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Now you see them: slaves and other objects as elements of the Roman master.

In the third book of his letters, Pliny the Younger, in response to a request from Baebius Macer, describes the famous industriousness of his uncle, the elder Pliny. (1) By detailing a day in the life of that Pliny, he explains just how it was that a man who lived only 56 years and was constantly busy with administrative duties was nonetheless able to produce more than seven works, totalling over 100 volumes, including the sprawling Historia naturalis:
  post cibum, aestate si quid otii iacebat in sole, liber legabatur,
  adnota-bat excerpebatque. nihil enim legit quod non excerperet.
  ... post solem lavabatur ... super hanc [cenam] legebatur,
  adnotabatur. ... in secessu solum balinei tempus studiis
  eximebatur--cum dico balinei, de interioribus loquor; nam dum
  destringitur tergiturque, audiebat aliquid aut dictabat. in
  itinere quasi solutus ceteris curis huic uni valeabat: ad latus
  notarius cum libro et pugillaribus, cuius manus hieme manicis
  muniebantur, ut ne caeli quidem asperitas ullum studii tempus
  erip-eret. qua ex causa Romae quoque sella vehebatur. omne
  tempus perire arbitrabatur quod studiis non impenderetur,
  (3.5.10-6)

  After eating, in the summer, when lying in the sun if he'd any
  leisure, a book was read and he would listen and take notes. He
  read nothing without taking notes. ... After sunning, he was
  bathed ... after dinner he was read to and dictation was taken
  ... only in the baths was his time free from work, and when I
  say the baths, I mean right in the bath; for while he was being
  scraped and towelled down, he was listening or dictating. When
  on the move, as if free from every other concern, he maintained
  this one: at his side was a stenographer with a book and
  notebooks, whose hands were protected in the winter by gloves,
  so that not even bad weather might steal any time away from
  work. For this reason he was carried around Rome in a chair.
  He considered all time lost which was not loaded up with
  work.


Pliny the Elder is the model of the dedicated scholar, with each moment of his day allocated to some productive pursuit. Our hero is admirably abstemious, but he verges on extremism: (2) he measures time with marvellous, almost desperate precision and in the end resembles (if you will forgive the anachronism) the Energizer Bunny of popular culture, as he keeps going, and going, and going ... (3) In the nephew's gently comic portrait, the great scholar is superhuman.

If we scrutinize the character of 'Pliny the Author,' however, it becomes clear that indeed there is more than one human at work. That is, as Pliny goes about his day--taking care of business, taking in the sun, eating, bathing, and moving around the city--he is constantly accompanied by attendant slaves who read to him and take down his notations, as well as fulfilling his other basic needs. Without these slaves to hand, would Pliny have been able to produce such a prodigious amount of prose? Decidedly not. 'Pliny the Productive Author' is not simply a man, but more a machine that includes many different parts: Pliny himself, multiple personal slaves, and their inanimate writing materials. (4)

The question arises: What does it mean to say 'Pliny the Author'? The personage of 'Pliny the Productive Author' necessarily includes Pliny's slaves. There is always a pair of eyes reading, a mouth speaking, hands writing, or feet walking--all for and of Pliny the Author. Although Pliny himself may not physically be performing every action, nevertheless the epistolary portrait credits Pliny the Author with all of this productive activity. The actions that Pliny's anonymous slaves perform are indicated predominantly in the passive voice, which effectively transfers their actions back into Pliny's possession, blurring them with his own body's movements. (5) The slaves that attend Pliny's body might be best understood here as 'prosthetic limbs.' (6) Any actions performed under the auspices of 'Pliny the Author' can uniformly be considered Pliny's actions'; that is, the slave bodies act just as authentically for Pliny as his own body does. The texts produced by Pliny the Author are no less his own because they have passed through slave ears, eyes, and hands. (7)

