Your Girlfriend is a Catalogue of Scents

Antonio Beccadelli,
Epigram to Giovanni Marrasio:


Cupid gave his golden spears to Angelina’s eyes,

And granted his torches to her cheeks at his mother’s command.

Her mouth smells like nectar, her head like ambrosia, her breast like cardamom,

And – I pass over this entirely – her vagina smells like balsam.

This same girl fastens true loves around her neck

And from the lap of Venus the divine girl grows warm.

The Sicilian poet Marrasio burns for her:

Certainly, Marrasio wishes to die in love.

“Cupid fresco from a villa at Stabiae, Italy

Angelinae oculis dedit aurea tela Cupido

Donavitque genis, matre iubente, faces.

Os nectar, caput ambrosiam, flat pectus amomum

Et, quod praetereo, balsama cunnus olet,

Haec eadem collo veros adnectit amores

Deque sinu Veneris diva puella calet.

Hanc olim Siculus vates Marrasius ardet:

Marrasius certe vult in amore mori.

Logic Bros: Better to Have No Reason Than Use it for Harm?

Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 3.77–78

“These kind of things belong to poets; we, moreover, want to be philosophers, masters of facts not fables. And yet, these gods of poetry, if they know that these things would be ruinous for their children, would be considered to have sinned in conferring a favor.

It is just as if, according to that thing which Aristo of Chios used to say, that philosophers hurt their audiences when the things they say well are interpreted badly (for it was possible still to leave Aristippus’ school as a profligate or Zeno’s school bitter and angry).

If it is this way, and those who have heard them leave with twisted minds because they understand the philosophers’ arguments incorrectly, then it befits philosophers more to be quiet than cause their audiences harm. In this way, if people pervert the capacity for reason which was given by the gods to provide good council and used it instead for fraud and harm, then it would have been better if it had not been given to the human race at all.”

Poetarum ista sunt, nos autem philosophi esse volumus, rerum auctores, non fabularum. Atque hi tamen ipsi di poetici si scissent perniciosa fore illa filiis, peccasse in beneficio putarentur. Ut si verum est quod Aristo Chius dicere solebat, nocere audientibus philosophos iis qui bene dicta male interpretarentur (posse enim asotos ex Aristippi, acerbos e Zenonis schola exire), prorsus, si qui audierunt vitiosi essent discessuri quod perverse philosophorum disputationem interpretarentur, tacere praestaret philosophos quam iis qui se audissent nocere: sic, si homines rationem bono consilio a dis immortalibus datam in fraudem malitiamque convertunt, non dari illam quam dari humano generi melius fuit. Ut, si medicus sciat eum aegrotum qui iussus sit vinum sumere meracius sumpturum statimque periturum, magna sit in culpa, sic vestra ista providentia reprehendenda, quae rationem dederit

Internet pugilists take the following things very, very seriously. Form triumphs over content!

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A Student Debt Proposal: Collect The Balance In Hell

Recent reports say we are hitting a tipping point for student loans. It is telling (and damning) that certain sectors consider student loans a crises only when delinquent payments reach a certain point. It was totally fine when two generations of students had their entire lives shaped by the cost of education….

This charming detail from Valerius Maximus might be the perfect rider for an education bill right about now…

Valerius Maximus, Wondrous Deeds and Sayings 2.6.10

“This ancient custom of the Gauls returns to my mind as I leave their walls: The story goes that they used to loan money which was scheduled to be repaid in the underworld, because they considered human souls to be immortal. I would call them fools if they didn’t believe the same thing wearing pants as Pythagoras did wrapped in his cloak.”

Horum moenia egresso vetus ille mos Gallorum occurrit,quo[s] memoria proditum est pecunias mutuas, quae iis apud inferos redderentur, da<ri soli>tas,  quia persuasum habuerint animas hominum immortales esse. dicerem stultos, nisi idem bracati sensissent quod palliatus Pythagoras credidit.

Image result for Ancient Roman Loans


Don’t Borrow Money from Catullus…Or Rihanna

Editorial note: while you procrastinate for another few weeks on your syllabus, this guest post from Theodora Kopestonsky can serve up some essential inspiration.

