Martial


Biography of Martial

Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as Martial) (March 1, 40 AD – between 102 and 104 AD), was a Latin poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets. He is considered to be the creator of the modern epigram.

Knowledge of his origins and early life are derived almost entirely from his works, which can be more or less dated according to the well-known events to which they refer. In Book X of his Epigrams, composed between 95 and 98, he mentions celebrating his fifty-seventh birthday; hence he was born on March 1 (x. 24) 38, 39, 40 or 41 AD, under Caligula or Claudius. His place of birth was Augusta Bilbilis (now Calatayud) in Hispania Tarraconensis. His parents, Fronto and Flaccilla, appear to have died in his youth.

His name seems to imply that he was born a Roman citizen, but he speaks of himself as "sprung from the Celts and Iberians, and a countryman of the Tagus;" and, in contrasting his own masculine appearance with that of an effeminate Greek, he draws particular attention to "his stiff Hispanian hair" (x. 65, 7).

His home was evidently one of rude comfort and plenty, sufficiently in the country to afford him the amusements of hunting and fishing, which he often recalls with keen pleasure, and sufficiently near the town to afford him the companionship of many comrades, the few survivors of whom he looks forward to meeting again after his thirty-four years' absence (x. 104). The memories of this old home, and of other spots, the rough names and local associations which he delights to introduce into his verse, attest to the simple pleasures of his early life and were among the influences which kept his spirit alive in the stultifying routines of upper-crust social life in Rome.

He was educated in Hispania, a country which in the 1st century produced several notable Latin writers, including Seneca the Elder and Seneca the Younger, Lucan and Quintilian, and Martial's contemporaries Licinianus of Bilbilis, Decianus of Emerita and Canius of Gades. Martial professes to be of the school of Catullus, Pedo, and Marsus, and he admits his inferiority only to the first. The epigram bears to this day the form impressed upon it by his unrivalled skill.

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