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Marcus Valerius Martialis, Epigrammata Liber X Carmen 38

couple reclining
Couple dining outdoors, mosaic, Rome 2nd century CE

In Epigrammata 10.35, Martial focuses his praise on the 1st century CE poetess Sulpicia, celebrating her for her love poetry (of which, unfortunately, only two lines are extant). There he claims that Sulpicia instructs her readers not in immoral lust out of wedlock but rather in “chaste and proper passion, games, delights, and witty talk” (castos ... et probos amores, lusus, delicias facetiasque, Epigrammata 10.35, lines 8-9). In short, he claims that she teaches the valuable lesson of keeping passion alive in marriage. Martial finds Sulpicia an exemplum of a modern matrona for her public expression of her love of and loyalty to her husband: he claims that she would not take any of the gods in place of her husband (Epigrammata 10.35, lines 19-21). In this poem addressed to Calenus (written c. 98 CE), Martial imagines that her husband would not exchange a day of his fifteen years of marriage to Sulpicia for multiple lifetimes. The reference at the end to one of the three Fates, the deadly Atropos (line 13), suggests that the poem may not be celebrating a wedding anniversary; the lack of reference to Sulpicia leads some scholars to suggest that she has died. The meter is hendecasyllabic (Phalaecean).

  O molles tibi quindecim, Calene,  
  Quos cum Sulpicia tua iugales  
  Indulsit deus et peregit annos!  
  O nox omnis et hora, quae notata est  
5 Caris litoris Indici lapillis!  
  O quae proelia, quas utrimque pugnas
  Felix lectulus et lucerna vidit
  Nimbis ebria Nicerotianis!  
  Vixisti tribus, o Calene, lustris:  
10 Aetas haec tibi tota conputatur  
  Et solos numeras dies mariti.  
  Ex illis tibi si diu rogatam  
  Lucem redderet Atropos vel unam,
  Malles, quam Pyliam quater senectam.

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Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of Marriage
August 2006