A UNIVERSAL PORTRAIT OF ROMAN FOIBLES IN VERSE
Venice, Aldus et Andreae Soceri, December 1517.
8vo. ff. 190 (ii). Italic letter, anchor and dolphin device on title and verso of last, capital spaces with guide letters, C19 armorial bookplate of the Earl of Macclesfield on pastedown, Shirburn Castle blind stamp to head of first two leaves. A very good copy in mid-seventeenth century English calf, covers bordered with a double gilt fillet, spine double gilt ruled in compartments with fleur de lys at corners and central fleurons, title gilt in one compartment, raised bands, all edges speckled red.
Second Aldine edition, a reprint of Aldus’ edition of 1501, with the letter from Pliny the Younger to Cornelius Priscus on verso of title as its only prefatory matter. Martial, certainly a Spaniard and probably a Basque, spent his working life in Rome carefully observing his fellow men and recording them for us in these exquisite vignettes. The Epigrams (Martial’s most important work), are short poems, each expressing pointedly and concisely a single idea, and are generally in the form of a satire.
Martial describes with the most realistic detail the vices of his age. The fortune hunters, gluttons, drunkards, debauchers, hypocrites of various kinds and stingy patrons come to life in his verses, along with the occasional plea for a gift or a loan, thanks given to a faithful friend or honest critic, or a simple hello or farewell. Many offer vivid glimpses of the contemporary Roman scene, the hot sausage vendor on his round, or the tiresome guest who arrives too late for breakfast and too early for lunch.
Beneath the humour, there is the serious intention to expose the frailties of humanity, albeit with more amusement than indignation. Martial himself pleaded that his epigrams were far more serious than most other authors’ tragedies and he was probably right. Perhaps because of allegations of obscenity – but Martial did not invent, he described what he saw – the Epigrammata was relatively neglected in the first century of printing. A very good copy from the extraordinary library of the Earls of Macclesfield. Early editions of Martial are now scarce.
BM. STC. It. p.420. Renouard 81:11. Adams M 694. Brunet III 1490. Censimento 16 CNCE 37562; UCLA 161.