This paper examines representations of money in the epigrams of Martial. I argue that Martial’s poetics are deeply influenced by some of money’s economic functions, even if many of these functions are approached through networks of amicitia. By engaging with the indeterminacy of what can be called exchange value, Martial identifies an aesthetic dimension that becomes central to his humor. The form of value described by his paradoxical poetics of cash implies a category of matter that is at once sensuous and abstract, autonomous and dependent upon other modes of valuation. I focus on the sensuality of this abstract matter, its failure to become entirely impersonal, and on Martial’s habit of using deictic language to gesture to its presence. Such an aestheticization of monetary value differs from more familiar techniques of using vivid language to flesh out moral or satirical attitudes to wealth or the ways in which it is acquired. It instead approaches the instability of money as an object of inspiration in its own right, one that supports the epigrammatist’s habit of taking up postures throughout his corpus of poems, and of maintaining a degree of detachment between his voice and its pronouncements.
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Research Article| October 01 2021
The Materiality of Monetary Value in Martial’s Epigrams
Classical Antiquity (2021) 40 (2): 316–342.
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Elliott Piros; The Materiality of Monetary Value in Martial’s Epigrams. Classical Antiquity 1 October 2021; 40 (2): 316–342. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2021.40.2.316
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