Vincent Hunink  

review of:

Martial, Book XIII, The Xenia. Text with introduction and commentary by T.J. Leary. London, Duckworth, 2001. xiii, 209 pp. Pr. GBP 40,- (hardcover) ISBN 0 7156 3124 1

text published in: Mnemosyne 56, 2003, 495-7

In 1996 T.J. Leary published his edition with commentary of Martial's 14th book, the collection known as the Apophoreta. This widely acclaimed volume (also reviewed in Mnemosyne 51, 1998, 228-9) has now received a worthy sequel in Leary's edition of Martial's 13th book.

Martial's little book of epigrams, probably written in 83/4, and so one of his earliest works along with the Apophoreta, contains 127 small poems, all consisting of two lines only, with the exception of the first three poems. As in the Apophoreta, each epigram describes some form of Saturnalia gifts by means of a witty comment, a riddle, or a pun. Here too, obscenity is notably absent, except for some relatively innocent points in 34 and 63, which creates a rather different atmosphere in Martial's Saturnalia books than in the main corpus (books 1 to 12).

Whereas the Apophoreta involve all kinds of gifts, the Xenia (a title unique in Latin, referring to 'guest gifts') are limited to specimina of food and drink, a restriction which gives this collection a somewhat closer unity and structure. The epigrams are clearly ordered to reflect the general development of a large Roman meal. After some introductory poems, 1-60 deal with hors d'oeuvres (in order of appearance: cereals, vegetables, fruits, cheese, and varia including meat), followed by poems on various types of 'main course': fowl (61-78); sea-food (79-91); and game (92-100). Finally, the wines dealt with in 106-125 represent the comissatio that usually took place at the end of a festive Roman meal.

The exact function of the poems is not absolutely certain. They may have been used as actual accompaniments for the gifts themselves (the collection would then have served as a model book for Romans looking for suitable gifts or poems to send along with such gifts), but there is also the definite suggestion by Martial himself (13,3,5-6) that the poems are meant as replacement of actual gifts that a reader may have been too poor to give, much like the poet himself. But above all, the collection serves literary aims, as Leary convincingly argues (p.14-6), pointing to associations of catalogue poetry from epic, and suggesting that the poet and his audience must have appreciated this literary tour de force: writing interesting poetry on the basis of rather unpoetic subject matter.

Leary discusses these and other essential matters in his brief, but lucid and well-documented introduction (21 p.), followed by a Latin text, basically that of Shackleton Bailey in the Teubner edition. In some 160 pages of commentary, every single poem is discussed (mostly in 1 or 2 pages each), following the same pattern as in the edition of the Apophoreta: a helpful prose translation in English is followed by individual lemmata on elements of grammar, idiom, style, Realien, and literary topics. As in the case of the previous volume, the reader is excellently served. Dr.Leary discusses virtually all one may wish to know about these small texts, and he combines great accuracy and learning with a sharp sense of Martial's literary purposes. The volume is, as its predecessor, very much welcome, especially since little scholarly work has been done on these interesting (though admittedly not greatly impressive) poems.

Given the circumstance that the poems deal with food and drink, there are many notes on individual ingredients, dishes, and drinks, not all of which are generally known. This makes the volume a worthwhile and helpful guide not only for Latinists, but also for anyone interested in Roman food and everyday life in Imperial Rome. One can only hope that Dr. Leary will continue to study other books of Martial and publish similar editions. For the volumes published until now, classicists already owe him great thanks.

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