From the introduction to Greek Epigram in the Roman Empire: Martial’s Forgotten Rivals, by Gideon Nisbet:
This, then, is a book about short, funny poems. Classicists have tended to ignore them, which I think is a pity; then again, it is only in recent years that the notorious Martial has begun to attract serious attention. Classicists of an older style are visibly uncomfortable around Martial; they wish he had written something with a little more gravitas, and certainly with much less sex in it. From this point of view it is odd that they have not made more of his Greek models, whose preserved output in Book 11 of the Byzantine-era Palatine Anthology is noticeably less rude (although recently published papyri indicate that their minds were at least as filthy as Martial’s own). This book aims to shed light on a whole corpus of ancient humour which will come as a surprise even to many professional students of antiquity.
I haven’t set out to offer a comprehensive survey, merely an open-ended investigation into what is out there, how it works, how one author’s approach differs from another, and where the form seems to be headed. The foundation of this endeavour is rough and ready: I grabbed a bunch of poems. I offer a translation of each poem to give a broad idea of what its sense might be, along with minimal notes on any textual difficulties…. One thing I do not set out to do is close down signification within texts that (in my view) intentionally resist it. I’m not much of a deconstructionist, but I do take it as fairly evident that language is slippery in use, and anyone who reacts badly to the milder deconstructionist/postmodern ideas will probably not enjoy what follows. Also, some of the moves I make with material culture — in particular, the way I read the cheapness and nastiness of the Nikarkhos book fragments as something significant that we can work with, figuring out a model readership so to speak via the back door and maybe even politicising them — may not strike everybody as a proper way to do classics. Sorry. But I think more classicists should spend more time with zinesters and Webmonkeys before they write this sort of thing off.
Why can’t more academics write like that? I have been known to react badly to deconstructionist/postmodern ideas, but I can deal with them as long as they’re presented as helpful avenues of approach rather than as a revelation from the academic equivalent of Mount Sinai, and reading Nisbet’s prose makes me want to read more of it, even if he’s going to lead me through the Valley of the Shadow of Deconstruction. But maybe most academics prefer to be read only by fellow initiates.