Martial's Lector, the Practice of Reading, and the Emergence of the
General Reader in Flavian Rome
UC Berkeley 2004
When Martial opens his corpus with an address to "Dedicated Reader"
(lector studiose) instead of to a named friend or patron, he is
doing something new in elite Latin literary culture that is linked to other
literary and societal developments of the early empire. His reader's
persona approaches the modern conception of the general reader--an
individual reading in private, with no necessary prior connection with
the author, and who reads for his or her own purposes and controls the
I trace out a set of intertexts and models from elite Latin poetry and
popular entertainment with which Martial forges his new general
readership. These models not only figure the communicative relationship
among author, text, and audience but also suggest issues of politically
motivated suppression of discourse.
I open by surveying epigrams that characterize Martial's reader as
someone who controls the act of reading and responds to the epigrams'
content. In four subsequent chapters I study how Martial's other models
for his readership deepen his conception of the role of the audience.
First, Ovid's exile poetry, an intertext for the epigrams, dramatizes
readers' control over the meaning and use of an "immoral" text despite
Caesar's (Domitian's) disapproval; this situation motivates Ovid to
address his letters to anonymous friends or an unspecified lector
instead of named addressees.
Second, the amphitheater audience is a metaphor for a
readership that is both a geographically diverse, collective entity and a
collection of individuals who express reactions and use a performance for
their own purposes.
Third, theater, especially mimes, is an explicit analogy through which
Martial apologizes for audiences who slanderously misappropriate a text's
meaning. Another comparandum is comedy, whose text negotiates the
conditions of its own reception.
Fourth, the figure of the woman reader, synecdoche for Martial's general
readership, illustrates private, libidinal reading and disregard of
authorial or societal constraints--a return to the situation that
supposedly led to Ovid's exile.
My study contributes to our understanding of Martial's conception of the
mechanics of communication among reader, text, and author, the figure of
the general reader in Latin first-person poetry, and the Roman conception