The Measure of a Man: A Priapic 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:

Three Latin Fragments from Ajax’ s Speech Against Odysseus: Lucius Accius’ Lost Arms

The mythical and poetic traditions around the Trojan War make the Judgment of the Arms (the contest for Achilles’ weapons between Odysseus and Ajax) a common motif in art and literature. The Roman Tragedian Accius had his own version. Here are some fragments.


“His words [i.e. Achilles’] speak clearly, if you understand them.
He commands that his weapons be given to the kind of man
Who bore them, if we desire to overpower Pergamum.
I declare that I am that man, that it is right for me to use
The weapons of my kin, that they be allotted to me
Either because I am his relative or his rival in bravery.”

Aperte fatur dictio, si intellegas:
Tali dari arma, qualis qui gessit fuit,
Iubet, potiri si studeamus Pergamum.
Quem ego me profiteor esse, me est accum frui
Fraternis armis mihique adiucarier
Vel quod propinquus vel quod virtuti aemulus.


“This man [Odysseus] was the only man who ignored the sworn oath
Which he took first and you all made together.
He tried to pretend to be insane to avoid the fighting.
If observant Palamedes in his wisdom
Had not noticed the malicious daring of this coward
The law of sacred oath would be meaningless forever.”

Cuius ipse princeps iuris iurandi fuit
Quod omnes seitis, solus neglexit fidem;
Furere adsimulare, ne coiret, institit
Quod ni Palamedi perspicax prudentia
Istius percepset malitosam audaciam,
Fide sacratae ius perpetuo falleret.


“Yeah, saw you, Ulysses, breaking Hector on a rock.
I watched you defending the Greek fleet with your shield,
While I, trembling, clamored for shameful flight.”

Vidi, te, Ulixes, saxo sternentem Hectora,
Vidi tegentem clipeo classem Doricam;
Ego tunc pudendum trepidus hortabar fugam.

A Free Tongue is as Useless as a Loose Rudder: Aulus Gellius on Ungoverned Speech

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.15.1

“Those light-weight, annoying and pointless talkers who, though they cannot rely on any strong foundation, pour out lolling, liquid words, are correctly believed to draw only as deep as the lips and not the heart. Indeed, most people say that the tongue should not be free but should be guided by lines tied to the deepest part of the chest and the heart, as if by a ship’s captain. But still you may see certain men who toss around words without any semblance of judgment, but instead with a certainty so great and profound that even while they are speaking they do not seem to understand that they speak.

Homer has his Ulysses, however,–a man suffused with wise eloquence–move his voice not from his mouth but from his chest. This depiction is not so much about the sound and style of his voice as it is indicative of the considerable weight of the thoughts conceived within. And Homer also said quite appropriately that teeth are a wall built to contain immature and dangerous words—not just so that the watchful guardian of the heart could restrain them, but that they may be stopped by a guardhouse of sorts positioned at the mouth. The Homeric lines which I mentioned above are: “But when he released the great voice from his chest” (Il.3.221) and “What kind of word has escaped the bulwark of your teeth”? (Il. 4.350)

1 Qui sunt leves et futtiles et inportuni locutores quique nullo rerum pondere innixi verbis uvidis et lapsantibus diffluunt, eorum orationem bene existimatum est in ore nasci, non in pectore; linguam autem debere aiunt non esse liberam nec vagam, sed vinclis de pectore imo ac de corde aptis moveri et quasi gubernari. 2 Sed enim videas quosdam scatere verbis sine ullo iudicii negotio cum securitate multa et profunda, ut loquentes plerumque videantur loqui sese nescire.

3 Ulixen contra Homerus, virum sapienti facundia praeditum, vocem mittere ait non ex ore, sed ex pectore, quod scilicet non ad sonum magis habitumque vocis quam ad sententiarum penitus conceptarum altitudinem pertineret, petulantiaeque verborum coercendae vallum esse oppositum dentium luculente dixit, ut loquendi temeritas non cordis tantum custodia atque vigilia cohibeatur, sed et quibusdam quasi excubiis in ore positis saepiatur. 4 Homerica, de quibus supra dixi, haec sunt:
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ ὄπα τε μεγάλην ἐκ στήθεος εἵη (Il.3.221)

… ποῖόν σε ἔπος φύγεν ἕρκος ὀδόντων; (4.350)

This topic is covered in other authors like Plutarch. It seems obvious to say but still merits saying that in our modern world where everyone has a platform and is encouraged to speak, the choice not to speak becomes ever so rarer and precious.