BMCR 2004.05.14

Martial Epigrams Book Two, edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary

, , Epigrams. Book two. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 1 online resource (xii, 303 pages). ISBN 9780195348200. $60.00.

It has become something of a convention when reviewing a new commentary on Martial (M) to mark the recent upsurge of interest in the poet with a catalogue of the commentaries which have previously appeared (see e.g. BMCR 2004.01.02 nn. 1-3, 2004.01.21 n. 1). Rather than replicate what is easily available elsewhere, I prefer here just to welcome Williams’ (W’s) contribution to the wealth of material now available.

The book is clearly set out, with introductory sections as follows: (1) M’s Life and Works; (2) Epigram before M; (3) Characteristics of M’s Epigrams (Themes; Characters; Formal Features: Point, Bipartite Structure, Length, and Meter; Book Structure); (4) Nachleben and Reception; (5) Manuscript Tradition. The text and translations of the epistolary prose preface and epigrams are integrated into the Commentary. The book closes with a fourteen-page bibliography and seven pages of indexes (Names and Subjects, Latin words, Passages).

The volume is beautifully produced: the text is clean, uncluttered and generously spaced, the font is large and clear, and the paper is of good quality and does not shine under artificial light. This is an easy and pleasant book to use. Such benefits as generous spacing and large type must nonetheless necessarily be offset by some restriction on content.

In the Introduction this generally does not matter: detailed treatment of M’s life and works is unnecessary, given existing assessments, and topics such as his debt to earlier epigram and his Nachleben and Reception are too large to deal with properly in a general introduction anyway; but W’s well-balanced surveys nonetheless provide useful background for the immediate convenience of his readers. Similarly, there is little point in providing yet another full discussion of the transmission. W’s summary, and presentation of some of the issues (e.g. instances where two MS families agree against the third but arguments can be made for both readings), is clear, succinct and all that is needed — along with his list of differences from Lindsay’s OCT and Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner.

The longest section of the Introduction, dealing with the characteristics of M’s epigrams, again covers material that has been well-treated elsewhere but usefully relates this material specifically to Book Two. Here, however, a more detailed discussion of the structure of the book and the relationship to one another of the epigrams within it would have been useful, especially as the integration of the text into the Commentary makes it difficult to appreciate epigram sequences. This is admittedly a very complex area, and W’s diffidence is understandable when he remarks (vi) that ‘a commentary does not seem the most effective context in which to make a sustained contribution’; but he might nonetheless usefully have collected together in the Introduction the observations of other scholars (which he reports in the Commentary: see his index s.vv. ‘sequences of poems’) and have given his readers more help than the half-page of ‘suggestive sequences’ on pp.10-11. More attention might perhaps also have been paid to M’s metrical skill and his technical artistry, although this is a lack less keenly felt in the Introduction than in the Commentary.

The format of the Commentary, which constitutes the bulk of the work, is clearly delineated: after the text and translation of the prose preface and each epigram, there are short essays on their themes and, in the case of the poems, their structure, and there follow notes on individual lines and words. This section of the book suffers more noticeably from limitations on space than the Introduction, although it must be said that almost verbatim repetition of the same information within commentary on the same epigram is a common and wasteful feature: see e.g. pp. 131-2 (on line 1: ‘[Phileros … ] has buried seven wives’; on line 5: ‘Phileros has buried seven wives’:), 209-10 (in the section on Themes: ‘100, 000 sesterces is … an impossibly high amount to have spent on visits to a prostitute’; on line 2: ‘100, 000 sesterces would be impossibly high for a sexual encounter’ ). Note also 41-2, 95, 229, 231, 273. (In the Introduction, see p. 13: two statements within 15 lines that the MS family β descended from Torquatus Gennadius’ edition of A.D. 401.)

