Martiālis in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

M. Valerius, a writer of Latin epigrams, was born at Bilbilis in Spain, in the third year of Claudius, A.D. 43. He came to Rome in the thirteenth year of Nero, 66; and after residing in the metropolis thirty-five years, he returned to the place of his birth, in the third year of Trajan, 100. He lived there for upwards of three years at least, on the property of his wife, a lady named Marcella, whom he seems to have married after his return to Bilbilis. His death cannot have taken place before 104. His fame was extended, and his books were eagerly sought for not only in the city, but also in Gaul, Germany, and Britain; he secured the patronage of the emperors Titus and Domitian, obtained by his influence the freedom of the State for several of his friends, and received for himself, although apparently without family, the privileges accorded to those who were the fathers of three children (ius trium liberorum), together with the rank of tribune and the rights of the equestrian order. His circumstances appear to have been easy during his residence at Rome, for he had a mansion in the city, whose situation he describes, and a suburban villa near Nomentum, to which he frequently alludes with pride. The extant works of Martial consist of a collection of short poems, all included under the general appellation Epigrammata, upwards of 1500 in number, divided into fourteen books. Those which form the last two books, usually distinguished respectively as Xenia and Apophoreta, amounting to 350, consist of couplets, descriptive of a vast variety of small objects, chiefly articles of food or clothing, such as were usually sent as presents among friends during the Saturnalia and on other festive occasions. In addition to the above, nearly all the printed copies include thirty-three epigrams, forming a book apart from the rest, which has been commonly known as Liber de Spectaculis, because the contents relate to the shows exhibited by Titus and Domitian; but there is no ancient authority for the title. The different books were collected and published by the author, sometimes singly and sometimes several at one time. The Liber de Spectaculis and the first nine books of the regular series involve a great number of historical allusions, extending from the games of Titus (A.D. 80) down to the return of Domitian from the Sarmatian expedition, in January, 94. All these books were composed at Rome, except the Third, which was written during a tour in Gallia Togata. The Tenth Book was published twice: the first edition was given hastily to the world; the second, that which we now read (x. 2), celebrates the arrival of Trajan at Rome, after his accession to the throne (A.D. 99). The Eleventh Book seems to have been published at Rome, early in 100, and at the close of the year he returned to Bilbilis. After keeping silence for three years (xii. prooem.), the Twelfth Book was despatched from Bilbilis to Rome (xii. 3, 18), and must therefore be assigned to 104. Books xiii. and xiv., Xenia and Apophoreta, were written chiefly under Domitian, although the composition may have been spread over the holidays of many years. It is well known that the word epigram (ἐπίγραμμα), which originally denoted simply "an inscription," was, in process of time, applied to any brief metrical effusion, whatever the subject might be, or whatever the form under which it was presented. Martial, however, first placed the epigram upon the narrow basis which it now occupies, and from his time the term has been in a great measure restricted to denote a short poem, in which all the thoughts and expressions converge to one sharp point, which forms the termination of the piece. See Epigramma. Martial's epigrams are distinguished by singular fertility of imagination, prodigious flow of wit, and delicate felicity of language; and from no source do we derive more copious information on the national customs and social habits of the Romans during the first century of the Empire. But, however much we may admire the genius of the author, we can feel no respect for one whose fulsome servility towards the great is equalled only by the frightful obscenity of much that he has written-an obscenity scarcely conceivable in modern times. He himself seems to feel a certain shame for so pandering to the corrupt tastes of his rich and dissolute patrons, and in one epigram he tries to draw the line between his life and his writings. "My Muse is wanton, but my life is pure" (i. 4, 8); and in the prose dedication to the First Book he explains that he is only following out the traditions of this form of literature; but these are excuses which, to many minds, only heighten the enormity of his offence. The principal value of Martial's epigrams is in the insight they give us into the daily life of the times, since they abound in personal details, and are an indispensable contribution towards the Culturgeschichte of Ancient Rome. In modern literature they have been continually imitated and translated, but rarely equalled except now and then by the French. The MSS. fall into three "families," of which the typical representatives are a Paris Codex (T) of the ninth century, a Codex Palatinus (P) of the fifteenth century, and an Edinburgh Codex (E) of the tenth century. See the critical account in the editions of Schneidewin and Friedländer. The best texts are those of Schneidewin (Grimma, 1842), Friedländer, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1886), with a list of words; Gilbert (Leipzig, 1886). Friedländer's edition contains explanatory notes, but the best commentary on the subject- matter is his Sittengeschichte Roms, 3 vols (6th ed. Leipzig, 1888- 1890). Editions of selected epigrams with English notes are those of Paley and Stone (London, 1881); Sellar and Ramsay (Edinburgh, 1884); Stephenson (2d ed. London, 1888); and one (announced) by C. Knapp (N. Y. 1895). See Brandt, De Martialis Poetae Vita (Berlin, 1853); Van Stockum, De Martialis Vita et Scriptis (The Hague, 1884); and on his language, etc., Pankstadt, De Martiale Catulli Imitatore (Halle, 1876); Zingerle, Martials Ovidstudien (Innsbruck, 1877); and Stephani, De Martiale Verborum Novatore (Breslau, 1889).

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