Modern western thinking tells us that at the helm of this machine there is an individual human being with executive authority: the ego of Pliny the Elder, which we would call 'Pliny himself.' The authoritative person is the agent of all productive labor: conceiving of it, intending to do it, and finally enacting it. According to this model, the mind is the source of a thought and the resulting intention to act, while matter is the neutral recipient of the mind's direction and acts in response to the mind's commands. This mind-over-matter model, however, obscures the contributing role that matter can play in performing an action: all material, be it object, body, or environment, by virtue of its physical properties, affords (in James Gibson's [1979, 127-43] terminology) certain behaviors. These affordances both enable and limit any possible action. Certainly, in the case of laboring slaves, the 'material' responding to and working for the master would influence the outcome of the action. For example, a slave reading to Pliny from the work of another author while Pliny eats his dinner may select certain passages to read, or may read in a particular manner so as to highlight or obscure elements of the text, while the slave taking notes from this dictation might respond directly to the reader, working at a nod or frown from Pliny, and must at the least anticipate Pliny's words and thus share a certain frame of mind with his master; the slave's own understanding of the matter, therefore, might conceivably make a difference to the outcome. (8) Pliny the Elder is a fascinating example of this process since, as we are told by his nephew, there was no book so bad that he did not get something out of it (Ep. 3.5.10). In this light, the individual human we would call 'Pliny himself' might be seen as merely a conduit, exercising no judgment at all, but simply allowing words to flow through him. (9) The particular talents or character of the slave and, to extend this argument one step further, the technological affordances of the objects that are used--the writing materials that store information outside of Pliny's mind to be retrieved, the chair that carries him through the city, the mittens worn by the notarius so that work can continue year-round--are all essential and determinative elements of the apparatus of Pliny the Author. This leads us to a different model of action for Pliny: Pliny the Author comes together in an assemblage of multiple actors both human and nonhuman; each element (Pliny, slaves, paper, mittens) is required to act in concert in order to function effectively

It is not the case that the nonhuman or semi-human elements of the apparatus--the notebooks, the chair, the mittens, the notarius--could determine the action and outcomes of that action alone. But neither is it clearly the case that Pliny himself is the sole agent and that the material apparatus surrounding him is mute, neutral, and awaiting his direction. Rather, all these elements--human, nonhuman, and semi-human--must combine; each element is crucial to the success of the activity. In functional terms, therefore, each element is just as important as every other one. In social terms, however, Pliny the Author is the authoritative agent of this apparatus and, in fact, includes this apparatus as part of his personage; Pliny the Younger's portrait reflects this social perspective.

Nicholas Horsfall in describing the use of slaves as reading and writing instruments remarks that "We come to a delicate problem: how much of their own research did Rome's great statesmen and authors actually carry out themselves? I doubt that a clear answer is possible" (1995, 53; my emphasis). This concern, however, rests not only on a modern notion of what an individual author is, but also on what an individual is. (10) Pliny the Younger certainly credits his uncle with all of the action he describes. Yet it is not clear what exactly Pliny understands as the limits of his uncle. His corporeal dimensions are surely obvious, but Pliny the Younger's portrait can be read to indicate that the Roman master was a figure who included not just the physical body of the man in question, but also the servile apparatus that accompanied him and into which he was embedded.

It is a commonplace to say that slaves were a marker of status for the Roman master, but it may be more accurate to say that slaves were a fundamental element of the 'body' of the Roman master. As slaves were present at every moment and intimately involved in every function, could a Roman master have existed without his slaves? It is certainly the case that Pliny's physical life--eating, bathing, sleeping--all depended intimately on the assistance of slaves. Pliny the Younger's description of the end of the Elder's life again reveals these close connections:
  ibi super abiectum linteum recubans semel atque iterum frigidam aquam
  poposcit hausitque. deinde flammae flammarumque praenun-tius odor
  sulpuris alios in fugam vertunt, excitant ilium. innitens servolis
  duobus assurexit et statim concidit, ut ego colligo, crassiore
  caligine spiritu obstructo, clausoque stomacho qui illi
  natura invalidus et angustus et frequenter aestuans erat. ubi dies
  redditus--is ab eo quem novissime viderat tertius--, corpus inventum
  integrum illaesum opertumque ut fuerat indutus: habitus corporis
  quiescenti quam defuncto similior. (Ep. 6. 1 6. 1 8-20)

  There, lying on a cloth that had been spread out, he asked
  over and over for cold water and downed it. Then the flames
  and the odor of sulphur that precedes them sent the others
  running, but roused him. Leaning on two young slaves he got
  up and straight away fell down, as I gather, his breath
  blocked by the thickening vapors, and with his esophagus
  choked (it had always been weak and narrow, frequently
  inflamed). When it was light again, on the third day from
  the one he'd last seen, his body was found intact, unhurt,
  and dressed just as he had been. His appearance was more like
  a man sleeping than one dead.


