How Many Kisses?

Catullus Carmen 7

You ask me, how many kisses of yours,
Lesbia, are enough for me and more.
As great the number as Libyan sands
Lie among Cyrene, the Silphian producing lands
Between the oracle of stormy Jove
And ancient Battus’ sacred grave.
Or as many stars when the night is still
gaze upon humanity’s secret loves.
That is how many kisses are enough to kiss
And more for you and your insane Catullus.
Which the curious could not count.
Nor use their wicked talk to curse.”

Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua.

Image result for medieval manuscript kiss

Bodleian, MS. Douce 195, detail of f. 151r (“Pygmalion embraces the statue, as it lies half-undressed on the bed”).

Anger is Better than Indifference (for Lovers)

Catullus, Carmen 83

“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”

Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

As I have mentioned before, Catullus is the author who first drew me into classics when I was in high school. I loved the variety in his poems, the vitality, and the inappropriateness of some of his ‘subjects’. I can only imagine what would have happened had I been born but a bit later into a world in which the Latin AP was only Caesar and Vergil…

This poem has stuck with me for years as the most drastic version of the gap between passion (negative or positive) and indifference.

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum

Book of Hours, MS S.7 fol. 5v

Tawdry Tuesday: A Vergilian Poem on Erectile Dysfunction (Obviously, and Painfully, NFSW)

Note, even while translating this poem I often second guessed my own inclination. But, as is sometimes the case, the act of translation seeks its own peculiar end….

Appendix Vergiliana, Priapea IV

“What new thing is this? What does divine rage dictate now?
During the silent night while my bright boy was
Stretched out, snuggled in my lap,
Venus went silent, my languid ancient
Penis did not expose its manly head.

Does it make you happy Priapus—you who are used
to the forest covering with your head covered in vines—
to sit there red with a little red dick?
But, Huge Phallus God, often we have interleaved
Your hair with new flowers despite a lack of skill,
And we have often protected you with a shout
When an aged crow or obsessive jackdaw
Would pound your sacred head with pointed beak.

Goodbye, wicked traitor of my genitals!
Goodbye Priapus—I owe nothing to you.
You will stretch out pale in a fallow field
And a rabid dog or unclean boar
Will abrade the forgotten length of your wood.

And you, you criminal cock, my own curse,
You will pay the penalty of a sacred and severe law.
It will be right for you to weep. No tender boy
Will endure you and turn his moving rear
Open with a lovely trembling thigh.
Nor will any giggling girl stroke you
With a light hand and press her shining leg against you.

No! A two-toothed tart who looks like ancient Romulus
Waits for you: between her dark thighs
Lies a depth hidden by a hanging gut
Nestled beneath the skin, where
A protective spider’s web keeps the entrance cold.
She is ready for you, to engulf your moistened head
Three or four times in this deep ditch.
You can lie there sick and slowly thin
But she will work you over until finally, you wretch,
Now tripled and quadrupled you fill that void.
This insolence will not help you then when you
Immerse your inconstant crown in that sonorous crack.

What is this, lazy man? Doesn’t sloth shame you?
You might be allowed to go unpunished once.
But when that beautiful boy returns
Once you feel the sound of his feet,
Let this flesh wake up with solid lust
And may a restless swelling armor your crotch
And never stop compelling you until
A giggling Venus has burst my tender loins.

Quid hoc novi est? quid ira nuntiat deum?
silente nocte candidus mihi puer
tepente cum iaceret abditus sinu,
Venus fuit quieta, nec viriliter
iners senile penis extulit caput.

Placet, Priape, qui sub arboris coma
soles, sacrum revincte pampino caput,
ruber sedere cum rubente fascino?
at, o Triphalle, saepe floribus novis
tuas sine arte deligavimus comas,
abegimusque voce saepe, cum tibi
senexve corvus impigerve graculus
sacrum feriret ore corneo caput.

vale, nefande destitutor inguinum,
vale, Priape: debeo tibi nihil.
iacebis inter arva pallidus situ,
canisque saeva susque ligneo tibi
lutosus affricabit oblitum latus.

