Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Classical Studies

First Advisor

James Ker


Martial, perhaps the best-known author of Latin epigram, has enjoyed a resurgence of scholarly attention over the past two decades, and much has been made of his self-professed debt to earlier Latin epigrammatists, especially Catullus. Less prevalent, however, has been discussion of how he relates to authors of Greek epigram, which may not be surprising given that Martial passes over the Greek epigrammatic tradition in nearly total silence. This dissertation seeks to explain the silence. Through close readings of specific poems by Martial, both in themselves and alongside epigrams by his Greek predecessors, I argue that he has fashioned an intentionally ambivalent attitude toward the Greek tradition. Martial contends with a fundamentally Roman literary condundrum – he must negotiate the inevitable and irreconcilable tension between acknowledging the importance of his Greek predecessors and asserting his own claim to superiority over them. But Martial, I suggest, relishes such tensions, depicting Greece and Greek epigram as inconsistent and even bipolar entities which he can then exploit as sources of humor or self-aggrandizement. I claim that Martial’s suppression of the Greeks is willful; it in part offers a playful challenge to his educated audience to hunt for allusions, and in part contributes to his invention of a purely Roman epigrammatic tradition over which he himself reigns. Martial’s engagement with the Greek tradition spans hundreds of years and several subgenres of Greek epigram, three of which I have examined more or less chronologically in this study. My four chapters offer an overview of Martial’s treatment of Greek language, art, and literature within the Epigrams, and discuss how he interacts with Greek inscribed, erotic, and skoptic epigram. I ultimately reveal how Martial imagines for his audience a bipolar Greek epigrammatic tradition, deftly balancing himself between the two poles: at times he respectfully embraces his participation in the rich and varied history of Greek epigram, and at times he irreverently attempts to invert, subvert, or erase this history altogether, all for the entertainment of his well-educated readers, for whom his engagement with the Greek tradition would no doubt have been hidden in plain sight.

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