When Patricia and Lindsay Watson started writing their commentary on a selection of poems from Martial’s twelve books of epigrams (the so-called Liber spectaculorum and the Xenia and Apophoreta are not included) for the “Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics” series, there were only a few in-depth commentaries for the individual Epigrammaton libri. In the preface to their anthology, the Watsons (W/W) acknowledge their debt to the commentaries on Book 1 by Mario Citroni and Peter Howell, on Book 5 by Howell, and on Book 11 by Nigel Kay. They also point out that research on Book 6 was already completed when Farouk Grewing’s work on Book 6 appeared, which is only cited sparingly.1 The commentaries by Guillermo Galán Vioque on Book 7, Christian Schöffel on Book 8 and Christer Henriksén on Book 9, all of which have been published after Grewing’s work,2 are not mentioned in the bibliography, neither are the unpublished dissertations by John Jenkins on a selection of epigrams from Book 10, and by Michael Bowie on Book 12.3 With the exception of Howell’s Aris & Philips edition of Book 5, the commentaries on the individual books are usually much more exhaustive than the notes in W/W’s work. Everybody who needs rather concise explanations of any of the epigrams discussed by W/W — especially an undergraduate readership — will therefore prefer this anthology. Furthermore, as I am going to show below, a comparison between W/W’s work and the in-depth commentaries reveals that this new edition is also very useful for the more advanced scholar of Martial.
W/W have chosen 87 poems from all Epigrammaton libri except for Book 11, and from Book 1 they have only included the epigram 1.102 (no. 37 in W/W) — a decision that was made because of “the excellence of [Citroni’s, Howell’s and Kay’s] works on 1 and 11” (p. vii).4 In the preface, W/W point out that it was their aim “to give a representative sample of Martial’s oeuvre” (p. vii),5 and in that they have certainly succeeded. The selected epigrams are organised under various heads and numbered consecutively.6 W/W justify their decision to produce an anthology by stating that it was their “task to imbue readers with some of the enthusiasm which we entertain for Martial: and this purpose could best be served by selecting poems upon which we feel we have new and interesting things to say” (pp. vii). W/W’s enthusiasm is indeed obvious and makes their book a pleasant and entertaining read.
However, in their introductory section on “The Structure of Individual Books” (pp. 29-31) W/W themselves make clear that the context in the published book can be important for our understanding of the individual epigrams. W/W emphasise that each book has its individual structure and character — an aspect of Martial’s works that has often been neglected. Consequently, in their notes, W/W sometimes point to the function of an individual poem in the context of the whole book.7 But there are also some cases where the isolation of certain epigrams from their context causes problems for their interpretation, as I am going to show below. Furthermore, I do not agree with W/W’s acceptance of Peter White’s so-called ” libellus theory” (pp. 2 and 80), which has been criticised in recent scholarship — most notably by Don Fowler, one of the dedicatees of W/W’s book. Given the careful arrangement of many of Martial’s Epigrammaton libri, it is rather unlikely that Martial awarded individual addressees with libelli (small collections of epigrams), which were later included in the Epigrammaton libri for publication.8
W/W’s introduction (pp. 1-38) begins with discussions of the “Life of Martial” (pp. 1-5) and “The Use of the First Person in the Epigrams” (pp. 5-7). Regarding the problem that the epigrams do not paint a coherent picture of their author’s life, W/W state that “one must be careful to distinguish between ‘facts’ which there is no reason to doubt, … and comments which are either not meant to be taken as autobiographical … or which are susceptible of more than one interpretation” (p. 1). This approach reminds one of the elaborate methodology recently developed by Ruurd Nauta, who also attempts to separate Martial’s autobiographical statements from the fictional epigrams. I believe that there is much less autobiography and much more fiction in the epigrams than Nauta and W/W assume, and I doubt that we are able to reconstruct the poet’s biography from the epigrams.9 But W/W’s approach is well-argued and they also consistently follow it in their notes on the individual poems.
