Arrius the ‘Ellenic Aspirant: Catullus 84

“Arrius would always say ‘khonvenience’ when he meant to say ‘convenience,’ and ‘hevil plots’ instead of ‘evil plots.’ He really thought that he was speaking after quite the grand fashion when he put all of his energy into his, ‘hhhhevil plots.’ I imagine that his mother, his uncle, and his maternal grandparents all spoke that way.

Then, he went to Syria, and everyone’s ears took a break. They heard these phrases now with a lighter, softer inflection. They no longer had such a dread fear of such phrases, when suddenly, we received some terrible news: the Ionian Sea, after Arrius had gone there, was now no longer ‘Ionian,’ but ‘Hionian.'”


Chommoda dicebat, si quando commoda vellet
dicere, et insidias Arrius hinsidias,
et tum mirifice sperabat se esse locutum,
cum quantum poterat dixerat hinsidias.
credo, sic mater, sic liber avunculus eius.
sic maternus auus dixerat atque avia.
hoc misso in Syriam requierant omnibus aures
audibant eadem haec leniter et leviter,
nec sibi postilla metuebant talia verba,
cum subito affertur nuntius horribilis,
Ionios fluctus, postquam illuc Arrius isset,
iam non Ionios esse sed Hionios.


NOTE: Arrius puts on this affectation in an effort to sound more Greek by (rather absurdly) adding aspiration to his C to make it sound more like Chi, and aspirating his vowels. Greek education was very much in fashion among the younger set, and there would be no better way to “hint” that you had studied in Greece than to pretend that your lengthy stay in that country had permanently altered your speech.

3 thoughts on “Arrius the ‘Ellenic Aspirant: Catullus 84

  1. I think when I first read this poem back in high school I found it very unfunny. Then I moved south towards new York and met people who (1) said “[y]uman being” instead of ‘human being’ and “wHat” instead of the more common “wut”. (I get it, I get it, you can read). The origin of the affectation of the first never made sense to me. And the latter, like hanGer (common, ng is one sound!) made too much sense.

    In short, I was too young and provincial to ‘get’ the poem 20 years ago. Now it is funny. Still silly, but dearer to me.

    Nice translation.

    1. Hey, thanks! I thought at one point about attempting a verse translation, but there’s no way to carry the joke that way.

      I had just the opposite experience: when I first read Catullus, I thought that the punchline at the end was hilarious. This was the first Latin poem that I committed to memory (and one of the few that I still remember!), and I confess, it’s also my absolute favorite piece of Latin literature, despite the fact that Catullus is not my favorite Latin author.

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