Classica et Christiana, 17/2, 2022 / 513

Alessandro LAGIOIA (Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro),
Quando il mento sporcava i libri: Marziale, Winckelmann e l’esegesi moderna [When the chin got the papyrus roll dirty: Martial, Winckelmann and the Modern Interpretation]

Keywords: Martial, Strato of Sardis, volumen, liber, charta, frons, tero, barba, papyrus roll, re-rolling.

 Abstract: When the chin got the papyrus roll dirty: Martial, Win­ckelmann and the Modern Interpretation. The article examines some pas­sages of Martial (epigr. 1, 66; 10, 93; 14, 84) and a pederastic epigram by Strato of Sardis (AP 12, 208), to which Perotti, Salmasius, Winckelmann and many other philologists frequently referred in order to explain why the chin is mentioned by those authors in relation with the use of the papyrus roll. The most frequently given explanation for the chin that dirties the roll has so far been that, after the volumen had been read, it was placed by the ancient reader under the chin to hold it firm and then it was rolled up, taking the tips of the roll in both hands. This recon­struc­tion, apart from being unconvincing, because unpracticable, as Skeat has well de­monstrated, does not find any confirmation, neither in poetic contexts nor in figu­ra­tive representations. On the contrary, well known Pompeian frescoes seem to confirm that the ancients used to put the edging of the liber (frons), already rolled up, under the chin as a gesture of concentration and meditation. It can be compared to the pose of the thinker (philosopher, poet and actor), who meditates with a hand under the chin, a fairly common posture in the ancient iconographic tradition. The Pompeian portraits suggest that the only useful involvement of the chin relating to the ancient book could be that of levelling the edges of the volumen, once it has been closed and tightened with the help of both hands. Martial’s references to the chin can therefore be traced back to a similar gesture, from which we can infer that only the frontes of the roll could got dirty and crumpled more easily by a prickly beard, while both Strato’s epigram and Martial’s ones carry a sexual allusiveness which suggests due caution in the interpretation of their content strictly in a technical sense.


DOI: 10.47743/CetC-2022-17.2.513