Department or Program

Classical Studies

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Raymond J. Starr

Additional Advisor(s)

Catherine Gilhuly

Additional Advisor

Bryan Burns

Additional Advisor

Selwyn Cudjoe


The vision behind this thesis, centered on the epigrammatic poetry of Martial (born Marcus Valerius Martialis, 34-41 – c. 103 CE) and the themes within his satiric works, stem from a proposal previously for Roman Poetry and Poetry Books that sought to analyze the connection between Martial’s intense focus on his reader (lector) and his fixation on the materiality of his text (known as libellus or “little book” throughout his many works) in order to identify Martial’s literary and social motives. Martial’s choices to not only publish his books for the general public but circulate these texts through booksellers lead to the characterization of Martial as one of the preeminent authors of innovative poetry in the Roman Empire. This thesis seeks to investigate, analyze, and discuss the relationships present in Martial’s works between author and audience, text and its physical form, and poet and patron.

In analyzing the complexities of Martial’s poetry and his own approach to literature and relationships, modern readers can gain insight into the world of classical poetry and art as well as the social dynamics, political tensions, and inherent economic disparities of ancient Rome. This thesis seeks to answer how these relationships between author and audience, poetry and its physical form, and patron and poet intersect in Martial’s epigrams and become integral to the transformative nature of his work.