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.

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: 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.

Image result for Roman tableware gold archaeology
Roman Silver from Berthouville

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.

Image result for medieval manuscript friendship
Royal 19 C II f. 59v

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”.