A Blessed Man

“Is the governor positioning himself for a White House run in 2024?”–Politico, June 23, 2022

Theognis, 933-938

Excellence and beauty attend few men.
Blessed is the one to whom fate grants both.
Everybody honors him: Gen Y, his peers,
And old boomers all make way for him.
With age he becomes more distinguished
Among his countrymen, and none of them
Wants to disrespect or cost him his due.

παύροις ἀνθρώπων ἀρετὴ καὶ κάλλος ὀπηδεῖ:
ὄλβιος, ὃς τούτων ἀμφοτέρων ἔλαχεν.
πάντες μιν τιμῶσιν: ὁμῶς νέοι οἵ τε κατ᾽ αὐτὸν
χώρης εἴκουσιν τοί τε παλαιότεροι:
γηράσκων δ᾽ ἀστοῖσι μεταπρέπει, οὐδέ τις αὐτὸν
βλάπτειν οὔτ᾽ αἰδοῦς οὔτε δίκης ἐθέλει.

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California
and potential 2024 presidential candidate,
before fitted shirts.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Praising Plato, by the Poet Aristotle

Olympiodorus on Plato, Gorgias 215

“Aristotle doesn’t merely praise Plate in the piece he wrote about him, but he also delivers praise in the elegies he composed for Eudemus, writing as follows:

[missing line of dactylic hexameter]

“Once he came to Kekrops’ famous plain
He reverently built an altar for the sacred friendship
Of a man whom it is not right for the evil to praise
Who alone or first of mortals demonstrated clearly
Through his own life and the practices of his words
That the good person and the happy person are the same.

And now there is no way for anyone to do the same things again.”

οὐ μόνον δὲ ἐγκώμιον ποιήσας αὐτοῦ ἐπαινεῖ αὐτόν, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐλεγείοις τοῖς πρὸς Εὔδημον αὐτὸν ἐπαινῶν Πλάτωνα ἐγκωμιάζει, γράφων οὕτως·

ἐλθὼν δ᾿ ἐς κλεινὸν Κεκροπίης δάπεδον
εὐσεβέως σεμνῆς φιλίης ἱδρύσατο βωμὸν
ἀνδρὸς ὅν οὐδ᾿ αἰνεῖν τοῖσι κακοῖσι θέμις,
ὃς μόνος ἢ πρῶτος θνητῶν κατέδειξεν ἐναργῶς
οἰκείῳ τε βίῳ καὶ μεθόδοισι λόγων
ὡς ἀγαθός τε καὶ εὐδαίμων ἅμα γίνεται ἀνήρ·
οὐ νῦν δ᾿ ἔστι λαβεῖν οὐδενὶ ταῦτά ποτε.

fresco depicting the School of Aristotle by Gustav Adolph Spangenberg, ca 1883-1888

We Don’t Have Justice, But We Still have Hope

Theognis, Elegies 1135-1150

“Hope is the only noble god left among mortals:
The rest of have abandoned us to go to Olympos.
Trust, a great god, left; Prudence has left men.
The Graces, my friend, have surrendered the earth.

Oaths in a court of law can no longer be trusted;
And no one fears shame before the immortal gods
As the race of righteous men has disappeared.
People no longer recognize precedents or sacred duties.

But as long as someone lives and sees the light of the sun,
Let him foster Hope and act righteously before the gods.
Let him pray to the gods and, while burning shining thigh bones,
Sacrifice to Hope first and last.

And let each person always look out for the crooked word of unjust men:
Those men who do not fear the rage of the gods at all,
Who forever conspire in their thoughts against others’ property,
Men who make shameful agreements for future evil deeds.”

