Repertorium Pomponianum

Perotti, Brevis commemoratio vitae M. Valerii Martialis

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In the Middle Ages Martial's epigrams were known only through florilegia. This (as well as the confusion of Martial with his imitator Godfrey of Winchester) prevented the establishing of an accessus-tradition, and biographical information about Martial was scarce. Reliable biographies were only written in the 1470s, first by Giorgio Merula (1471/3) and then in the ambiente of the Roman academy by Domizio Calderini and Niccolò Perotti (see Hausmann 1980, 260-71).

Perotti composed the Life of Martial for the Cornu copiae, c. 1478; for some material he mined Domizio Calderini's Life, published with the latter's commentary on Martial in Rome in 1474. While Calderini impresses with a massive amount of material, Perotti's Life stands out for its coherence and analytical clarity. Perotti had had an interest in Martial from his youth, and later collaborated with Pomponio, who shared his enthusiasm for the Flavian poets (see Pade 2015). In Perotti's earlier commentary on Martial (in a Martial-ms. copied by Perotti in his youth, now BAV Vat. lat. 6848) there is no Life; it does, however, contain the important letter of Pliny the Younger concerning the death of Martial (epist. 3, 21; see note 13 below).

The points which Perotti raises about Martial follow the analytical scheme proposed by Servius (4th c.) at the beginning of his commentary on the Aeneid, with the following items: "the life of the poet (vita poetae), the title of the work (titulus operis), the nature of the verse (qualitas carminis), the intention of the writer (intentio scribentis), the number of the books (numerus librorum), the order of the books (ordo librorum), and the textual exposition (explanatio)" (Servius in Aen. 1 pr. 1). Biographical pieces in accessus-form often followed Servius's scheme explicitely and in a rather unsophisticated manner (on its popularity in humanist commentaries see Minnis & Scott 1988, 13 and n.6); Perotti prefers a much freer arrangement which breaks up the individual units. Thus the Servian analytical approach is never made explicit; we only recognize the Servian background, because Perotti uses the terminology of Servius in a parallel passage to § 1 within the Cornu copiae (for an in-depth discussion see Ramminger 2015).

Perotti distances himself from Calderini on a number of important points, such as the characteristics of epigrammatic poetry as opposed to satire; he revalues the poet's notorious flattery towards Domitian as an attempt to modify his behaviour, and sees the crass obscenities as an adequate tool for critizising the vices of his times. The role of Pliny undergoes subtle modifications. Whereas the Pliny of the Roman's own letter appears to us as a condescending and dismissive patron of writers, Perotti's Pliny is a learned friend of the poet and - just as Martial and other poets mentioned in the same context - a member of the res publica litterarum.

The Life reflects the approach to the Silver Latin poets that Perotti and Pomponio had developed together in the preceding decennium, which in the meanwhile had become standard: refutation of the mistakes of medieval sources (and generally rejection of anything smacking of medieval culture), adept use of the classical sources available, esp. of whatever autobiographical information could be gleaned from the poems themselves. There is, however, no trace of the anti-Servian stance which Leto developed after the discovery of (pseudo)Probus, although Perotti surely was aware of and elsewhere via Pomponio may have profited from the new text (see Abbamonte 2012, 125-170).


The piece shows the characteristic orthography of Perotti (although the possibility of interference by the scribe of the Urbinas must be kept in mind):

  • admistis for admixtis (the -s- is a result of an autograph correction): Perotti writes the perfect participle of misceo and all compounds with -mist-. See Cornu copiae 21, 28 vol. VI p. 39 (ed. Fabio Stok, Sassoferrato 1997). The scribe of the Urbinas slipped on rare occasions, all except one in the commentary to first two epigrams.
  • autorem for auctorem: Valla had in eleg. 4, 32 approvingly quoted Servius that auctor as equivalent of ποιητής was not derived from any other word. Perotti, in Cornu copiae 6, 393 vol. IV p.264 (ed. Pade-Ramminger, Sassoferrato 1994), elaborated on Valla's argument by introducing a fictional distinction between autor ('writer', no etymology) and auctor ('who enlarges', from augeo). With the exception of Cornu copiae 2, 288 and 2, 294 the Urbinas ms. consistently has autor-, also for all compounds and derivatives.
  • obscenis for obscoenis: Perotti's preference for -e- is due to the derivation from scaena (stage), Cornu copiae 1, 379 vol. I p. 135.
  • Plynius and Syllius: the spelling Plynius is justified by Perotti by proposing the etymology from greek πλύνω, Cornu copiae 2, 430. No rationale is offered for the spelling Syllius; Silius occurs once elsewhere in the Cornu copiae.

In many of these cases we may discern a fleeting influence of the volgare (with Plynius as a hypercorrection), even though Perotti always rationalizes his choices with a more or less plausible explanation. Also the word order monere simpliciter principes, which is not particularly felicitous because of the postposition of the adverb, may reflect vernacular influence (Perotti's source, Servius in Aen. 10, 608, has simpliciter in anteposition, see note 6 below).


The Life is transmitted in BAV Vrb. lat. 301, the dedication copy of the Cornu copiae to the duke of Urbino, Federico of Montefeltro; the numerous imprints contain a certain amount of misprints, but no significant variants (discussion of the Vita in the early prints in Pade 2014b). The Urbinas ms. is written by an as yet unidentified scribe; the marginalia in our text are in Perotti's hand, who also corrected the text itself. The Urbinas has been recollated for this edition; where its texts diverges from Charlet's edition, I have given the reading of the Urbinas. Except for the use of capitals (which cannot always be recognized with certainty), u/v, and punctuation, I have maintained the orthography of the Urbinas. Information about variant readings of the printed editions can be found in the apparatus criticus of Charlet's edition. For reasons of convenience the chapter numbering is the same. The Life is discussed in Ramminger 2015.



Date: c. 1478
Ms.: Nicolaus Perottus, Brevis commemoratio vitae M. Valerii Martialis, Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vrb. lat. 301, fol. 3v-4r. (URL:
Ed.: Nicolai Perotti Cornu Copiae seu linguae Latinae commentarii, vol. I, ediderunt Jean-Louis Charlet et Martine Furno (Sassoferrato 1989), 18-19.



Single and double superscript letters refer to the notabilia in the Urbinas (which here follow the Latin text), superscript numbers to the notes.



brevis commemoratio vitae m. valerii martialis


M. Valerius Martialis in Hispania Bilbili nobili1 Celtiberiae oppido natus est, patre Frontone,a2 matre Flacilla.b Venit ad urbem3 Romam studiorum gratia, tenui que supellectilea contentus in litteris duntaxat uersatus est. Scripsit librum epigrammaton, ut laudaret honesta, hortaretur homines ad uirtutem, et uitia sui temporis notaret; quod admistis [-s- p. c.] semper salibus et ferè cum risu facit, ut mos est scribentium epigrammata: hocaa enim a satyris differunt quod illi uitia tantum carpunt, hi etiam honesta laudant et ad uirtutem hortantur. Illi graui atque aspera oratione stomacho semper pleni, hi blando sermone atque iucundo scelera suorum temporum notant. Illi longo plerunque lemmate et uerborum copia id faciunt, hi carptim et breui sermone atque collecto; unde haec epigrammata,bb hoc est inscriptiones dicuntur. Illi in personas etiam propriis nominibus inuehuntur, hi fingunt noua nomina, propriis parcunt, quod de se hic poeta testatur, dum inquit: "Hunc seruare modum nostri [add. in mg.] nouere libelli, Parcere personis, dicere de uitiis".4

2      Excessit facundia, acumine, copia, suauitate, salibus omnes qui ante et post eum carmina scripsere. Laudat simul atque reprehendit acriter et ardenter, nec minus polite et ornate. Habet ueluti in numerato sententias aptas semper et crebras, grauem et decoram structuram, sonantia uerba et antiqua; quaedam ipse fingit aptissime. Sunt plerunque in sermone eius latentes aculei.5 Suspensum etiam aliquando lectorem relinquit, et aliquid uult illum augurari potius quam legere. Tanta praeterea in eo copia, tanta rerum uarietas est atque cognitio, quantam apud nullum uel graecum6 uel latinum autorem esse contenderim.

3      Floruit temporibus Domitiani, Neruae et Traiani, quibus uariis modis in hoc opere assentatur, id que ea ratione facit, ut per ea, quae in his esse commemorat, quales et ipsi et caeteri principes esse debeant, ostendat. Hinc saepe aedificia, porticus, templa, uenationes, ludos, strategemata imperatorum aliorum que uirorum ac mulierum commemorat. Et enim moscc apud ueteres fuit, quoniam monere simpliciter principes periculosum uidebatur, per ironiam7 eos, hoc est assentando, docere. Sic omnia huius poetae epigrammata aut bona sunt, in quibus uidelicet simpliciter atque aperte ad uirtutem hortatur, aut mediocria, in quibus ea laudat quae turpia non sunt sed aliquid habent honesti, aut mala, in quibus uitia hominum carpit obscenis uerbis et turpibus. Hoc est quod poeta ipse ad Auitum libro primo scribit: "Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura Quae legis hic; aliter non fit, Auite, liber".8

4      Amicos habuit Plyniumc Secundum oratorem, Stellamd9 que et Sylliume poetas, ad quos saepenumero scribit. Publicis10 quoque honoribus functus est: donatus equestri dignitate, praetura et iure trium liberorum. Ingrauescente11 demum aetate tedio urbanarum rerum affectus in Hispaniam rediit. Obiit12 in natali solo [natali solo p. c.] inter suos, magno doctorum omnium maerore, praesertim Plynii, cuius epistola extat in qua [inqua ms.] audisse scribit Martialem decessisse, idque moleste ferre, quia "uir erat ingeniosus, acutus et qui plurimum in scribendo salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus".13

5      Librum hunc epigrammaton eo ordine14 scripsit quo in praesentia legitur, primis epigrammatibus exceptis, in quibus spectacula et ludos sui temporis describit. Haec in antiquis codicibus non reperiuntur. Haud tamen dubium15 est Martialis esse.



in mg. interiore: a Fronto     b Flacilla     c Plynius     d Stella     e Syllius

in mg. exteriore: aa Quid scriptores epigrammatum a satyris differant     bb Epigrammata     cc Mos ueterum in laudandis principibus




Marcus Valerius Martialis was born in Spain, in the famous town of Bilbilis in Celtiberia; his father was Fronto, the mother Flacilla. He came to Rome to study; content with modest circumstances he devoted himself exclusively to literature. He wrote a book of epigrams to praise honorable conduct, exhort people to virtue, and to censure the vices of his age; he does this always wittily and usually with a smile, as is the custom with writers of epigrams. In fact, epigrams are different from satires in this respect: satire just harps on vice, epigrams also praise honorable conduct and exhort people to virtue. Satire has a rough and harsh style and is always full of disapproval, epigrams critizise the vices of their times in a pleasant and agreeable manner. Satire achieves its goal in a lengthy discourse with a richness of expression, epigrams are concise, with short and focused diction – therefore they are called epigrams, i.e. inscriptions – . Satires attack people under their real names, epigrams invent new names and spare the real ones – which is what this poet affirms about himself, saying: "This is the way our booklets know to follow: spare the persons, speak out about the vices".

2      He surpassed all other poets before and after him in eloquence, subtlety, abundance, sweetness, and dexterity. He praises and critizises at once, sharpely and with passion, nevertheless exquisitely and elegantly. He is always ready with fitting and compact expressions, a grave and decorous structure, resounding old words; some he also invents himself most fittingly. Frequently there are hidden stings in his speech. Also, sometimes he leaves the reader in suspense, and wants him to guess rather than to read something. For the rest, he has such richness of expression, such a variety of topics and knowledge, as I would claim never to have seen in any Greek or Latin author.

3      He lived under Domitian, Nerva and Trajan, and all of these he flatters in various ways in this work. The strategy behind this is the following: by mentioning their achievements he wants to show how they and other princes ought to be. Thus he continously mentions buildings, galleries, temples, hunts, games, and the pursuits of emperors and other men and women. And, because it was considered dangerous to admonish princes directly, it was a habit in ancient times to teach them through dissembling, that is flattery. Thus all the epigrams of this poet fall into three groups: either they are positive, insofar as they simply and openly adhort to virtue, or they occupy a middle position, in which he praises what is not disgraceful but has some honorable element, or they are negative, in which he attacks peoples' vices with obscene and foul words. This is what the poet himself writes to Avitus in the first book: "What you read here, is sometimes good, sometimes middling, quite often bad. In no other way, Avitus, a book is made".

4      Amongst his friends were the orator Pliny the Younger, and the poets Stella and Silius; to them he writes often. He also received public recognition, he was awarded equestrian rank, the pretorship, and the three-children privilege. With the burden of age increasing, he became weary of city life and returned to Spain. He died in his native country amongst his own, deeply lamented by all men of learning, especially by Pliny; from him we have a letter where he writes: "It makes me sad to hear about Martial's death, because he was a man of an acute and lively genius, and his writings abound in both wit and bile, combined with equal lustre".16

5      He wrote this book of epigrams in the arrangement in which it is read now, with the exception of the first epigrams which describe the spectacles and games of his time. These are not found in the old manuscripts; still they are undoubtedly by Martial.





  1 There is nothing particularly famous about the oppidum nobile Bilbilis. The word nobilis may be an attempt by Perotti to surpass Calderini's Life of Martial, who had written that Bilbilis was oppidum non ignobile in Celtiberia on account of its mention in Strabo and a battle of Sertorius nearby. Here and in the following I quote Calderini's Vita Martialis from the second edition, Venetiis: Iohannes de Colonia & Iohannes Manthen, 1474, with capitals and punctuation normalized. I consulted the copy of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, where the signature a is used twice; the Epistula ad Laurentium Medicen (sig. a3r-a5r) and the Vita Martialis (sig. a5v-a6r) are in the first one.

  2 Calderini: "Parentes romana appellatione Frontonem et Flacillam nominat."

  3 Calderini: "Litterarum causa Romae cum ageret … tenui supellectile contentus."

  4 Mart. 10, 33, 9-10.

  5 Calderini, Epistula ad Laurentium Medicen, sig.a4v: "Latent uerborum inuolucro plerunque aculei."

  6 Calderini: "Haec ita a Martiale seruata sunt, ut et graecos superauerit … et solus in hoc scribendi genere apud latinos elaborasse ac profecisse uideatur."

  7 The use of ironia as opposed to saying something simpliciter (straightforwardly) may come from Servius in Aen. 10, 608 "et dictum est per ironiam: nam superfluo quidam hanc orationem simpliciter dictam volunt, ut … ." For ironia see Stiewe 1962.

  8 Mart. 1, 16.

  9 Calderini: "Amicos coluit poetas Stellam in primis et Silium Italicum." Stella is dicussed in Cornu copiae 36, 1, vol. VI p. 202 (ed. Fabio Stok, Sassoferrato 1997), and mentioned in the preface of Perotti's commentary to Statius's Syluae (Pade 2015).