In this sad scene, the apparatus of the Pliny the master is both hidden and revealed. Unmentioned slaves have spread out the cloth, answered the call for water, and brought it to Pliny repeatedly. When the danger becomes more imminent and others flee, Pliny (ille) remains. This ille' is then revealed to include two young slaves (servolis duobus) who try to support Pliny's failing body. As his other organs shut down, these two supporting limbs remain, although all others have fled for their lives. The conclusion of the action does not make clear the outcome: Pliny the Elder dies, but what of the two slaves? Did they leave Pliny to die alone? Were they too overcome by the thickening toxic air? The detail that the habitus of Pliny the Elder was totally unchanged is suggestive; his habitus may well comprise the two young slaves, also dead and part of the corpus of the expired Pliny the Master. The portrait shows that Pliny--in his extremity, as his own body failed--used the extra body parts of his slaves to attempt to survive. The letter does not describe the fate of these two slaves since only the death of Pliny is relevant. It is only in giving an account of his uncle's extremity that the slaves as extremities are revealed.

Can it be said, then, that the person of the Roman master was not a single human being, but rather a constellation of bodies and objects of varying status under the auspices of a particular name? If the slaves are the prosthetic limbs of the master, it follows by corollary that the master is an extensible authority that can infuse the bodies of his slaves as it does his own body. This authority may even be extended to the nonhuman elements of the masterly apparatus. A useful illustration of the elastic nature of Roman authority is seen in Roman financial activity. Slaves frequently acted in business transactions in place of their masters, and with the full authority of their masters within the context of that transaction. That is to say, in the performance of a certain action, the slave body can legitimately stand in for the master, embodying his authority despite being physically distant from him." This extension of financial agency can also be observed in the material record in, for example, the so-called tesserae numnzulariae. These objects were small rectangular pieces of ivory or bone, between three and ten centimeters long and seven and twelve millimeters wide, with one end pierced so that they might be attached onto something. The four sides of the tesserae were inscribed: on side 1, the name of a slave in the nominative; on side 2, the name of the master in the genitive; on side 3, the word spectavit, sometimes abbreviated as sp or spect; and on side 4, the date, including day, month, and year. It seems that the tesserae were used to guarantee the quality and quantity of coins in a closed container, acting like a seal to preserve intact the sum during transfer. (12) Although the exact use of these tesserae remains debated, for our present discussion it is noteworthy that the tesserae preserve a physical trace of the transference of the master's authority through and into his slave, and further through and into a physical object that both symbolizes and specifies this extended authority in the real world. Crucially, the tesserae are inscribed with the names of the parties involved and also the date; the inscribed information both validates and creates a limit for this disseminated authority. Thus the slave and the object can stand in for the master only in the context of a particular transaction, here defined by the inscription spectavit.

In the depiction of Pliny the Elder above, however, the question goes beyond extended authority in a particular context; the portrait of Pliny shows how master and slaves can be symbiotic. 13 Pliny's personal slaves are integrated so seamlessly and intimately into his daily activities that they, in fact, make his pursuits possible. The portrait of Pliny shows quite clearly, I believe, that while the slave is considered to be a lesser kind of human, the Roman master is also a different degree of human: he is an amplified person, one that exists not only in his own physical form, but also in and throughout the slaves and objects that work for, with, and of him. This apparatus, being a naturalized part of the master's disposition, would be traceable only intermittently in the literary sources and only from a particular perspective.

Pliny the Younger undoubtedly sees his uncle as controlling the action he engages in; the question emerges, however, whether Pliny the Younger envisions his uncle as an individual who acts upon his mute material environment, thus implying a strict separation between the human mind as the agent and nonhuman material (objects, slaves) as the passive recipients of action or, rather, if Pliny the Younger sees his 'uncle' as the whole ensemble? A description of his own creative process provides an interesting comparison:
  evigilo cum libuit, plerumque circa horam primam, saepe
  ante, tardius raro. clausae fenestrae manent; mire enim
  silentio et tenebris ab us quae avocant abductus et liber
  et mihi relictus, non oculos animo sed animum oculis sequor,
  qui eadem quae mens vident, quotiens non vident alia. cogito,
  si quid in manibus, cogito ad verbum scribenti emendantique
  similis, nunc pauciora nunc plura, ut vel difficile vel
  facile componi tenerive potuerunt. notarium voco et die admisso quae
  formaveram dicto; abit rursusque revocatur rursusque dimittitur. ubi
  hora quarta vel quinta--neque enim certum dimensumque tempus--, ut
  dies suasit, in xystum me vel cryptoporticum confero, reliqua
  medi-tor et dicto. (9.36.1-3)

  I wake when I like, mostly around the first hour, often earlier,
  and seldom later. The windows remain closed; for, strangely,
  in the silence and darkness, withdrawn from the things that
  distract me, I am both free and left to myself. I do not let my
  eyes lead my mind, but I turn to my mind's eye, which sees
  my thoughts since my eyes see nothing else. I think about whatever
  I'm engaged on; I think over the exact wording as if writing and
  revising, and I'm able to do more or less depending on how difficult
  or easy it is to compose and hold in my mind. I call the notarius
  and, with the light let in, I dictate to him what I've formed in my
  mind; he goes out and is called back, and again is sent out. When it
  is the fourth or fifth hour (the time is not always regular), as the
  day urges me, I take myself to the woods or the colonnade, where I
  plan the remainder and dictate.