᾿Ελπὶς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι μόνη θεὸς ἐσθλὴ ἔνεστιν,
ἄλλοι δ’ Οὔλυμπόν<δ’> ἐκπρολιπόντες ἔβαν·
ὤιχετο μὲν Πίστις, μεγάλη θεός, ὤιχετο δ’ ἀνδρῶν
Σωφροσύνη, Χάριτές τ’, ὦ φίλε, γῆν ἔλιπον·
ὅρκοι δ’ οὐκέτι πιστοὶ ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιοι,
οὐδὲ θεοὺς οὐδεὶς ἅζεται ἀθανάτους.
εὐσεβέων δ’ ἀνδρῶν γένος ἔφθιτο, οὐδὲ θέμιστας
οὐκέτι γινώσκουσ’ οὐδὲ μὲν εὐσεβίας.
ἀλλ’ ὄφρα τις ζώει καὶ ὁρᾶι φῶς ἠελίοιο,
εὐσεβέων περὶ θεοὺς ᾿Ελπίδα προσμενέτω·
εὐχέσθω δὲ θεοῖσι, καὶ ἀγλαὰ μηρία καίων
᾿Ελπίδι τε πρώτηι καὶ πυμάτηι θυέτω.
φραζέσθω δ’ ἀδίκων ἀνδρῶν σκολιὸν λόγον αἰεί,
οἳ θεῶν ἀθανάτων οὐδὲν ὀπιζόμενοι
αἰὲν ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίοις κτεάνοισ’ ἐπέχουσι νόημα,
αἰσχρὰ κακοῖσ’ ἔργοις σύμβολα θηκάμενοι.

Recueil de prose et de vers concernant Alexandre, Annibal et Scipion, Hector et Achille, Dagobert, Clovis II et Charles VIII, Philippe le Beau, roi d'Espagne, les comtes de Dammartin.

 

Everything Terrible is Our Fault

Theognis, 1.833-836

“Everything’s gone to hell and is in the shitter, Kyrnos,
And not even one of the blessed, immortal gods is to blame!
No, it’s the violence of men, their craven profits, and arrogance
That’s damned us to evil from bountiful good.”

Πάντα τάδ’ ἐν κοράκεσσι καὶ ἐν φθόρωι· οὐδέ τις ἡμῖν
αἴτιος ἀθανάτων, Κύρνε, θεῶν μακάρων,
ἀλλ’ ἀνδρῶν τε βίη καὶ κέρδεα δειλὰ καὶ ὕβρις
πολλῶν ἐξ ἀγαθῶν ἐς κακότητ’ ἔβαλεν.

Theognis: A Poet to Avoid for, Um, Virtue

CW: Eugenics

Suda, Theta 137

“Theognis, the Megarian, from the Megarians in Sicily, lived around the time of the 59th Olympiad (544-541 BCE). He composed an elegy for those who were saved in the siege of the Syracusans and an additional collection of 2800 elegiac lines. Some were advice and traditional wisdom addressed to Kyrnos, his lover. All his work was in epic language. Note that Theognis composed useful advice, but mixed in with this are disgusting and pederastic love poems and other topics  that a virtuous life turns away from.”

Θέογνις, Μεγαρεύς, τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾳ Μεγάρων, γεγονὼς ἐν τῇ νθ′ ὀλυμπιάδι. ἔγραψεν ἐλεγείαν εἰς τοὺς σωθέντας τῶν Συρακουσίων ἐν τῇ πολιορκίᾳ, γνώμας δι’ ἐλεγείας εἰς ἔπη βω′, καὶ πρὸς Κῦρον, τὸν αὐτοῦ ἐρώμενον, Γνωμολογίαν δι’ ἐλεγείων καὶ ἑτέρας ὑποθήκας παραινετικάς. τὰ πάντα ἐπικῶς. ὅτι μὲν παραινέσεις ἔγραψε Θέογνις· ἀλλ’ ἐν μέσῳ τούτων παρεσπαρμέναι μιαρίαι καὶπαιδικοὶ ἔρωτες καὶ ἄλλα, ὅσα ὁ ἐνάρετος ἀποστρέφεται βίος.

Stobaus. 4.29.53

 “Here is something from Xenophon’s work on Theognis. “These are the verses of Theognis of Megara. That poet composed about nothing other than human virtue and vice. His poetry is a theory about people, just as if some equestrian were to compose a work about horses. The first principle of his poetry is correct. For he begins by talking about good breeding, since he believed that no person nor any other creature could be good if its parents were not good.

