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. 

Tawdry Tuesday: Zeus, Ganymede, and a Cock

Greek Anthology, Antipater 5.77

“Hera twisted by the beauty of Ganymede once spoke
As she suffered the heart-rending stab of jealousy in her heart:
“Troy ignited a male fire for Zeus—and so I will send
A fire at Troy, a pain bearing Paris.
No eagle will come to Troy again, but vultures
Will go to the feast when the Greeks get the spoils for their toils.”

Πριομένα κάλλει Γανυμήδεος εἶπέ ποθ᾿ Ἥρα,
θυμοβόρον ζάλου κέντρον ἔχουσα νόῳ·
“Ἄρσεν πῦρ ἔτεκεν Τροία Διΐ· τοιγὰρ ἐγὼ πῦρ
πέμψω ἐπὶ Τροίᾳ, πῆμα φέροντα Πάριν·
ἥξει δ᾿ Ἰλιάδαις οὐκ ἀετός, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ θοίναν
γῦπες, ὅταν Δαναοὶ σκῦλα φέρωσι πόνων.”

Sometimes an Eagle Does show up in stories of Zeus and Ganymede. 

Greek Anthology 12.211

“Go to bright heaven, go carrying the child,
Eagle, keep your twin wings spread wide.
Go holding gentle Ganymede and do not drop
Zeus’ wine-bearer of the sweetest cups.
But be careful not to bloody him with your clawed feet
So that Zeus, upset, won’t hurt you.”

Στεῖχε πρὸς αἰθέρα δῖον, ἀπέρχεο παῖδα κομίζων,
αἰετέ, τὰς διφυεῖς ἐκπετάσας πτέρυγας,
στεῖχε τὸν ἁβρὸν ἔχων Γανυμήδεα, μηδὲ μεθείης
τὸν Διὸς ἡδίστων οἰνοχόον κυλίκων·
φείδεο δ᾿ αἱμάξαι κοῦρον γαμψώνυχι ταρσῷ,
μὴ Ζεὺς ἀλγήσῃ, τοῦτο βαρυνόμενος.

MFA #01.8114

Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Terracotta of Zeus with Ganymede (LIMC 56; from Olympia)
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus
Attic red-figured hydria
Attributed to Eupolis P. by Beazley
Approx. 450 -440 BC
This image from the MFA shows Zeus contemplating what to do with his cock.
Image result for ganymede rooster Zeus Black figure
Zeus pursuing Ganymedes, Athenian red-figure kantharos C5th B.C., Museum of Fine Arts Boston

One Love, Two Bodies

Greek Anthology, 5.88 (Rufinus): The Fire of Unrequited Love

“Fire-bearing love, if you haven’t the strength to light two equally afire
Either extinguish it or share the flame burning in only one.”

Εἰ δυσὶν οὐκ ἴσχυσας ἴσην φλόγα, πυρφόρε, καῦσαι,
τὴν ἑνὶ καιομένην ἢ σβέσον ἢ μετάθες.

Catullus, 87

“No woman can claim that she has been loved as much
Truly, as my Lesbia has been loved by me.
No promise has ever been made in as much faith
As can be found on my part in loving you.”

Nulla potest mulier tantum se dicere amatam
vere, quantum a me Lesbia amata mea est.
nulla fides ullo fuit umquam foedere tanta,
quanta in amore tuo ex parte reperta mea est.

Image result for medieval manuscript love
from here

The Fruitless Toil of Worry: Two Passages on Happiness

Horace, Odes 2.16 25-32

“The spirit which is happy for a single day
Has learned not to worry about what remains
And tempers bitter tastes with a gentle smile—
Nothing is blessed through and through.

A swift death stole famed Achilles away;
Drawn-out old age wore Tithonos down.
Perhaps some hour will hand to me
Whatever it has refused to you.”

laetus in praesens animus quod ultra est
oderit curare et amara lento
temperet risu; nihil est ab omni
parte beatum.

abstulit clarum cita mors Achillem,
longa Tithonum minuit senectus,
et mihi forsan, tibi quod negarit,
porriget hora.

