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Wordle: Martial VI 



You yourself know and allow your wife to be fucked
by a physician, Charidemus: you wish die without an attack of fever.

XXXI Meter: Elegiac Couplet

Ū xōr|ēm, Chă rĭ|dē mĕ, tŭ|ām scīs|īp sĕ sĭ|nīs quĕ
      Ā mĕ dĭ |cō fŭ tŭ|ī:||vīs sĭ nĕ|fēb rĕ mŏr|ī.



In this epigram, M. insults Charidemus for knowing and allowing his wife to have an affair with a physician (medicus). Evidently a weak man, Charidemus fears death by fever. To him the possibility of dying by fever (febris) supercedes moral principle. It represents M.’s philosophy on adultery, which is clearly negative. Laws of regal times (leges regiae) allow for the father of the household to kill his wife in the event that she has committed adultery (Rüpke (1992) 61). Aditionally, Julian Law (Lex Iulia), which was introduced by Augustus to put and end to adultery,  coincidentally seems to have encouraged  “respectable concubinage” as an institution (McGinn (1991) 338). Domitian reinstated Lex Julia just before book 6 (Howell (1995) 156). It is clear that the acceptability of adultery varies by class and law, but more importantly it seems to vary by gender. The reader cannot determine much about the addressee beyond the primary text, but it is quite possible that Charidemus, like his wife, is an adulterer. Charidemus is a fairly common addressee of M., and he is often referred to in poems that deal with sexual indignities. Take for example a later poem in the sixth book, VI.81, in which Charidemus’ mouth pollutes the public bath water:

Iratus tamquam populo, Charideme, lauaris:

     inguina sic toto subluis in solio.

nec caput hic uellem sic te, Charideme, lauare.

     Et caput ecce lauas: inguina malo laues.

You are enraged, as if you are being washed by the crowd, Charidemus:
so you wash your sexual organs in the entire bathtub.
Thus I wish not to wash my head with you, Charidemus.
And behold, you wash your head: I prefer you that wash your sexual organs.

Clearly Charidemus is a dirty man, and like most dirty men in Rome, M. has much about which to insult him. Charidemus could literally be dirty, or he could be made dirty by his naughty actions. Considering VI.31, it is entirely possible that he and his wife share a common value in that they are fair in their affairs. Judging the nature of the epigram, this seems plausible.

Further reading: McGinn (1991), Rüpke (1992), Howell (1995)

Howell, Peter (1995) Martial: The Epigrams, Book V. London

McGinn, Thomas A. (1991) "Concubinage and the Lex Julia on Adultery," Transactions of the American Philological Association. Baltimore

Rüpke, Jörg (1992) "You Shall Not Kill: Hierarchies of Norms in Ancient Rome." Numen

S. Campbell