It seemed best to him to use other animals as an example, not those who survive in nature, but those who are tended with skill by humans, to get a view of how creatures turn out best. He is very clear in his poems about this. His lines say that people don’t know how to breed properly with one another and because of this the human race is always deteriorating because the better lines are constantly mixed with the worse. But many other people think that in these verse, the poet is accusing and railing against people who use money to excuse low-breeding and bad behavior. He seems to me to be indicating their ignorance about their own lives.”

Ξενοφῶντος ἐκ τοῦ περὶ Θεόγνιδος. “Θεόγνιδός ἐστιν ἔπη τοῦ Μεγαρέως” (22–23). οὗτος δὲ ὁ ποιητὴς περὶ οὐδενὸς ἄλλου λόγον πεποίηται ἢ περὶ ἀρετῆς καὶ κακίας ἀνθρώπων, καί ἐστιν ἡ ποίησις σύγγραμμα περὶ ἀνθρώπων, ὥσπερ εἴ τις ἱππικὸς ὢν συγγράψειεν περὶ ἱππικῆς. ἡ οὖν ἀρχή μοι δοκεῖ τῆς ποιήσεως ὀρθῶς ἔχειν· ἄρχεται γὰρ πρῶτον ἀπὸ τοῦ εὖ γενέσθαι. ᾤετο γὰρ οὔτ᾿ ἄνθρωπον οὔτε τῶν ἄλλων οὐδὲν ἂν ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, εἰ μὴ τὰ γεννήσοντα ἀγαθὰ εἴη. ἔδοξεν οὖν αὐτῷ παραδείγμασι τοῖς ἄλλοις ζῴοις χρήσασθαι, ὅσα μὴ εἰκῆ τρέφεται, ἀλλὰ μετὰ τέχνης ἕκαστα θεραπεύεται, ὅπως γενναιότατα ἔσονται. δηλοῖ δ᾿ ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσι· (183–90). ταῦτα τὰ ἔπη λέγει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους οὐκ ἐπίστασθαι γεννᾶν ἐξ ἀλλήλων, κἆτα γίγνεσθαι τὸ γένος τῶν ἀνθρώπων κάκιον ἀεὶ μειγνύμενον τὸ χεῖρον τῷ βελτίονι. οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ἐκ τούτων τῶν ἀνθρώπων κατηγορεῖν καὶ ἀντὶ χρημάτων ἀγένειαν καὶ κακίαν ἀντικαταλλάττεσθαι εἰδότας. ἐμοὶ δὲ δοκεῖ ἄγνοιαν κατηγορεῖν περὶ τὸν αὐτῶν βίον.

The lines Xenophon mentions.

Theognis, 183-190

“We search for well-bred rams, horses, and donkeys, Kyrnos
And everyone wants to climb atop females from good stock
But an aristocrat doesn’t think twice about the wicked daughter
Of a bad man if her father gives him a load of cash,
Just as a woman won’t refuse a common man as a husband
If he’s rich—no, she wants wealth over nobility.

They worship money. A nobleman marries a commoner’s daughter
And a lowborn child comes from on high. Wealth has ruined class.
So don’t be amazed at how the stock of your citizens degrades
Polypaides—our finer things are all mixed up with the poor.”

Κριοὺς μὲν καὶ ὄνους διζήμεθα, Κύρνε, καὶ ἵππους
εὐγενέας, καί τις βούλεται ἐξ ἀγαθῶν
βήσεσθαι· γῆμαι δὲ κακὴν κακοῦ οὐ μελεδαίνει
ἐσθλὸς ἀνήρ, ἤν οἱ χρήματα πολλὰ διδῶι,
οὐδὲ γυνὴ κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀναίνεται εἶναι ἄκοιτις
πλουσίου, ἀλλ’ ἀφνεὸν βούλεται ἀντ’ ἀγαθοῦ.
χρήματα μὲν τιμῶσι· καὶ ἐκ κακοῦ ἐσθλὸς ἔγημε
καὶ κακὸς ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ· πλοῦτος ἔμειξε γένος.
οὕτω μὴ θαύμαζε γένος, Πολυπαΐδη, ἀστῶν
μαυροῦσθαι· σὺν γὰρ μίσγεται ἐσθλὰ κακοῖς.

