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Martia'lis, M. Vale'rius

the epigrammatist. Whatever information we possess regarding the personal history of this writer is derived almost exclusively from his works; for although he often boasts of his own far-spread popularity, and although Aelius Verus was wont to term him " his Virgil," he is not spoken of by any contemporary author except the younger Pliny, nor by any of those who followed after him, except Spartianus, Lampridius, and perhaps Sidonius Apollinaris, until we reach the period of the grammarians, by whom he is frequently quoted. By collecting and comparing the incidental notices scattered through his pages, we are enabled to determine that he was a native of Bilbilis in Spain, that he was born upon the first of March, in the third year of Claudius, A. D. 43, that he canoe to Rome in the thirteenth year of Nero, A. D. 66, that after residing in the metropolis for a space of thirty-five years, he again repaired to the place of his birth, in the third year of Trajan, A. D. 100, and 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 the banks of the Salo, and to whose graces and mental charms he pays a warm tribute. His death, which cannot have taken place before A. D. 104, is mentioned by the younger Pliny, but we are unabie to fix the date of the epistle (3.20, al. 21) in which the event is recorded. His fame was extended and his bools were eagerly sought for, not only in the city, but also in Gaul, Germany, Britain, Getica, and the wild region of the north; he secured the special 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 if not unmarried, the highly-valued privileges accorded to those who were the fathers of three children (jus trium liberorum), together with the rank of tribunus and the rights of the equestrian order, distinctions which in his case were probably merely honorary, not implying the discharge of any particular duties, nor the possession of any considerable fortune. His circumstances, however, must have been at one time easy; 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. It is true that Pliny, in the letter to which we have referred above, states that he made Martial a pecuniary present to assist in defraying the expenses of his journey (prosecutus eram viatico secedentem), but when he adds that the gift was presented as an acknowledgment for a complimentary address, he gives no hint that the poverty of the bard was such as to render this aid an act of charity. The assertion that the father of Martial was named Fronto and his mother Flaccilla, rests upon a mistaken interpretation of the epigram 5.34; and another curious delusion at one time prevailed with regard to the name of Martial himself. In the biography of Alexander Severus (100.38) we find the twenty-ninth epigram of the fifth book quoted as " Martialis Coci Epigramma," and hence Joannes of Salisbury (Curial. Nugar. 7.12, 8.6, 13), Jacobus Magnus of Toledo (Sopholog. passim), and Vincentius of Beauvais (Specul. Doctr. 3.37), suppose Coquus to have been a cognomen of the poet, and designate him by that appellation. The numerous corruptions which everywhere abound in the text of the Augustan historians, and the fact that the word in question is altogether omitted in several MSS. and early editions, while we find etiam substituted for it in two of the Palatine codices, justify us in concluding either that coci was foisted in by the carelessness of a transcriber, or that the true reading is coce, i. e. quoque, which will remove every difficulty.


The extant works of Martial consist of an assemblage of short poems, all included under the general appellation Epigrammata, upwards of 1500 in number, divided into fourteen books. Those which form the two last books, usually distinguished respectively as Xenia and Apophoreta, amounting to 350, consist, with the exception of the introductions, entirely of distichs, 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 33 epigrams, forming a book apart from the rest, which, ever since the time of Gruter, has been commonly known as Liber de Spectaculis, because the contents relate entirely to the shows exhibited by Titus and Domitian, but there is no ancient authority for the title, and hence the most recent editor restores the proper and simple form Liber Epigrammaton. The " De Spectaculis" is altogether wanting in most of the best MSS., and of those which embrace it two only, beth derived from the same archetype, are older than the fifteenth century; but the most judicious critics are of opinion that the greater number of the pieces are genuine, although it is not unlikely that spurious matter may have found its way both into this and the other books, for we find a remonstrance (10.100) addressed to an unscrupulous pretender, who was attempting to palm his own progeny on the public under the cover of Martial's reputation.

Considerable praise is due to the industry displayed by Loyd and Dodwell in adjusting the chronology of Martial, but the recent labours of Clinton are much more satisfactory. It is clear from the introductory dedication and notices in prose and verse, that 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, A. D. 94. The second book could not have been written until after the commencement of the Dacian war (2.2), that is, not before A. D. 86, nor the sixth until after the triumph over the Dacians and Germans (A. D. 91); the seventh was written while the Sarmatian war, which began in A. D. 93, was still in progress, and reaches to the end of that year. The eighth book opens in January, A. D. 94, the ninth also refers to the same epoch, but may, as Clinton supposes, have been written in A. D. 95. The whole of these 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 (10.2), celebrates the arrival of Trajan at Rome, after his accession to the throne (10.6, 7, 34, 72). Now, since this event took place A. D. 99, and since the twenty-fourth epigram of this book was written in honour of the author's fifty-seventh birthday, we are thus supplied with the data requisite for fixing the epoch of his birth; and since at the close of the book (10.104) he had been thirty-four years at Rome, we can thence calculate the time when he left Spain. The eleventh book seems to have been published at Rome, early in A. D. 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 (12.3,18), and in this lie refers (12.5) to the two preceding hooks, published, as we have seen, in A. D. 99 and 100. Allowing, therefore, for the interval of repose, the twelfth book must be assigned to A. D. 104. It must be observed, however, that if the Parthenius, to whom book xi. is dedicated, and who is again addressed in book xii. (ep. 11), be the "Palatinus Parthenius," the chamberlain of Domitian (4.45, 5.6, 8.28; comp. Sueton. Domit. 16), and if the statement of Victor (Epit. 12), that this Parthenius was cruelly murdered by the soldiery (A. D. 97) soon after the elevation of Nerva, can be depended upon, it is evident that some pieces belonging to earlier years were included in the later books It is not necessary, however, to hold with Clinton, that Ep. 11.4 is in honour of the third consulship of Nerva (A. D. 97), since the words and the name Nerva are equally applicable to the third consulship of Trajan (A. D. 100). Books xiii. and xiv., the Xenia and Apophoreta, were written chiefly under Domitian (13.4. 14, 14.1. 179, 213), although the composition may have been spread over the holidays of many years.

