A nice example of Wills' writing in the Martial is I.39—not precisely the sort of thing Martial's name conjures up:
If ancient virtues could abound,
If wisdom were with goodness found,
If learning did with vigor thrive,
And loyalty were still alive,
If challenged honor were defended,
And gods were not by stealth offended,
If any of these things were true—
Where find them, Decius, but in you?
Coincidentally, I also happened upon a book of Catullus. His reputation (very much so) precedes him; but I have never encountered his text itself. "Lord, what would they say, did their Catullus walk that way?" wrote Yeats in his well-known poem.
In his introduction Guy Lee refers to this:
Yeats in his well-known poem The Scholars, which might more reasonably be called The Pedants, imagines how horrified those 'old, learned, respectable bald heads' would be if they could meet the real Catullus. In fact Catullus would have been far more horrified could he have seen the state of his text at the beginning of the fourteenth century, some 1350 years after his death.
Lee's text is bilingual, and I don't expect to read it any time soon. I have already read the first chapter of Wills, and hope to keep dipping into it. (I still have Cicero beckoning.) He continues with an entirely deserved rebuke:
So down the centuries Yeats's despised Scholars have gradually purified the text of Catullus and brought it ever nearer to what its author intended. In textual criticism, at any rate, one can forget about the so-called 'Intentional Fallacy', that pathetic modern academic belief which takes for granted the perfection of the text one happens to be reading and maintains that one has no right to talk about the author's intention, because his intention is precisely the words on the page in front of one's eyes — words, incidentally, of which any interpretation is believed to be as true as any other. To return to Yeats's poem: amusing as it may be, it is hardly fair to The Scholars, for despite baldness, respectability, coughing in ink, and wearing out the carpet, it is to them that we owe the text of Catullus; were it not for them there would be no Catullus to read.
The other confluence or correspondence of which I haven't made mention, was with the format of the epigram itself. I know little of it. Wilde spake so many indelible ones (and surely had others attributed to him), while those done by a contemporary of his, G.K. Chesterton, Edmund Wilson referred to as "mechanical" (and more than once). I have seen a few, and would concur—but now perhaps have the opportunity to learn the form "at the feet of the masters".
"Martial counts epigram as lowest in the hierarchy of literary genres" (Lee writes) and I would tend to side with his viewpoint—but perhaps we have several literary arenas which had not been invented at the time, such as the detective story (P.D. James argues for its potential literary merit) or the straightforward riddle of the type for which Richard Wilbur expresses a fondness: about greyhounds and such.
I have not glanced much at Garry Wills' biography of Chesterton. I've seen enough to note that he seems determined to rescue his subject from the charge of being a propagandist instead of a true artist, but, as with his defense of Paul, his case seems never quite convincing. Perhaps better apologists will be found, though I am not hunting.
Outside of the epigrammatic, Wills quotes the first bit of interesting prose I have come across by Chesterton—never mind the deprecatory self-assurance of his swipe at "dull atheists" in the excerpt to follow. Wills ponders "the almost hysterical attitude Chesterton occasionally manifested toward Impressionism" and his "violent and symbolic use of an art style that seems harmless enough to us now". "Impressionism was preached as a mystique of rebellion by Arthur Symons and the Yellow Book circle. Chesterton, with a Gallic passion for the absolute statement of an idea, took this mystique to its logical extreme". Chesterton reflects in his Autobiography:
I had thought my way back to thought itself. It is a very dreadful thing to do; for it may lead to thinking that there is nothing but thought.... I was simply carrying the scepticism of my time as far as it would go. And I soon found it would go a great deal further than most of the sceptics went. While dull atheists came and explained that there was nothing but matter, I listened with a sort of calm horror of detachment, suspecting that there was nothing but mind.
"Terence, this is stupid stuff", as wrote that great classical scholar (of Martial no less). Not stupid, perhaps, but disconnected. Ergo the hunt for correspondences.