This letter serves to illustrate Pliny the Younger's perfection of the art of living and writing at the close of his epistolary collection.14 In this passage, Pliny envisions himself as a pure mind: before the day begins, when he lies in bed with no sensory distractions of any kind, the mind of Pliny the Author is at work composing and editing, a process described with the active mental verbs cogitare, formare, and meditari. The mind alone, however, is incapable of accomplishing anything outside itself: the notar-ius must be summoned, the windows opened, and the material elements of the apparatus activated in order for the mind of Pliny to communicate itself to the world. Pliny's self-portrait here describes his understanding of his own process, but it also reveals what the master is without his apparatus: a man in a coma-like state, habitus corporis quiescenti quam defuncto similior.

The writing process, begun in the deep chambers of the mind, lurches forward through the agency of multiple elements: the light through the shutters, the visual perception of the eyes, the entrance of the notarius who physically embodies Pliny's revision process by coming and going out again and again. The notarius, equipped with his writing materials, provides the mirror in which Pliny can perceive what he has worked out in his mind and respond to it, to continue the activities of cogitation and emendation that he began in his mind. The pure mind described by Pliny is, in effect, distributed, reflected, refracted, and articulated throughout his masterly apparatus.

Working slaves are rarely described in Roman writing at all, and certainly the nature and value of their contributions to productive or creative labor is not often recognized. (15) Reading Pliny's epistolary portraits reveals two distinct, though not mutually exclusive, models of master-slave relationships in Roman thought: one categorical, the other functional. Varro's definition, for example, of the role of slaves in production falls into the categorical model; he brands the slave workforce of the country villa as instrumentum vocak--speaking tools. (16) On the other hand, Pliny's description of his uncle at work illustrates, as I have noted above, an author in constant action. In this functional context, the abstract legal or philosophical distinction between slave and free is irrelevant; all of the elements of the literary machine, no matter what their legal status might be elsewhere in a different context, must work together to perform the task. At any moment, Pliny the Elder or Younger may be easily able to attest to his own status as a wealthy free Roman man and also to affirm the lesser status of, and indeed his ownership of, slaves and inanimate objects. In practice, however, when performing a specific action Pliny's slaves and objects participate with him in that action; the actor, therefore, is the composite Pliny the Master. In particular, Epistle 3.5's portrayal of 'Pliny + slaves' in action depicts a smoothly functioning system, an ideal version of master-slave symbiosis.

Looking at these actions in functional, rather than categorical, terms allows us to rethink the figure of the Roman master. To borrow language from scholars working in actor-network theory, the description of Pliny the Elder at work reveals a collectivity of social and technical elements coming together in choreographed activity. Actor-network theory seeks to describe social phenomena in terms of the relations of multiple (actants' both material (e.g., humans, nonhuman objects, environment, weather) and immaterial (e.g., social norms, legal limits, cultural forces, and other behavioral patterns). Bruno Latour (1999, 2005) prefers the term 'actant' to 'actor' since it illustrates a major tenet of the actor-network theory: agency is not solely the property of the human but can reside in the nonhuman as well. The term 'network' should not be taken to mean that the theory seeks to identify a fixed structure that already exists; rather, the theory uses network as a metaphor (sometimes the term 'rhizome' is preferred) for conceptualizing the associations of elements of any given assemblage of entities and attempting to capture the innumerable ways in which things come together, for example through dialectic, crystallizations, entanglements, incisions, inscriptions, identifications, incorporations, echoes, and reflections. By tracing out the chains and networks formed through these relations, the theory aims to give a fuller account of action in the world and rejects the idea of discrete subjects (humans) and objects (nonhumans) in favor of seeing action as a set of relations between actants with agentic capacities. (17)

