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Dicitur et nostres cantare Britannia versus.

Eontion :


[The Right of Travulation is reserved.]

' ' * r . t

First Edition pritited by C. J. CLA F, 1880.
Reprinted 1887, 1895.




The Romanising of Gaul and Spain was followed among
Life of other results by a large influx into Rome from
Martial, those provinces, of literary talent, and, in some
cases, genius. Spain in particular during the latter
half of the first century after Christ, was represented
at Rome by a number of literary men of various
excellence. Of some of these the works remain, those
of others have perished. Some of them, like Martial's
friend Canius', sported in light effusions not intended
to live, others, such as Seneca, Lucan, Quintilian,
produced work which the world uses still. Some of
them were mere amateurs, or at least, imitators who
followed in the wake of other writers, while others
made themselves acknowledged as masters in the
branches of literature to which they devoted them-
selves. To the latter class belongs M. Valerius
Martialis. Of the early years of this poet's life, before
he came to Rome, we know next to nothing — only his
birth-place, and (probably) the names of his parents.
The birth-place was BUbilis^, a Roman colony in

^ I. 61. 9. 2 J, 01. 12.



HiBpania Tarraconensis, situated on a rocky height
overlooking the river Salo which wound round the
base of the hills^, and famous for the gokl found in its
neighbourhood, as well as for the manufacture of
steel \ Here lived Fronto and Flaccilla, the parents
of Martial^, not wealthy people, but rich enough to
give their son a good education, and cultivated
enough to give him that education at the risk of
keeping him poor all his life, rather than qualify him
by want of culture to compete with ill-conditioned
and uneducated money-getters of his time*. From
Bilbilis Martial at about the age of twenty-three went
to Rome, which he reached about five or six years
before the death of Nero^ How he lived during the
years between a.d. 63 and the accession of Titus, wo
can only conjecture. But probably he carried with
him fiom Spain letters of introduction to his great
countrymen of the house of Seneca, and by them was
introduced to the then flourishing house of the Pisos".
Under such patronage, as a young man of considerable
ability, well educated, blest with good taste and
engaging manners, perhaps even then a promising-
poet, he would doubtless find the means of living in
tolerable comfort, and, before the downfall of those
great houses in a.d. 65, would have gained a footing
in other influential families, and established himself as
the favoured client of more than one patron whose
bounty would partly support him, and whose patronage
would improve his credit. Brandt arguing from such
passages as ii. 30. 4^ where Caius an old friend from
whom Martial wishes to borrow, advises him to
practise as an advocate, assumes that he came to
Rome with the intention of becoming a lawyer. But
such passages hardly bear this construction, and there

3 X. 103. 2. 4 IV. 55. 11—15 ; xii. 18. 9. ^ y. 34.

^ IX. 75. ' At me littorulas atnUi docueie parentes.'

' X. 24. 4, 104. 9, 10. 8 IV. 80. » Comp. i. 18.


seems really to be no gi-oimd for supposing that
Martial ever followed any other calling than that of
literature^". From the year a.d. 86, five years after
the accession of Domitian, when Martial published
the first and second books of his epigrams, we begin
to have clear information about the poet's life, given
to us by himself. We find him then with an estab-
lished reputation" as the author of a number of short
poems and epigrams (some specimens of which we
possess in the Liher Spectaculorum), and so popular
^vith the public that jDublishers found it profitable to
collect, and keep in stock his juvenile pieces, of which
he himself had kept no record '^

His reputation as a poet had also introduced him
to the notice of the palace as early as the reign of
Titus. From this emperor he received the jus trium
liberorwni confirmed to him by Domitian ^^, as well as
the distinction of the trihunatus semestris, that is, a
military tribuneship resigned after six months service,
but entitling the holder to equestrian privileges for

Under Domitian Martial continued to enjoy the
patronage of the court, and was able to boast that he
had procured the honour of the Roman citizenship for
several provincials^^. Beyond this, however, and an
occasional invitation to the palace, this emperor appears
to have bestowed no substantial marks of his favour on
the poet, A petition for some sesterces was courteously
but firmly rejected, as was also a humble application for
leave to supply a town house and a country villa with

^*^ Brandt de Martialis poetae vita et scriptis, pp. 17 — 19.

