Sam Hayes

Department: Classics and Ancient History
Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

Martial the Book Poet: Contextu(r)alising the Flavian Poetry Book.

Martial’s 12 books of Epigrams, containing over 1100 individual poems of varying lengths, cover a hugely diverse array of topics. Life, death, dining, sex, invective, praise, poetic aesthetics, the poet’s own fame, and more are discussed side by side. This manic juxtaposition of topics and tones have caused scholars numerous headaches, and often leads Martial’s work to being anthologised by themes (take, for example, Lindsay & Patricia Watson’s Select Epigrams (2003, Cambridge)).

My research focuses on book 7 of the Epigrams (chosen for its enhanced literary self-awareness) and examines it as an individual literary work to unravel how the epigrammatist structured his poetic collections. My thesis is that rather than throwing a group of poems together to form his collection, Martial carefully constructed the placement of each epigram in the book to highlight specific themes and present each book not only as a part of a larger whole, but also as its own whole. Martial’s books are subdivided and have their own overarching themes, cycles, and narratives within them, and this interplay can be lost through anthologisation of his collections.

To this end I employ a sequential reading of the poems in book 7 to show how they inter-relate within this specific structure. Such an approach to Martial originally stems from German scholarship from the last 20 years, but still has not reached widespread consensus.

My study thus considers how Martial constructs book 7 of the epigrams, but also how a book of epigrams would have been received in first century Rome. In simple terms, what did it mean to read a book of epigrams? And how might modern readers read differently?

My project has only been made possible through a generous grant from the AHRC, for which I am exceptionally thankful.

Supervisory Team

Prof. Rebecca Langlands & Dr Sharon Marshall

Wider Research Interests

Roman Verse Satire.

Flavian Literature.

Greek & Latin Epigram.

Ancient literacy and the poet's interaction with their audience/readers.

Ancient book culture.

The poetics of the book.

Nugatory poetics.