It is well known that the word Epigram, 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, and in this sense the heterogeneous mass which constitutes the Greek anthology, and all the lighter effusions of Catullus, are called epigrams. In many of these, it is true, the sentiments are pithily worded, and a certain degree of emphasis is reserved for the conclusion; but Martial 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. It is impossible not to be amazed by the singular fertility of imagination, the prodigious flow of wit, and the delicate felicity of language everywhere developed in this extraordinary collection, 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 feel no respect for the character of the man. The inconceivable servility of adulation (e. g. 9.4, 5.8) with which he loads Domitian, proves that he was a courtier of the lowest class, and his name is crushed by a load of cold-blooded filth spread ostentatiously over the whole surface of his writings, too clearly denoting habitual impurity of thought, combined with habitual impurity of expression.


Three very early impressions of Martial have been described by bibliographers, all of them in 4to., all in Roman characters, and all without date and without name of place or of printer. One of these, by many considered as the Editio Princeps, is supposed by Dibdin (Bibl. Spencer. vol. iv. p. 532) to have been the work of Ulric Han. The first edition which bears a date, and which contests the honour of being the Princeps, is that which appeared at Ferrara, 4to. 1471 (Dibdin, Bibl. Spencer. vol. ii. p. 169), and which does not contain the "Liber de Spectaculis." It was followed by the edition of Vindelin de Spira, 4to. Venet., without date, but probably executed about 1472; by that of Sweynheym and Pannartz, fol. Rom. 1473; that of Joannes de Colonia, fol. Venet. 1475; and that of Philippus de Lavania, fol. Mediol. 1478, the two last being merely reprints from Spira. The text, which was gradually improved by the diligence of Calderinus, fol. Venet. 1474, 1475, 1480, &c., of Aldus, 8vo. Venet. 1501, and Junius, 8vo. Basil. 1559, first assumed a satisfactory form in the hands of Gruterus, 16mo. Francf. 1602, who boasted, not without reason, that he had introduced more than a thousand corrections, and was still further purified by Scriverius, Lug. Bat. 12mo. 1619, Amst. 12mo. 1621, 16mo. 1629, and by Raderus, fol. Mogunt. 1627, Colon. 1628. Schrevelius, in the 8vo Variorum of 1670, exhibited very judiciously the results of the toils of his predecessors, and no important improvements were made from that time until 1842, when Schneidewinn published a new recension (8vo. 2 vols. Grem. 1842 founded upon a most careful examination of a very large number of MSS. His prolegomena contain a full and highly valuable account of these and other codices, of the places where they are at present deposited, and of their relative value. No ancient author stands more in need of an ample and learned commentary, but none has yet appeared which will satisfy all the wants of the student. The most useful, upon the whole, is that which is attached to the edition of Lemaire, 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1825, but Schneidewinn has promised to publish the notes of Fr. Schmieder, the preceptor of C. O. Müller, of which he speaks in high praise, and expresses a hope that he may be able to add the remarks compiled by Böttiger, which passed after his death into the hands of Weichert.


A great number of translations from Martial will be found dispersed in the works of the English poets, and numerous selections have been given to the world from time to time, such as those by Thomas May, 8vo. Lond. 1629; by Fletcher, 8vo. Lond. 1656; by J. Hughes, in his Miscellanies, 8vo. Lond. 1737; by W. Hay, 12mo. Lond. 1754 ; by Wright, along with the distichs of Cato, 12mo. Lond. 1763; by Rogers, in his poems, 12mo. Lond. 1782; and finally a complete version of the whole by Elphinstone, 4to. Lond. 1782, a singular monument of dulness and folly. In French we have complete translations into verse, by Marolles, 4to. Paris, 1675, a translation into prose having been published previously (1655) by the same author; by Volland, 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1807; and by E. T. Simon, 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1819. Julius Scaliger rendered a considerable number of the epigrams into Greek, and these translations will be found placed under the original text in the edition of Lemaire.

Further reading

Plin. Ep. iii 20. al. 21 ; Spartian. Ael. Ver. 2; Lamprid. Alex. Sever. 38 ; Sidon. Apoll. Carm. 9.33; Martial, 1.1, 2, 3, 62, 101, 117, 2.92, 3.95, 4.10, 72, 5.13, 16, 23, 6.43, 61, 64, 82, 7.11, 17, 51, 88, 93, 8.3, 61, 9.84, 98, 10.24, 92, 94, 100, 103, 104, 11.3, 24, 12.21, 31, 13.3, 119. An account of the celebrated MS. of Martial preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, will be found in Dalyell, " Some account of an ancient MS. of Martial," &c., 8vo. Edin. 1812.)


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hide References (38 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (38):
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.100
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.103
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.104
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.24
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.92
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.94
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.24
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.21
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.31
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.119
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.101
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.117
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.2
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 1.62
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.92
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 3.95
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.10
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 4.72
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.13
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.16
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.23
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.43
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.61
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.64
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.82
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 7.11
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 7.17
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 7.51
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 7.88
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 7.93
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.3
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.61
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 9.84
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 9.98
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