^1 I. 1. ' Toto notus in orbes MartiaHs.' ^2 i_ 113^

^^ II. 91, 92; IX. 97. 5, 'tribuit quod Caesar uterque Jus
mihi natorum.'

^* m. 95. 9. ' Vidit me Roma tribunum, Et sedeo qua te
suscitat Oceanus.' Comp. Juv. vn. 88.

^** IMd. V. 11. ' Quot mihi Caesareo facti sunt munere cives.'


water from one of the aqueducts"'". But the emperor,
and the poet were both fully alive to the fact, that the
imperial approbation was worth money to a man who
knew how to make use of it. To enjoy the favour of
the court was to be well with the aristocracy, such
as it was, of the time, to whom the court set the
fashion in everything ; and many a rich upstart
would no doubt gladly lay a man so well vu under
an obligation by lending him money, which it was
well understood on both sides would never be re-
paid '^ More than this, the favour of the emperor
implied friendly relations with the court fi-eedmen,
the most influential and in many cases the wealthiest
men in Rome, to whom Martial paid assiduous court.
Out of such relations a man of the world could
doubtless make capital, and a Parthenian toga*^ skil-
fully handled would no doubt serve to stock the poet's
wardrobe without the necessity of incurring tailors'

But Martial by no means depended on sucli a
l)recarious source of income alone. He had other more
regular, and certain means of livelihood as well. There
can be little doubt that he received considerable
presents from those who desired to be celebrated in
his verses. Besides this, he earned the clients'
sjjortula^^. And his sportula would be more than the
minimum oi centum quadrantes, and received from more
than one patron. For many wealthy men would be
glad to reckon a popular poet among their clientele and
for the same reason would be glad to bestow on
him more than the usual dole. But the sportula was
not all that patrons bestowed on their clients. Occa-
sional presents (e. g. at the Saturnalia) and occasional
invitations to dinner formed a paiii of the client's
remuneration, as regularly expected as the sportula.

1« VI. 10 ; IX. 18. 17 Comp. ix. 102.

18 See VIII. 28 ; ix. 49. I'J in. 7.


The value of the presents and the frequency of the
invitations would vary according to the popularity of
the client, and Martial was neither likely to receive
the least valuable presents, nor to be reduced often to
the necessity of ordering his own dinner^". Taking,
then, all these things into consideration and even
assuming that he made nothing by the sale of his books
(see I, 2. 3), we can hardly believe that Martial's
poverty was so abject as his own statements would
lead us to suppose. His complaints of his poverty,
certainly, are incessant. He abuses the rich men of
Kome who allow poets to starve, while circus jockeys
and musicians roll in wealth. He advises parents to
make their sons auctioneers, musicians, anything rather
than bring them up to literary starvation^'. When he
leaves Rome for a season between the publication of
his second and third books he instructs his book to
say in reply to a supposed questioner, " Poeta exierat :
veniet cum citharoedus erit." He is never tired in
fact of making such complaints. Equally he is never
ashamed to ask for presents on the same score. Some-
times his requests are plaintive, sometimes impudent.
Sometimes he abuses his patrons for diminishing the
value of their presents year by year^^. Sometimes he
offers them the refusal of their own presents which he
is obliged to sell to buy necessaries^^. The joyful
strains in which he celebrates the gift of a toga
from Parthenius are checked on an instant at the end
of the epigram by the mournful recollection of his old
lacerna. He cannot wear the beautiful new toga
without a lacerna to match. When the same toga is
worn out he deplores its decease in pathetic tones

