Our speaker will be: Ortwin Knorr, Associate Professor of Classics
Title: Extreme Puppy Love in Martial 1.109
Martial’s humorous praise song on the cute little dog Issa in Epigram 1.109 is a favorite among dog lovers and Latin textbook authors alike. Scholars have treated it as an “elegant compliment to a patron” (Fitzgerald 2007:185; cf. Sullivan1991:20: “written in pursuit of patronage”).
Such readings, however, overlook several red flags that suggest a very different type of content. In the very first line, e.g., Martial boasts that his Issa is “naughtier than Catullus’ sparrow”, that is, naughtier than the famous poem by Catullus (c. 2), in which the poet observes his beloved playing sexually suggestive games with her pet sparrow. Moreover, Martial’s praise for Issa in the first three lines of the poem is couched in terms of a “subtle erotic ambiguity” (Citroni 334). And finally, the alleged patron, like other victims of Martial’s invective, bears a suspiciously generic Roman first name, Publius, so that it is impossible to identify him with anyone in particular.
A closer examination of Martial’s Issa epigram will show that the poem cleverly uses the themes and vocabulary of elegiac poetry to lampoon both Issa’s owner as a man who loves his puppy a bit too much and the reader as someone who similarly struggles to decide whether Issa is a dog or a sexually attractive girl.
We look forward to seeing you there.