Header image  
line decor
line decor

Wordle: Martial VI 



While an ant is wandering in the shade of Phaethon,

  A drop of amber enveloped the delicate creature.

Thus she who had been recently disdained with life remaining,

  Has now been made dear by her own burial.

XV. meter: Elegiac Couplet

Dūm Phă ĕ|thōn tē|ā fōr|mī că vă|gā tŭr ĭn|ūmbrā,

  Īn plĭ cŭ|īt tĕ nŭ|ēm||sū cĭ nă|gūt tă fĕ|rām.

Sīc mŏ dŏ|quǣ fŭ ĕ|rāt vī|tā cōn|tēm ptă mă|nēn tĕ,

  Fū nĕ rĭ|būs fāc|tā ͜e̸st||nūnc prĕ tĭ|ō să sŭ|īs.



This short poem toward the beginning of Book 6 takes on a form commonly used by Martial: the panegyric, or eulogy poem. The poem tends to elevate the current state of the ant encased in amber by describing it as not significant while alive and dwelling among the animal kingdom, but now it become so precious because of the way in which it died.

The story of Phaethon relates quite well to the situation of the ant, for "the ant wanders into the shade, whereas Phaethon drives headlong with the chariot of the sun" (Fitzgerald, William. Martial: The World of the Epigram. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2007, 119.). Both stories portray the character as moving toward something desirable. For Phaethon, it is the power of controlling his father's chariot, and for the ant, it is seeking a place out of the blazing sun to simply cool down. However, their goals are quickly modified. Phaethon cannot control the chariot, and it quickly falls to the earth. Zeus destroyes the chariot to extinguish earth's fiery pain, and causes Phaethon to die. Zeus himself is subject to fate, but can also involve himself in the lives of mortals. He can be portrayed as the resin, or amber, that engulfs the minute ant. The resin, part of a tree, is also subject to outside forces which determine its fate, but it can also play a part in ending the life of another creature.

Juxtaposition is used frequently in this genre of poetry to emphasize the grandness of an individual or creature's state in contrast to what it was during their lifetime. In the case of of an ant, its main task in life is to carry what it can in its mouth or on its back and bring it back to the colony, unappreciated and a creature of little worth. When the drop of amber, a small amount compared to the full capability of a mighty tree, falls and engulfs the tiny ant, nature's process seems to come to a halt. The features which the ant employs to perform its daily tasks can now be viewed, and righty so, appreciated. Amber can be very clear in the form it takes over a creature, so every minute detail can be viewed and studied. For example, when studying a wasp encased in amber, scientists found not only a wasp, but a new species of wasps. This discovery came about by the close study of the creature encased in the amber, specifically its "color, body structure, and size" (Engel, Michael S., and Grimaldi, David A.  “A Diminutive Pelecinid Wasp in Cretaceous Amber from New Jersey.” Northeastern Naturalist . 13.2 (2006): 291-297.).

Only by dying could the wasp be studied in such depth, and through death an insignificant animal, "disdained with life remaining," (6.15) such as the ant can become precious in its post-mortem state.

Engel, Michael S., and Grimaldi, David A.  “A Diminutive Pelecinid Wasp in Cretaceous Amber from NewJersey.” Northeastern Naturalist . 13.2 (2006): 291-297.

Fitzgerald, William. Martial: The World of the Epigram. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2007, 119.

K. Young