David Durgin & Marcus Valerius Martialis
 
The Good Man

Making It So

Couplets

Compound impotence

Backside Philosophy

A Murderous Hand

David Durgin 's interest in Martial dates back to his studies in Latin literature at Boston College, where he earned an M.A. in Classics. Currently he is copy chief for Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. He has held positions as a foreign language editor, a business editor, a mason's helper, and a public school English teacher.

Marcus Valerius Martialis established the epigram as an enduring poetic form in Western literature. Although he was by no means the first poet to write epigrams—Catullus predates him—Martial wrote exclusively and prolifically in the form. His work covers a great range of subjects and tones, but his characteristic themes are the flaws, vices, and hypocricies of his fellow Romans, which he nails again and again in compressed, trenchant conclusions.

Martial was born in 40 A.D. at Bibilis, a Roman colony in Spain. He came to Rome as a well-educated young man in 63 or 64 A.D. His first book was called Liber Spectaculorum, a collection of poems that celebrated the opening of the Colosseum in 80 A.D. Next came a series of couplets to accompany presents sent to friends. His first book of epigrams came out in 85 or 86; it was an instant success. He continued to publish a book of epigrams approximately once a year until the eleventh in 96.

The emperors Titus and Domitian both regarded him favorably and helped support him, not with money but with rank and privilege. His patrons included Pliny the Younger, who mentions Martial in one of his letters.

Martial returned to Spain in 97 or 98 A.D. and settled on an estate a Spanish lady named Marcella had given him. He died there within a year or two after the publication of his twelfth book of epigrams.

Many later writers have imitated and translated Martial—especially the Elizabethan poets—and in recent years his work has enjoyed a boom in new scholarship. Despite his penchant for obscenity and his servile flattery of Domitian, his poetic skill, keen observation, and riotous humor will always attract new readers.