20 IX. 97. 10.

21 X. 74, 76 ; i. 76 ; vm. 56 ; v. 56 ; vi. 8.

22 VIII. 71. Comp. VIII. 33.

23 VII. 16. 'Aera domi non sunt; superest hoc, E^gule,
solum, Ut tua vendamus munera : numquid emis ?'

M. b


calculated to excite the compassion of the origin:il
donor, or of some other rich friend". It is unnecessary
to quote any more of these pleadings of poverty; but
poverty is a relative term, and in spite of all that the
poet says, we cannot help thinking that many a
literary man nowadays would be quite content with
MartiaFs income. It is easy enough for us at the
present day to understand how the wealth of jockeys
and musical mechanics might gall Martial and make
him feel poor by contrast (there is nothing old in that),
but their wealth did not make him actually any poorer.
He lived, it is true, for a considerable part of his life
up 'three pair back^V ^^^ ^^^ often out at elbows ^^
But the first was no great hardship to a Roman who
spent the greater part of the day out of doors, and the
latter was probably due to the fact that he lived in the
midst of a most expensive society, and that, probably,
much more as the equal, than as the retainer of his.
patrons "^ It may be true, as he says, that the patrons
of Domitian's time were mean compared with the
patrons of his earlier days^*^, but it is equally true
that he could keep slaves ^^, and a carriage and pair^",
and more probable than not, that he was able to buy a
small villa at Nomentum, as well as a house in the
city^^ On the whole, then, we are inclined to believe
that Martial was a poor man who contrived to get
through a good deal of money, and who mistook for
poverty, a capacity for spending more than he could get.
In his cenacula on the western slope of the
Quirinal he continued to live until he exchanged it for
a small house of his own in the same neighbourhood,
near the temple of Flora^^.

24 vm. 28 ; ix. 49. =5 i_ ny. 7^

26 II. 44 ; IV. 76 ; xn. 25, &c. ^

^ II. 68, and other similar epigrams seem to imply this.

28 XII. 36. •-" VIII. 67. 30 VIII, 61 ; xii. 24.

31 Brandt, p. 30 fol.

3a V. 22. 3, 4 ; ix. 18. 7, 8 ; x. 58. 9, 10.


It is impossible to say exactly at what time he
became possessed of this house. It is equally uncer-
tain when he became the owner of the Nonientanum to
which he refers so often, and which he abuses so freely.
But he probably had possessed the latter for some
time before he obtained the former. The Nomentane
villa was according to his own account a miserable
place. The house let in the rain until one of his
friends tiled it for him^^ The garden produced
nothing but some sour wine and some 'leaden apples^^'
It was so small that an ant could eat the produce of it
in one day; there was not room for a cucumber to grow
straight in it, and a snake could not lie at full length
in it. A field-mouse made worse havoc in it than the
Calydonian boar in its own country, and a swallow used
up all the corn-crop to make its nest^*. The only use
of it to him was to enable him to get away from the
din of the city and from the persecutions of bores^^
On the other hand the anxious desire he displays on
his leaving Rome to have this villa kept in order ^^, is
scarcely in harmony with the description given above,
unless we suppose him to have possessed two viUae,
which does not seem probable.

Both in his new house, as well as in his garret
lodging, he lived a life of rather monotonous routine,
varied only by visits to his own villa, and to his friends
at their various country and seaside residences ^^ On
one occasion we find him making a tour of some length
through the towns in the neighbourhood of the
Aemilian Road. At Rome the day was spent partly
in performing the officium of a client to his patrons,
attending their morning levee, accompanying them

■^^ VII. 36. 34 X. 94. 4. ' Nee furem plumbea mala timent.'

=^■5 XI. 18.

'^^ u. 38. ' Quid mihi reddat ager quaeris, Line, Nomen-
tanum ? Hoc mihi reddit ager : te, Line, non video.' xii. 57.
37 X. 92. 38 X. 58, &c.



througK the streets, oets' Club^*, or in one of the many porticoes, in
bathing, dining, drinking and sleeping. Whenever he
could find time, he wrote epigrams, but he complains
that his many occupations, especially the taedia togae,
the wearisome routine of attendance on his patrons,
interfered lamentably with the composition of poetry*".
He himself gives us (x. 70) a description of a single
day's occupation which may serve as a fair specimen of
his every-day life. It is pretty evident, however, that,
as his fame increased he neglected the duties of the
officium considerably.

After thirty-four years of life in Rome*' during
which he suffered much from ill health*^ he returned
soon after the accession of Trajan to Spain. There he
lived on an estate given to him by a Spanish lady Mar-
cella*^, sighing for the pleasures and excitements of
Rome**, as at Rome he had sighed for the cheap luxuries
and tranquil enjoyments of his native land*^

Notwithstanding the confident assertions of com-
mentators to the contrary, it seems more than
probable that Martial was never married. If he
was married, we may be sure that he never had
any children. For a man so tenderly fond of young
children as Martial was, would surely have mentioned
his own, had he had any. But he probably was
never married at all. His relations with the Spanish
lady Marcella, one of the wives bestowed upon
him, are discussed on xii. 31. It is true that in
several epigrams Martial speaks in the first person, as
a married man. But we must always bear in mind,
that poets and writers of fiction are not by any means
always speaking of themselves, when they speak in
the first person. An epigrammatist in particular has

^••' III. 20. 8 ; IV. 61. 3. 4o ^i. 24.