Bacchylides, Processionals fr. 11-12

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”

εἷς ὅρος, μία βροτοῖσίν ἐστιν εὐτυχίας ὁδός,
θυμὸν εἴ τις ἔχων ἀπενθῆ δύναται
διατελεῖν βίον· ὃς δὲ μυρία
μὲν ἀμφιπολεῖ φρενί,
τὸ δὲ παρ᾿ ἆμάρ τε <καὶ> νύκτα μελλόντων
χάριν αἰὲν ἰάπτεται
κέαρ, ἄκαρπον ἔχει πόνον.

Image result for medieval manuscript happiness
BLMedieval Sloane MS 278, 1280-1300

Weekend Plans with Alcaeus

Alcaeus, Fr. 38A (P. Oxy. 1233 fr. 1 ii 8–20 + 2166(b)1)

“Drink and get drunk with me, Melanippos.
Why would you say that once you cross the great eddying
River of Acheron you will see the pure light of the sun again?
Come on, don’t hope for great things.

For even the son of Aiolos, Sisyphos used to claim
He was better than death because he knew the most of men.
Even though he was so very wise, he crossed
The eddying river Acheron twice thanks to fate
And Kronos’ son granted that he would have toil
Beneath the dark earth. So don’t hope for these things.

As long as we are young, now is the time we must
Endure whatever of these things the god soon grants us to suffer.”

πῶνε [καὶ μέθυ᾿ ὦ] Μελάνιππ᾿ ἄμ᾿ ἔμοι· τί [φαῖς †
ὄταμε[. . . .]διννάεντ᾿ † Ἀχέροντα μέγ[αν πόρον
ζάβαι[ς ἀ]ελίω κόθαρον φάος [ἄψερον
ὄψεσθ᾿; ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ μεγάλων ἐπ[ιβάλλεο·
καὶ γὰρ Σίσυφος Αἰολίδαις βασίλευς [ἔφα
ἄνδρων πλεῖστα νοησάμενος [θανάτω κρέτην·
ἀλλὰ καὶ πολύιδρις ἔων ὐπὰ κᾶρι [δὶς
δ̣ιννάεντ᾿ Ἀχέροντ᾿ ἐπέραισε, μ[έμηδε δ᾿ ὦν
αὔτῳ μόχθον ἔχην Κρονίδαις βα [σίλευς κάτω
ελαίνας χθόνος· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγι μὴ τά[δ᾿ ἐπέλπεο·
θᾶς] τ᾿ ἀβάσομεν αἴ ποτα κἄλλοτα ν [ῦν χρέων
φέρ]ην ὄττινα τῶνδε πάθην τά[χα δῷ θέος.

Image result for medieval manuscript acheron
Dante Being rowed across Acheron, 5th c, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 6r. B.L.

Some of us can’t say this any more…

The New Sappho Poem: a Student Commentary

As part of an in-class, group assignment, I had my Greek Lyric class collaborate on writing a commentary on the new Sappho Poem. The students had to read Obbink 2014 (below), scan the poem, translate it, and then we went through and marked the sections which needed to be commented upon. The students worked in groups to create a commentary geared towards students who primarily know attic Greek. The translation below the commentary is mine. We welcome suggestions and additions.

The New Sappho (Aka “Brothers Poem”)

ἀλλ’ ἄϊ θρύληϲθα Χάραξον ἔλθην
νᾶϊ ϲὺµ πλέαι· τὰ µέν̣, οἴο̣µα̣ι, Ζεῦϲ
οἶδε ϲύµπαντέϲ τε θέοι· ϲὲ δ’ ̣οὐ χρῆ
ταῦτα νόειϲθαι

ἀλλὰ καὶ πέµπην ἔµε καὶ κέλ{η}`ε΄ϲθαι
πόλλα λί̣ϲϲεϲθαι̣ βαϲί̣λ̣η̣αν Ἤ̣ραν
ἐξίκεϲθαι τυίδε ϲάαν ἄγοντα
νᾶα Χάραξον,

κἄµµ’ ἐπεύρην ἀρτ̣έ̣µεαϲ· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα
πάντα δαιµόνεϲϲ̣ιν ἐπι̣τ̣ρόπωµεν·
εὐδίαι̣ γ̣ὰρ̣ ἐκ µεγάλαν ἀήτα̣ν̣
αἶψα πέ̣λ̣ο̣νται·

τῶν κε βόλληται βαϲίλευϲ Ὀλύµπω
δαίµον’ ἐκ πόνων ἐπάρ{η}`ω΄γον ἤδη
περτρόπην, κῆνοι µ̣άκαρεϲ πέλονται
καὶ πολύολβοι.