There are also introductory sections on “Martial’s Audience” (pp. 7-9), on “Personal Names in the Epigrams” (pp. 12-5), and on “Martial and Domitian” (pp. 9-12). W/W are probably right to explain the seemingly contradictory statements within the panegyric poems as the result of Martial’s “propensity for investing panegyric with humour,” rather than hidden criticism of the emperor (p. 12).10 W/W’s discussion of “Structure and Style of the Epigrams” (pp. 15-21), then, provides a general overview of form and content of the epigrams and includes a reassessment of Lessing’s terms Erwartung and Aufschluss.11 In the section on “The Language of the Epigrams” (pp. 21-6), W/W provide a useful overview of the different stylistic registers employed by Martial. Given that Stephen Hinds in his seminal work on Allusion and Intertext devotes a lot of space to the intertextual interpretation of Martial’s epigrams,12 one would have wished, however, for a more detailed discussion of intertextuality, which is presented only as a linguistic phenomenon. The fact that the discussion of intertextuality is given so little space is even more surprising because in a previous article L. Watson (1998 [n. 5]) himself presented an intertextual interpretation of Mart. 8.21.
W/W’s discussion of “The Metres of the Epigrams” (pp. 26-9) not only provides a useful introduction to Martial’s metrical usage, but also tries to make the link between metre and content. This is an approach to the epigrams which so far has not received much scholarly attention, and it is one of the great merits of W/W commentary that it often includes metre in the interpretation of the individual poems.13 Finally, there is a section on “The Wider Tradition: Martial and Epigram” (pp. 31-36). Here one would have wished for a more detailed discussion of the now widely debated question to what extent Martial’s predecessors in the genre wrote not only epigrams but books of epigrams.14
The main part of W/W’s commentary is, of course, comprised by their notes on the individual poems. In order to point out the specific merits of W/W work, I am going to single out a few examples from their commentary and compare them with what the other commentators have written about the respective poems. I will start with the long epigram 6.64 (no. 6 in W/W’s edition), a furious attack on a (probably fictitious) critic of Martial’s nugae (l. 7). Whereas Grewing (1997 [n. 1]) points out that the poem’s metre — the hexameter — resembles satire and concentrates on the invective character of the epigram, W/W include 6.64 in the section on “Martial and Poetry” and read it as a literary apology (they also mention the invective features in their notes on ll. 24-6 and 27-31). Furthermore, the differences between Grewing’s and W/W approaches are apparent in their respective notes on lines 5f. where the addressee is attacked as a patris ad speculum tonsi matrisque togatae / filius. In keeping with his approach to be as exhaustive as possible, Grewing includes an excursus on ancient mirrors whereas W/W only mention that “excessive attention to coiffure and prettifying oneself in front of a mirror were the mark of the effeminate male” — an explanation that we also find in Grewing. Matrisque togatae is then interpreted differently in Grewing and W/W: whereas W/W only point out that the toga was “the mark of a prostitute or convicted adulteress,” Grewing also suggests that Martial may imply a “Verkehrung der Geschlechterrollen”.
On line 9 where the facundo Regulus ore is mentioned as one of Martial’s famous readers, W/W tell us more than Grewing: both explain the line by stating that Regulus may be praised as an outstanding orator, but W/W also point out that this line may refer to the reading of the epigrams since “silent reading was relatively rare in antiquity”. Finally, Grewing’s and W/W’s notes on the ironic statement made in lines 16f. sed tibi plus mentis, tibi cor limante Minerva / acrius are interesting. Whereas W/W plausibly point out that in cor limante Minerva“[t]he metaphor of filing or polishing sits rather oddly with the physiological connotations of cor, perhaps in an effect of deliberate grotesquerie,” Grewing puts forward a different interpretation which is no less plausible: the phrase may be a parody of the widely used expression invita Minerva.
