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Martial's Epigrams::Martial

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Martial's Epigrams Martial's keen curiosity and power of observation are manifested in his epigrams. The enduring literary interest of Martial's epigrams arises as much from their literary quality as from the colorful references to human life that they contain. Martial's epigrams bring to life the spectacle and brutality of daily life in imperial Rome, with which he was intimately connected.

From Martial, for example, we have a glimpse of living conditions in the city of Rome:

"I live in a little cell, with a window that won't even close,
In which Boreas himself would not want to live."
Book VIII, No. 14. 5–6.

As Jo-Ann Shelton has written, "fire was a constant threat in ancient cities because wood was a common building material and people often used open fires and oil lamps. However, some people may have deliberately set fire to their property in order to collect insurance money."<ref>Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 65.</ref> Martial makes this accusation in one of his epigrams:

"Tongilianus, you paid two hundred for your house;
An accident too common in this city destroyed it.
You collected ten times more. Doesn't it seem, I pray,
That you set fire to your own house, Tongilianus?"
Book III, No. 52

Martial also pours scorn on the doctors of his day:

"I felt a little ill and called Dr. Symmachus.
Well, you came, Symmachus, but you brought 100 medical students with you.
One hundred ice-cold hands poked and jabbed me.
I didn't have a fever, Symmachus, when I called you –but now I do.
Book V, No. 9

Martial's epigrams also refer to the extreme cruelty shown to slaves in Roman society. Below, he chides a man named Rufus for flogging his cook for a minor mistake:

"You say that the hare isn't cooked, and ask for the whip;
Rufus, you prefer to carve up your cook than your hare."
Book III, No. 94

Martial's epigrams are also characterized by their biting and often scathing sense of wit as well as for their lewdness; this has earned him a place in literary history as the original insult comic. Below is a sample of his more insulting work:

"You feign youth, Laetinus, with your dyed hair
So suddenly you are a raven, but just now you were a swan.
You do not deceive everyone. Proserpina knows you are grey-haired;
She will remove the mask from your head."
Book III, No. 43
"Rumor tells, Chiona, that you are a virgin,
and that nothing is purer than your fleshy delights.
Nevertheless, you do not bathe with the correct part covered:
if you have the decency, move your panties onto your face."
Book III, No. 87
"'You are a frank man', you are always telling me, Cerylus.
Anyone who speaks against you, Cerylus, is a frank man."
Book I, No. 67
"Eat lettuce and soft apples eat:
For you, Phoebus, have the harsh face of a defecating man."
Book III, No. 89

Or the following two examples (in translations by Mark Ynys-Mon):

Fabullus' wife Bassa frequently totes
A friend's baby, on which she loudly dotes.
Why does she take on this childcare duty?
It explains farts that are somewhat fruity.
Book IV, No. 87
With your giant nose and cock
I bet you can with ease
When you get excited
check the end for cheese.
Book VI, No. 36

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

Martial's Epigrams
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