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What is a Book of Epigrams? (Martial's Book 1)

What is a Book of Epigrams? (Martial's Book 1)

Chapter:
(p.68) Chapter Three What is a Book of Epigrams? (Martial's Book 1)
Source:
Martial
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226252568.003.0004

Book 1, Martial's masterpiece, questions the status of the book of epigrams both explicitly and implicitly. It deals with the relation between the exemplary past, preserved in lapidary epigrams, and the present, on which the epigram as an occasional form depends. Another strain that runs through the book is the theme of slavery, a ubiquitous and extremely rich theme in Martial's work. In Book 1, slavery plays an important role in Martial's exploration of the varieties and complexities of possession, a subject that is a source of wit throughout his work. Martial repels some potential interlopers at the entrance to the book; one kind of unwanted interloper is represented by the figure of Cato Uticensis, who introduces a succession of exemplary figures from the past. This chapter also examines the way in which the book itself, as a compound entity with a complex relation to its author, plays a role in and reflects the social relationships that characterize its world. Toward the end of the book, Martial celebrates a suicide of his own time: that of Festus.

Keywords:   Martial, epigrams, past, present, slavery, possession, Cato Uticensis, social relationships, suicide

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