Although he has constantly taken Shackleton Bailey’s Teubner into consideration, W has mostly followed Lindsay’s OCT, favouring different readings in ten places and on occasion changing his punctuation and orthography. He has, however, dispensed with Lindsay’s cumbersome designations of the family archetypes, preferring Schneidewin’s Greek letters, and he has used Arabic numerals in numbering the epigrams. In arguing for ‘iterumque iterumque iterumque’ at 2.14.13, W might have observed that the double elision supports the idea of constant revisiting. I am not convinced that W’s full stop after erras (2.26.4) is better than the colon of Lindsay and Shackleton Bailey. While he may be right to defend the unanimous MS reading ‘atque unam’ at 2.46.5, Mela 3.2 and Apul. Met. 9.31 do not afford precise parallels, uni at Pl. Miles 584 is not strongly attested and the doubts of such scholars as Duff (whom he does not mention), Hakanson, Postgate, Shackleton Bailey and Watt are not to be dismissed lightly. At 2.53.7 Shackleton Bailey seems justified in printing Heinsius’ conjecture iungitur for the transmitted vincitur. At 2.84.4, I would be tempted to obelize ‘ab hoc occisus’ ( βγ). In rejecting Shackleton Bailey’s emendation of ‘tam malus poeta’ to ‘iam malus poeta’ at 2.86.6 it would have been helpful if W had told the reader why Shackleton Bailey’s reasons for emending are ‘not compelling’. (Shackleton Bailey argues that in the context of the epigram ‘non tam’ must have the poorly attested sense ‘non ita’. He suggests iam in the sense continuo.)

According to the dust-jacket blurb, the book will be of interest ‘to readers … from advanced undergraduates to scholars’. It is a little unexpected therefore to find that the translations are intended to be accessible to the Latinless reader (vi); but this is no bad thing, and they generally succeed well in W’s attempt to reflect the tone of the original but also to remain close to M’s syntactic structures (vi). Particularly successful is W’s translation of 2.31.2 ‘supra quod fieri nil, Mariane, potest’: ‘It doesn’t go any higher, Marianus’. The question of how to punctuate 2.76.2 remains a problem (‘cui nihil ipse dabas hic tibi verba dedit’), but the sense of W’s stops after dabas and dedit would have been better reflected if he had abandoned the Latin word order and rendered the whole epigram something like ‘Marius, for whom you yourself would do nothing, has left you five pounds of silver. He has really done you.’

Some of W’s essays on the themes and structure of individual epigrams are very good, e.g. on the structure of 2.1 (pp. 22-3). Other essays, however, are less satisfactory. When discussing the themes of 2.5, for instance, W cites the interpretations of Saller and Nauta, notes that the perspective of Konstan is different (although he does not tell us how it differs) but does not indicate which, if any, of these interpretations he thinks is right or why. W’s apparent unwillingness to commit himself explicitly is evident elsewhere also, e.g. in his notes on pp. 84-5 and 145 (does he agree, respectively, with Anderson and Prinz/Friedlaender or not?).

In his preface, W notes that the central goal of the commentary is ‘to help contemporary readers … deepen their understanding of the text in front of them by locating the epigram in the cultural and literary contexts in which they arose and by drawing attention to specific features that are characteristic of author and genre’ (vi). This is a laudable goal and I suspect that few would venture to dispute it, but more background information would often have been helpful. For instance, in the notes on the prose preface it would have been interesting to be told something of the usual opponent of the retiarius (‘contra retiarium ferula’) or of the behaviour of Roman audiences (‘ego inter illos sedeo qui protinus reclamant’, praef. 10-11 Lindsay). Similarly, historical notes would frequently have been useful, e.g. at 2.13.1 patronus (on the payment for advocacy), 2.38.1 ‘quid mihi reddat ager quaeris, Line, Nomentanus?’ (on the traditional unproductivity of suburban estates), 2.7.2 and 2.89.3-4 (on the composition of verses as a pastime by gentleman amateurs), 2.86.8 (on what sort of runner Ladas was and what sort of surface such runners normally ran on), and 2.87.2 (on the importance of swimming in Roman life, education and exercise regimes).

