“Mercury’s form has the power to please.
And Apollo’s body sticks out especially.
Lyaeus in pictures has a shapely line,
And Cupid is still finest of the fine.
My body lacks a certain beauty, I confess
But, look, my dick’s a jewel beyond the rest.
Any girl should prefer it to the gods I named,
And if she doesn’t, then a greedy pussy’s to blame.”
Forma Mercurius potest placere,
forma conspiciendus est Apollo,
formosus quoque pingitur Lyaeus,
formosissimus omnium est Cupido.
me pulchra fateor carere forma,
verum mentula luculenta nostra est:
hanc mavult sibi quam deos priores,
si qua est non fatui puella cunni.
“The first place in explaining someone’s heritage is usually given to the father’s line, but we still owe much to our mothers. So it is not right that we give some smaller honor to the fact that we were our mothers’ burdens than that we were our father’s seeds.”
Est quidem princeps in genere monstrando partis paternae praerogativa, sed tamen multum est,quod debemus et matribus. non enim a nobis aliquid exilius fas honorari quod pondera illarum quam quod istorum semina sumus.
Vergil, Aeneid 2.796-798
“And here, I was shocked to find an overwhelming
Flood of new companions, mothers and men,
A band assembled for exile, a pitiable crowd.”
“The sky has never gone alight with meaningless fires,
But farmers, deluded, have cursed their wasted fields
And in the infertile rows the depressed plowman
Pointlessly coaxes his mourning oxen to their yokes.
Or when a mortal spark hollows out the marrow of life
In bodies taken by heavy sickness or aged exhaustion,
And it takes a wavering people, and throughout entire cities
Shared mourning is accompanied by funereal fires.
That’s what the plague was like when it attacked Erekhtheus’ people
And carried ancient Athens out to graves in a time of peace.
One after another, slipping into sickness and cursing fate,
No kind of medical skill or prayer was helping them.
Duty itself fell to sickness, and the dead received neither
Burial nor tears. Even fire failed in its exhaustion
And the limbs of bodies were piled on burning limbs.
A people once so great could scarcely find their next of kin.
These are the horrors shining comets often proclaim.”
numquam futtilibus excanduit ignibus aether,
squalidaque elusi deplorant arva coloni,
et sterilis inter sulcos defessus arator
ad iuga maerentis cogit frustrata iuvencos.
aut gravibus morbis et lenta corpora tabe
corripit exustis letalis flamma medullis
labentisque rapit populos, totasque per urbes
publica succensis peraguntur iusta sepulcris.
qualis Erectheos pestis populata colonos
extulit antiquas per funera pacis Athenas,
alter in alterius labens cum fata ruebant,
nec locus artis erat medicae nec vota valebant;
cesserat officium morbis, et funera derant
mortibus et lacrimae; lassus defecerat ignis
et coacervatis ardebant corpora membris,
ac tanto quondam populo vix contigit heres.
talia significant lucentes saepe cometae:
“A terrible disease came over our people thanks to angry Juno
Who hated us because our land was named after her husband’s mistress.
As long as the evil was hidden because it seemed of mortal cause,
We tried to fight it with the art of medicine.
But the destruction was exceeding our stockpiles, which lay there open, conquered.”
dira lues ira populis Iunonis iniquae
incidit exosae dictas a paelice terras.
dum visum mortale malum tantaeque latebat
causa nocens cladis, pugnatum est arte medendi:
exitium superabat opem, quae victa iacebat.
“Offspring are able to recognize their mother by no other way
And neither may a mother know her children—a thing which we can see
No less than people may clearly be known among themselves.
For often before the sacred shrines of the gods a calf falls
Slaughtered alongside the incense-fuming altars,
Breathing out a warm river of blood from her chest.
The mother wanders in grief through the green thickets
And recognizes the prints pressed into the ground by cloven feet
As she examines every place open to her eyes if she can see
Anywhere her lost child, only stopping in the thick woods
To fill the world with her mourning. How often she returns
To the stable, broken with longing for her child.
Tender shoots of willow and new-grown grass soft with due
Are not able to relieve her spirit or lighten anxiety’s burden.
And the sight of other calves amid the happy fields
Can neither distract her spirit nor touch her worries—
This is how much she longs for something her own and known.”
nec ratione alia proles cognoscere matrem
nec mater posset prolem; quod posse videmus
nec minus atque homines inter se nota cluere.
nam saepe ante deum vitulus delubra decora
turicremas propter mactatus concidit aras
sanguinis expirans calidum de pectore flumen;
at mater viridis saltus orbata peragrans
novit humi pedibus vestigia pressa bisulcis,
omnia convisens oculis loca, si queat usquam
conspicere amissum fetum, completque querellis
frondiferum nemus adsistens et crebra revisit
ad stabulum desiderio perfixa iuvenci,
nec tenerae salices atque herbae rore vigentes
fluminaque ulla queunt summis labentia ripis
oblectare animum subitamque avertere curam,
nec vitulorum aliae species per pabula laeta
derivare queunt animum curaque levare
usque adeo quiddam proprium notumque requirit.
“You’ll dine well at my house, Fabullus
In a few days, if the gods favor you, and
If you bring a fine, large meal with you.
And don’t forget: a bright-eyed girl,
Wine, salt, and every kind of cheer.
If you bring these things I ask, fine friend,
You will dine well: for your Catullus’ wallet
Is full of nothing but spider webs.
In exchange, you’ll get unmixed love,
Or something even sweeter and more elegant:
I will give you a perfume which
Venuses and Cupids gave to my girl.
The kind of thing that when you smell it, Fabullus,
You’ll beg the gods to make you all nose.”
Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster,
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis,
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.
“Ponticus, do you think that it’s no big deal
That you never fuck but just use your left hand
As a whore, a friendly crew to serve your desire?
Believe me: it’s a crime and one large enough
That you can barely understand it with your mind.
Horatius, I guess, fucked once to make a trio
Mars did it once with blushing Ilia to make two.
The whole world would have collapsed if either jerked off
And entrusted foul delights to their own hands.
Just think, the nature of the universe says to you:
Ponticus, what you spend on your fingers is a person too.”
Pontice, quod numquam futuis, sed paelice laeva
uteris et Veneri servit amica manus,
hoc nihil esse putas? scelus est, mihi crede, sed ingens,
quantum vix animo concipis ipse tuo.
nempe semel futuit, generaret Horatius ut tres;
Mars semel, ut geminos Ilia casta daret.
omnia perdiderat, si masturbatus uterque
mandasset manibus gaudia foeda suis.
ipsam crede tibi naturam dicere rerum:
istud quod digitis, Pontice, perdis, homo est.
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.
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).
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!
 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.
“Fool, more foolish with each passing day,
Is this what we’ve come to? Ah, why not just be like
A little pigeon or a baby prince and insist on eating chopped up food
Or stop your mom from singing to you because you’re so angry?”
“o miser inque dies ultra miser, hucine rerum
venimus? a, cur non potius teneroque columbo
et similis regum pueris pappare minutum
poscis et iratus mammae lallare recusas?”