Marcus Valerius Martialis
(c. 43-117 e.v.)

by T. Apiryon

Also known as Martial. Roman poet, satirist, and master of the epigram; contemporary of Apollonius of Tyana. One of the great influences on Crowley, the satyric poet.

Martial was born of Celtic stock in the little Spanish town of Bilbilis, and came to Rome at the age of 26 during the reign of the emperor Domitian. He survived in Rome by attaching himself to the households of wealthy patrons, who kept him around for his wit. During his life he wrote 15 books of poems, primarily epigrams. He is responsible for perfecting the form of the epigram, a short poem whose single point is driven home only at its conclusion.

The epigrams of Martial are known for their ribald, often scathing, wit. Martial never bothered with abstracts; his epigrams were based on real life as Martial saw it, and they reveal the Rome of Domitian in all its vice, folly, prudery, hypocrisy, tenderness and humor. They also provide fascinating portraits of all the diverse sorts of people who populated Rome, and the of the places where they lived and died. Martial was a remarkably non-judgmental observer who never seemed to think of how things “ought” to be. He found even the ugly aspects of his world full of interest and humor. The only subjects he seemed to find worthy of hostility were sham, pretense and trickery.

Note: the Lesbia of Martial in the example below is not the Lesbia of Catullus.

Lesbia se iurat gratis numquam esse fututam,
Verum est. Cum futui vult, numerare solet.

(Lesbia swears she was never laid for free.
Quite true, she always pays the fee.)

Difficilis facilis, iucundus acerbus es idem:
nec tecum possum vivere nec sine te.

(You are difficult and easy. you are pleasant and harsh;
I can’t live with you and I can’t live without you.)

Non mendax stupor est nec fingitur arte dolosa.
quisquis plus iusto non sapit, ille sapit.

(The Fool
His honest senselessness is not feigned by cunning art.
Whoso is foolish to excess, is wise.)

Iam numerat placido felix Antonius aevo
Quindecies actas Primus Olympiadas
Praeteritosque dies et tutos respicet annos
Nec metuit Lethes iam propioris aquas.
Nulla recordanti lux est ingrata gravisque;
Nulla fuit, cuius non meminisse velit.
Ampliat aetatis spatium sibi vir bonus: hoc est
Vivere bis, posse priore frui.

(At length, my friend (while time with still career
Wafts on his gentle wing this eighteenth year),
Sees his past days safe out of Fortune’s pow’r
Nor dreads approaching fate’s uncertain hour;
Reviews his life, and, in the strict survey,
Finds not one moment he could wish away,
Pleas’d with the series of each happy day.
Such, such a man extends his life’s short space,
And from the goal again renews the race:

For he lives twice who can at once employ
The present well, and e’en the past enjoy.
–Alexander Pope)


Copley, Frank O.; Latin Literature; from the Beginnings to the Close of the Second Century A.D., University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan 1969

Hadas, Moses; A History of Latin Literature, Columbia University Press, NY 1952

Humphries, Rolfe (trans); Selected Epigrams of Martial, Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington, 1963

Martial; Epigrams, edited and translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1993

Sullivan, J.P. and Peter Whigham, eds.; Epigrams of Martial Englished by Divers Hands, University of California Press, Berkeley 1987

Original Publication Date: 5/11/95

Originally published in Red Flame No. 2 – Mystery of Mystery: A Primer of Thelemic Ecclesiastical Gnosticism by Tau Apiryon and Helena; Berkeley, CA 1995 e.v.