BMCR 2010.06.15

Marco Valerio Marziale: temi e forme degli epigrammi

Pietro Rapezzi, Marco Valerio Marziale: temi e forme degli epigrammi. Arezzo: Edizioni Helicon, 2008. 144. ISBN 9788889893821 €15.00 (pb).

This splendidly produced libellus presents a long-term enthusiast’s spruce versions of forty-five assorted epigrams from Martial.1 The understandably popular exercise of Latin-Italian translation must have compelling dynamics all its own, as when dormant choices open up for ‘sleeping’ as in:

‘quid concupiscam quaeris ergo? dormire. ||’
‘Mi domandi | cosa dunque desidero? Dormire. ||’


‘taedio fessis | dormire quotiens libuit, imus ad uillam. ||’
‘Quando più non reggo | allo stress, mi ritiro un po’ in campagna. ||’

(10.74/p.119 vs 12.47/p.133). Others can pronounce on the quality, but the hendecasyllables and septenarii are always metrically neat, melding convincing speech patterns with strict rhyme schemes and upbeat rhythms: I enjoyed going along for the read.

The first half of the book prefixes a brisk ‘Profile’ of Martial, ‘man and poet’, which turns out to introduce the repertoire of approaches to the epigram in terms of ethos, transgression, pace, structure, punchline, etc. (pp. 7-15; 15-20), to the essay cued in the book’s sub-title: you would be right to anticipate that discussion will work back and forth across that ‘and’, between ‘Themes’ and ‘Forms’, as associated antitheses line up for decoction into mutually reinforcing polarities-that-are-not- not -at-once-also-equivalents. Embracing the critical-benevolent style out to lavish affection upon the author, R. fingers then clears Martial of unresolved internal fraction or incoherence, on a theme by theme rundown: rus; living for real; time-expired carpe diem; friends; client’s corner; cena; et cett. (pp. 23-43). The scandals are reserved for special balm: scommatic filth; epitaphic sentimentality; emperor paean (pp. 43-63). Ravines ‘and’ bridges: R roves surefooted through the whole corpus to deliver a pleasant appraisal.2

A ‘bio-bibliographic’ note is the filling between essay and performance, briefly sketching the life between Bilbao, Rome, and back again before following up the clunky footnoting that has accompanied the disquisition with a misplaced flourish of ‘scholarly’ apparatus: paradosis; editions; translations into Italian; studies (down to 2000) (pp. 67-73). Mario Citroni would be embarrassed to find his work fêted as fervently as it is throughout.


1. 1.15, 43, 47, 49, 59, 64; 2.15, 27, 33; 3.7, 37, 38, 44, 45, 60, 98; 4.5, 55, 64; 5.34, 37, 44, 76; 6.11, 59, 74, 92; 8.69; 9.46, 50, 52, 69; 10.4, 8, 74, 76, 82, 91; 11.56, 77, 91; 12.13, 28/29, 32, 57. Each version has its slogan title. Sparse notes assist, chiefly with proper names.

2. Thus, e.g.: Lessing / Croce; lyric / satiric; slice of life mimesis / teleological climax; impro / literary-generic; metropolitan habitat / claustrophobia; resentful envy / slick adulation; savage / saccharine… .