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Arethusa 35.3 (2002) 417-433

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Ovid, Martial, and Poetic Immortality:
Traces of Amores 1.15 in the Epigrams

Craig Williams

Martial was clearly well read in Ovid. His epigrams display various turns of phrase and metrical features reminiscent of his predecessor, whom he cites on a number of occasions as an important figure in Roman poetry, sometimes implying that Ovid is second only to Virgil or even the equivalent of the latter in light verse. 1 Here I wish to consider the ways in which one of Ovid's meditations on his own poetic activity, Amores 1.15, leaves various traces in Martial. Throughout, my goal is not so much to prove that Martial was consciously thinking of Amores 1.15 (or any other text for that matter) when he wrote a given epigram as it is to describe significant and interesting relationships between earlier and later texts 2 —we will see that the epigrammatist's use of this Ovidian text goes far beyond isolated linguistic [End Page 417] borrowings—and to consider how the exercise of reading Ovid through Martial might shed some light on the distinct but related stances toward their own poetry adopted by these two poets.

There is a noticeable tendency among ancient poets to place first-person meditations on their own poetic practice, generally accompanied by references to the immortality of their verse, at the beginning and end of a book or collection; among the most famous examples in Roman poetry are Horace's Odes 1.1, 2.20, and 3.30. 3 Ovid's Amores 1.15 places itself firmly in this tradition. 4 Here Ovid defends his choice to take up a career in poetry rather than pursuing the traditional paths of the military, law, and politics (Ovid Am. 1.15.1-12, 31-42):

Quid mihi, livor edax, ignavos obicis annos,
        ingeniique vocas carmen inertis opus;
non me more patrum, dum strenua sustinet aetas,
        praemia militiae pulverulenta sequi,
nec me verbosas leges ediscere nec me
        ingrato vocem prostituisse foro?
mortale est, quod quaeris, opus. mihi fama perennis
        quaeritur, in toto semper ut orbe canar.
vivet Maeonides, Tenedos dum stabit et Ide,
        dum rapidas Simois in mare volvet aquas;
vivet et Ascraeus, dum mustis uva tumebit,
        dum cadet incurva falce resecta Ceres.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ergo cum silices, cum dens patientis aratri
        depereant aevo, carmina morte carent: [End Page 418]
cedant carminibus reges regumque triumphi,
        cedat et auriferi ripa benigna Tagi.
vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
        pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua,
sustineamque coma metuentem frigora myrtum,
        atque a sollicito multus amante legar!
pascitur in vivis livor; post fata quiescit,
        cum suus ex merito quemque tuetur honos.
ergo etiam cum me supremus adederit ignis,
        vivam, parsque mei multa superstes erit.
Gnawing envy, why do you reproach me with lazy years and call my poetry the work of an idle mind? Why object that I do not, after ancestral fashion, pursue the dusty rewards of military service while still young and strong, or that I do not learn wordy laws by heart, or sell my voice in the ungrateful forum? What you seek is mortal; I am seeking eternal fame so that I may be sung forever all around the world. Homer will live as long as Tenedos and Ida are standing, as long as the Simois rolls its swift waters into the sea. Hesiod, too, will live as long as the grape swells with its juice, as long as grain falls to the ground, cut back by the curved sickle . . . Cliffs and the tooth of the enduring ploughshare will perish over time, but poetry is deathless. Let kings and the triumphs of kings yield to poetry, let the kindly banks of the gold-bearing Tagus yield to poetry. Let the common people admire ordinary things. To me let golden-haired Apollo serve goblets full of Castalian water; let me wear cold-fearing myrtle in my hair and be read widely by the anxious lover. Envy feeds on the living; after death it quiets down, when everyone receives the honor he...


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