Friday, May 7, 2010

Rome Was Messed Up: Poets

I am just a little disturbed by Roman literature now.
Scratch that. Very disturbed.

And even more disturbed by the fact that my Latin teacher is giving us this stuff to read.

I'm sure you've at least heard of Ovid, right? Roman poet, best known for his magnum opus, the Metamorphoses, a huge compilation of myth starting from the creation of the world, up to the deification of Caesar.

Not so bad? Well, no, it wouldn't be, if Ovid hadn't injected his own personality into the stories. Just to cut to the bone of the whole thing, the "epic" contains, to be frank, lots of the raunchy stuff. In all the ways one can think of, and more. (Quoting my Latin teacher for the last sentence here...)

True, one might argue that the Roman gods themselves were quite loose, but Ovid takes it a bit further than that.
Far she behind her leaves her virgin train;
To them too cries, and cries to them in vain,
And, while with passion she repeats her call,
The vi'lets from her lap, and lillies fall:
She misses 'em, poor heart! and makes new moan;
Her lillies, ah! are lost, her vi'lets gone.
Most of the stuff is hidden, like above. It could be a perfectly harmless bit, true. But the context is all important...the Romans sure loved their euphemisms.
And before I go on, Ovid wrote a four part series on how to get with the ladies. Or men, in the case of the last book.

And they were creepy suggestions.
Iunge tuum lateri qua potes usque latus;
Et bene, quod cogit, si nolis, linea iungi,
Quod tibi tangenda est lege puella loci.
Hic tibi quaeratur socii sermonis origo,
Et moveant primos publica verba sonos.
Cuius equi veniant, facito, studiose, requiras:
Nec mora, quisquis erit, cui favet illa, fave.
At cum pompa frequens caelestibus ibit eburnis,
Tu Veneri dominae plaude favente manu;
Utque fit, in gremium pulvis si forte puellae
Deciderit, digitis excutiendus erit:
Etsi nullus erit pulvis, tamen excute nullum:
Quaelibet officio causa sit apta tuo.
Or, in English....

This circus, where an immense concourse of people is gathered, is very favourable to Love. There, if you would express the secret promptings of your heart, there is no need for you to talk upon your fingers, or to watch for signs to tell you what is in your fair one's mind. Sit close beside her, as close as you are able; there's nothing to prevent. The narrowness of the space compels you to press against her and, fortunately for you, compels her to acquiesce. Then, of course, you must think of some means of starting the conversation. Begin by saying the sort of thing people generally do say on such occasions. Some horses are seen entering the stadium; ask her the name of their owner; and whoever she favours, you should follow suit. And when the solemn procession of the country's gods and goddesses passes along, be sure and give a rousing cheer for Venus, your protectress. If, as not infrequently befalls, a speck of dust lights on your fair one's breast, flick it off with an airy finger; and if there's nothing there, flick it off just the same; anything is good enough to serve as a pretext for paying her attention.
Some may note that the books are partially satirical. That they are. To an extent. They are also advice which Ovid gives, if only masked under the guise of humor. The Romans were such creepers

Just to justify myself a little more, let's take the example of Catullus. Another Roman poet. Another creeper.

So, Catullus wrote a bunch of love poems. Big deal. Except for one thing. They are weird...I'll provide the Latin, but not the English, so as not to scar this blog further than I already have with my writings and those of Ovid.

Aureli, pater esuritionum,
non harum modo, sed quot aut fuerunt
aut sunt aut aliis erunt in annis,
pedicare cupis meos amores.
Nec clam: nam simul es, iocaris una,
haerens ad latus omnia experiris.
Frustra: nam insidias mihi instruentemtangam
te prior irrumatione.
Atque id si faceres satur, tacerem:
nunc ipsum id doleo, quod esurire
me me puer et sitire discet.
Quare desine, dum licet pudico,
ne finem facias, sed irrumatus.
That is his 21st poem. Okay, so maybe he gets a little better as he ages, and matures? Here's his 71st.

Si cui iure bono sacer alarum obstitit hircus,
aut si quem merito tarda podagra secat.
Aemulus iste tuus, qui vestrem exercet amorem,
mirifice est a te nactus utrumque malum.
Nam quotiens futuit, totiens ulciscitur ambos:
illam affligit odore, ipse perit podagra.
Again, just the Latin. I'll let you scar yourself.

But don't let this turn you away from all Roman poetry; even Catullus had some good lines.

Odi et amo...

Sources: Ovid's Metamorphosis -

Ovid's Ars Amatoria -

Catullus Poems -

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