It has to be pointed out that it is not my aim to find out which commentary is the better one. Given the differences in scope, that would make little sense anyway. In any case, the comparison between Grewing’s and W/W’s notes on 6.64 leads to the conclusion that any future reader of the poem should consult both commentaries. The same can be said about the comparison of W/W’s and Jenkins’ (1980, [n. 3]) notes on 10.4 and 5 (no.s 7 and 8 in W/W’s edition). In 10.4, a recusatio of mythological poetry, Martial lists a number of mythological figures which may be the adequate reading matter for his addressee Mamurra but not the right materia for epigram. On the plural used in line 2 Colchidas et Scyllas, Jenkins comments that there were, of course, two Scyllas in ancient mythology and that the plural Colchidas was “designed to balance ‘Scyllas'”. But W/W’s explanation that this is “a generalising plural” and that “Scylla is presumably the daughter of Nisus” is much more convincing. For “all four exempla in 1-2 are then monstra who committed crimes against members of their immediate family.” I do not agree with
The notes on 10.5, a furious attack directed at a poet who tried to pass off his invectives as poems written by Martial, are also interesting. W/W demonstrate their profound knowledge of ancient invective15 by adducing a host of very useful parallels from the literary tradition. Unlike Jenkins, they do not comment on the irony in Martial’s invective directed against a writer of invective poetry. As Jenkins puts it, “The fact that he himself does exactly the same thing to his own enemy is ironic” (on 10.5.2). Furthermore, 10.5 and also 10.4 illustrate why attention should be paid to the context of an epigram in the published book. At the end of 10.4 the addressee is advised not to read Martial’s epigrams, but the Aetia Callimachi. This criticism of the Aetia is then followed by a poem whose immediate model was Ovid’s Ibis — a poem which was based on a Callimachean original. And a similar contradiction in terms as in Martial’s invective against invective, 10.5, can be observed in 10.4, in which numerous mythological exempla are cited in order to reject mythological poetry. Similar contradictions can also be observed in other poems at the beginning of Book 10, which therefore should be interpreted as a coherent group of epigrams rather than in isolation.16
W/W’s comments on the language used in 7.36 are very helpful. Unlike Galán Vioque, they point out the humour of such phrases as Cum pluvias madidumque Iovem perferre negare / et rudis hibernis villa nataret aquis (ll. 1-2. “The grandiosity of the language, with madidus Iuppiter used of pouring rain, and bold personification of the villa … is amusingly at odds with the banality of the subject matter, a leaky roof.”) and effundere nimbos (l. 3. “… intended to sound paradoxical: one thinks more readily of nimbi‘pouring forth’ water.”). On line 5 horridus, ecce, sonat Boreae stridore December, Galán Vioque emphasises “the alliteration with [r], which suggests the sound of the wind and also the chattering of teeth in the cold.” W/W also point out that it is “a line of pronounced stylistic elevation, deflated by the witty and bathetic 6.”17 On 7.36.6 (quoted above), then, Galán Vioque has more to say than W/W. Both commentaries point to the homoeoteleuton, but Galán Vioque also notes “the phonic interplay between the gift sent to him ( tegulae), the reiterated verb tegere and the present Martial is requesting ( toga)”.
Another interesting example is W/W’s commentary on epigram 8.55 (no. 15 in
On lines 1-2 Temporibus nostris aetas cum cedat avorum / creverit et maior cum duce Roma suo, W/W note that the “claim that under the stewardship of the reigning emperor the present age is superior to earlier times is common from the Augustan period.” Schöffel, by contrast, reads line 1 as a reference to the Golden Age, which is, in fact, a common motif in literary panegyric.18 On Martial’s following statement that there is no writer of historical epic in praise of the emperor ( ingenium sacri miraris esse Maronis, l. 3), Schöffel notes that this is the only instance in Martial’s works that sacer is used to describe a person. Even though Schöffel cites several examples for vates sacri in Latin literature, W/W are probably right to refer to the fact that Virgil’s “tomb was virtually an object of worship”. Since Silius Italicus was an especially prominent worshipper of the Augustan epic poet, W/W are also right to point out the striking fact that Martial in this poem “ignores Silius Italicus, author of the Punica, whom he elsewhere compares favourably with Virgil”. Finally, there is the widely debated question of what is meant by Martial’s statement that Virgil, once he saw the beautiful Alexis, Italiam concepit et Arma virumque (l. 19). In keeping with the conciseness of the commentary, W/W do not refer to previous discussions of this line and follow the scholars who believe that Italiam is used as a name for the Georgica. The detailed argument presented by Schöffel, however, makes it quite probable that both, Italiam and Arma virumque, refer to the Aeneid.19
W/W’s poem 17 (12.31) comes from the last of Martial’s Epigrammaton libri. It is one of the epigrams in which the poet after his return to Spain compares the exhausting life in the city to the quietness of country life. In their commentary on 12.31 W/W provide much information on the realia of ancient villas and gardens — an aspect which is virtually absent from Bowie’s (1988 [n. 3]) notes on this poem. Whereas W/W in their commentaries on most epigrams do not pay much attention to realia, there are good reasons to tell readers of 12.31 quite a lot about ancient villas for, as W/W make clear, Martial combines the reality of Roman villa culture with the literary tradition of the locus amoenus. This new interpretation of 12.31 is particularly convincing.