κ̣ἄµµεϲ, αἴ κε τὰν κεφάλα̣ν ἀέρρη
Λάρι̣χοϲ καὶ δήποτ’ ἄνη̣ρ γένηται,
καὶ µάλ’ ἐκ πόλλ{η}`αν΄ βαρ̣υθύ̣µιάν̣ κεν
αἶψα λύθειµεν.

h/t to Armand D’Angour for some improvements to the commentary


1. Ἄϊ: take as ἀεί, “always”, while scanning the meter is
read as short-long

Θρύληϲθα: θρυλεω- to blabber or chat incessantly. 2nd, singular, preset, middle,
indicative  of θρύλημι, the Aeolic form of θρυλέω.

Χάραξον: Sappho’s brother, referenced by both Herodotus and Posidippus, inclusion
of this name aided in the identification of this poem

ἔλθην: Aeolic aorist infinitive of ἒρχομαι

2. Ϲὺµ: Aeolic form of συν, compare with Latin cum

Πλέαι: adjective, ship full, to not be confused with πλέω (“to sail”)

τὰ µέν̣…ϲὲ δ’: correlative structure; τὰ µέν pronomial use

οἶδε: 3rd singularindicative active of the verb οἶδα, to know

5. Πέµπην: infinitive used as imperative
Κέλ{η}`ε΄ϲθαι: from κέλομαι ; infinitive used as imperative

7. Τυίδε: Aeolic for τῇδε
Ϲάαν: alternative form of adjective “σως”; contract for σόος, σοῦς

8. Νᾶα: aeolic form for accusative singular of ship “ναῦς”

9. κἄµµ’:και + ἄμμε, Aeolic form of Attic ἣμιν
ἐπεύρην: Aeolic aorist infinitive of ἐφευρίσκω

10. Ἐπι̣τ̣ρόπωµεν: hortatory subjunctive

11. µεγάλαν ἀήτα̣ν̣: Aeolic genitive plural form, large gales (of wind). Final syllables
should be scanned as a long

12. πέ̣λ̣ο̣νται: 3rd, plural, present, middle, indicative from πέ̣λ̣ω, an Aeolic equivalent
to εἰμί and γίγνομαι

13. Τῶν κε: genitive used substantively, i.e. “of whomever”; correlative with the κῆνοι in line 15. Obbink (2014) takes it as a relative pronoun used as a genitive of possession.

Βόλληται- Aeolic form of the Attic Βούληται

Ὀλύμπω: genitive, singular, masculine; alternate genitive ending where the -οιο
ending in the uncontracted Ὀλύμποιο is shorted to -ω instead of -ου.

14. Ἐπάρ{η}’ω’γον: a later correction of the manuscript reading of “ἐπάρηγον,” an
unaugmented 1st singular or 3rd plural imperfect form from ἐπάρηγω, to “ἐπάρωγον,”a noun in this context used as a predicate accusative meaning “as a helper.”

17. Κ̣ἄµµεϲ: Aeolic for Attic ἡμεῖς. κἄµµεϲ: Aeolic for καὶ ἡμεῖς (with crasis i.e. stuck together like κἄµµ’ in line 9).

17. αἴ κε: general clause; the protasis is a future more vivid, while the apodosis is a
future less vivid, resulting in a “future more or less vivid”; modal particle in the
apodosis denotes a hyper-unreal situation

17-20. Ἀέργη corrected to ἀέρρη as the former is not attested. ἀέρρη = αἴρῃ ‘raises’ (pres. subj. of the Aeolic equivalent)  third person singular, present subjunctive active. Double-rho form appears in Sappho,
fr. 111.3: ἀέρρετε τέκτονες ἄνδρες·


“But you are always saying that Kharaksos

Is coming with a full ship. These things, I think,

Zeus knows along with the rest of the gods. But it is not right

That you consider them.


