Martial brought the centuries-old art of the epigram to new heights, perfecting the witty, barbed, quotable “zinger” while providing intimate glimpses of everyday life in Rome. Part vulgar gossip columnist, part ancient blogger, and always a keenly observant and skilled versifier, Martial was one of the most popular social commentators of his day during a volatile timethe first century c.e.in which the Roman Empire greatly expanded, Christianity was introduced, and emperors rose and fell, sometimes violently.
Martial was active for more than thirty years in the midst of the world’s most powerful military, political, and cultural force. A financially strapped survivor capable of a vast range of styles (fawning appeals to the wealthy, clever topical lists, straightforward reports of historical events, crude pornography), Martial moved across all social strata, rubbing elbows with the famous and infamous, and achieved nobility. His short poems record snapshot-like impressions in well-composed verse featuring every variation of human behavior witnessed first-hand in all settings imaginable, from the lowest dives to the court of the imperial palace. In the course of his life and work, Martial reinvented the style of the epigram, giving it a surprise ending, a “sting in its tail.” Nearly two thousand years after his death, modern wits, public speakers, politicians, and poets still follow Martial’s example of driving home a point in the last line to lend extra emphasis to what they say or write.
Califf, David J. A Guide to Latin Meter and Verse Composition. London: Anthem Press, 2002. Focuses on the different types of classical meter employed to achieve specific purposes, using examples from Latin literature to demonstrate how ancient writers used rhythm and nuance to achieve subtle effects.
Conley, Thomas M. Toward a Rhetoric of Insult. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Examines Martial’s epigrams, along with the work of many other writers, for their insulting qualities.
Fain, Gordon L. Writing Epigrams: The Art of Composition in Catullus, Callimachus, and Martial. Brussels: Editions Latomus, 2008. Examines how Martial and two other writers wrote epigrams.
Fitzgerald, William. Martial: The World of the Epigram. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Focuses on Martial’s body of work, demonstrating how the poet’s epigrams, addressed to an ancient audience, also speak to modern readers.
Garthwaite, John. “Ludimus Innocui: Interpreting Martial’s Imperial Epigrams.” In Writing Politics in Imperial Rome, edited by William J. Dominik, J. Garthwaite, and P. A. Roche. Boston: Brill, 2009. Examines the political aspects of Martial’s epigrams.
Howell, Peter. Martial. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2009. Contains biographical information on Martial and analysis of the epigrams.
Nauta, Ruurd R., Harm-Jan van Dam, and Johannes J. L. Smolenaars, eds. Flavian Poetry. Boston: Brill Academic, 2005. This collection of scholarly papers deals specifically with the literature produced during the late first century reign of the Flavian emperors, under whom Martial lived and worked.
Rimell, Victoria. Empire and the Ideology of Epigram. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. This study examines Martial’s poetic style and themes in the context of ancient Roman literature, culture, and history.
Wills, Garry. Martial’s “Epigrams”: A Selection. New York: Viking Adult, 2008. Presents Martial’s most memorable short poems, newly translated, including about 150 examples from across the full range of his work.