Tawdry Tuesday: The Way to a Man’s Heart

Martial 11.29

“Phyllis, when you begin to stroke my flaccid pieces
with your wrinkled hand, I am just wrecked by your thumb.
Oh, when you say I am your “mouse” or “your shining lights”,
I don’t think I can be firm again for ten hours.

You’re ignorant of pillow-talk. Say, “I will give you a hundred thousand
acres of good Setine land
Here, have some wine, a home, boys, gold dishes and tables.
You don’t need your fingers at all–turn me on like this, Phyllis.”

Languida cum vetula tractare virilia dextra
coepisti, iugulor pollice, Phylli, tuo.
iam cum me murem, cum me tua lumina dicis,
horis me refici vix puto posse decem.
blanditias nescis: ‘dabo’ dic ‘tibi milia centum
et dabo Setini iugera certa soli;
accipe vina, domum, pueros, chrysendeta, mensas.’
nil opus est digitis: sic mihi, Phylli, frica.

11.64

“Faustus–what you write to so many girls, I do not know.
I do see that no girl writes to you though.”

Nescio tam multis quid scribas, Fauste, puellis:
hoc scio, quod scribit nulla puella tibi.

A Fine Poem on Friendship

Martial 12.40

“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”

Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.

A Predator and His Council: A Fable for Our Times

Phaedrus 2.6: The Eagle and the Crow

“Against those in power, no one has enough defense
If a wicked adviser also enters the scene
His power and malice ruins their opposition.
An eagle carried a tortoise on high,
When he pulled his body in his armored home to hide,
And rested hidden untouched by any attack,
A crow came on a breeze flying near them:

“You have well seized a precious prize with your talons,
But, if I don’t show what you need to do,
It will pointlessly wear you out with its heavy weight.”

Promised a portion, the crow instructs the eagle to drop
The hard shell from the stars upon a cliff’s rock.
It would be easy to feed on the broken flesh!

The eagle followed up these wicked instructions
And also split the feast with her teacher.
Just so, the tortoise who was safe by nature’s gift.
Was ill-matched to those two and died a sad death.”

Contra potentes nemo est munitus satis;
si vero accessit consiliator maleficus,
vis et nequitia quicquid oppugnant, ruit.
Aquila in sublime sustulit testudinem:
quae cum abdidisset cornea corpus domo,
nec ullo pacto laedi posset condita,
venit per auras cornix, et propter volans
“Opimam sane praedam rapuisti unguibus;
sed, nisi monstraro quid sit faciendum tibi,
gravi nequiquam te lassabit pondere.”
promissa parte suadet ut scopulum super
altis ab astris duram inlidat corticem,
qua comminuta facile vescatur cibo.
inducta vafris aquila monitis paruit,
simul et magistrae large divisit dapem.
sic tuta quae naturae fuerat munere,
impar duabus, occidit tristi nece.

Image result for medieval manuscript eagle and crow and tortoise

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.

Frogs and Bulls: A Class Fable for our Time

Phaedrus 1.30 Frogs and Bulls

“The lower classes suffer when the powerful fight.
From a swamp a frog gazed on fighting bulls
And said, “Alas, how much danger looms in sight!”
When another frog asked why she said so,
Since those bulls struggled over their herd’s first place
And pursued their lives far from the water’s flow,
She said “although they are different and in a different space,
Whoever is expelled from the field’s realm will flee
And come to find secret safety in our pond.
He will bear down on us, trampled by his harsh feet.
So their conflict is a threat to life for you and me.”

frogs

1.30 Ranae et Tauri

Humiles laborant ubi potentes dissident.
Rana e palude pugnam taurorum intuens,
“Heu, quanta nobis instat pernicies” ait.
interrogata ab alia cur hoc diceret,
de principatu cum illi certarent gregis
longeque ab ipsis degerent vitam boves,
“Sit statio separata ac diversum genus;
expulsus regno nemoris qui profugerit,
paludis in secreta veniet latibula,
et proculcatas obteret duro pede.
Ita caput ad nostrum furor illorum pertinet”.

The Measure of a Man: the Priapeia on Odysseus (NSFW)

Caveat Lector: Again, we bring one of the not-so-nice poems from the ancient world to light.  A colleague of mind decided that today was the day to turn to the Priapeia, a collection of poems dedicated to none other than the Phallus god, Priapus.

This elegant poem imagines the, well, endowment that made Odysseus so irresistible to mortal women and goddesses alike.

“The other topic is the wandering of deceiving Ulysses:
If you seek the truth, love also moves this poem:
Here a root, from which a golden flower emerges, is discussed.
When the poem calls it molu, molu was a prick.
Here we read about how Circe and Atlantean Calypso
Sought the large equipment of the Dulichian man.
The daughter of Alcinous marveled at the member of this man,
Which could scarcely be covered by the leafy branch.
And nevertheless he rushed back to his his own old lady,
And his whole mind was in a pussy, Penelope, yours.”

