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Spanish Vistas in Martial, Epigrams 10 and 12

Alison Keith

University of Toronto

This study explores Martial’s representation of Spain from the dual vantage point of (1) the imperial centre whence he projects his Spanish retirement in Epigrams 10, the book that draws the curtain down on both the Flavian dynasty and Martial’s poetic career at Rome, and (2) from the provincial periphery in Epigrams 12, the book that advertises a short collection of Spanish epigrams (12.1–5). Martial prefaces Epigrams 10 with a poem introducing it as a second edition, containing a few previously published epigrams newly “polished with a recent file” (10.2.3), but a greater number still of entirely fresh poems (10.2.4). In his description of the original collection as “too hurried earlier,” the poet implicitly justifies the reissued volume as a work of greater literary care (10.2.1–2). Yet a political motive for the reissue in 98, under Trajan, of a collection originally put into circulation in 96, under Domitian, is not far to seek. Martial hints at the recent regime change at the end of 10.2, where a personified Rome reflects on the immortality of her poet’s epigrams by contrast with the monuments of statesmen (10.2.9–12), and in 10.6, 7, and 72 he broaches the subject directly in muted, displaced, and disavowed panegyric. At the centre of the revised Book 10, moreover, he provides a “proem in the middle” that offers a key to the thematics of the collection in a statement of his philosophy of the happy life (10.47), which he elsewhere claims he intends to pursue in retirement in Spain, in poems that cluster around the margins of the book (10.13, 37, 44, 96, 103, 104). The revised collection of Epigrams 10 is unified by a literary and dynastic focus on closure, with the poet exploring the geographical and genealogical margins of Roman power as he prepares to abandon imperial metropolis for colonial periphery.

A year later, Martial writes to the satirist Juvenal from his retirement in Spain, where he claims to enjoy all that he had desired (12.18.7–26). Withdrawal to Spain has made of him a confirmed country-dweller (12.18.8; cf. 10.47.4), and Martial celebrates his idleness (12.18.10; cf. 10.47.3) as he finally enjoys the unbroken sleep (12.18.13–14; cf. 10.47.11) of retirement from the business of the capital (12.18.17; cf. 10.47.5), if not from literary pursuits on the margins of empire (cf. 12.68). Elsewhere in the book other perspectives on Spain and Rome emerge from his relocation to the provincial periphery, including complaints of his idleness there (Epist. ad Priscum), the long literary journey back to Rome (12.2, 5, 21), and his lack of recognition (12.63). This paper proposes the fruitfulness of the Spanish perspective, both prospective and retrospective, in Martial’s final two books of epigrams as he treats the close of his literary career and the end of Flavian dynastic power (10.72, 12.15) in tandem with the inauguration of the reign of the first Spanish-born emperor (12.8, 9, 15).

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Hybrid Epicenters: Peripheral Adaptation in Flavian Literature

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