BMCR 2007.07.44

Martial, Book IV. A Commentary. Mnemosyne Supplement 278

, Martial, Book IV : a commentary. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2006. 1 online resource (x, 618 pages).. ISBN 9789047409892. $188.00.

A revised version of Moreno Soldevila’s (henceforth S.) doctoral thesis at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Sevilla, the present commentary fills an important gap in, and constitutes a first-rate addition to, the studies of the Flavian poet from Bilbilis. The book proceeds in the expected commentary format by providing an introduction followed by the Latin text with facing English translation (as S. acknowledges in her introduction, her translation is heavily indebted to D. R. Shackleton Bailey’s 1993 Loeb edition). Then follows the commentary itself, with bibliography and four indexes. An additional feature of the commentary is the list of bibliographical references for each epigram.

Perhaps one word characterizes best S.’s attentive work: elegance. The author opens her introduction with a few words on the dating of the book to around December of AD 88. Then she looks at the thematic interrelations among the 89 poems, pointing to the intricate web of echoes from one epigram to the next, a topic which she develops not just as an exercise of tracking down allusions to previous literature but most significantly as a tool to understand Martial’s design of arranging the poems in a particular order.

S. first looks at the themes of the collection: Roman politics and the emperor Domitian appear in a large number of poems; satire is an indispensable feature of the genre, as is also Martial’s preoccupation with the fate of his book once it is published; death in its various forms, such as an unexpected icicle that kills a child or an amber drop that fossilizes a viper. S. comments on Martial’s choice of arrangement from the very beginning of the book.

A great section of S.’s discussion is subsumed in considering the visual and aural variety of the epigrams in book 4, an idea that she follows throughout her commentary. For instance, in the second epigram Horatius wears black garments, an eccentricity marked by Martial with the phrase solus inter omnes at the end of line 1, isolated by the caesura after the dactyl. Horatius thus becomes marginalized from the opening of the poem, with Martial employing the help of both metrical and verbal patterns to create the effect. The topic of interconnectedness is given ample room throughout the book, with frequent references to epigrams on the same topic in the whole corpus and within the fourth book. For instance, S. comments on the place at 4.27, where Martial asks Domitian for more honors that would make other people jealous of the poet’s divine patronage. As S. aptly points out, the positioning of 27 after a poem lamenting the decadence of private patronage (26) turns the epigram into vehicle for Martial to urge the emperor himself to counteract such a trend towards corruption.

As I have emphasized right from the start of this review, the merits of this commentary are many. In what follows, I shall focus on a few minor points that may call for some consideration.

The quotation Homo certus, fidus amicus in 5.9 could be an allusion to a variety of sources, as S. mentions, such as Ennius’ amicus certus in re incerta cernitur, but also possibly a direct quotation from some lost work, with a particular thrust that Martial exploits in this epigram phrase. In addition, the proverbial tone of the phrase, similarly expressed in Greek, adds to the biting tone of the satire.

In 11.8 the subjunctive licuisset is rendered by Shackleton Bailey as an indignant question, translated ‘was likely that’. S. states that the subjunctive here just represents an unreal fact but does not explain its use as an independent subjunctive. I would side with Shackleton Bailey’s choice of subordinating the subjunctive with ut instead of the paratactic et. Nor is there any need to translate qui in line 10 as temporal (‘when he’) rather than straightforward relative (‘who’).

I wonder whether numeratur in 29.7 does not actually mean that Persius ‘is quoted’. Then the line would mean that, though he wrote only one small book of satires, Persius is quoted more than Marsus’ Amazoniad. S. prefers the translation ‘achieved’, which I believe, does not shed much light on this peculiar use of the verb here. The infrequent use of the verb to mean ‘to specify in a list’ ( OLD s.v. numero 5b), also occurring in 40.2, lends support to my suggestion. In 40.2, S. translates numeranda as ‘memorable’, which I find confusing, since she recognizes the same use of the verb in both epigrams. Shackleton Bailey believes the term is taken from games (‘scores a point’), but as S. observes, there is no supporting evidence for such an interpretation.

S. translates the participle pascentem in 49.6 as ‘watching over’, whereas I think Shackleton Bailey’s ‘feeding’ is rather more felicitous and closer to the original intention of the verb as a description of a shepherd’s job.

In 64.16 the obscure phrase virgineo cruore referring to the cult of Anna Perenna should come with Shackleton Bailey’s justified obelos. S. does not seem to provide an adequate explanation of the meaning of this much debated phrase, after discussing the various interpretations of the reference as an allusion to an ancient sacrificial ritual, to the waters of the Aqua Virgo, or to pomegranates, none of which seems to provide a satisfactory reading of the line.

Finally, I believe that raris in 66.3 means ‘occasional’, not ‘odd’. S. conventionally reads this epigram as an attack against Linus’ squandering practices, since Martial emphasizes how difficult it is to become bankrupt in the country. Does the end of the epigram, however, allude to the simple fact that Linus, the addressee under attack, may pretend to be broke, though he is really not? If confirmed, such a reading would render the closing lines of the epigram as a reference to the impossibility of Linus’ apparent squandering of the million sesterces of his mother’s inheritance: he may rather claim to have lost it all, a claim that makes the ending of the poem all the more poignant, with Martial’s indignant closure Fecisti rem, Line, difficilem.

Typographical errors in Latin or English are rare. In the text of 13.7, a comma is omitted after candida; the English translation of 19.8 should read ‘Athas’ not ‘Atha’. Minor typos in the commentary affect ‘Arctophylax’ (p. 111), ‘counterweigh’ (p. 242), and ‘acquainted’ (p. 423). On page 375, Darwall-Smith should be dated 1996 not 1991.

To my dismay, however, I have found misspelled Greek words (individual words or in quotations) and especially misplaced accents in several places (pp. 100, 118, 133, 144, 216, 248, 261, 324, 325, 334, 376, 379, 411, 530). In general, I think that these should have been better proofread.

In sum, this commentary offers a detailed overview of one of the most interesting books of Martial’s Epigrams and constitutes a welcome and much needed addition to the growing collection of scholarship on the poet from Spain.