(Marcus Valerius Martialis)

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

( 40–103/4), born in Bilbilis, in Spain he was poor and wrote Latin poetry for a living. In his Epigrams, in 15 books, more than 1,500 short poems in all, he writes about the vices he sees around him in Ancient rome but he prudently uses pseudonyms to disguise the names of those he satirizes: e.g. ‘Hesterno fetere mero qui credit Acerram, fallitur in lucem semper Acerra bibit’ (1. 28). (‘He who thinks that Acerra reeks of yesterday’s wine is wrong. Acerra always drinks until daybreak.’) Since snobbery and pretentiousness are two of his main targets, he often mentions wine. Misers and the nouveaux riches drink opimian wine (1. 26, 3. 82, 9. 87, 10. 49), and when Martial satirizes the classical cult of old wine (old wine was always preferred to new and was known by its consular year), he invents a wine that has not even got a consular year, because it was laid down before the Republic (13. 111). He generally presumes detailed knowledge about wine on the reader’s part, as for instance in 2. 53, 4. 49, 3. 49. The reader needs to know which wines were good and which were not in order to get the point of the epigram. At the end of Book 13 (106–25) is a series of epigrams listing 21 types of wine. Martial expresses his opinions of certain wines tersely, as in the following (13. 122), ‘Acetum’ (Vinegar):

Amphora Nilliaci non sit tibi vilis aceti esset cum vinum, vilior illa fuit.