Greetings, hello, and welcome! I’ve been wrestling with the idea of coming up with a blog for some time now and finally got down and did it. I just wanted to leave this post here to introduce myself and let you know my plans for this project.
Who I Am
While some of you have no doubt looked at my About page I’ll introduce myself here too. My name is Sam Hayes and I’m a Classicist (hi Sam…). I’m currently a PhD student at the University of Exeter working on the epigrammatist Martial. I look at book structure, book culture, and comic books (it makes sense, I promise). I’ve learned Latin since I was 11 years old and I’d like to have a go at doing something interesting with it (besides pointing out the difference between whose, whom, who, and who’s).
What This Blog is For
I’m going to use this space to test out my research ideas, talk about life as a PhD student in the South-West of England, and post up interesting things about the classical world. I’m not going to say too much about contemporary affairs unless they really matter to me, as I don’t think I have the knowledge or wisdom yet to drop weekly essays condemning the actions of this or that politician (though that may change dependent on how ticked off I get, or if I learn anything in grad school).
At present my plans are to give an idea of the direction my research is taking as well as looking in depth at some of my favourite poems by Martial. The literature of the Flavian period (69-96 AD) has been undergoing a scholarly revival over the past couple of decades, but Martial is still somewhat under-represented when compared with Statius.
There are a few reasons for this…
For a start, Statius wrote more (or, rather, more of Statius survived the test of time) and in a couple of different genres. His Silvae (literally ‘woods’ but with a metapoetic sense of ‘poetic stuff’) gives a sense of the social world of the upper classes by covering notable events amongst the aristocrats. His Thebaid and Achilleid (about the Seven Against Thebes and Achilles respectively, the latter is an unfinished work) are both epic poems – and epic poetry tends to get a better press (unless you’re Lucan, who gets a mixed review even today).
While both poets flourished under the emperor Domitian it’s Martial who most flamboyantly toadied up to him, and many of his Epigrams concern themselves with praising him with great gusto. This causes issues for the reception of a poet who praises one of Suetonius’ famous ‘bad’ emperors. Juvenal went so far as to call Domitian a “bald Nero” in his fourth Satire (read it – it’s great stuff). At any rate, whether Martial liked Domitian or not is irrelevant – he’s had a bad press. One of my favourite quotes is from Byron who quips in his Don Juan “and then what proper person can be partial | to all those nauseous epigrams of Martial.” It really doesn’t help that Martial wrote a lot (sc. a great whopping pile) of obscene epigrams. With this in mind you might begin to get an idea of what it means to try to rehabilitate Martial (which in turn begs the question of whether he should be rehabilitated at all).
So yes, while Martial has had a much better press in recent years (another favourite quotation of mine comes from Gilbert Highet’s Juvenal the Satirist in the 1950s, who names Martial “that nasty little man”) he still has a long way to go. I’d like to be a small part of this re-evaluation of a great and (dare I say it?) funny poet.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and that you find it entertaining too.