W/W’s interpretation of 9.25 (no. 35) once again could have benefited from taking the book context into account. The poem is a complaint directed against a host, who does not want his guests to look at his handsome boy slave during dinner. W/W convincingly show that the host’s “suspicions … are well founded,” since Martial seems to have developed a strong interest in the puer. It is worth noting that in Book 9 there are especially frequent references to the pleasures of boy love — a fact that is also emphasised by the concluding epigram 9.103 (on two “Ganymedes”).20 Furthermore, one wonders whether W/W could have made their point even stronger if they had decided to accept the alternative reading petat instead of tegam in line 6 atque oculos oraque nostra tegam?. Henriksén (1998/99 [n. 2]) adduces convincing arguments for petat and his interpretation of this verse — “it implies that it is not only Martial who looks at the boy, but also that the boy gives him inviting glances” — fits W/W’s interpretation very well.
Finally, I want to take a look at another poem from Book 9: the obscene 9.67 (no. 46) is certainly one of the most widely debated epigrams. Martial describes a night with a lasciva puella, who granted him a number of different erotic favours, including anal intercourse (l. 3 illud puerile). Then the poet is said to have requested inprobius quiddam, which was also promised nulla mora (ll. 5f.). Most scholars agree that this must be a reference to fellatio, but the concluding two lines are obscure: sed mihi pura fuit; tibi non erit, Aeschyle, si vis / accipere hoc munus conditione mala (ll. 7f.). W/W are right to reject the interpretation put forward by A. E. Housman21 that the girl agrees to fellate Martial as long as he performs cunnilinctus upon her. Housman further concludes that Martial declined and, unlike Aeschylus, who accepts the mala condicio, is not fellated. It is obvious, however, that this interpretation does not concord with nulla mora (l. 6). W/W conclude “that the puella readily agreed to fellate M., and did so, but in the case of Aeschylus insisted on a quid pro quo in the shape of cunnilinctus. In performing the latter, Aeschylus, ore pollutus, as his name suggests …, in turn defiled her.” This interpretation is similar to the one put forward by Hans Peter Obermayer,22 who concludes that Aeschylus must be generally impurus, which also leads to the pollution of his bedfellows of either sex. Obermayer wonders what the reason for Aeschylus’ impurity may be, but does not come up with a conclusive answer. Now that W/W have shown that the name can be associated with oral sex (cf. W/W’s note on l. 7), one may well assume that it is, in fact, cunnilinctus.23 But Obermayer is right to point out that 9.67 does not say that Aeschylus performed cunnilinctus on the puella. The mala condicio must therefore be Aeschylus’ general predilection for cunnilinctus (rather than a specific act of cunnilinctus), which has turned him and all the people with whom he has sexual contacts into impuri. A combination of Obermayer’s and W/W’s ideas can finally lead to an interpretation of this difficult poem.
W/W’s commentary on selected epigrams deserves — and will undoubtedly be rewarded with — a very large readership. They do not provide much background information on Roman life unless a piece of information is necessary in order to understand the poem. Similarly, W/W have not collected masses of parallel passages, but only list those parallels which they believe to be helpful for the understanding of the respective poem. I do not wish to imply that the more detailed and much longer commentaries on the individual books compile masses of irrelevant data. But it is fairly obvious that readers of Martial’s poems who just want to get a grip on the content of a particular epigram will certainly prefer to turn to W/W’s commentary for help.