Ontology still matters: a thing is still a thing and a man is still a man. But by reframing the analysis into the search for agency, action, translation, and movement, actor-network theory is able to open a window onto a phenomenological truth of human experience: that material things are not dead, mute, neutral, and outside of the human, but rather that things and humans constantly exchange properties. Human will or agency is but one of a multiplicity of forces deployed and distributed through assemblages of things, people, and other. To this end, one technique of actor-network theory is to create a 'flattening effect': by ignoring the social, or 'common-sense,' definition of a man (say, Pliny), an actor-network description will look at all the components of Pliny the Author along a horizontal axis, without the hierarchization that might cause one to overlook the role played by, for example, the notarius's mit-tens. (18) Instead of seeing a great man, an actor-network view reveals a composite figure, in which slaves and objects work with Pliny to coproduce the figure of Pliny the Author.

A second technique, advocated by Jane Bennett in her 2010 work on vital materialism, is to practice a "touch of anthropomorphism," which can, she writes, "catalyze a sensibility that finds a world filled not with ontologically distinct categories of beings (subjects and objects) but with variously composed materialities that form confederations" (2010, 99ff.). (19)

Let me now turn to another Latin author, contemporary with the two Plinys, who in his writings practices through comic vision both flattening and anthropomorphism in describing masters, slaves, and objects. I am referring to Martial and his early epigram collections, the Xenia and Apophoreta.

Martial's Xenia and Apophoreta appeared shortly after the death of Pliny the Elder. (20) Traditionally the poems have been interpreted as witty tags for gifts exchanged during the Saturnalia. (21) The Xenia includes poems on about 120 things to eat and drink, while the Apophoreta consists of humorous (or, at least, pithy) poems describing more than 220 common domestic objects, ranging from inexpensive odds-and-ends to luxury goods. This unusual collection of over 300 single elegiac couplets, each headed by a title, might be considered a poetic "tour de force" by virtue of the variety Martial shows in the representation of ordinary, useful things.22 Among these objects, listed as gifts one might give or receive during the Saturnalia, are examples of instrumentum vocale in multiple senses. The catalogue of gifts includes slaves ranging in value from an everyday houseboy (puer) to a highly specialized pastry chef; and in another (more literal?) sense, many of the inanimate objects depicted--roughly 15% of the Xenia and 25% of the Apophoreta--speak for themselves in the first-person voice, describing their own origin, purpose, or use. These two types of instrumentum vocale appear throughout the collection in varying degrees of intimacy and even symbiosis with their masters, as well as at different levels of animation. No other extant Latin text pays such close attention to inanimate objects and the variety of functional relationships between people, slaves, and objects in the domestic setting; a particular concern is how slaves and objects work as tools and further how masters are formed and operate through these 'prosthetic limbs.'

Martial's poetic programme in the Xenia and Apophoreta involves a turn toward the ordinarily overlooked: the trivial and valueless items of everyday life. He describes his epigrams as apinae tricaeque et si quid vilius istis (riff and raff and whatever is cheaper, 14.1.7), inviting the reader to pass them by (praetereas, 13.3.8). The opening image of the collections, a tuna in a toga (ne toga cordylus ... desit, 13.1.1), by its very absurdity directs the reader's attention away from the fish and towards the disposable wrapping paper in which it is dressed. Shaped by both the Saturna-lian spirit of inversion and epigram's generic predilection for the nugatory and ephemeral, Martial's collection turns the reader's eye to the overlooked yet essential elements of everyday life and breathes new life into them; thus, old, used paper becomes the most distinguished and heavily symbolic Roman garment, the toga. The joke works because toga and paper (once the bad poetry written on it has been rejected) perform a similar physical function: the latter wraps a dead fish, the former wraps Rome's most prolific citizens. Martial's Saturnalian poetic programme here creates a 'flattening' effect, in which standard values, hierarchies, and even identities are inverted or ignored.

In a series of poems on slaves as gifts (Apophoreta 197-223), Martial describes a notarius who, as in Pliny's letter, acts as a component of the harmonious symbiosis of master and slave:
Notarius
currant verba licet, manus est velocior illis:
nondum lingua suum, dextra peregit opus. (14.208)

Stenographer
As fast as the words may run, the hand is swifter; the
right hand is finished, though the tongue is not yet done.


The ancient stenographer was a highly specialized slave, trained to make notation at rapid speed and even to anticipate the words of the master; sympathy between the master and his secretary had to be particularly strong. In this ideal version, in fact, they seem to form one organism--the stenographer, reduced here to a single, efficient right hand, a hand that runs (currere) as swiftly as the mind and tongue. Without the title (lemma) of the poem, in fact, it would seem as though the action of one body was being described.

