A PROSOPOGRAPHY TO MARTIAL’S EPIGRAMS

R. Moreno Soldevila, A. Marina Castillo, J. Fernández Valverde

De Gruyter (2019) h/b 706pp £118.00 (ISBN 9783110621358)

This splendid reference work deserves to be on the desk of every Martial-scholar and teacher. Even if it is the sad fate of prosopographies that they do not exactly make for cover-to-cover reading, the full and well-written treatment of the ca. 1,000 names and characters mentioned by Martial (including some characters not mentioned by name) with up-to-date scholarship makes this book an indispensable tool. I discuss some of the reasoning behind its methodology and principles of arrangement below.

Martial’s poems always have been mined for biographical, historical, and sociological data, even if they have seldom been taken at face-value as scholars have become increasingly aware of the poet’s aesthetic/literary ambitions. Produced by three experts on Martial and the socio-cultural context in which he operated, this book aims to (re-)unite historical and poetic concerns, which within the epigrams sometimes are so enmeshed as to become inextricable. In its attempts to disentangle these strands and to interpret Martial’s tactics in naming his characters (or not), the Prosopography follows the lead of Daniel Vallat’s Onomastique, culture et société dans les Épigrammes de Martial (Édition Latomus, 2008), which, alongside collections such as Joan Booth and Robert Maltby’s What’s in a Name? The Significance of Proper Names in Classical Latin Literature (CPW, 2006) (to which Vallat contributed) and Frédérique Biville and Daniel Vallat’s Onomastique et intertextualité dans la littérature latine (MOM Éditions, 2009), has reignited interest in the interactions between history, literature, and onomastics. This book provides a valuable service to classicists with literary and philological interests and ancient historians alike by listing relevant biographical data, attestations across Martial’s corpus, onomastic information (particularly useful given Martial’s penchant for puns and noms parlants), and relevant epigraphical sources. The lemmata are concise but pack a wealth of historical, literary, and philological detail.

Martial, however, writes poetry, not history (let alone history as we understand it), and so is not a straightforward source for the early Principate. Fictional (whether mythological or made-up) and historical (more or less) characters mingle freely in Martial’s world; consequently, the ‘fictional’ and the ‘real’ often shade into each other. That process is further complicated by the presence of multiple characters of the same name, some of them historically attested people, some of them known mythological figures, some of them invented by Martial, whether as freie Erfindung or as suspected masks for real people. As a result, fictional/mythical characters take on a ‘real’ presence and historical figures become fictionalised. Just as the Rome-centered genre of elegy can be seen as ‘pastoral in city clothes’ (in Paul Veyne’s memorable phrase), so Martial’s epigrams portray a Roman cityscape where the possible and impossible, criticism and praise, the high and the low are in constant interaction with each other. In that sense, Martial’s project is comparable to Virgil’s fictionalisation of ‘real’ people such as his fellow-poet Cornelius Gallus in the bucolic landscapes of Eclogues 6 and 10, where mythical figures such as the Muses interact with the historical protagonist. One might also compare the scholarly disagreement on the identity (or identities) of the Galli in Propertius 1: are they the same person, how realistic a reflection are they of one or more historical people by the name Gallus, and to what extent does Propertius fictionalise them? Most scholars assume this is Cornelius throughout, but Propertius’ presentation does not in every respect line up with historical ‘fact’.

This throws up a considerable challenge for the authors’ enterprise, as they realise (pp. 1-5). Separating out the historical from the fictional/mythical can be difficult, as can be the decision to differentiate or lump together one or more homonymous figures. In general, I find no reason to disagree with the judgement shown by the authors. I give one example of the difficulty of their task. The Prosopography rightly distinguishes between a ‘Gallus1’ (fictional, but appearing as a patron, moechus, cuckolded husband, and lover of his stepmother), ‘Gallus2’ (cross-referencing the historical Augustan soldier-elegist Cornelius), and ‘Gallus3’ (Martial’s patron Munatius Gallus). The descriptions of these three Galli, however one decides to group poems around them, show several points of overlap. Their proximity to each other and to other figures allows the reader to establish several structures within and between Martial’s epigram books, but also to relate these to previous literature. In other words, Martial’s distribution and deployment of such figures may allude to or riff on earlier poems within the corpus of epigrams and earlier literature, thus enabling the reader to enrich his or her interpretation of one or more epigrams, while simultaneously frustrating interpretation.