At, o sceleste penis, o meum malum,
gravi piaque lege noxiam lues.
licet querare: nec tibi tener puer
patebit ullus, in tremente qui toro
iuvante verset arte mobilem natem,
puella nec iocosa te levi manu
fovebit, apprimetve lucidum femur.

bidens amica Romuli senis memor
paratur, inter atra cuius inguina
latet iacente pantice abditus specus
vagaque pelle tectus, algido gelu
araneosus obsidet forem situs.
tibi haec paratur, ut tuum ter aut quarter
oret profunda fossa lubricum caput.
licebit aeger, angue lentior, cubes,
tereris usque donec, a, miser, miser
triplexque quadruplexque compleas specum.
superbia ista proderit nihil, simul
vagum sonante merseris luto caput.

Quid est, iners? pigetne lentitudinis?
licebit hoc inultus auferas semel:
sed ille cum redibit aureus puer,
simul sonante senseris iter pede,
rigente nervus excubet libidine,
et inquietus inguina arrigat tumor,
neque incitare cesset, usque dum mihi
Venus iocosa molle ruperit latus.

Aphrodite crowning a herm of Dionysos with an ivy wreath - 100BC from Myrina; now British Museum

Aphrodite with a Herm, British Museum

The Appendix Vergiliana is a group of poems attributed to Vergil, but not with much authority.

Sad Ovid’s Sad Poem is Really Sad

Ovid, Tristia 3, 1-20

“I come to this city fearfully, sent as an exile’s book.
Reader, my friend, give a calming hand to the weary
and don’t worry that I might shame you in some way.
No line in this manuscript teaches about love.

My master’s fate is such that the miserable man
should not hide it in any jokes
That work which amused him once in his green age
He now condemns—alas, too late—and hates.
Look what I carry: you will find nothing but sorrow here,
a song which matches its own days.

If the lame song breaks off in alternating lines,
then it comes from the meter’s form or the journey’s length.
If I am not bright with cedar nor smooth from pumice,
it is because I turned red at looking better than my master.
If the letters are shapeless, if they are marred by erasure,
it is because the poet wounded the work with his own tears.
If any words seem by chance not to be Latin,
it is because he wrote them in a barbarous land.

Tell me, readers—if it is not too much—where should I go,
What home should I, a foreign book, seek in this city?

Missus in hanc uenio timide liber exulis urbem
da placidam fesso, lector amice, manum;
neue reformida, ne sim tibi forte pudori:
nullus in hac charta uersus amare docet.
Haec domini fortuna mei est, ut debeat illam
infelix nullis dissimulare iocis.
Id quoque, quod uiridi quondam male lusit in aeuo,
heu nimium sero damnat et odit opus.
Inspice quid portem: nihil hic nisi triste uidebis,
carmine temporibus conueniente suis.
Clauda quod alterno subsidunt carmina uersu,
uel pedis hoc ratio, uel uia longa facit;
quod neque sum cedro flauus nec pumice leuis,
erubui domino cultior esse meo;
littera suffusas quod habet maculosa lituras,
laesit opus lacrimis ipse poeta suum
Siqua uidebuntur casu non dicta Latine,
in qua scribebat, barbara terra fuit.
Dicite, lectores, si non graue, qua sit eundum,
quasque petam sedes hospes in urbe liber.


Loving and Hating: Ovid, Catullus and Self-Loathing

Ovid, Amores 2.4

“I will not be so bold as to defend my lying ways
or to lift false weapons for the sake of my sins.
I admit it—if there’s any advantage to confessing;
Insane now I confront the crimes I’ve confessed:
I hate, and though I want to, I can’t stop being what I hate.
Alas, how it hurts to carry something you long to drop!”

Non ego mendosos ausim defendere mores
falsaque pro vitiis arma movere meis.
confiteor—siquid prodest delicta fateri;
in mea nunc demens crimina fassus eo.
odi, nec possum, cupiens, non esse quod odi;
heu, quam quae studeas ponere ferre grave est!

Perhaps it is just my training on an outdated AP curriculum or my love of Catullus, but I cannot read this poem without thinking of this one (Carm. 85):

“I hate and I love: you might ask why I do this–
I don’t know, but I see it happen and it’s killing me.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

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