Furthermore, this edition is also an important contribution to the interpretation of Martial’s works in its own right. By comparing what W/W and some of the in-depth commentaries on the individual books have to say about the epigrams, I hope to have made clear that scholars of Martial will have to consult not only the more detailed commentaries, but also
1. M. Citroni, M. Valerii Martialis Epigrammaton Liber Primus. Biblioteca di studi superiori 61, Florence, 1975; P. Howell, A Commentary on Book One of the Epigrams of Martial, London, 1980; Martial. Epigrams V. Edited with an Introduction, Translation & Commentary, Warminster, 1995; N. M. Kay, Martial Book XI: A Commentary, London, 1985; F. Grewing, Martial, Buch VI (Ein Kommentar). Hypomnemata 115, Göttingen, 1997.
2. G. Galán Vioque, Martial, Book VII: A Commentary. Translated by J. J. Zoltowski. Mnemosyne Supplementum 226, Leiden etc., 2002; C. Schöffel, Martial, Buch 8: Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Palingenesia 77, Stuttgart, 2002; C. Henriksén, Martial, Book IX: A Commentary. Studia Latina Upsaliensia 24:1 & 2. 2 vols., Uppsala, 1998/99.
3. J. Jenkins, A Commentary on Selected Epigrams from Martial Book 10, Diss. University of Cambridge, 1980; M. N. R. Bowie, Martial Book XII – a Commentary, Diss. University of Oxford, 1988. I have not seen the dissertation on Mart. 3.1-68 by R. G. George (Oxford, 1994). Helen Kontogianni’s Leeds dissertation on Book 9 (1996) is too superficial to rival Henriksén’s commentary on the same book. Also for the remaining Epigrammaton libri commentaries are going to be available before too long: I understand that Craig Williams’ commentary of Book 2 and Bernd Hessen’s on Book 3 — like Kathleen Coleman’s edition of the Liber spectaculorum — are nearing publication. Furthermore, both, Rosa Moreno (Seville) and Javier Pizarro (Madrid), are currently working on Book 4. Finally, there are also two commentaries by T. J. Leary on Books 13 (London, 2001) and 14 (London, 1996), which are not relevant to W/W’s anthology.
4. From Book 2 the following epigrams are included: 8, 14, 16, 20, 26, 29, 77, 80, 89, 91, 92; Book 3: 3, 8, 12, 34, 44, 52, 57, 65, 75, 76, 78, 82, 85, 87; Book 4: 18, 20, 30, 44, 59, 67, 72, 87; Book 5: 24, 34; Book 6: 7, 21, 26, 39, 42, 53, 64, 72, 74, 88; Book 7: 20, 36, 37, 39, 53, 67, 79, 87, 95; Book 8: 6, 23, 31, 53, 54, 55, 74; Book 9: 15, 18, 25, 29, 67, 73, 80; Book 10: 4, 5, 16, 47, 50, 63, 64, 67, 68; Book 12: 15, 18, 20, 31, 32, 48, 54, 57.
5. Naturally, W/W also include epigrams on which they have worked before: cf. L. Watson, “Martial 8.21, Literary lusus, and Imperial Panegyric”, PLLS 10, 1998, 359-72; L. and P. Watson, “Two Problems in Martial”, CQ 46, 1996, 586-91; P. Watson, “Erotion: puella delicata ?”, CQ 42, 1992, 253-68; “Ignorant Euctus: Wit and Literary Allusion in Martial 8.6”, Mnemosyne 51, 1998, 30-40; “Martial on the Wedding of Stella and Violentilla”, Latomus 58, 1999, 348-56; “Martial’s Snake in Amber: Ekphrasis or Poetic Fantasy”, RhM 146, 2003, 38-48. Schöffel (2002 [n. 2], pp. 140-3 and 222f.) has recently contested the theses put forward in P. Watson’s article on 8.6 and in L. Watson’s article on 8.21. The criticism on the latter is probably unfounded; cf. my review of Schöffel in Plekos 5, 2003.