41 X. 103, 104 ; XII. 34. '«2 yj. 53, 70.

4^ XII. 81. *^ XII. pref. ^5 ^. 96.


several reasons for ascribing to himself actions which
belong to other people. By doing so, he avoids giving
offence, he gives life and reality to his story (a fact
well known to anecdote-mongers), he sometimes
facilitates his composition by getting rid of awkward
or impracticable names. These and similar considera-
tions apply to all epigi^ammatists. But in Martial's
case there is another and a special consideration to be
taken into account. He wrote epigrams to order on
lemmata furnished by his friends*^. These we may
easily imagine might be required to be written in the
first person. It would be quite unsafe, therefore, to
assume that Martial speaking in the first person is
speaking about himself when what he savs is out of
keeping with other statements, al?o made in the first
person. Now, though it is true that in several
passages in the first eleven books he speaks as a
married man, it is equally true that in other passages,
in the same books, he speaks as a bachelor and a
newly married man. We have the choice then of two
suppositions, either that in all these epigrams he is not
speaking of himself, in other words, that they afford
no evidence of his ever having been married, or that
he was married at least four times. The former seems
far the more probable. But besides this an almost
stronger argument in favour of his not having been
married is afforded by the general tone and feeling of
the epigrams themselves. A number of incidental
indications which it would be tedious to detail, com-
bine to produce on our minds the impression that the
author of these epigrams must have been a bachelor.
To instance one such indication, it is difficult to read
Martial's addresses to newly-married friends without
receiving the impression that the writer is a bachelor.
Taking all these things into consideration, then, we
shall be justified, if not in assuming that he w;is

4« XI. 42.


never married, at least in regarding it as an open

The date of his death is quite uncertain, but we
should probably place it not long after the publication
of the twelfth book in a. D. 102.

Martial's moral character has been roughly handled
The Character by almost all his critics. He has also
of Martial. suffered a good deal irora his apologists.
It is impossible to discuss the subject in detail here,
but it is necessary to say that he is commonly con-
demned as an abandoned profligate on evidence which
would not be taken in any law court. There is no
evidence to show that he participated in the grosser
vices of his time. There is considerable probability
that he did not. For had he done so, many of his
epigrams would have lost their point. There is no
evidence even that he was what we should call an
immoral man. Pliny who gives some account of him
gives no hint of the kind, and Martial evidently and
beyond a doubt speaking of himself says 'Lasciva est
nobis pagina, vita proba'*^' Now remembering what
was said above, it is obvious that we have no right
to apply to the poet himself all that he says in the
first person, when such application would be directly
at variance with a statement made by himself about
himself, and in the face of the sentence just quoted,
the loose epigrams of Martial give us no more right to
accuse him of loose morals than the amatory effusions
of a married poet would justify us in accusing him of
in6delity to his wife.

What Martial really stands convicted of on his
own showing, is of laughing at that which ought to
have roused in him shame and indignation, and of
making literary capital out of other men's vices.
This from a Christian point of view is bad enough,
and the same fault in a society as nearly heathen as

•i? I. 4. 8.


any nominally Christian society could be, cost Swift
preferment. Like Swift, Martial allowed his genius
fcometimes to turn mudlarker, and make dii-t-pies for
his own and others' amusement. And for this he
deserves» censure. But a man may claim, if he likes,
to be judged by the standard of his own time, and
indignation at vice for its own sake, or shame at a
neighbour's impurities, were not feelings that belonged
to jVIartial's time. A great man would have scorned
to do much that Martial stooped to do, but his
stooping to it under the circumstances does not
convict Iiim of the exceptional innate depravity of
which he is commonly accused ^^

