190 poor quality of Menestratus’paintings: his Phaethon should be burned and his Deucalion tossed in the water.428Martial adapts this imagery to a new context (Ep.5.53): Colchida quid scribis, quid scribis, amice, Thyesten? quo tibi vel Nioben, Basse, vel Andromachen? materia est, mihi crede, tuis aptissima chartis Deucalion vel, si non placet hic, Phaethon. Why do you write about the Colchian woman? Why, my friend, do you write about Thyestes? Niobe or Andromache, what are they to you, Bassus? Believe me, the most suitable topic for your pages is Deucalion or (if he doesn’t suit you) Phaethon. It seems apparent that Martial is engaging somehow with Lucillius here –certain scholars have even argued that Martial’s punchline would be incomprehensible to a reader who was not familiar with the Lucillian poem, given that he does not actually explain why Deucalion or Phaethon are suitable subjects for Bassus.429Burnikel makes some useful formal comparisons: in addition to pointing out that Martial does not make the fire/water juxtaposition explicit, he observes that in AP214, the self-conscious target is the one who asks whether his work has any merit, whereas in Ep.5.53, the narrator suggestively poses the question himself. Likewise, Martial doubles the number of subjects (Lucillius’target depicts Phaethon and Deucalion, Martial’s depicts Medea, Thyestes, Niobe, and Andromache), which adds to his mockery the additional –and unflattering –dimension of excessive composition. Burnikel ultimately concludes that Martial’s modifications both refine the sarcasm and increase the irony of Lucillius’poem.430But a crucial difference between the two poems, and one on which Burnikel remarks 428Lucillius uses the Phaethon-fire/Deucalion-water trope again in AP11.131. The association between Phaethon and Deucalion as representations of opposing elements can be found as early as Ovid’s Fasti(4.777ff., and cf. Canobbio 2011 ad loc.), which may have had some influence on Lucillius. 429Cf. Burnikel (1980) 18, Howell (1995) ad loc. I am less convinced that the meaning of Martial’s epigram is absolutely contingent upon knowledge of Lucillius; nevertheless, familiarity with the earlier poem certainly adds point to the joke. 430Burnikel (1980) 16-8. Canobbio (2011: intr. n. ad loc.) classifies Martial’s tactics as a “clever use of rhetoric”(un sapiente uso della retorica) such as is absent in the Lucillian epigram.
191 only in passing, is Martial’s recontextualization of the joke: while Lucillius’target is a painter, Martial’s is an author.431Certainly Martial’s denigration of Bassus’mythological predilections aligns with his oft-stated aversion to such themes in favor of realism, and this epigram can be read in and of itself as a statement of poetics.