When I listen to the radio in the car, I am struck by the way modern songs reflect the same concerns that we see in antiquity. Different poems come to my mind and sometimes, if my brain is really tuned in and I’ve been reading a lot of Latin poetry, I’ll start to translate the lyrics. U2’s One (1991) does this to me all the time… “Ūnus amor, Ūnus sanguis, Ūna vīta…”

This got me thinking about how to incorporate pop music into the classroom and led to a pedagogy article about Latin love poetry. Beyond romantic relationships, Latin (and Greek) poetry talk about many other relevant issues like violence, war, loss, and more.  Catullus, one of my favorite poets, also addresses a more mundane issue: lending money to a friend. In Catullus 103, the poet complains about Silus’ delay in repaying a debt.

aut sōdēs mihi redde decem sestertia, Sīlō,
deinde estō quamvīs saevus et indomitus:
aut, sī tē nummī dēlectant, dēsine quaesō
lēnō esse atque īdem saevus et indomitus.

Either give me back the ten grand please, Silus,
And then you can be a prick or whatever:
Or, if the money makes you happy, I beg you, stop
Being a pimp and be a prick again.

That’s a lot of money to trust to another person which explains why Catullus got so riled up and starts calling Silus names. Whether or not he actually lent the money or is just imagining a situation (which is very possible) is not important here. The point is the irritation and lack of funds at his current moment. Anyone who has given money to a trusted friend and then been burned can relate to the frustrating rage. I found that Rihanna echoes this concern more explicitly and violently in her 2015 song, Bitch Better Have My Money.[1]

Y’all should know me well enough.
Bitch, better have my money!
Please don’t call me on my bluff.
Pay me what you owe me.
Don’t act like you forgot, I call the shots, shots, shots
Like brrap, brrap, brrap (0:11-0:19, 0:43-0:50).

In posturing lyrics like Catullus, Rihanna calls out her friend, threatening violence, if the money is not returned. The deliberate spoken words emphasize the frustration of the singer. If the sentiment is that same, why not try to echo it in Latin. So, of course, I did.

Nunc bene mē cognōvistī
Scelesta, mea tibi redōnanda est pecūnia
Mē nē iubē dēmonstrāre, sōdēs
Da mihi quod mihi debēs.
Nōlī assimilāre tē oblīvitam esse, indīcō
ictūs, -tūs, -tūs, -tūs.

The first line echoes Catullus’ language in poem 72.5 where he says he knows Lesbia (nunc te cognovi). Scelesta returns from Catullus 8.15 to act as the invective, though canicula or canis could also be used. This line and the title of the song also provides the necessary pejorative name-calling also present in Catullus’ poem. I used a passive periphrastic (redōnanda est) to show obligation for the return of the money. Stationing pecunia at the end of the sentence also then mirrors Rihanna’s original placement of money.  Imperatives in the next two lines express Rihanna’s demands. The short words create a nice staccato effect similar to the manner in which Rihanna sings. Constructing the negative command with nolle allows for a recognizable construction which eases into an indirect statement.  The use of an onomatopoeia for gunshots in English creates an ominous mood. In order to reflect the similar repetition and emotion, I translated shot as an ictus which implies an arrow or spear hit as seen in verse (e.g. Ov. Met. 12.74).

Jumbled pile of Roman coins
Roman Coin Hoard, Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England [CC BY-SA 2.0 (
The repetition of the shot and the sound of a strike is expressed with –tus which acts as an echo to the full word, but it also imitates the staccato of multiple projectiles hitting the mark or the recoil of a weapon such as a ballista after firing. Rihanna herself utilized syllable echoing at the end of a lyric in repeating “-ella” in her hit, Umbrella (2008). Moreover, the term ictus is used to indicate a rhythmic stress in poetry (or music) so it plays with the concepts already discussed (Becker). The repetition of me and mihi highlights the singer’s agency or role as it is highlighted in the original. Grammatically, this translation is deliberately straightforward (I am not a poet) but I think it is accessible for students of Latin still learning. Obviously, I’ve lost the meter here but, the placement of words and word choices can be relevant as I have shown.

While I did this as an example, just thinking about these transformations and translations can be really rewarding in or out of the classroom. It is a mental (or even class) exercise which challenges you to think beyond the Classical corpus. Why not give it a try or even ask your students to try? You can ask for song-poem parallels, simple translations done as a group, or more analytical reflections on composition. Stephen Kershner has provided excellent detailed guidelines on how to formally incorporate this type of Latin composition to a class. (He also furnishes a translation of Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit, Bad Blood.) Really, most songs can be converted into Latin, if you are willing to be creative. The process makes students understand better translation and word choices.

