You are here


One does not expect a eunuch to be honored in Martial's Epigrams. But that is the case with the figure of Earinus in Book 9: Domitian's cup bearer, honored but not named, on the occasion of reaching what would otherwise be considered the age of manhood (Henriksén), with a cycle of epigrams that both overtly elide and obliquely aestheticize a fact awkward to Martial's primary elite male readership: that this figure is defined by the lack of his phallus (9.11, 12(13), 13(12), 16, 17, and 36). To grant full subjectivity to the textual figure of Earinus, equal to Martial's other dedicatees, would threaten the sexual ideology upon which Martial's epigrams are based--namely, putting his reader and text metaphorically in a sexual relationship that celebrates the possession of a phallus (Williams). But, given that he must acknowledge the presence of a eunuch among his readers historical and imagined, Martial must also cater to the imagined interests of Earinus while still keeping him "in his place" as a textual object to be enjoyed by phallic readers. Even so, the figure of Earinus radically complicates Martial's sexual ideology, and is worth study in its own right, and not just as a foil to the figure of a phallic male reader.

In this paper, part of a larger project about the figure of Earinus in Book 9, I sketch out the theoretical framework within which I read Martial's compositional strategies for solving the problem of Earinus, and I present some examples of Martial's solution. Other scholars who have studied Latin poetical representations of eunuchs (Martial's figure of Earinus, his contemporary Statius' literary treatment of Earinus (Silvae3.4), or Catullus 63) have all focused on what these texts and their historical and cultural contexts might mean politically or psychoanalytically for their elite phallic male readers (Hoffmann, Vout 167-212, Pederzani, Newlands 88-118, Skinner, Nauta, Oliensis 111-126). However, with the exception of a few comments by Nauta, they do not look at what Martial's text might mean for a eunuch reader, or how Martial negotiates among two radically different readerships. My paper deals with textual and sexual ideological issues; for now, I set aside political implications.

In addition to reading the Earinus cycle itself to illustrate this central problem of Book 9 (viz., how Martial treats Earinus as both subject and object), I use selected epigrams elsewhere in Book 9 to argue that the figure of Earinus is, in fact, the theme that unifies the otherwise fragmented and variegated Book 9, and that Martial crafts his book in this way precisely to cater discreetly to Earinus and other eunuch readers--while still allowing phallic readers to enjoy Earinus as a textual object. The formal challenge comes from the nature of Martial's epigram books: the poet may be integrating a pre-existing libellus, or brief pamphlet, on the single subject of Earinus into the larger, book-length heterogeneous collection that we have as Book 9 (see White, Fowler). The epigrams that "bookend" book 9 can be taken as allusions to Earinus if one knows what to look for: epigram 9.1 plays on the names of the seasons in a way similar to the name-riddles that Martial composes on the name "Earinus" ("Springy") later in Book 9; and the final epigram (9.103) offers a catalogue of historical and mythological pueri delicati that ends the book with a celebration of Earinus' role as cupbearer. I then look at Martial's poems about Domitian's recent anti-castration edict (9.5 and 7) in light of these two different readerships--phallic readers and eunuch readers. I mean the title of this paper, therefore, in two ways: to read for Earinus in the sense of looking for his presence throughout the text, and, more importantly, to read for Earinus in the sense of reading Book 9 on his behalf.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy