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Martial 12.32: An Indigent Immigrant?

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image of Mnemosyne

When, in Epigrams 12.32, Martial graphically and unsympathetically depicts the eviction of Vacerra and his family from their lodgings for non-payment of rent, he is drawing upon a long-established literary tradition which viewed the penniless as legitimate targets for mockery. Of particular importance as formal models are Catullus' deeply sarcastic attack on the destitution of Furius and his relatives (Catul. 23) and the so-called parva casa motif, which Martial has here refashioned with sardonic intent. The most striking and original feature of the epigram is that, as indicated by a number of ethnically-coloured details, Vacerra and his relatives are depicted as Celts who have taken up residence in Rome: hence one purpose of 12.32 was to express the Schadenfreude and gleeful sense of superiority which Martial, himself of Celtiberian origin, felt towards immigrants who had met with disaster in the metropolis where he had so conspicuously made his mark.


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