Instead, both send me and order me

To plead much with queen Hera

That Kharaksos comes here

Leading a safe ship


And finds us all safe. Let’s entrust the rest of it

To the gods. For days of fair weather

Come quickly from

Great gales.


For whomever the king of Olympos

Wishes to set a god as a helper from toils,

Those people are blessed

And very wealthy.


And we, if Larikos should ever raise his head

And then in some way become a man,

We would be quickly relieved of our

Great heaviness of heart.”



Allan, William, and Laura Swift. “Introduction to “Moralizing Strategies in Early Greek Poetry”.” (2018): 3-6.

Bettenworth, Anja. “Sapphos Amme: ein Beitrag zum neuen Sapphofragment (Brothers Poem).” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, no. 191 (2014): 15-19.

Bierl, Anton, and André Lardinois. The newest Sappho. P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs. 1-4. Vol. 392. Brill, 2016.

Burris, Simon Peter, Fish, Jeffrey and Obbink, Dirk D.. “New fragments of Book 1 of Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, no. 189 (2014): 1-28.

Danielewicz, Jerzy. “Early Greek lyric and Hellenistic epigram: new evidence from recently published papyri.” The Journal of Juristic Papyrology 43 (2013): 263-275.

Gribble, David. “Getting ready to pray: Sappho’s new « brothers » song.” Greece and Rome Ser. 2 63, no. 1 (2016): 29-68. Doi: 10.1017/S0017383515000248

Lardinois, André. “Sappho’s Brothers Song and the Fictionality of Early Greek Lyric Poetry.” BIERL, A. y LARDINOIS, A.(Eds.) (2016): 167-187.

LIBERMAN, GL. “Reflections on a New Poem by Sappho concerning her Anguish and her Brothers Charaxos and Larichos.” Reception of Greek Literature 300 BC-AD 800: Traditions of the Fragment (2015).

Martin, Richard P. “Sappho, Iambist: abusing the brother.” Bierl, A. y Lardinois, A.(Eds.) (2016): 110-126.

Mueller, Melissa, “Re-Centering Epic Nostos: Gender and Genre in Sappho’s Brothers
Poem,” Arethusa 49 (2016) 25-46.

Nagy, Gregory. “A poetics of sisterly affect in the Brothers Song and in other songs of Sappho.” Bierl, A. y Lardinois, A (2016): 449-492.

Neri, Camillo. “Il « Brothers Poem » e l’edizione alessandrina: (in margine a « P. Sapph. Obbink »).” Eikasmos 26 (2015): 53-76

Obbink, Dirk. “Interim notes on « Two new poems of Sappho ».” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, no. 194 (2015): 1-8

Obbink, Dirk. “Provenance, Authenticity, and Text of the New Sappho Papyri.” Society for (2015).

Obbink, Dirk D.. “Two new poems by Sappho.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, no. 189 (2014): 32-49.

Velasco López, María del Henar. “La súplica a Hera en el « Poema de los Hermanos » de Safo.” Emerita 84, no. 2 (2016): 343-351. Doi: 10.3989/emerita.2016.17.1520

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Whoa, Wednesday–We Still Have Sappho

Sappho, Fr. 5 (P. Oxy. 7 + 2289. 6) 1-8

Kypris and Nereids—let my brother
come here unharmed and grant
Everything he wishes to have happen
In his heart

May he make up for all the things he did wrong before
And become a source of joy for his friends
And grief for his enemies, and may he no longer
Be a pain for us.

Κύπρι καὶ] Νηρήιδες ἀβλάβη[ν μοι
τὸν κασί]γνητον δ[ό]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεσθα[ι
κὤσσα v]ο̣ι̣ θύμωι κε θέληι γένεσθαι
πάντα τε]λέσθην,

ὄσσα δὲ πρ]όσθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦσα[ι
καὶ φίλοισ]ι vοῖσι χάραν γένεσθαι
<κὠνίαν> ἔ]χθροισι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι
<πῆμ᾿ ἔτι >μ]ηδ’ εἴς·

Image result for ancient greek brother statue
Fourth Century BCE Grave Relief