Martial, select epigrams, edited by Lindsay and Patricia Watson (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003; pp. xi, 374; ISBN 0 521 55539 6
text published in Mnemosyne, 59,2006, 278-280
a result of research in the last decades, Martial seems to have been firmly
re-established as a proper 'classic' of Latin literature. New editions of his
whole work, notably the three volume set by Shackleton Bailey in the Loeb
series, detailed commentaries on roughly half of his fifteen books of epigrams
and important comprehensive studies, such as those by J.P. Sullivan (Martial,
the unexpected classic, Cambridge 1991) and N. Holzberg (Martial und das
antike Epigramm, Darmstadt 2002) have paved the way for a better
understanding of Martial as a poet in his own right. However, one of the less
practical aspects of his work is its sheer scope and volume: it comprises twelve
books of mixed epigrams, and three books of special epigrams, two of them
devoted to small gifts (Xenia and Apophoreta), one to the opening
games of the Colosseum (Liber de spectaculis) in 80 A.D. What has been
missing is a good and helpful anthology that enables readers to study some
essential texts of Martial within a reasonable amount of space and time.
and Patricia Watson have filled the gap by publishing an fine anthology of
eighty-six of Martial's epigrams. Printed in the familiar format of the
Cambridge Greek and Latin classics series (yet another testimony of Martial's
recanonization), the book expressly purposes to give a representative choice of
epigrams and to convey some of the editors' enthusiasm for Martial. The result
may be said to live up to such high expectations.
volume opens, as is customary, with a succinct introduction on Martial and his
work. There are sections on his life, the use of the first person, Martial's
audience, Martial and Domitian, the use of personal names, the structure and
style, the metres, the structure of individual books, and Martial and the wider
tradition of epigram. Thus, within no more than 36 pages, the reader is
initiated in the most important aspects of Martial's oeuvre. The editors do not
take extreme positions but show themselves aware of modern approaches, notably
concerning allegedly autobiographical details in the texts: on closer scrutiny
there is often little reason to feel sure about the texts as sources of direct
information about the poet's life. Thus, even some poems about the idyllic
rustic life in Spain (e.g. the famous 12,18) are presented with some justified
doubts and caveats: Martial seems to be more of a literator than he used
to thought of until quite recently.
poems (conveniently numbered 1 to 86, with the conventional references added in
brackets and listed in concordances) are grouped along thematical lines: Martial
and poetry, poet and patron, Martial and the city of Rome, women, sexual mores,
satirical epigrams, epideictic epigrams and funerary epigrams. As the editors
acknowledge beforehand (p.V), this detaches them from any deliberately
structured order of the original books, but given the aims of the book, this
seems both unavoidable and justified.
the commentary, each poem is introduced with a helpful summary of the argument
and the jokes, a brief general analysis on literary, intertextual and historical
aspects, and some bibliographical references for further reading. The notes
follow the usual format of the series, explaining difficult phrases, remarkable
vocabulary, Realien and historical information (e.g. about Roman literary
life), and occasionally some themes of wider relevance. The editors have
restricted academic discussions and parallel places to a minimum, thereby
keeping the notes short and easy to use.
in all, the book presents a fair and balanced view of Martial, without censuring
aspects that could in some way give offence to groups of readers. Formerly, it
used to be Martial's use of obscenity that deterred many readers (while also
attracting others), but nowadays the major stumbling blocks rather seem to be
his lavish praise and flattery of Domitian, his apparently hostile attitude to
women, and his occasional insipidness and lack of inspiration. Happily, the
anthology does not exclude any of such areas, and so shows much that is typical
of Martial in a short compass.
volume includes some of the highlights of Martial's works, such as 5.34, 10.4
(with the characteristic phrase hominem pagina nostra sapit), 10.47,
12.18, and 12.57, but also a number of less well known epigrams, including some
recasts of Catullus (3.12; 8.54 and others). Inevitably, any reader already
familiar with Martial is bound to miss some of his or her favourites.
Personally, I would have preferred to see some poems of the three monobiblia
(Xen.; Apoph.; and Spect.) included, books which are now
completely left out of account. Furthermore, the omission of Martial's sensitive
and literary refined poems on deceased slave boys (e.g. 1.88, 1.101, 4.42, and
6.52) seems to be a missed chance to show one of Martial's less facile sides.
In conclusion, however, the Martial anthology of Lindsay and Patricia Watson may be said to be more than welcome. It contains a sensible and balanced choice of epigrams, and in brief adds much material that will help students to understand these poems in their context. The volume will be of particular use in university colleges, but it can also be recommended for school libraries, while even a general readership does not seem to be excluded.