Propertius: A Slave to Love

Propertius I.12.

Haven’t you reproached me enough, Ponticus,
For idly hanging around Rome?
A certain girl is far, far from my bed,
Like the Hypanis river is far, far from the Po.
Cynthia is not stoking with hugs the love
I’ve come to expect, nor is she cooing in my ear.

I was once her beloved. No one’s ever thought
He could love with the same confidence.
We occasioned envy. Does a god now destroy me?
Or, what herb from the Caucasus mountains keeps us apart?

I am not who I was. Extended travel changes girls.
How great a love fled in little time!
And now, a first: I’m forced to know long nights alone,
And to be a burden to my own ears.

Happy is the man who can weep in front of a girl
(Love thoroughly enjoys being sprinkled with tears),
Or who is so rejected he can redirect his ardor
(serving someone new has its pleasures too).
I can’t love someone else, and I can’t break with her:
Cynthia was first. Cynthia will be last.

Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen,
quod facias nobis, Pontice, Roma moram?
tam multa illa meo divisa est milia lecto,
quantum Hypanis Veneto dissidet Eridano;
nec mihi consuetos amplexu nutrit amores
Cynthia, nec nostra dulcis in aure sonat.

olim gratus eram: non illo tempore cuiquam
contigit ut simili posset amare fide.
invidiae fuimus: num me deus obruit? an quae
lecta Prometheis dividit herba iugis?

non sum ego qui fueram: mutat via longa puellas.
quantus in exiguo tempore fugit amor!
nunc primum longas solus cognoscere noctes
cogor et ipse meis auribus esse gravis.

felix, qui potuit praesenti flere puellae
(non nihil aspersus gaudet Amor lacrimis),
aut si despectus, potuit mutare calores,
(sunt quoque translato gaudia servitio).
mi neque amare aliam neque abhac desistere fas est:
Cynthia prima fuit, Cynthia finis erit.


Rodin. The Eternal Idol. 1893.
Musee Rodin. Paris.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Hades’ Newest Bride: A Remarkable Epitaph

This poem actually inspired me to type “just wow” when I was looking through the PHI Epigraphic Database.

CIRB 130 from the N. Black Sea ca. 50 BC-50 AD — GVI 1989

“Theophilê Hekataiou gives her greeting.

They were wooing me, Theiophilê the short-lived daughter of
Hekataios, those young men [seeking] a maiden for marriage.
But Hades seized me first, since he was longing for me
When he saw a Persephone better than Persephone.

[….]

And when the message is carved on the stone
He weeps for the girl, Theiophilê the Sinopian,
Whose father, Hekataios, gave the torch-holding bride-to-be
To Hades and not a marriage.

[…]

Maiden Theiophilê, no marriage awaits you, but a land
With no return; not as the bride of Menophilos,
But as a partner in Persephone’s bed. Your father Hekataios
Now has only the name of the pitiable lost girl.

And as he looks on your shape in stone he sees
The unfulfilled hopes Fate wrongly buried in the ground.

Theiophilê, a girl allotted beauty envied by mortals,
A tenth Muse, a Grace for marriage’s age,
A perfect example of prudence.
Hades did not throw his dark hands around you.

No, Pluto lit the flames for the wedding torches
With his lamp, welcoming a most desired mate.

Parents, stop your laments now, stop your grieving,
Theiophilê has found an immortal bed.”

