Abstract – Put a Cork in It: Martial and the Metaphor of Wine for Writing

For Hellenistic poets, the symposium was a perfect environment for the spontaneous, verbal composition of uninhibited poetry that otherwise would not have been proper for them to write. This association of wine and writing allowed the development of a metaphor in which the drinking of wine is equivalent to writing within a genre of epigram that can be described as “uninhibited”, including both invective and love poetry. Thus we find a spectrum of wine-drinkers like Asclepiades (AP 12.50), mixed wine-drinkers like Posidippus (AP 12.126), and water-drinkers like Callimachus (12.51). The content of wine-inspired poetry is generally not socially acceptable anywhere except in written form, while the water-inspired poetry is more rooted in reality, tradition, and sincerity. This metaphor is adopted by Roman poets such as Horace and Catullus, who describe themselves as wine-inspired (Catullus 27 and 13, Horace’s Ode 1.20). Catullus especially scorns water-drinkers and even mixed wine-drinkers. While we can assume that Martial considers himself a wine-drinker by the content of his poetry and his close literary relationship with Catullus, he also draws inspiration from water (4.18). In fact, the only thing he seems to scorn is the mixing of wine (1.18). Therefore, it is apparent that Martial rejects the middle of the spectrum, and instead chooses to embrace both extremes in his corpus, within which he is either incredibly sarcastic or wholly sincere. Through his use of metaphor, Martial declares epigram to be a genre of extremes in a way that his predecessors did not.

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