So next time you are in the car listening to the radio or reading poetry, maybe you’ll see a new connection. In creating and explaining adaptions, we all (students, teachers, enthusiasts) can learn a little bit more about Latin, our own culture, and the fact that no one likes late payment!

[1] Rihanna’s song is responding to a topic in rap music about pimps, but she is flipping the paradigm

Theodora Kopestonsky is a senior lecturer in Classics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is a supervisor for the Beginning and Intermediate Latin program. Her research focuses primarily on Greek religion and practice, Corinthian studies, and nymphs, but she regularly teaches Latin, Classical archaeology, myth, and ancient civilization courses. 

Pliny vs. Ishmael

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Chp. 105):

But may it not be, that while the whales of the present hour are an advance in magnitude upon those of all previous geological periods; may it not be, that since Adam’s time they have degenerated?

Assuredly, we must conclude so, if we are to credit the accounts of such gentlemen as Pliny, and the ancient naturalists generally. For Pliny tells us of whales that embraced acres of living bulk, and Aldrovandus of others which measured eight hundred feet in length—Rope Walks and Thames Tunnels of Whales! And even in the days of Banks and Solander, Cooke’s naturalists, we find a Danish member of the Academy of Sciences setting down certain Iceland Whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies) at one hundred and twenty yards; that is, three hundred and sixty feet. And Lacépède, the French naturalist, in his elaborate history of whales, in the very beginning of his work (page 3), sets down the Right Whale at one hundred metres, three hundred and twenty-eight feet. And this work was published so late as A.D. 1825.

But will any whaleman believe these stories? No. The whale of to-day is as big as his ancestors in Pliny’s time. And if ever I go where Pliny is, I, a whaleman (more than he was), will make bold to tell him so. Because I cannot understand how it is, that while the Egyptian mummies that were buried thousands of years before even Pliny was born, do not measure so much in their coffins as a modern Kentuckian in his socks; and while the cattle and other animals sculptured on the oldest Egyptian and Nineveh tablets, by the relative proportions in which they are drawn, just as plainly prove that the high-bred, stall-fed, prize cattle of Smithfield, not only equal, but far exceed in magnitude the fattest of Pharaoh’s fat kine; in the face of all this, I will not admit that of all animals the whale alone should have degenerated.

O Leonardo, Validate Me!!!

Giovanni Marrasio, Angelinetum (IX):

To that most eloquent and erudite man, Leonardo Bruni:

It was the habit among the ancients, when they wished to try their mental powers, to mingle often with the learned. No one was ashamed to listen to wise Marcus Cato, and plenty a crowd followed Aristotle – but I follow you. You are a prophet most celebrated throughout the world, the most distinguished orator, a speaker at the forefront of his art. Leonardo, look kindly upon me – I adore you like a god, for Apollo has yielded his lyre to you. Let it not be a source of regret to have read my book with a favorable eye, and do not be pained by the trifles you find therein. Oh, if only I could compose the sort of verses about you which Vergil and Callimachus brought forth! If the ancient poets wrote their songs to Maecenas, Maecenas was worthy of their song. If the words which I have written are pleasing to your mind, I will live everlasting as an old man through many generations, with you as my guard. So farewell – I will publish these idle scribblings once you have given them a final rounding-off. If not, the papyrus will be closed in a box. If the hateful bookworm doesn’t ruin it first, the pharmacist will wrap his pepper in its leaves.

Ad eloquentissimum et eruditissimum virum Leonardum Arretinum.

Mos erat antiquis, sua quom trutinare volebant

Ingenia, ad doctos saepe coire viros.

Marcum non puduit sapientem audire Catonem

Multaque Aristotelem turba secuta fuit.

Te sequor: es toto vates celeberrimus orbe,

Orator summus, rhetor in arte prior.

Arretine, fave, te tamquam numen adoro:

Namque tibi placidam cessit Apollo liram.

Paeniteat nec te blando legisse libellum

Lumine, nec nugas inde dolare meas.

O utinam de te possem componere versus,

Quales Virgilius Callimachusque tulit!

Si ad Maecenatem veteres scripsere poetae

Carmina, Maecenas carmine dignus erat.

