Bad attitudes: Horace, Epode 8

Verb. Sap. = Verba Sapientibus = “Words to the Wise”

This is definitely an NSFW poem, even by today’s standards, such as they are. I discovered a translation, perhaps a bit free, which renders the sense and feeling of the poem better than any other known to me. The title is the translator’s; Horace’s poems do not have titles by the author. Translation from

Epode VIII – The Ancient Whore

Imagine asking what’s stolen my powers, you
Stinking whore, all this endless time,
When you’ve one black tooth, and when ripe old age
Furrows your brow with wrinkles,
When an ugly hole like a leathery old cow’s
Gapes between withered buttocks!
Yet that flabby chest, and those breasts, like the teats
Of a mare, can still excite me,
And that spongy belly, and those scrawny thighs,
Set on those swollen legs.
Bless you, and may masculine figures in triumph
Bear your funeral along.
Let no married woman wander about, weighed down
By rounder fruits than yours.
What if the little works of the Stoics prefer
To nest among silken pillows?
Illiterate sinews stiffen no less, do they:
Bewitched, it droops no less?
Either way to rouse it from a fastidious groin
It’s your mouth must labour hard.

Rogare longo putidam te saeculo,
      viris quid enervet meas,
cum sit tibi dens ater et rugis vetus
      frontem senectus exaret
hietque turpis inter aridas natis
      podex velut crudae bovis.
sed incitat me pectus et mammae putres
      equina quales ubera
venterque mollis et femur tumentibus
      exile suris additum.
esto beata, funus atque imagines
      ducant triumphales tuom
nec sit marita, quae rotundioribus
      onusta bacis ambulet.
quid? quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
      iacere pulvillos amant,
inlitterati num minus nervi rigent
      minusve languet fascinum?
quod ut superbo provoces ab inguine,
      ore adlaborandum est tibi.

The woman is no prize, obviously. Neither is Horace; he could be sued for “assault with a dead weapon.”

Poems about ugly anatomy was, you guessed it, an ancient literary genre, aischrologia. But despie the long tradition, Horace really outdoes himself.  Note lines 5-6 which refer to the woman’s bung hole; there was a cult of Aphrodite Kallipugos (Aphrodite of the Lovely Bung Hole), and there are extant poems by various authors which praise those so endowed.

The woman was not your generic Working Girl. Line 12 imagines references the funeral masks which were collected in a special area in the mansions of the socio-economic elite.

But why belabor with an Ossa-Upon-Pelion collection of explications? If you would know more:

Commentary: Lindsay Watson, A Commentary on Horace’s Epodes (Oxford, 2003)

Vocabulary: J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London 1982)

Both have generous previews on Google Books. Watson is expensive; Adams was reprinted in a 1990 paperback still in print.

And on a musical note:



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