Words/word forms which do not receive comment but seem worthy of attention include, e.g., the agent noun ambulator (2.11.2), the elevated magniloquus (2.43.2) and the diminutive Graecula (2.86.3). Touches such as the simplex-complex iteration of ponitur and repone at 2.37.1 and 10 might have been noticed, or the pathos of ‘tenera … turba’ (2.75.5) and the number-play and positioning in 2.93. ‘Iliaco … cinaedo’ (2.43.13) possibly provides a pattern for Juvenal’s swimming Ithacan (Juv. 10.257); and so on. The necessity, however, for an explanation of the ἀπὸ κοινοῦ construction (at 2.2.1) or a note on the Roman mile (at 2.5.3) is questionable.

Establishing the precise meaning of M’s epigrams or of lines within them can sometimes be extremely difficult and, although not many of W’s interpretations seem off-course, there are inevitably some that invite challenge or call for modification. For instance, the interjection ‘ei mihi’ at 2.1.12 does not ‘add a tone of pathos’ but introduces a note of humorous and self-depreciatory resignation: M acknowledges that, however short his book is, it will still be too long for many. In 2.72 Caecilius must have irrumated Postumus in front of the other dinner-guests, probably while they were all drunk. Otherwise there cannot have been witnesses. For (admittedly hetero-) sexual activity in the course of a dinner party, cf. Ovid Am. 1.4.41-50 and, of greater relevance here, Ars 3.766, of an inebriated woman who has fallen asleep: ‘digna est concubitus quoslibet illa pati’. Finally, at 2.83.5 ‘iste potest et irrumare’, et should be taken as meaning ‘still’ (with Ker) rather than ‘also’. This epigram (cf. 3.85) remarks on the pointlessness of punishing an adulterer by cutting off his ears and nose but not castrating him and so making him incapable of further sexual intercourse. W appears to miss the principal point behind line 5, that irrumatio is more pleasurable than fututio (cf. p. 124) and that, despite having been mutilated, the adulterer can therefore continue to enjoy not only penetrative sexual pleasure with his lover but its extreme form. That he might turn his attention to the husband, however, and irrumate him in revenge for his lost ears and nose is very much a secondary possibility and is merely hinted at.

W comments on the more noticeable features of M’s metrical usage, but a closer exploration of the subtleties of his metrical dexterity, along with his use of word-order, would have enriched his readers’ appreciation of the poems. Note, for instance, at 2.85.3 the positioning and therefore contrast of aetatis and Decembri before the caesura and at the line-end, or the emphasis at 2.3.1 on nil, marked off by the caesura and diaeresis. The monosyllabic vis at the end of 2.32.1 deserves comment, especially as it balances the monosyllabic lis at the beginning, and as does the chiasmus of ‘mihi … tu’ and ‘Balbo … Balbum’ which emphasises the contrast between M and his addressee. (With 2.32.1, cf. 2.53.1 ‘vis …vis’.) Surely, too, it is relevant to point out that 2.71, on M’s distichs, is written in couplets while both the subject ( libelli) and hendecasyllables of 2.6 recall Catullus 14. (W notes on p. 41 the poem’s structural similarities with Catullan practice.)

The pedantic will find the occasional misprint, typographical inconsistency, split infinitive, double genitive and the like, and W’s colloquialisms may make his work seem dated before it has outlived its (considerable) usefulness. The textual references checked in the body of the book were very nearly all accurate, and the page references checked in the index were all correct. The line divisions of the prose preface do not agree with the line references in the commentary, and at 2.43.2 W prints a question-mark after sonas rather than the full stop that he reports on p. 14. At 2.18.3 for ipse one should presumably read isse, and quoque has supplanted quodque at 2.72.5.

Professor R.G.M. Nisbet is famously quoted in the preface to A.S. Hollis’ edition of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria I as having said that a commentary should not be duller than the text on which it is based. If this poses a challenge to commentators on Ovid, it is at least equally challenging for those on M. By this criterion, W has not done at all badly. Often he might profitably have delved deeper into the epigrams than he does; but overall he has produced an enjoyable book which engages the attention throughout, marks a useful advance in the study of M’s works, and establishes a firm foundation from which to mount further investigations.