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The World of the Epigram


The World of the Epigram

In this age of the sound bite, what sort of author could be more relevant than a master of the epigram? Martial, the most influential epigrammatist of classical antiquity, was just such a virtuoso of the form, but despite his pertinence to today’s culture, his work has been largely neglected in contemporary scholarship. Arguing that Martial is a major author who deserves more sustained attention, William Fitzgerald provides an insightful tour of his works, shedding new and much-needed light on the Roman poet’s world—and how it might speak to our own.

Writing in the late first century CE—when the epigram was firmly embedded in the social life of the Roman elite—Martial published his poems in a series of books that were widely read and enjoyed. Exploring what it means to read such a collection of epigrams, Fitzgerald examines the paradoxical relationship between the self-enclosed epigram and the book of poems that is more than the sum of its parts. And he goes on to show how Martial, by imagining these books being displayed in shops and shipped across the empire to admiring readers, prophetically behaved like a modern author. Chock-full of epigrams itself—in both Latin and English versions—Fitzgerald’s study will delight classicists, literary scholars, and anyone who appreciates an ingenious witticism.

248 pages | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2007

Ancient Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory



"Despite the wealth of intriguingly enigmatic material to ponder in Martial’s corpus, until quite recently it has been the subject of only a modest amount of critical work. This volume is a welcome addition to the literature. Fitzgerald and the University of Chicago Press are to be congratulated for this title, which is now the standard English-language general introduction to Rome’s imperial epigrammatist par excellence. Beautifully produced and edited, and including a valuable guide (in the works cited) to scholarship in the field . . . the book is a joy to read. . . . Essential."


"Far from being a poet of mere ’inscriptions’ or epigrams, Fitzgerald persuasively points to the ways in which present-day readers can discover a world in [Martial’s] verse."

Sean Nalty | Virginia Quarterly Review

"[Fitzgerald] gives us what Martial may have meant, or intended in the Rome in which he lived. This book is well worth the time to read to a wide range of readers."

Bruce Swann | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"[Fitzgerald’s] monograph is unique for the way in which it balances close readings of individual poems with larger analyses of Martial’s semiotics of structure and for its ability to see the interweaving of the poems and their ’world’ as a dynamic two-way process that brings together historical, socio-political, and cultural questions. . . . The social and historical reality of the city is convincingly presented as an analogue to the poetry."  

Ilaria Marchesi | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Table of Contents


1 Martial and the World of the Epigram

Excursus  Epigram at Rome

2 Strategies of the Spectacle
3 What is a Book of Epigrams? (Martial’s Book 1)
4 Juxtaposition: The Attraction of Opposites
5 The Society of the Book
6 Banalization and Redemption: Martial’s Catullus and Ovid; Burmeister’s Martial

Works Cited


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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