6. Poems 1-8: “Martial and Poetry”; 9-17: “Poet and Patron”; 18-36: “Martial and the City of Rome”; 37-41: “Women”; 42-53: “Sexual Mores”; 54-77: “Satirical Epigrams”; 78-82: “Epideictic Epigrams”; 83-86: “Funerary Epigrams”. These thematic units are again divided into different subsections. When a poem belongs to more than one section, a cross-reference is made in the table of content.
8. For the libellus theory, cf. P. White, “The Presentation and Dedication of the Silvae and the Epigrams“, JRS 64, 1974, 40-61; “Martial and Pre-Publication Texts”, EMC 40, 1996, 397-412. For arguments against this theory, see D. P. Fowler, “Martial and the Book”, Ramus 24, 1995, 31-58; most recently: N. Holzberg, Martial und das antike Epigramm, Darmstadt, 2002, pp. 128-32; S. Lorenz, Erotik und Panegyrik: Martials epigrammatische Kaiser. Classica Monacensia 23, Tübingen, 2003, pp. 10-2; Schöffel (2002 [n. 2]), pp. 38. A balanced view is presented by R. R. Nauta, Poetry for Patrons: Literary Communication in the Age of Domitian. Mnemosyne Supplementum 206, Leiden, 2002, 105-20.
10. Cf. L. Watson’s article on 8.21 (1998 [n. 5]); Lorenz (2002 [n. 8]).
11. This discussion could have benefited from referring to Marion Lausberg’s chapter on ancient and modern Epigrammtheorie in Das Einzeldistichon: Studien zum antiken Epigramm. Studia et testimonia antiqua 19, Munich, 1982, pp. 20-101.
12. S. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry. Roman Literature in Its Contexts, Cambridge, 1998, 129-35.
13. Cf., for example, W/W’s notes on 12.57 (no. 20): “The metre is choliamic, in keeping with the mildly satirical tone of the piece” (p. 151).
14. Cf. now, on Hellenistic epigram, K. Gutzwiller, Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context. Hellenistic Culture and Society 28, Berkeley etc., 1998; Holzberg (2002 [n. 8]), 23. 27. 40f.; Lorenz (2003 [n. 8]), pp. 64f.
15. Cf. L. Watson, Arae: The Curse Poetry of Antiquity. ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs 26, Leeds, 1991.
16. Cf. Lorenz (2002 [n. 8]), pp. 222f.
17. W/W also mention the phenomenon of word sound in l. 5. Their reference to “the alliteration of p and s must, however, be a misprint.
18. On dux (l. 2), W/W suspect an “allusion to [Domitian’s] favourite appellation dominus et dux. There seems to be a confusion with the title dominus et deus. Schöffel is right to point out that dux is used here in keeping with the statement that Rome has “grown” ( creverit), which may be reference to Domitian’s military campaigns.
19. In addition, the idea that looking at a beautiful puer delicatus inspired Virgil to immediately start writing his epic poem certainly adds more to the humour of 8.55 than the assumption that he first wrote the Georgics; cf. Lorenz (2002 [n. 8]), pp. 178f.
20. Cf. Lorenz (2002 [n. 8]), pp. 195f. 207f. On the coherence of Book 9 cf. now “Martial, Herkules und Domitian: Büsten, Statuetten und Statuen im Epigrammaton liber nonus“, Mnemosyne 56, 2003, 566-84.
21. The Classical Papers of A. E. Housman, Cambridge, 1972, p. 725. A detailed account of previous scholarship on this poem is given by Henriksén (1998/99 [n. 2]), who follows Housman’s interpretation. Cf. my review in CR 51, 2001, 262-4.
22. H. P. Obermayer, Martial und der Diskurs über männliche ‘Homosexualität’ in der Literatur der frühen Kaiserzeit. Classica Monacensia 18, Tübingen, 1998, pp. 223f.
23. See now M. Panciera, Sexual Practice and Invective in Martial and Pompeian Inscriptions, Diss. University of North Carolina, 2000, pp. 32f. and 47f. Panciera reads 9.67 in comparison with 9.4 and offers a convincing reading of 9.4 as a joke about Aeschylus’ predilection for cunnilinctus.