Si  < sunt >  grata animo quae scripsi verba, perennis

Auspice te vivam tempora multa senex.

Ergo vale, et nugas, postquam limaveris, edam;

Si minus, in cista clausa papirus erit,

Quae cito si tinea non obtundetur iniqua,

Vestiet ex chartis pharmacopola piper.

Madness, Prophecy, Poetry

Leonardo Bruni, 
Letter to Giovanni Marrasio on his Angelinetum:

“As Plato says, there are two types of madness: one coming from human maladies (a bad sort, to be sure, and detestable), and the other coming from a divine alienation from one’s mind. Of this divine madness, there are again four divisions, namely prophecy, mystery, poesy, and love. The ancients thought that there were just as many gods who supervised each of these, for they attributed prophecy to Apollo, mystery to Dionysus, poesy to the Muses, and love to Venus. Almost no one who has ever read anything in their lives is ignorant of what prophecy is. It is a kind of divination, but not all divination is prophecy, only but only that by which

the Delian prophet inspires the great mind and soul and lays the future open,

as Vergil says.

Haruspices and augurs and soothsayers and all the rest of that crowd are not prophets themselves, nor is their work actually prophecy, but rather it is simply the cunning of sane people and an ingenious prediction of future things. Mystery is concerned with religion, with the expiations and propitiations of the divine will with a more violent agitation of the mind – the sort of thing which are encountered so often in the Sacred Books, undertaken to placate heaven’s wrath with certain supplications. A poem receives much the same treatment which we gave to prophecy above. For, not every work is a poem, not even if it is written in verse; only that excellent work, that work worthy of this honored appellation, which is sent forth by a kind of divine breath, may be called a poem. And so, in the same degree by which prophecy excels mere prediction, a poem, which is born of madness, is to be preferred to the mere artifice of sane people. From this fact stem those phrases produced by a good poet as though they belonged to a madman:

‘From where do you order me to go, goddesses?’;

and Vergil’s

‘I shall speak of horrible wars, I shall speak of the battle lines and the kings driven by their spirits into battles, and the Etruscan band and all of Hesperia driven into arms. A greater order of things is now born from me, I am bringing forth a greater work.’

All of this was uttered by the poet in the prophetic mode.

Sappho Sings for Homer
Charles Nicholas Rafael Lafond, Sappho Sings for Homer

Sunt enim furoris, ut a Platone traditur, species duae: una ex humanis proveniens morbis, mala profecto res ac detestanda, altera ex divina mentis alienatione; divini rursus furoris partes quattuor: vaticinium, misterium, poesis et amor. His vero deos totidem praeesse veteres putaverunt: nam vaticinium Apollini, misterium Dionyso, poeticam Musis, amorem Veneri tribuebant. Et vaticinium quid tandem sit nemo fere qui modo quicquam legerit ignorat: est enim divinatio quaedam, sed non omnis divinatio vaticinium est, sed illa tantummodo “magnam quoi mentem animumque / Delius inspirat vates aperitque futura”, ut Maro inquit. Nam haruspices et augures et coniectores ac cetera huiusmodi turba nec vates quidem ipsi sunt nec eorum opus quidem vaticinium est, sed sanorum hominum prudentia et ingeniosa rerum futurarum coniectatio. Misteria vero circa religionem, expiationes et propitiationes divini numinis versantur cum vehementiori quadam mentis concitatione, qualia in Sacris Libris permulta ad placandam coelestem iram quibusdam suppliciis factitata leguntur. Poema quoque eandem fere determinationem recipit quam et de vaticinio supra dicebamus. Non enim omne opus poema est, ne si versibus quidem constet, sed illud praestans, illud hac honorata nuncupatione dignum quod afflatu quodam divino emittur. Itaque quanto vaticinium coniectationi dignitate praestat, tanto poema, quod ex furore fit, sanorum hominum artificio est anteponendum; hinc illae sunt  a bono poeta quasi vesani hominis emissae voces: “unde iubetis / ire deae?”; et Virgilius “dicam horrida bella / dicam acies actosque animis in proelia reges / Tyrrhenamque manum totamque sub arma coactam / Hesperiam. Maior rerum mihi nascitur ordo, / maius opus moveo”. Quod totum vaticinantis more prolatum est a poeta.