The subsequent poem (14.209) describes the objects used by the notarius:
Concha
levis ab aequorea cortex Mareotica concha
fiat: inoffensa curret harundo via.

Shell
Let the Mareotic bark become smooth with the seashell; the
reed will run its course without obstacle. (23)


The repetition of the verb currere connects this pair of epigrams and urges comparison of the two actions depicted. Both poems focus on the physical media of writing and emphasize the ease of it; in poem 14.209, the reed pen, seemingly of its own accord, runs along swiftly and smoothly, just as the words and the hand of 14.208 do. The instrument has replaced the instrumentum vocale, the stenographer. Or, if the poems are read together, the act of writing begins with the running words of the lingua, which flows seamlessly through the running manus, and into the running harundo onto the papyrus. The dictating master, the stenographer slave, and also his objects have been incorporated into one smoothly functioning organism: the stenographer slave has been folded into this organism, but so also has the master. This fusion of actants into one system would ordinarily be recognized by others as a 'master-at-work; as in the portrait of Pliny. In this poem, however, in accordance with Martial's poetic project in the Apophoreta, the attention has shifted away from the master as helmsman of the literary machine and towards the agency of the notarius and the animated shell and reed pen.

Slaves recur frequently throughout this text: five percent of the Xenia and twenty percent of the poems in the Apophoreta include a slave or slavish character.24 Several of these poems appear to praise the harmony of a successfully functioning master-slave hybrid by drawing attention to the benefits of symbiosis. For example, 14.220:
Cocus
non satis est ars sola coco: servire palatum
nolo: cocus domini debet habere gulam.

Cook
Art alone is not enough for a cook: I don't want his
palate to be slavish. A cook ought to possess the taste
of his master.


The cook, then, must understand the master's desires by sharing his taste. The general ars of the cook is insufficient: to serve perfectly, he must be the taste buds of his individual master. This ideal slave, like the notarius, must tailor his general skills to the personal requirements of the master and therefore be enabled to act for and, to a certain extent, as the master. The poem represents this ideal as a bilateral movement: the cook's own taste (here, literally his gu/a) must extend the master's, while the master imagines the cook to possess and wield his own masterly sense of taste. In the act of tasting, therefore, master and slave are temporarily fused, something like conjoined twins who share a body part.

In a touch of anthropomorphism, the inanimate objects described in the Xenia and Apophoreta are often depicted as slaves ready to serve the master, and even as parts of the master's body. For example, in 14.83, an ivory back scratcher becomes a body part:
Scalptorium eborcum
defendet manus haec scapulas mordente molesto
pulice, vel si quid pulice sordidius.

Ivory scratcher
This hand will defend shoulders from a tiresome
biting flea, or anything fouler than a flea.


Leary (1996, 142) notes that this is a unique use of manus and concludes, along with Shackleton Bailey (1993, 259) that the scratcher was in the shape of a hand. While it is possible that the scratcher was shaped like a hand, it is also performing a hand function; haec manus indicates a thing serving as a hand in the moment of need, an extension of the physical arm and hand.25 Similarly, in the following poem (14.69) an object acts for the master's hand, the body part that symbolizes domination:
Copta Rhodiaca
peccantis famuli pugno ne percute dentes:
Clara Rhodos coptam quam tibi misit edat.

Rhodian cracker
Don't bash the teeth of your misbehaving slave with
your fist: just let him eat the cracker [copta]
which famous Rhodes sends you.


The word copta here is a hapax legomenon in Latin, being a transliteration of the Greek word for biscuits and taken from [??] (to beat). (26) The hard biscuit in our text does the disciplinary work of the master's fist, as an extension of the master in action.

Slaves are omnipresent in the Xenia and Apophoreta, but there are also multiple poems describing objects taking the place of slaves. The theme of the deficient or absent slave suits the Saturnalian setting of the collection: the slaves arc away playing, and objects must take up the slack for the master. The substitution of object for slave reveals their shared properties. For example, poem 14.39 takes an ordinary, inanimate bedside lamp and transforms it into an attendant bedroom slave:
Lucerna cubicularis
dulcis conscia lectuli lucerna
quidquid vis facias licet, tacebo.

Bedroom lamp
A lamp, confidante of your sweet bed--
You can do whatever you like, I'll keep quiet.


