works of grammar? (The same goes for the dative of agent at 6.85.4.) 6.68.4 Eutychos’ early death is called an irony of fate. But is it really in the light of Soph. Oid. Kolon. 1224ff? 6.68.9 is crying out for a note on polysyllabic pentameter endings, another great chance for “Fleissarbeit”. 6.69.1 G. talks about Catullus the lyric poet and Catullus the mimographer. According to Peter Wiseman, they are the same. 6.70.12-13 The note on Nestor’s age could have benefited from Galasso on Ov. Pont. 2.8.41. 6.71 the digression on the dating of the Priapea belongs in the general introduction or in a note in CQ. Having said that, I personally favor Kissel’s date close to Ovid; the obvious epigrammatist who was a contemporary and friend of Ovid is Domitius Marsus (Ov. Pont. 4.16.5 with my own note). He certainly knew the first edition of the Amores, whose existence, pace Holzberg, we have no right to doubt. 6.71.1 A “Weise” is a tune, not a rhythm. docta reminds of Propertius’docta puella (1.7.11, 2.11.6, 2.13.11, 2.28.28) and especially 2.3.20 par Aganippaeae ludere docta lyrae. 6.74.2 trifilis is “komisch” because it is mock-epic. 6.79.4 postponed ut could do with an exhaustive note. 6.81.4 ecce raises the question how often Martial uses it and how he uses it compared to en. In the intro to 6.82 G. briefly tackles the problem of persona vs. reality. What he says is right on the money and provides a healthy antidote to the trendy fallacy that the only reality that exists is that of the text. However, this issue is much more pervasive than G. lets us believe. It requires more exhaustive treatment in an introductory chapter. 6.85.7 heu as an expression of mourning is most prominent in Hor. Carm. 1.24.11. 6.90 and 91 balance 6.6 and 7 on the theme of adultery. This provides a frame around the entire collection and adds an argument in favor of closure. This could be mentioned in the general intro (p.37 or p.51) or in the introduction to 6.90.

Just in case you have not gone to sleep over this review yet, let me turn to the text. Some textual notes leave the reader guessing what variant is favored by G. (e.g. 6.16.1, 6.19.5, 6.80.8, 6.89.4). 6.32.5 Heinsius’Magno is surely right, sane is clearly part of a gloss. 6.43.6 G. finds the variant hoc vestrae mihi sunt (BG) very attractive. Then why not accept it? 6.52.6 Heinsius’ conjecture artifici to go with manu is correct as G.’s parallels clearly show. Ov. Trist. 2.522 can be added to them. Hall prints the very same phrase there. 6.86.1 I still don’t understand dominae and consider Heinsius’domitae far superior because it makes much better sense.

Finally, some general remarks. G. is inordinately fond of putting terms in quotes. Why mark terms like “immer länger” (6.4. intro) and thereby imply that it is a technical term or “so-called”? The sections on structure go beyond the mere summaries and could therefore be incorporated in the introduction to the poem as a whole rather than printed as an addendum thereto. Footnotes in a commentary are really unnecessary. Either something is worth mentioning or it is not. G.’s use of “meint” in the sense of English “means” is an unattractive Anglism. What is wrong with “heißt” or “bedeutet”? Likewise, at 6.65.31-2 he uses “imaginiert” like English “imagines” which is simply not German. I would also avoid the journalistic Anglism “macht … Sinn” for “hat Sinn” (6.85.1), “non-sexuell” for “nicht-sexuell” (6.93.3) and quasi-English “Abortion” for “Abtreibung”. But maybe I am too conservative in these matters and should, by analogy, start answering an English “thank you” with “please” or counter a negative English question like “don’t you like his book?” with a plain “yes”.

All that sounds quite negative, but I have benefited greatly from Grewing’s commentary and will use him often. I can therefore recommend this “big book” as a big achievement both to students of Martial and to other commentators. My digging for weak points and disagreements is as much part of the genre of the review as the lack of futuere is part of the genre of elegy (cf. 6.31.2 n.).