Around the world, covers have become advertisements for their books. The dignity that characterizes something self-contained, lasting, hermetic — something that absorbs the reader and closes the lid over him, as it were, the way the cover of the book closes on the text — has been set aside as inappropriate to the times. The book sidles up to the reader; it no longer presents itself as existing in itself, but rather as existing for something other, and for this very reason the reader feels cheated of what is best in it. Theodor Adorno
In his last book, at the end of a successful, literary career, Martial asks in regard to his own genre of epigram: ‘quid minus esse potest?’ (‘What can be humbler?’, 12.95). Such self-disparagement is not necessarily surprising, since there is no reason to imagine that Martial's success as an epigrammatist would alter his genre's place in the traditional hierarchy of literary seriousness. Martial's denigration of his own oeuvre, however, goes beyond consciousness of epigram's status as a low genre. The epigrammatist not only registers his genre's formal rank, he develops fully articulated fictional scenarios depicting the nature of his writing and its role in society. According to the most salient and pervasive fiction characterizing Martial's work, epigram is an ephemeral form of literature embedded in specific, social contexts, and dedicated to immediate uses.