In poem 12.47, for instance, a certain Gallus and Lupercus appear as poets selling their wares and are criticised by one Classicus (uendunt carmina Gallus et Lupercus. / sanos, Classice, nunc nega poetas). The authors note the similarity of this poem to 14.194 on Lucan, one of series of epigrams on historical poets. Gallus2, then, seems like a logical choice (although the authors sensibly hedge their bets). Moreover, Munatius, who belongs with Gallus3, seems irrelevant to this epigram, since his job is to buy or sponsor poems, not to sell them, while the same reasoning could be applied to rule out Gallus1. The case for Gallus2 could be strengthened by pointing to his proximity to a Lupercus in Propertius 4.1.93-96; this Lupercus appears in the couplet preceding a Gallus who in view of historical fact and the pair of closural epigrams of Propertius’ first book (1.21-22) is most plausibly identified as Cornelius. If the Gallus and Lupercus in Propertius 4.1 are a species of mythicised figures from Roman history, this could provide some of the background to Martial 12.47. In this isolated case the Propertian intertext has been missed by the authors.

If we accept the parallel I suggested, however, things begin to shift and the differentiation of Martial’s three Galli becomes unstable. In Propertius book 1 Gallus is a threat to Propertius’ relationship with Cynthia, thus acting as a moechus infringing upon Propertius’ territory, but in poem 1.20 the poet seems to warn Gallus not to have his Hylas (metonymically, his poetic subject-matter: see my review of M.A.J. Heerink’s Echoing Hylas) taken away from him, i.e. to be cuckolded (by Propertius?). In other words, Propertius’ Gallus (if he is one and the same person) displays two types of behaviour associated with Martial’s Gallus1. The question which every reader is forced to confront is: to what extent can we keep Martial’s three Galli apart? Or should we distinguish between more than three Gallus-characters? There is no definitive answer and so readers will have to make up their own minds.

This example illustrates the difficulties of working on Martial’s onomastics: it is hard enough to keep the characters apart as they appear in the poems, but it is even more difficult to take into account their intra-, inter-, and extratextual forebears (respectively within Martial’s corpus, earlier literature, and in other types of media outside the realm of literature, such as epigraphic and numismatic evidence) because quite often Martial’s characters are not straightforward representations of reality or previous texts—not even Martial’s own poems. In that sense, Martial’s understanding of mimesis shows the same degree of (in)fidelity to historical and textual realities as many of his characters do in their relationships. Martial’s Rome, with all its patrons, poets, politicians, prostitutes, and other characters, must have been simultaneously supremely relatable and strikingly incoherent to a contemporary reader. Much of the humour in the epigrams is predicated precisely on that delicate balance. A historicising effort such as a prosopography may seem to detract from that humour, but fortunately the authors are very much alive to Martial’s jokes and misdirections. Most readers with a literary eye, I expect, will find the questions I raised above productive of meaning. The Prosopography makes it much easier to tease such details out of the epigrams and to put them to interpretative use.

A Prosopography to Martial’s Epigrams has been carefully produced and is rounded off with an admirably complete bibliography and four rich indices (nominum, rerum memorabilium, verborum Latinorum, and verborum Graecorum). The authors have done all readers of Martial a great service by providing state-of-the-art summaries of current scholarship on every figure in the poems and at-a-glance overviews of Martial’s representations of these characters throughout his oeuvre and beyond. This has been a Herculean task – one for which the authors are to be congratulated wholeheartedly.

Gary Vos

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