Odysseus CIrce

Now we know what she sees in him.

altera materia est error fallentis Vlixei:
si verum quaeras, hanc quoque movit amor.
hic legitur radix, de qua flos aureus exit,
quam cum μωλυ vocat, mentula μωλυ fuit.
hic legimus Circen Atlantiademque Calypson
grandia Dulichii vasa petisse viri.
huius et Alcinoi mirata est filia membrum
frondenti ramo vix potuisse tegi.
ad vetulam tamen ille suam properabat, et omnis
mens erat in cunno, Penelopea, tuo:

 

Fragmentary Friday: A Dead Husband Among the Living (Caecilius)

Caecilius, fr. of The Little Necklace 136-150

“It is a wretched man who doesn’t know how to hide his misery outside.
My wife, even if I am silent, gives away the secret with her body and deeds.
She has everything you wouldn’t wish except a dowry.
Whoever wishes to be wise should learn from me, a man free but enslaved to enemies
In a safe town and citadel. Why should I wish her safe when she deprives me
Of all joy? While I gasp for her death, I am dead among the living.
She claims that there is a secret affair between me and my serving-woman.
She accuses me of it—then by begging, insisting, and arguing, she convinced me to sell her.
Now, I believe she is planting this kind of rumor among her relatives:
“Of all you women, which one in the bloom of youth
Succeeded in taking from her own husband what I, merely an old hag,
Stole away from mine: his sweet girlfriend!”
These are the sort of meetings they will have this day: I will be torn apart by wretched rumor!”

is demum miser est, qui aerumnam suam nescit occultare
foris: ita me uxor forma et factis facit, si taceam, tamen indicium.
Quae nisi dotem, omnia, quae nolis, habet: qui sapiet, de me discet,
qui quasi ad hostes captus liber servio salva urbe atque arce.
Quae mihi, quidquid placet, eo privatu vim me servatum.
Dum ego eius mortem inhio, egomet vivo mortuus inter vivos.
Ea me clam se cum mea ancilla ait consuetum, id me arguit,
ita plorando, orando, instando atque obiurgando me obtudit,
eam uti venderem; nunc credo inter suas
aequalis et cognatas sermonem serit:
“quis vestrarum fuit integra aetatula,
quae hoc idem a viro
impetrarit suo, quod ego anus modo
effeci, paelice ut meum privarem virum?”
haec erunt concilia hodie, differor sermone miser.

Leisure, Work and Child-Sacrifice: Two Fragments from Ennius’ Lost Iphigenia

Ennius’ Iphigenia was certainly modeled on Euripides’ Iphigenia on Aulis. But that in no way keeps the fragments from being their own creations….

232-234 Agamemnon

“Am I tortured because you mess up? You wander and I am on trial?
Let Helen return for her misdeed, but an innocent girl will perish?
That you and your wife be reconciled, my daughter should be served up?”

Ego projector quod tu peccas? Tu delinquis, ego arguor?
Pro malefactis Helena redeat, virgo pereat innocens?
Tua reconcilietur uxor, mea necetur filia?

241-248 Chorus

“Whoever doesn’t know who to use leisure when he has it,
Has more work in leisure than he has in work.
For the man who has a set task, does it without work:
He pays attention to it and in it entertains his mind and spirit.
In true leisure the sick mind does not know what it wants.
It is the same way here: look, we are neither at home nor soldiers;
We go here and there and when we have gone there, we go away again.
Our spirit wanders pointlessly; life is lived, more or less.”

Otio qui nescit uti <quom otium est, in otio>
Plus negoti habet quam quom est negotium in negotio;
Nam cui quod agat institutumst non ullo negotio
Id agit, id studet,ibi mentem atque animum delectat suum.
Otioso in otio animus nescit quid velit.
Hoc idem est; em neque domi nunc nos nec militiae sumus;
Imus huc, hin illuc;quom illuc ventum est, ire illic lubet.
Incerte errat animus, praeterpropter vitam vivitur.

Here You Find the Poet’s Bones: Pacuvius’s Epitaph

According to Aulus Gellius, here is the epitaph of Pacuvius (Gellius I.24.4)

“Young man, even though you hurry by, this stone
asks you to look on it and then to read what is written.
Here is where you find interred the bones of the poet
Marcus Pacuvius. I desire that you know this. Farewell.”

Adulescens, tam etsi properas te hoc saxum rogat
Ut sese aspicias, deinde quod scriptum est legas.
Hic sunt poetae Pacuvi Marci sita
Ossa. Hoc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale.

Literary–both fictionalized and not–epigraphs were part of the Greek literary tradition at least to the 6th century BCE. From the 5th century, we have Simonides’ epitaph at Thermopylae:

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we lie here
obedient to their commands.”

Ω ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

This epigram seems ‘real’ enough, but during the Hellenistic period, poets like Callimachus seem to have made a game of composing funerary epigrams. Here’s one he wrote about himself (or not):

Callimachus, epigram 21.

“Whoever you are lifting your foot near my grave
Know that I am the child and father both of Cyrenian Callimachus.
You would know both men. One led the soldiers of his country,
And the other sang songs beyond envy.
Don’t be surprised: whomever the Muses behold at birth
Are not abandoned friends as they grow grey.”

῞Οστις ἐμὸν παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδα, Καλλιμάχου με
ἴσθι Κυρηναίου παῖδά τε καὶ γενέτην.
εἰδείης δ’ ἄμφω κεν• ὁ μέν κοτε πατρίδος ὅπλων
ἦρξεν, ὁ δ’ ἤεισεν κρέσσονα βασκανίης.
[οὐ νέμεσις• Μοῦσαι γὰρ ὅσους ἴδον ὄμματι παῖδας
†ἄχρι βίου† πολιοὺς οὐκ ἀπέθεντο φίλους.]

Gellius also adds to Pacuvius’, an epitaph of a more commonly known comedian, Plautus:

 
“Now that Plautus has found death, Comedy weeps,
Abandoned on the stage. And then, Laughter, Play and Jest
mourn together with all the uncountable Measures.”

postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt,

But despite all this weight and seriousness, I think that Naevius’ epitaph (also reported by Gellius) is the best:

“If it were right for gods to mourn for mortals
Then the Muses would mourn the poet Naevius.
And when he was brought down to death’s warehouse
Rome would forget how to speak the Latin tongue.”

Immortales mortales si foret fas fiere
Fierent divae Camenae Naevium poetam
Itaque postquamst Orchi traditus thesauro
Obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua latina.

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