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MARTIALIS, Marcus Valerius.

Epigrammata.

n.pl. n. pr. n.d. [Lyon, 1502?].

£7500

8vo, ff. 192. Roman and Italic letter, blank spaces with guide letters for initials. Light age yellowing, title and rest a little ink soiled, small marginal worm trail to first three and last four leaves. A good, crisp copy in elegant C19 polished calf, spine gilt stamped, a. e. g.; joints rubbed; Syston Park and Graf L. B. D. Pahlen [1] armorial bookplates on pastedown, later label to verso of e. p.

A first rare counterfeit of the 1501 Aldine edition, without the Greek passages and the colophon, at end, printed in Lyon. The typographical innovation of Aldo’s octavo editions of Latin and Greek classics and Italian poetry was immediately and widely imitated in Italy and beyond. 

Marcus Valerius Martialis (between 38 and 41 – between 102 and 104 AD) is considered the father of the modern epigram. Knowledge of his origins and early life are derived from his works. Originally from Bilbilis, a Roman colony in Spain, he moved to Rome in 64 and lived here for 34 years. His life in the capital was always overwhelmed by financial difficulties and concerned with the search for patrons. Nevertheless, he managed to own a home in the city, on the Quirinal Hill, and one in the countryside. He wrote a total of 1561 epigrams, most in Elegiac distiches, then in hendecasyllables and iambic metres, which were published during the reigns of Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In this poems he satirised city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances.

Books 1-12, published between 85 and 102, embrace a large range of topics: jokes among friends, birth or marriage parties, re-enactments of sad events, descriptions of Roman characters (spoilers, parasites, etc.) and celebratory verses. Two books (confusingly numbered 13 and 14), composed in 84 or 85, and appeared with the Greek titles “Xenia” and “Apophoreta”, consist almost entirely of mottoes accompanying gifts given to guests at banquets and particularly at the December festival of the Saturnalia [2] (usually made up of statuettes, candles, cloaks, books, brooches, etc.). Among the topics discussed is often the necessity of flattering the rich and the powerful. The adulation reaches its peak in the addresses to Emperor Domitian. Another important aspect of the epigrams is their obscenity. Martial wrote hundreds of epigrams referring to the sexual habits, vices or physical defects of Romans, such as Fileni, Galla or Lupercus. A theme extensively covered by Martial was that of homosexuality, widespread in Rome. Martial’s poems are inspired by daily life and present a gallery of grotesque portraits, humorous or tragic situations. Some of them show the poet’s feelings, dealing with representations of nature, nostalgia for the far motherland, affectionate friends’ addresses and epitaphs on dead children. Martial epigrams are a very valuable document of Imperial Rome and thanks to their realistic content and concise style have enjoyed great favour and imitation at all times, especially in the Renaissance. A manuscript containing the first ten books was discovered in the library of Montecassino by Boccaccio (1362-63).

Adams, M 690 (ed. 1502); Ahmanson-Murphy, 503:1105; Baudrier, VII, 10; BM STC Fr., 304 (ed. 1503); Brunet, III, 1489-90; Renouard 306:6 (1st issue); Shaw, The Lyons Counterfeit of Aldus’ Italic type, 123:7.

L2570