Martial – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I won’t forgive the Roman poets for their free verse cop-out, but I can grant a special dispensation for Martial, the foul-mood epigrammatist with whom I feel a special connection. Somewhat of a latter-day Mark Twain (or, more accurately, Ambrose Bierce) he was especially good at carving out the ridiculous and deflating any egos that grew too big. (How does one say “oh, snap!” in Latin?) One of the miracles of the ancient world is that he died of natural causes.

It remains to ask, What were those qualities of nature and intellect which enable us to read his best work – even the great body of his work – with the freshest sense of pleasure in the present day? He had the keenest capacity for enjoyment, the keenest curiosity and power of observation. He had also a very just discernment. It is rare to find any one endowed with so quick a perception of the ridiculous who is so little of a caricaturist. He was himself singularly free from cant, pedantry or affectation of any kind. Though tolerant of most vices, he had a hearty scorn of hypocrisy. There are few better satirists of social and literary pretenders in ancient or modern times. Living in a very artificial age, he was quite natural, hating pomp and show, and desiring to secure in life only what really gave him pleasure. To live one’s life heartily from day to day without looking before or after, and to be one’s self without trying to be that for which nature did not intend him, is the sum of his philosophy. Further, while tolerant of much that is bad and base%u2014the characters of Crispinus and Regulus, for instance – he shows himself genuinely grateful for kindness and appreciative of excellence. He has no bitterness, malice or envy in his composition. He professes to avoid personalities in his satire – Ludimus innocui is the character he claims for it. Pliny, in the short tribute which he pays to him on hearing of his death, says, “He had as much good-nature as wit and pungency in his writings” (Ep. iii. 21).

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