1           Θεοφίλη Ἑκαταίου, / χαῖρε.
Θειοφίλην με θύγατρα μινυνθαδίην Ἑκαταίου
ἐμνώοντο, γάμωι παρθένον ἠΐθεοι,
5 ἔφθασε δ’ ἁρπάξας Ἀΐδης, ἠράσσατο γάρ μευ,
Φερσεφόνας ἐσιδὼν κρέσσονα Φερσεφόναν.
6a ———

7 καὶ γράμμα πέτρης ἐκγλυφὲν στηλίτιδος
κόρην δακρύει Θεοφίλην Σινωπίδα
τὰς μελλονύμφους ἧς πατὴρ δαιδουχίας
10   Ἑκαταῖος Ἅιδηι καὶ οὐ γάμωι συνάρμοσεν.
10a ———

11 παρθένε Θειοφίλα, σὲ μὲν οὐ γάμος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίαυλος
χῶρος ἔχει νύμφη δ’ οὐκέτι Μηνοφίλου,
[ἀ]λλὰ Κόρης σύλλεκτρος· ὁ δὲ σπείρας Ἑκαταῖος
οὔνομα δυστήνου μοῦνον ἔχει φθιμένης,
15 [μ]ορφὰν δ’ ἐν πέτραι λεύ<σ>σει σέο τὰς δ’ ἀτελέστους
ἐλπίδας οὐχ ὁσίη Μοῖρα κατεχθόνισεν.

τὴν κάλλος ζηλωτὸν ἐνὶ θνατοῖσι λαχοῦσαν
Θειοφίλην, Μουσῶν τὴν δεκάτην, Χάριτα,
πρὸς γάμον ὡραίαν, τὴν σωφροσύνης ὑπόδειγμα,
20   οὐκ Ἀΐδας ζοφεραῖς ἀμφέβαλεν παλάμαις,

Πλούτων δ’ εἰς θαλάμους τὰ γαμήλια λαμπάδι φέγγη
ἇψε, ποθεινοτάτην δεξάμενος γαμέτιν.
[ὦ γ]ονέες, θρήνων νῦν λήξατε, παύετ’ ὀδυρμῶν·
Θειοφίλη λέκτρων ἀθανάτων ἔτυχεν.

Image result for hades persephone grave relief
A relief of Persephone and Hades from the Hierapolis Archaeological Museum

When War Overtakes Us

Kallinos, fr. 5

“Now the army of the violent Kimmerians is advancing…”

νῦν δ᾿ ἐπὶ Κιμμερίων στρατὸς ἔρχεται
Ὀβριμοεργῶν,

Kallinos, fr. 1

How long will you wait? When will you embrace your brave heart,
Young men? Aren’t you ashamed to wait so long in front
Of your neighbors? You think that you are sitting back in peace
But war is overtaking the whole land.

[….]
Let each person take their last shot even as they die–
There’s real honor for someone to fight against enemies
For their land and their children and their wedded spouses.
Death will come whenever the fates decide it.

But let each one of us go forward, raising our spear high
And keeping a brave spirit behind our shield, now that war is whirling.
There’s no way for anyone to avoid death, at least
When its fated, not even if they’re offspring of the immortal gods.
Often, someone flees the strife and clash of spears
Only to have death’s fate overcome them at home.

That one isn’t forever loved or missed by the people.
But the small and great alike mourn the other, when something happens.
The whole people long for a strong-minded person
when they’re gone, someone the worth of living heroes.
The people look upon them like a mighty tower—
For they do the work of many, even when standing alone.

μέχρις τέο κατάκεισθε; κότ᾿ ἄλκιμον ἕξετε θυμόν,
ὦ νέοι; οὐδ᾿ αἰδεῖσθ᾿ ἀμφιπερικτίονας
ὧδε λίην μεθιέντες; ἐν εἰρήνῃ δὲ δοκεῖτε
ἧσθαι, ἀτὰρ πόλεμος γαῖαν ἅπασαν ἔχει
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
καί τις ἀποθνήσκων ὕστατ᾿ ἀκοντισάτω.
τιμῆέν τε γάρ ἐστι καὶ ἀγλαὸν ἀνδρὶ μάχεσθαι
γῆς πέρι καὶ παίδων κουριδίης τ᾿ ἀλόχου
δυσμενέσιν· θάνατος δὲ τότ᾿ ἔσσεται, ὁππότε κεν δὴ
Μοῖραι ἐπικλώσωσ᾿. ἀλλά τις ἰθὺς ἴτω

ἔγχος ἀνασχόμενος καὶ ὑπ᾿ἀσπίδος ἄλκιμον ἦτορ
ἔλσας, τὸ πρῶτον μειγνυμένου πολέμου.
οὐ γάρ κως θάνατόν γε φυγεῖν εἱμαρμένον ἐστὶν
ἄνδρ᾿, οὐδ᾿ εἰ προγόνων ᾖ γένος ἀθανάτων.
πολλάκι δηϊοτῆτα φυγὼν καὶ δοῦπον ἀκόντων
ἔρχεται, ἐν δ᾿ οἴκῳ μοῖρα κίχεν θανάτου.

ἀλλ᾿ ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἔμπης δήμῳ φίλος οὐδὲ ποθεινός,
τὸν δ᾿ ὀλίγος στενάχει καὶ μέγας, ἤν τι πάθῃ·
λαῷ γὰρ σύμπαντι πόθος κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρὸς
θνήσκοντος, ζώων δ᾿ ἄξιος ἡμιθέων·
ὥσπερ γάρ μιν πύργον ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρῶσιν·
ἔρδει γὰρ πολλῶν ἄξια μοῦνος ἐών.

“Seated Warriors” by Marcus Grønvold (1870)

Miser Catulle?  Making a Powerless Catullus & a Powerful Lesbia 

Editor’s note: we are happy to bring you this essay from Plum Luard. If you are interested in posting on SA, just reach out.

Catullus’s love affairs are a central theme of  his poems–illustrating tales of beautiful, amorous relationships as well as the pain they inflict upon him. Much scholarship on Catullus’s poems aims to unpack his unending depictions and lamentations of his love for Lesbia.

Meghan O. Drinkwater’s “The Woman’s Part: The Speaking Beloved in Roman Elegy,” expands on the idea of a powerful beloved in elegy. She points out that whenever the domina in elegy speaks, she does so in a manner meant “to destabilize” (Drinkwater, 32 ) and keep her lover interested. Judith P. Hallet’s “The Role of Women in Roman Elegy: Counter-Cultural Feminism” gives us an insight into the true meaning of the word domina–explaining that a domina describes a “‘woman in command of household slaves”’ and thus asserts that the domina has an intrinsically enslaving power (Hallet, 112 ). Christel Johnson’s “Mistress & Myth: Catullus 68,” asserts that domina appears closely linked to domus, and thus characterizes the woman in the sphere of the domus–proving men powerless in this realm.

Johnston also explains that in poem 68, line 136, Catullus calls Lesbia an era “mistress of slaves,” which further supports the claim that Catullus’s domina possesses a powerful enslaving capability. Adding onto the work of these scholars, I will examine how Catullus inflates both the beauty and the intelligence of his female beloved in order to justify his position as the servus amoris, “the servant of love.” The theme of domination by a strong, female beloved suggested by Catullus continues to have resonance in today’s sex work industry, especially as seen by men’s desire to seek Dominatrixes–women who take on the sadistic role of sadomasocistic sex. 

Catullus 8 is a poem in which the poet encourages himself to obdura, to “man up,” and to forget Lesbia; however, the hyperbolic illustrations of his misery exemplify his role as the servus amoris

Nunc iam illa non vult: tu quoque impotens noli,
nec quae fugit sectare, nec miser vive,
sed obstinata mente perfer, obdura.
Vale puella, iam Catullus obdurat,
nec te requiret nec rogabit invitam.
At tu dolebis, cum rogaberis nulla. (9-14)

Now she no longer wants these things, you being powerless, must not want them either, and do not chase after the one who flees, don’t live as a miserable man, but endure and be firm with a resolute mind, be strong. Farewell girl, now Catullus is strong, he doesn’t require you and he will not ask out an unwilling person.

The poem is written in limping iambics (Garrison, 98 ) which immediately allows the listener to recognize the pain, suffering, and defeat that Catullus is subject to because of the powerful Lesbia. Catullus repeats the word miser (along with its cognates) 42 times throughout the entire poem and this excessive usage results in the poem becoming characterized by a ridiculous sense of hyperbole. Although throughout the poem Catullus encourages himself to obdurat or be strong, the poem is riddled with claims of his miserableness and the obsessiveness of his love for Lesbia, suggesting he is either utterly failing in his effort to obdurat or actually does not genuinely want to succeed. The excessive use of miser supports the latter claim as it shows that Catullus is utterly obsessed with his miserableness. Furthermore, although miser can simply mean miserable, it also connote intense erotic love (Garrison, 98) which suggests that these two qualities–miserableness and infatuation–are intrinsically connected. Poem 8 exemplifies Catullus’s desire to be dominated by a powerful woman–his unending declarations of his misery and his lamentations of his absolute love for Lesbia illustrate an obsession with his role as the servus amoris

Catullus 86, a poem in which Catullus compares the beauty of Lesbia to that of Quinta, explains how Catullus defines beauty: Lesbia formosa est, quae cum pulcherrima tota est, / tum omnibus una omnis surripuit Veneres.  “Lesbia is beautiful, she is not only entirely beautiful, but she alone has stolen all the charms from everyone” (5-6). 

Catullus employs Veneres to explain the reason for Lesbia’s beauty. Although Veneres is most logically translated as “charms,” we cannot ignore the obvious illusion Catullus is making to Venus–goddess of love, sex, and fertility. By employing Veneres here, Catullus paints Lesbia as goddess-like and thus both emphasizes her fantastic beauty as well as her immense power.

Similarly, he again casts Lesbia as a goddess in poem 68, calling her candida diua, “a beautiful goddess.” And also refers to Venus saying: “nam, mihi quam dederit duxplex Amathusia curam, / scitis, et in quo me torruerit genere” (68.51-52), “Well, you know the heartache that double-edged Venus has given to me and how she scorched me.” Duplex can mean both “treacherous;” “two-faced;” or “deceitful.” And as Johnson writes, “all these readings cast Venus as a dominating force who brings both dreadful and joyous events into the lover’s life”  (151 ). His repeated illusions to Venus work both to illustrate a connection between pleasure and pain in Catullus’s eyes AND to overtly emphasize Lesbia’s magnificent beauty and seductive power. Catullus thereby aims to justify his role as the servus amoris–painting himself both as adoring of and subject to the immense power of goddess-like lover. 

In poem 75, Catullus describes his vulnerability and weaknesses in his relationship. 

Huc est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa
atque ita se officio perdidit ipsa suo,
ut iam nec bene velle queat tibi, si optima fias,
nec desistere amare, omnia si facias.

Now is my mind brought down to this point, my Lesbia, by your fault, and has so lost itself by its devotion, that now it cannot wish you well, were you to become most perfect, nor can it cease to love you, whatever you do. (1-4; Leonard C. Smithers )

Catullus’s claim that his mind has perdidit ipsa, “lost itself ” because of Lesbia serves as yet another example of the pain that his relationship has inflicted upon him. Even stronger than to lose, perdo can also signify to destroy, and thus Clark believes this passage to mean that Catullus’s “mind has been destroyed (perdidit) by doing its duty to her” (Clark 269). 

Catullus next vows his eternal devotion for Lesbia, saying nec desistere amare, “nor can it cease to love you.” But avowing his love to Lesbia following his description of her destructive power, Catullus asserts that he is absolutely infatuated by her damaging ability. He concludes with a concession that typifies the powerless–omnia si facias, “whatever you do.” Despite the unending claims of the pain Catullus endures in his relationship with Lesbia, he cannot and will forever be unable to stop loving her–he is obsessed with her beauty, obsessed with her mind, obsessed with her power. 

Throughout his works, Catullus paints himself as a miserable, lamentable, and destroyed man subject to the will and desires of the powerful Lesbia and thereby takes on the role of the servus amoris, a trope in which the elegist feigns inferiority and a servile position to bolster the power of his mistress. Despite all the claims of his pitifulness, he continues to love Lesbia regardless, proving that, despite all the supposed pain he endures, he continues to be infatuated with her and even enjoys suffering under her power.

