Epigraphic Toilet Reading

Once communal latrines were established in the Hellenistic period, the risk of exposure to social gaze while sitting with one’s anachronistic pants down was more acute, albeit the experience perhaps more sanitary.

However, at least in Ephesus in the fourth century AD you may have had the pleasure of the following humorous poem to read in a latrine next to the Baths of Constantine, wishing you a satisfying unburdenment in a Homeric-style which is comically at odds with the wholly-un-Homeric subject matter (Ephesos 2104 [= IEph 456.1]):

λὰξ ποδὶ κινήσας καὶ πὺξ χερὶ μάκρον ἀείρας
κ(αὶ) βήξας κραδίηθεν, ὅλον δὲ τ[ὸ] σῶμα δονήσας
ἐξ ὀνύχων χέζων φρένα τέρπεο, μηδέ σε γαστὴρ
μήποτε λυπήσειεν ἐμὸν ποτὶ δῶμα μολόντα.

Kicking afoot and raising fists ahand
And coughing your heart out and shaking your whole body
Take full pleasure in shitting your brains out, and may your stomach
Never give you pain whenever you come to my house.

Somehow it’s more charming in black and white.” Toddler seated on toilet with magazine.

A reminder from Martial

Martial, Epigrams 12.61

“Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem—
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.

I will advise you—if you are in pain to be read,
Find a drunk alley poet who writes
with broken coal or dusty chalk
the poems people read while shitting.
This face of yours can’t be known by my touch.”

Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.
quaeras censeo, si legi laboras,
nigri fornicis ebrium poetam,
qui carbone rudi putrique creta
scribit carmina quae legunt cacantes.
frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est

Amy Coker has a PhD in Classics from the University of Manchester, UK. She taught and held research positions in University-land for the best part of a decade after her PhD, before jumping ship to school teaching (11-18 year olds) in 2018. She still manages to find time to think and write about Ancient Greek offensive words, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. She can be found on Twitter at @AECoker.

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