 10 Calderini: "nec publicis caruit honoribus, equestri donatus dignitate, praetura et iure trium liberorum."

 11 Calderini: "Cum iam aetate ad senectutem ingrauesceret rerum urbanarum tedio affectus rediit in Hispaniam."

 12 Calderini: "In Hispania obiit non sine Plinii etiam moerore, qui epistola quadam sua<m> cum poeta familiaritatem testatus eum et deflet et laudat summopere." Calderini does not have the direct quotation from Pliny, and does not display any closer knowledge of the letter.

 13 Plin. epist. 3, 21, 1. The textual variants coincide with the text copied by Perotti into BAV Vat. lat. 6848, fol. 6r: "Vir erat [erat homo Plin.] ingeniosus acutus [acutus acer Plin.], et qui plurimum in scribendo [scribendo et Plin.] salis haberet et fellis, nec candoris minus." The text in Merula's edition is closer to the modern text ([Venice]: Wendelinus de Spira [1471/73], I consulted the copy of Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, 4 Inc.s.a. 1232). Calderini does not have the letter (although it is present in later editions). For the Vat. lat. 6848 see Mercati 1925, 75 n.1 and 132-133.

 14 Calderini: "Ipse opus suum in hunc ordinem redegit, quo legitur, praeter primum librum, qui totus in spectaculis laudandis uersatur. nam nec in antiquis codicibus prima fronte ponitur, nec … ."

 15 The point Perotti is making (and rebutting at the same time), is that Martial's authorship might be in doubt if the Liber spectaculorum or the single epigrams had initially been transmitted separately. The problem makes more sense in the context of Calderini's lengthy discussion of the editorial history of the later books of the Epigrams, and his suggestion that originally the epigrams for the spectacula might have been composed separately for the respective performances.

 16 Translation from Pliny, Letters, tr. by William Melmoth, revised by W. M. L. Hutchinson, vol. I (London 1931), 267, with adaptations.





Abbamonte 2012

Giancarlo Abbamonte, Diligentissimi uocabulorum perscrutatores. Lessicografia ed esegesi dei testi classici nell'Umanesimo romano di XV secolo (Pisa 2012).


Hausmann 1980

Frank-Rutger Hausmann, "Martialis," Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum IV, ed. F. E. Cranz (Washington 1980), 249-296.


Mercati 1925

G. Mercati, Per la cronologia della vita e degli scritti di Niccolò Perotti, Studi e Testi 44 (Roma 1925).


Minnis & Scott 1988

Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism c. 1100–c. 1375. The Commentary-Tradition, edited by A. J. Minnis & A. B. Scott (Oxford).


Pade 2014b

Marianne Pade, "The Material Fortune of Niccolò Perotti's Cornu Copiae in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries," Proceedings of the conference Neo-Latin philology: old tradition, new approaches, Nijmegen 26-27 October 2010, ed. M. van der Poel, Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 35 (Leuven 2014), 72-87.


Pade 2015

Marianne Pade, "The Vitae Statii of Niccolò Perotti and Pomponio Leto," Vitae Pomponianae: Biografie di autori antichi nell'Umanesimo romano/ Lives of Classical Writers in Fifteenth-Century Roman Humanism (Proceedings of the conference held at the Danish and American Academies of Rome, 23-24 April 2013), Renæssanceforum 9 (2015), 139-155.


Ramminger 2015

J. Ramminger, "Perotti's Life of Martial and its literary context," Vitae Pomponianae: Biografie di autori antichi nell'Umanesimo romano/ Lives of Classical Writers in Fifteenth-Century Roman Humanism (Proceedings of the conference held at the Danish and American Academies of Rome, 23-24 April 2013), Renæssanceforum 9 (2015), 157-176.


Stiewe 1962

Stiewe, "ironia," Thesaurus linguae Latinae (Leipzig 1900-), VII, 2, 381-382.



Johann Ramminger
23 June 2014, last changed on 1 June 2018

This entry can be cited as follows:
Nicolaus Perottus, Vita Martialis, ed. Johann Ramminger, Repertorium Pomponianum, URL:,