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This review is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

MARTIAL ARTS Peter Whigham, Letter to Juvenal: 101 epigrams from Martial, with an introduction by J. P. Sullivan (Anvil Press Poetry, Poetica 14) £8.95, £4.95 pb.

Nec tecum . . . nec sine te: thus Martial, and in a line so proverbial as to be presumed anonymous. And a line unusually apt as regards its author, taken so much for granted that he might as well have been anonymous, yet never (unlike, say, Catullus) in need of being 'rediscovered'. So long as someone was keeping him in funds, Martial appears to have been philosophical about the fluctuating fortunes of fame and fashion, and would probably have settled for the treatment he has received from posterity, neither quite with him nor without him. But Martial would not have been best pleased to find himself a sometime target for obloquy, for no better reason than that he reflected the sexual mores of his time. Having set up for a moralist, and perfected a verse form (the epigram) ideally suited to the treatment of manners and behaviour, Martial would surely have been profoundly puzzled to find himself damned since the eighteenth century by those seeking to protect the young and innocent from his baleful influence, and notorious for his disimproving qualities.

All sorts and conditions of men (but no women) have tried their hand at translating Martial; he was once especially popular with reverend gentlemen. But those who have learned most from him have served him best: Ben Jonson, John Wilmot, J. V. Cunningham. He exposes the jobbing hack for what he is. (Boswell records a most amusing conversation in which Garrick tells Dr Johnson that ...


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