Nearly everything we know about Marcus Valerius Martialis (Eng: Martial) comes from his very generous autobiographical statements, although as with any author, conflating the author with the narrator leads to tenuous results.
Martial was born in Bilbilis (near the mod. Calatayud) in Hispania no later than 41 CE. It seems, from his frequent complaining about money matters, that he was not well off, but entered high society on account of his poetical talents. In 80, he composed a series of epigrams celebrating the opening of the much-anticipated Colosseum.
As a court poet, Martial was friends with many other high profile authors, including Juvenal, Pliny, and Silius Italicus, as well as dignitaries and important politicians. Despite this, he often writes of his poverty and continual desire to be accepted into higher social circles (even if only for a free dinner).
Martial left Rome a few times to escape city life, only to long for it again and return. He died sometime around 102 to 104.
Four works of Martial’s survive antiquity. His earliest work was the Liber de Spectaculis, epigrams composed in honor of the Colosseum opening, though as a set it was only published in 81 under Domitian.
In 84, he published (as gifts for friends during Saturnalia) two works of epigrams, the Xenia (“Hospitality”) and Apophoreta (“Take Aways”). All but the first couple of epigrams in these two works were the classic couplet.
His largest and most important work are the twelve books of Epigrams, which were written over a period of about fourteen years, covering the reigns of Domitian and Nerva into the first couple years of Trajan. These are especially valuable for containing many scenes of daily life and interaction as well as shedding light on the strained relationship poets had with their imperial patrons.
Latin: PHI Latin Texts
- Sullivan, John P. 2004. Martial: the Unexpected Classic: A Literary and Historical study. Cambridge University. Press.
- Fitzgerald, William. 2007. Martial: The World of the Epigram. University of Chicago Press.
- Spisak, Art L. 2007. Martial: A Social Guide. Duckworth.
- Howell, Peter. 2009. Martial. Ancients in Action. Bristol Classical Press.