Life in Rome::Martial


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Life in Rome The success of his countrymen may have been what motivated Martial to move to Rome, from Hispania, once he had completed his education. This move occurred in AD 64, in which Seneca the Younger and Lucan may have served as his first patrons.

Not much is known of the details of his life for the first twenty years or so after he came to Rome. He published some juvenile poems of which he thought very little in his later years, and he laughs at a foolish bookseller who would not allow them to die a natural death (I. 113). Martial had neither youthful passion nor youthful enthusiasm to precociously make him a poet. His faculty ripened with experience and with the knowledge of that social life which was both his theme and his inspiration; many of his best epigrams are among those written in his last years. From many answers which he makes to the remonstrances of friends—among others to those of Quintilian—it may be inferred that he was urged to practice at the bar, but that he preferred his own lazy Bohemian kind of life. He made many influential friends and patrons and secured the favor of both Titus and Domitian. From them he obtained various privileges, among others the semestris tribunatus, which conferred on him equestrian rank. Martial failed, however, in his application to Domitian for more substantial advantages, although he commemorates the glory of having been invited to dinner by him, and also the fact that he procured the privilege of citizenship for many persons on whose behalf he appealed to him.

The earliest of his extant works, known as Liber spectaculorum, was first published at the opening of the Colosseum in the reign of Titus. It relates to the theatrical performances given by him, but the book as it now stands was presented to the world in or about the first year of Domitian, i.e. about the year 81. The favour of the emperor procured him the countenance of some of the worst creatures at the imperial court—among them of the notorious Crispinus, and probably of Paris, the supposed author of Juvenal's exile, for whose monument Martial afterwards wrote a eulogistic epitaph. The two books, numbered by editors xiii. and xiv., and known by the names of Xenia and Apophoreta—inscriptions in two lines each for presents—were published at the Saturnalia of 84. In 86 he gave to the world the first two of the twelve books on which his reputation rests.

From that time till his return to Hispania in 98 he published a volume almost every year. The first nine books and the first edition of Book X. appeared in the reign of Domitian; Book XI. appeared at the end of 96, shortly after the accession of Nerva. A revised edition of book X., that which we now possess, appeared in 98, about the time of Trajan's entrance into Rome. The last book was written after three years' absence in Hispania, shortly before his death, which happened about the year 102 or 103.

These twelve books bring Martial's ordinary mode of life between the age of forty-five and sixty very fully before us. His regular home for thirty-five years was Rome. He lived at first up three flights of stairs, and his "garret" overlooked the laurels in front of the portico of Agrippa. He had a small villa and unproductive farm near Nomentum, in the Sabine territory, to which he occasionally retired from the boors and noises of the city (ii. 38, xii. 57). In his later years he had also a small house on the Quirinal, near the temple of Quirinus.

At the time when his third book was brought out he had retired for a short time to Cisalpine Gaul, in weariness, as he tells us, of his unprofitable attendance to the bigwigs of Rome. For a time he seems to have felt the charm of the new scenes which he visited, and in a later book (iv. 25) he contemplates the prospect of retiring to the neighbourhood of Aquileia and the Timavus. But the spell exercised over him by Rome and Roman society was too great; even the epigrams sent from Forum Corneli and the Aemilian Way ring much more of the Roman forum, and of the streets, baths, porticos and clubs of Rome, than of the places from which they are dated.

His final departure from Rome was motivated by a weariness of the burdens imposed on him by his social position, and apparently the difficulties of meeting the ordinary expenses of living in the metropolis (x. 96); and he looks forward to a return to the scenes familiar to his youth. The well-known epigram addressed to Juvenal (xii. I 8) shows that for a time his ideal was realized; but the more trustworthy evidence of the prose epistle prefixed to Book XII. proves and that he could not live happily away from the literary and social pleasures of Rome for long. The one consolation of his exile was a lady, Marcella, of whom he writes rather as if she were his patroness—and it seems to have been a necessity of his being to have always a patron or patroness—than his wife or mistress.

During his life at Rome, although he never rose to a position of real independence, and had always a hard struggle with poverty, he seems to have known everybody, especially every one of any eminence at the bar or in literature. In addition to Lucan and Quintilian, he numbered among his friends or more intimate acquaintances Silius Italicus, Juvenal, the younger Pliny; and there were many others of high position whose society and patronage he enjoyed. The silence which he and Statius, although authors writing at the same time, having common friends and treating often of the same subjects, maintain in regard to one another may be explained by mutual dislike or want of sympathy. Martial in many places shows an undisguised contempt for the artificial kind of epic on which Statius's reputation chiefly rests; and it seems quite natural that the respectable author of the Thebaid and the Silvae should feel little admiration for either the life or the works of the bohemian epigrammatist.

Martial sections
Intro  Early life  Life in Rome  Martial and his patrons  Martial's character  Martial's Epigrams  Reception  Notes  References  External links  

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