The poem suggests an intimate scene through the whispering sound of dulcis conscia and the licking sound of lectuli lucerna, which conjures up the sound of quiet liames.27 The ioke of the poem is in the paradox of a inanimate object pledging to remain a silent witness; the lamp outdoes the slave. The ideal bedroom attendant not only provides light, but also remains impassive and immobile at all times; she also has a full shared consciousness (conscia) with the master.

In poem 14.65, the slave is away and the master must improvise:
Soleae lanatae
defuerit si forte puer soleasque libebit
sumere pro puero pes erit ipse sibi.

Woollen slippers
If perhaps your slave is not around and you want to put on
your slippers, your foot will be the slave for itself.


The shoes described here are a type of slipper and can thus be slipped on easily without aid. If the master should slide his own foot into the slippers, the foot is doing a slave's service, and thus acts pro puero. The integration of slave prostheses in daily functioning is so complete that it seems that one of the master's own limbs stands in for a slave, when the limb acts in place of the normally present puer who usually serves as the hands and feet of the master. In this action, the master's own foot and the slave boy are useful to the same degree, indicating that either the master is alienated from his own limbs or, more likely, that the slave boy is as close to him as one of his own limbs.

Another absent slave, in poem 14.119, creates a similar problem, but this time the instrumentum vocale speaks for itself:
Matella fictilis
dum poscor crepitu digitorum et verna moratur,
o quotiens paelex culcita facta mea est!

Earthenware chamberpot
When I am summoned with a snap of the fingers and the slave
delays,
o how often has a pillow become my rival!


An intimate domestic scene is here recounted by the chamberpot itself, the matella, a vessel with a long neck and round base--and also a slang term for prostitute (Petronius, Sat. 45.8). The slave who should be at the ready with the matella is absent, and so the pillow becomes the rival of the chamberpot. These objects are not just animated but sexualized; the uncomfortable little scene is played out as a romantic love triangle between the master, the chamberpot, and the bed pillow, the latter two figured as (possibly) prostitute slaves. Things might have gone smoothly if the verna had been to hand, as for example in Sayricon 27.3-5; but as it is--and by the 'a quotiens' it seems frequently to be the case--the master has wet the bed. Without his extra servile instruments, the master does not even control his own body. The butt of these two jokes is arguably the helpless master, a figure reminiscent perhaps of Pliny the Elder being carried around Rome in a chair as a secretary jogs alongside. Without his prosthetic limbs, this figure would be himself enslaved by his physical requirements, that is, he would not be a successfully functioning master.

Martial's playful collection gives voice to inanimate things and flattens out the normal view of masters in action. Emerging from a comic Saturnalian poetic programme of inversion, disintegration, and substitution, the collection ultimately reveals the components of the Roman master. The 'things that talk' fill in the space left by domestic slaves; like slaves they are useful to a master, at times acting in concert with him in performing a certain function. Slaves, when present, are envisioned as seamlessly fused prosthetic limbs acting together with their own instruments and with the master. The master is revealed both as more and as less: he is an amplified person, whose authority and authenticity can be distributed through multiple bodies and objects; and yet he is also an incomplete agent, one dependent on his instruments to fully realize himself as a master. It is paradoxically by blurring the lines among master, slave, and thing that the Xenia and Apophoreta make distinct the elements of the functional Roman master, elements that come together in the figure of Pliny the Elder the Author.

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Notes

(1.) My gratitude to Thomas Habinek, Annice Blake, Jody Valentine, and the anonymous reviewer of Helios for their valuable comments and assistance with this paper. Translations of ancient sources are my own.

(2.) Henderson 2002, 260.

(3.) Pliny's personal aversion to wasting time is noted by Pliny the Younger in this same letter. At a dinner party performance, the host corrects a slave's recital and requests him to repeat the passage correctly, but Pliny expresses annoyance at the loss of a few minutes, saying that he would rather have a mistaken performance than have spent the time in correction (3.5.12-3): "memini quendam ex amicis, cum lector quaedam perperam pronuntiassct, revocasse et repeti coegisse; huic avunculum meum dixisse: Intellexeras nempe?' cum ille adnuisset, 'cur ergo revocabas? decem amplius versus hac tua interpellatione perdidimus.' tanta erat parsimonia temporis."

(4.) See Winsbury 2009, 79-85 for a detailed description of the slave assistants that made up the "enabling infrastructure of Roman literature"; also Starr 1991, Horsfall 1995, and Habinek 2009.

(5.) E.g., lavabatur, legabatur, destringitur, tergitur, and vehebatur.

