All entries for May 2017

May 15, 2017

Martial’s Erotion in the epigraphic landscape

Critics have been deeply engaged with research into the interdependence of classical literature and verse inscriptions. Their connection and mutual influence is revealed by verbal coincidences (i.e. hexametric-dactylic clausolae, entire verses) or more general similarities in phraseology and content. The literature-epigraphy relationship is, however, anything but easy to determine and not always unidirectional (elite literature influencing metrical epigraphy). The genesis of CLE (carmina latina epigraphica) itself, without underestimating the crucial role of canonical literature as model for the metric-stylistic use, (Thévenaz, 2008: 170) reminds us that epigram, elegy and epikedion are “literary genres that, before influencing inscriptions, took inspiration, in many aspects, from those” (Hernández-Pérez, 2001:287). More specifically, the comparison between literary funerary epigrams with their inscribed counterparts gives compelling clues. The lexeme “epigram” first of all indicates an epigraphic object: a funerary, honorific, or votive inscription; its semantic extension indicates a new literary genre, occurring during the third century BC, with Callimachus, Posidippus and Asclepiades (Puelma, 1997: 190). Particularly noteworthy is the case of Martial’s obituary epigrams, which are ideal for illustrating to what extent and how the epigrammatist played a role in shaping the contemporary and later epigraphic landscape. Scholars generally over-emphasise the debt of Martial’s obituary production - where the epigraphic origin of the genre is disclosed - towards the epigraphic context, specifically with reference to some lexical and structural features. The research of correspondences in phraseology and content between Martial and inscriptions (loci similes), however, tends to discredit this claim. Therefore, through the use of a case study, that of Iulius Aptus (CLEHisp 82), Iwill explore an instance of direct quotation from Mart. 10.61 (Berger, 1959: 259-260; Cugusi, 2007: 178), a poem dedicated to the young slave Erotion.

L(ucio) Iulio Apto Gallio patronus

Itala me genuit tellus Hispania texit

lustris quinque fui sexta peremit hiemps

ignotus cunctis hospesque hac sede iacebam

omnia qui no[b]is hic dedit tumulum.

“To Lucius Iulius Aptus Gallus Patronus.

The Italic land gave me birth, Spain covered me.

I lived for twenty five years, the sixth winter snatched me away from life

I lie here unknown to everyone and a foreigner.

The one who offered to me everything, also gave me this burial.”

This elegiac couplet epitaph of the second century AD found at Mértola, in the ancient province of Lusitania (now Portugal), is mimetically structured as an autobiographical speech delivered by the dead freedman Iulius Aptus to recall the attention of the passer-by. The first distich reflects a literary dependence from two models: on the one hand, the first hexameter that illustrates Aptus’ birth-place (Itala tellus) and burial-place (Hispania) exploits a well-known epigraphic tόpos expressed in the canonic formula tellus x me genuit. The phrase clearly emulates the popular pseudo-epitaph of Vergil (Svet. - Don. vita Verg. 17, p. 9 Hardie = p. 81):

Mantua me genuit, Calabri rapuere, tenet nunc

Parthenope; cecini pascua, rura, duces.

Itala me genuit tellus, Hispania texit.

On the other hand, Iulius Aptus, recreating a common feature of epitaphs remembering the death of immaturi (young people), claims his age through a periphrasis intended to increase pathos in the reader: he died at 25 years old, (lustris quinque), extinguished on his sixth winter (sexta peremit hiems). A closer examination of the sentence, reveals a logical inconsistency: how is it possible for Aptus, who died at 25 years old, to have been snatched away from life in his sixth winter (sexta hiems)? The answer to this misleading logical gap lies in Martial 10.61.2:

Hic festinata requiescit Erotion umbra,

crimine quam fati sexta peremit hiems. (Mart. 10.61.1-2)

lustris quinque fui sexta peremit hiemps

Berger (1959: 265) noticed how the final pentametric clausola resembled Martial’s line on Erotion: it is probable, then, that the composer of the inscription, willing to imitate a literary formula, mnemonically adapted the line by Martial without considering the resulting logical inconsistency of the pentameter. This direct borrowing from a literary model shows a typical technique of the “epigraphic memory”, here responsible for a mistake at the level of logic. The epitaph of Iulius Aptus is relevant for two reasons: on the epigraphic side, it is crucial to have an insight on how epigraphists composed verse inscriptions, pointing out a functional use of Latin authors; from a literary perspective, it allows us to argue that Martial’s Epigrams circulated in Portugal at least during the second century AD.


Primary sources

Martial, Epigrams, ed. and trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press 1993).

Secondary sources

Berger, C. (1987) ‘Virgile et Martial dans un épigramme de Mértola’ in Epigraphica 49, pp. 264-265.

Cugusi, P. (2007) Per un nuovo Corpus dei Carmina Latina Epigraphica. Materiali e discussioni (Roma: Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei).

Cugusi, P. - Sblendorio, M. T. (2007) Studi sui carmi epigrafici. Carmina Latina Epigraphica Pannonica (Bologna: Pàtron Editore).

Hernández-Pérez, R. (2001) Poesía Latina Sepulchral de la Hispania Romana: estudio de los tόpicos y sus formulaciones (Valencia: Universitat de València).

Puelma, M. (1997) ‘Epigramma: osservazioni sulla storia di un termine greco-latino’ in Maia 49, pp. 189-213.

Thévenaz, O. (2001) ‘Flebilis lapis? Gli epigrammi funerari per Erotion in Marziale’ in

Materiali e discussioni per l'analisi dei testi classici 48, pp. 167-191.

Alessandra Tafaro is a prospective doctoral student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Her interest is in the interaction of Latin Literature with Roman epigraphy, particularly focusing on the Imperial Age. Her research focuses on the influence of Martial’s Epigrams upon the contemporary and later epigraphic context.

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