But there is another indictment against Martial's
character, his fulsome flattery of Domitian. Had
Martial refused to flatter the emperor and the
emperor's favourites and informers, he would have
shown himself a great and good man. Equally by
condescending to flatter them, he does not show him-
self a very bad man. He only shows that he did not
rise above the average morality of his time. Prac-
tically everybody in Rome rendered homage to the
court, w^ho had any homage to render worth the
court's acceptance. Publicly to refuse to do homage
was as exceptional as it was dangerous. And Martial
perhaps had more excuse for his flattery than some
others. In the first place, the patronage of the court
w^as a necessity of life to him. In the second place,
the cii'cumstances of his life predisposed him to

^ It seems hardly necessary to point out that only a com-
paratively small proportion of Martial's epigrams are indecent.
Prof. Teuffel, indeed, says, § 317. 5, that the subjects of them
are derived mostly from the obscene side of real life. But it is
difficult to understand what he means by such a statement.
Out of about 1200 epigrams contained in books i — xn, more
than three-fourths are free from any indecency. If the thirteenth
and fourteenth books were included, the proportion would be
larger still.


magnify Domitian's merits and to overlook his faults.
Martial was a provincial and a literary man. and it was
as overseers of the government of the provinces, and as
patrons of literature, that the emperors appeared in the
most favourable light. Moreover Titus had bestowed
favours on Martial; and Domitian, although he did not
confer on the poet any very substantial marks of his
regard, showed an equally kind feeling towards him ;
and men, we know, are apt to judge of other men by
the treatment that they personally receive from them.
Further than this, Domitian himself was a strange
mixture. He was continually contradicting his own
vices by excellent legislation, which, so far as it went,
aff-rded those who were disposed to flatter him the
opportunity to found their flatteries on facts. We can
easily, then, imagine Martial taxed with flattering the
court, iinswering thus : "Flatter the emperor and his
court? of course T do; so does everybody; why, my
livelihood depends on my doing it. I may admire the
republican sentiments and uncompromising spirit of
some members of some old families, but I cannot live
upon my admiration. And, after all, I do not know
that I do admire them. Their conduct is an anachro-
nism, graceful in them, but out of date. Every one
knows that the world is much better off*, far more
comfortable under the Empire than it was under the
republic. And this particular emperor has his good
points. He has endeavoured to check vice by his
enactments and punishments, he has improved the
state of the streets, he has snubbed the \ipstarts. He
was dead against the informers*^ unt.l the obstinacy of
certain people obliged him to make use of them.
There is not so much to be said against him after all.
Personally I am naturally disposed to think well of
him. His brother was very kind to me ; he is always
courteous and gentlemanly : when he refuses a request,

■^^ See Appendix I.


he does so in such a pleasant manner that I cannot
resent it, and he thoroughly appreciates my ejdgrams.
Therefore I say, why should 1 not flatter him 1 'But
my flattery is so gross' 1 of course it is : How can it be
otherwise ? It would be of no use if it were not gross.
If a thing has to be done, it may as well be done
eflTectually, and the Romans have made such progress
in encomiastic phraseology that anything short of
highly seasoned flattery is no flattery at all. If I am
to flatter Domitian at all I must appeal to his weak-
nesses, his desire to be considered a military hero, a
second and a greater Hercules, and the like, and
flatter him to the top of his bent. I do not say that I
admire him or his courtiers for liking my flatteries,
but that is no business of mine. If they like them,
and it suits me to give them, why should they not
have them? If they were personally objectionable to
me, if their manners ofiended my taste, it would be a
diflferent matter. They are not offensive, and I like
them rather than not. I do not understand what
moral indignation means. Some people, I know,
profess it, but I doubt if they feel it. I fancy they
call it moral indignation because it is theii^ indignation.
I shall continue to flatter the emperor and the court
so long as it serves my purpose to do so, and I cannot
see who is worse off by my doing so." So Martial
might answer, and how many courtiers of all times,
Pagan or Christian, lay or clerical, could find fault
with his reply? He was simply no better, and no
worse than the average run of the people among whom
he lived. It was the fashion, and had been for some
years the fashion, to call the emperors divine. The
epithet was in the case of the better emperors
probably much more sincere, and in the case of the
worse emperors much less difficult to pronounce, than
we can now well realize. The little men reaped
benefit from the greatness of the great ones, and the

Online LibraryMartialSelect epigrams from Martial for English readers → online text (page 1 of 32)