(6.) Reay (2003, 20-2) describes the representation of laboring slaves in agricultural writing (Cato, Varro, and Virgil) as prostheses for their absentee owners; cf. Reay 2005 and on the prosthetic extension of the master's body as an ordinary and ubiquitous feature of elite life, see Habinek 2007.

(7.) On the ubiquity and invisibility of slaves in ancient literature, see duBois 2003.

(8.) As Winsbury (2009, 84) notes, slaves with literary skills were highly trained and very valuable; see, e.g., Seneca, Ep. 27.5.

(9.) The image of Pliny the Elder as a conduit for information resonates with his authorial persona in the text of the Historia naturalis, wherein the author figures himself as a reader, as the "addressee who listens and learns" (Conte 1994, 71) and who makes this knowledge, gathered from hundreds of other writers carefully cited, available to the reader of his own text.

(10.) Roman 'authorship' is a vexed issue with a growing bibliography; on 'authorship' generally, see Burke 1995.

(11.) On slaves as financial agents (institores, actores) see Andreau 2001, 125-9.

(12.) Herzog 1937; Andreau 2001, 153-69; Habinek 2009.

(13.) Fitzgerald 2000, 13-31.

(14.) Barchicsi 2005, 330-2.

(15.) Starr (1991, 342) notes that it is only due to Suetonius's "omnivorous curiosity" that the following detail is preserved: Augustus had lectores read to him if he woke in the night, and this would cause him to sleep longer than usual (Suetonius, Aug. 78.2). Ordinarily the presence and activity of slaves, here lectores, would go unremarked in literary accounts.

(16.) Varro (Rust. 1.17.1) lists the tools for cultivation as instrumenti genus vocale (slaves), semivocak (draft animals) and muturn (e.g., wagons); cf. Aristotle, Pol. 1.3, 1254a16-17 in which slaves are described as instruments of action separable (i.e., from the master for whom they labor). See the discussion in Garnsey 1996, 119-23, Rosivach 1999, and Fitzgerald 2000.

(17.) For a brief introduction to actor-network theory, see Law 2009. Classic works are Latour 1999 and 2005. On agency beyond the human in anthropology and archaeology, see Gell 1998, Knappett 2005, Knappett and Malafouris 2008, Boivin 2008, Bennett 2010.

(18.) Frow 2005, 359.

(19.) Many of the essays in Daston 2004 and Brown 2005 also practice this technique.

(20.) Pliny's dedication of the Historia naturalis to Titus places the publication of this work around the year 77 CE, although it is clear that its composition must have occupied many years preceding, possibly under Nero when, as Syme (1969) argues, Pliny's administrative career languished. Martial's Xenia and Apophoreta are later in date than the Liber Spectaculorum, which was also dedicated to Titus and dates to the year 80, but the evidence is contested. Leary (1996) argues that the books were published a year apart by analogy with Martial's later trend of publishing at regular intervals. But many scholars argue that the Xenia and Apophoreta were published together: Friedlander 1886, 16 and Sullivan 1991, 12. Pitcher's (1985) arguments are quite rightly contested in Leary 1996, 11.

(21.) As gift tags, see Sullivan 1991, 124; as a mock-didactic guide to gifts at the Saturnalia, Citroni 1987; as Saturnalian mock-catalogue poetry, Leary 1996 and 2001; as the literary interpretation of a general party game, such as the one depicted in Satyricon 56, Johnson 2005.

(22.) The phrase "tour de force" comes from Johnson 2005, 142. The vast majority of the poems are in elegiac couplets, with one in choliambics and one in hendecasyl-labics in the Xenia, and nine in hendecasyllabics in the Apophoreta. Recent scholars have begun to appreciate and examine the literary sophistication of these oft-neglected collections; see particularly Grewing 1999; Roman 2001 and 2006; Barchiesi 2005; Johnson 2005; Stroup 2006; Hinds 2007; and Rime11 2008, 140-61.

(23.) The shell was used as a pumice stone to smooth out the rough spots in the papyrus or Mareotic bark.

(24.) Garrido-Hory 1984. The Apaphoreta opens (14.1.1-4) with the double image of a slave enjoying the liberty of the festival by gambling, and of the Emperor Domitian playing dress-up in the pilleum, the cap that symbolized the status of a freedman.

(25.) The title of the position of amanuensis also gestures at the prosthetic nature of the personal slave.

(26.) Leary 1996, 129. 'Cracker' is my approximation of this pun.

(27.) For the lamp as a witness to erotic night time activities, see Meleager, Anth. Pal. 6.162.
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Date:Sep 22, 2012
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