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Wordle: Martial VI 



Pompullus has a finished work, Faustinus:
it will be read and his name will spread across the whole world.
‘Thus may the fickle race of the yellow-haired Germans prevail,
and anyone who does not love Roman (Ausonian) rule.’
However, the writings of Pompullus are held as ingenious.
But this is not enough for fame, believe me:
how many eloquent men feed the book worms and cockroaches,
and only cooks procure their skilled songs!

There is a certain something more, which gives generations to written works:
a book that will prevail ought to have genius.

LXI Meter: Elegiac Couplet

Rēm fāc|tām Pōm|pūl lŭs hă|bēt, Faū|stī nĕ: lĕ|gē tūr         

            Ēt nō|mēn tō|tō||spār gĕt ĭn|ōr bĕ sŭ|ūm.

‘Sīc lĕ vĕ| flā vō|rūm vă lĕ|āt gĕ nŭs|Ŭ sī|pō rūm,

            Quīs quĭs ĕt|Aū sŏ nĭ|ūm||nōn ă măt|īm pĕ rĭ|ŭm.’

Īn gĕ nĭ|ō să tă|mēn Pōm|pūl lī|scrīp tă fĕ|rūn tūr.

            Sēd fā|mǣ nōn|ēst||hōc, mĭ hĭ|crē dĕ, să|tīs:

Quām mūl|tī tĭ nĕ|ās pās|cūnt blāt|tās quĕ dĭ|sēr tī,

            Ēt rĕ dĭ|mūnt sō|lī||cār mĭ nă|dōc tă cŏ|cī!

Nēs cĭ ŏ|quīd plūs|ēst, quōd|dō nāt|sǣ cŭ lă|chār tīs:

            Vīc tū|rūs gĕ nĭ|ūm||dē bĕt hă|bē rĕ lĭ|bēr.




In this poem Martial defends himself from any comparison with poets of technical, but uninspired work, while at the same time providing commentary on what real poetry is. Martial recognizes the fact that the poetry of this Pompullus, and consequently those like him, is regarded as particularly brilliant during its own time, but then comments on the fact that this popular opinion is not the way to achieve lasting fame. One might be able to pick up on a trace of resentment on Martial's part, who knows that his poetry is better than what Pompullus is discharging. Pompullus lacks genius "inspiration" (Spisak 291), and thus will not last long in the annals of famous poetry. It is ironic that for all of his "ingenious" poetry, all we have left is a criticism on how bad his poetry was, if he was in fact a real person and not just a character representation of all writers like him.

The matter of copywriting and ownership of written works is mentioned in lines 1 and 2 and merits discussion. An author first had to compose and edit his work, which could then be circulated among his patrons and friends. The work could also be sold at a book store to the general public (Fitzgerald 139-141). While providing no money from sales, circulating books could keep Martial in business with his patrons and spread his fame far and wide. Martial seems to detest the fact that Pompullus' poetry will spread across the world.

In lines 3-4 Martial says that he would rather have the Germans, traditional enemies of the Romans, and all others who might be against Rome, conquer the land, than have Pompullus be a success. The reason for this is that Pompullus is supposedly ingeniosa "ingenious, clever" (Lewis and Short) and popular, but he is empty when it comes to true inspiration, genius (Spisak 291). This stems from the literary tradition that Martial pulls from and the conventions of poets in his times. Martial is fighting against a literary tradition starting with the Greeks, especially Callimachos and Pindar, who set the convention for valuing wisdom and craft or composition over innate talent or individual inspiration (Spisak 296). Martial was no stranger to defending his poetry, due to the scathing nature of his epigrams and the fact that his genre was condidered the lowest type of poetry. Even within epigram he was a rebel sometimes, fighting convention (Preston 351). Martial can see that poetry based solely on technique is not fated to last long.


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

Preston, Keith. "Martial and Formal Literary Criticism." Classical Philology 15 no.4 (1920): 340-352.

Spisak, Art L. "Martial 6.61: Callimachean Poetics Revalued." Transactions of the American Philological Association 124 (1994): 291-308.

Van Der Valk, H. L. M. "On the Edition of Books in Antiquity." Vigiliae Christianae 11 no. 1 (1957): 1-10.

Watson, Lindsay and Patricia, eds. Martial: Select Epigrams. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Watson, Lindsay and Patricia, eds. Martial: Select Epigrams. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

N. Jurek