Martial Fouls His Nest[ed Quotation Marks]

Years ago I read (or perhaps someone told me) that Livy uses the word ‘o’ only once in his thousands of extant pages, in his account of the rape of Lucretia in Book I, and that no one had noticed this interesting fact until David Packard compiled one of the first computerized concordances, four massive volumes indexing Livy. Checking the text of Book I, I see now that I remembered that wrong – it’s been over thirty years – and that it is actually in the preceding account of Brutus kissing the ground at Delphi (1.56.10): a hidden voice tells the Tarquins Imperium summum Romae habebit qui vestrum primus, o iuvenes, osculum matri tulerit. Alphabetizing every word and its context made the word stand out.

I believe I may have discovered a similar unique thing (hapax phaenomenon?) in Martial while working on the technical side of putting up a reformattable on-line text. In encoding nested quotation marks for various national standards, I needed to find examples of quotations within quotations. Searching my database, which now contains 43,350 words, including all of Persius, most of Horace, 600 epigrams of Martial (around 40%) and a few dozen other poems or letters, I found 14 pairs of inner quotation marks, 12 in Persius (Satires 1, 4, and 5), one in Horace (Epode 17), and one in Martial. I’ve searched online texts of Martial for others, and the one in the database appears to be the only set of nested quotations in his 1500+ epigrams. Can you guess which epigram it is? Here are some hints:

  1. It’s a famous one.
  2. Martial quotes six whole lines from another well-known author, who in turn quotes part of a line (allegedly) from another well-known Roman.
  3. The four words inside the inner quotation marks are very obscene – not that that would narrow things down much, if they were Martial’s own words.

There is no prize but self-satisfaction, and no need to post answers in the comments. The answer will be found here: link. Do not hover over the link if you’re not done guessing – the number is embedded in the link! When you do go to the text, try out the reformatting buttons. I’ve had similar reformattable texts up before, but they didn’t work very well, and I’ve spent the last six months transforming them so they are stored word by word rather than line by line, which solves most of those, and will allow interesting further developments, like semi-automatic parsing of texts. Of course, the main thing I need now is a front end to allow users to select poems, but that shouldn’t take long. After that, I will add an apparatus criticus, and (eventually) make the texts editable, so you can select your own variants and save your preferred version with a cookie or a unique URL. In the mean time, if you edit the URL in the link, you can see other poems of Martial: Books I, II, IV, VII, and XII are all uploaded, with a scattering of others, including the famous 10.47. Just change the last bit of the link to M.10.47 (or whatever).

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