Catullus’s desire to receive pain and to embrace his status as a servus amoris echoes the modern day desire for a Dominatrix. Instead of reading elegy as men who are trying to uplift women, we should understand that male sexual pleasure can be derived from creating, theorizing, and fantasizing a woman with such immense power. Elegy is often examined through a feminist canon because it seems to present a genre of literature in which women uniquely come off as powerful; however, studying elegy in comparison to the phenomena of a Dominatrix forces us to question the truthfulness of this power women seem to posses in their elegiac love affairs.

The conversation around whether the construction of a powerful, dominating woman is empowering remains very much alive today when we consider whether or not sex work is an industry that is inherently feminist. Interestingly, since elegy is written from the male perspective where we rarely–if ever–hear the woman’s voice, we are only able to understand the effect that this giving of female power has on the male perspective. We now hear the female voice from memoirs and articles written by Dominatrixes and it is interesting to examine the words of these women whose job titles and clients imagine them as strong and powerful.

An article by Melissa Febos, a woman who worked as a Dominatrix for three years, entitled “I Spent My Life Consenting to Touch I Didn’t Want,” explores the story of a woman who had a hard time deciding whether her work as a Dominatrix was inherently empowering or feminist. Febos writes that she felt “nothing” (Febos, NYT) after her sessions suggesting that her work didn’t instill her with the sense of power and domination that the name promises. Although, of course, Dominatrixes inevitably differ in their beliefs on whether their work is empowering, the narrative of Febos illustrates that for some, their work does not live up to its title–they are not transformed into all powerful dominas. Thus elegy’s portrayal of the female beloved as sadists perhaps can be explained through this phenomena of a desire for Dominatrix–the role that Lesbia assumes throughout Catullus’s poetry is not in fact an attempt to instill her with a powerful status, it is a Catullan tool to demonstrate his sexual desires and he never provides a glimpse of Lesbia’s reaction to being placed in this role of male-manufactured power. 

Catullus and Lesbia, 1809 Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (Museum: Nivaagaard Museum)

Bibliography 

DRINKWATER, MEGAN O. “THE WOMAN’S PART: THE SPEAKING BELOVED IN ROMAN ELEGY.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 63, no. 1, 2013, pp. 329–338., http://www.jstor.org/stable/23470088. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021. 

Clark, Christina A. “The Poetics of Manhood? Nonverbal Behavior in Catullus 51.” Classical Philology, vol. 103, no. 3, 2008, pp. 257–281. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/596517. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021. 

Hallett, Judith P. “THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN ROMAN ELEGY: COUNTER-CULTURAL FEMINISM.” Arethusa, vol. 6, no. 1, 1973, pp. 103–124. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26307466. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021. 

JOHNSON, CHRISTEL. “MISTRESS AND MYTH: CATULLUS 68B.” The Classical Outlook, vol. 85, no. 4, 2008, pp. 151–154. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43939232. Accessed 16 Apr. 2021. 

Catullus, Gaius Valerius, and Daniel H. Garrison. The Student’s Catullus. University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 

Catullus. The Carmina of Gaius Valerius Catullus. Leonard C. Smithers. London. Smithers. 1894 

Febos, Mellissa, “I Spent My Life Consenting to Touch I Didn’t Want.” New York Times, 31 March 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/magazine/consent.html. Accessed 26 April 2021. 

Miller, Paul Allen. Latin Erotic Elegy. London, Routledge, 2002.

Plum Luard is a senior at Friends Seminary studying Latin, Ancient Greek, and Spanish.  She is particularly fascinated by gendered power structures in elegy and the degree to which we can understand the elegists as feminists.  Plum is passionate about translation—what is lost and what is elucidated.  This is her first publication.

Drinking is a Double-Edged Sword

Theognis, 837-840

“Drinking is double-edged for wretched mortals:
Thirst weakens your limbs and drunkenness is mean.
I’ll walk a fine line: you won’t persuade me
Not to drink nor to get too drunk.

Δισσαί τοι πόσιος κῆρες δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσιν,
δίψα τε λυσιμελὴς καὶ μέθυσις χαλεπή·
τούτων δ’ ἂν τὸ μέσον στρωφήσομαι, οὐδέ με πείσεις
οὔτε τι μὴ πίνειν οὔτε λίην μεθύειν.

grapes