lecture

Sulpicia.

Identifications
— Sulpicia

1. Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “The Favourite Poet” 1888.

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2. Josephine Balmer, Women Classical Poets (1996: 96-97):

“This mischievous insistence on the equality of relations between the sexes informs all of Sulpicia’s poetry, providing an invaluable and precious glimpse into the emotional consciousness of Roman women, seen elsewhere only through the distorted mirror of the male elegists’ often sub-pornographic characterisations. Her sexual honesty, her witty sensuality and teasing innuendo, too, present an image of womanhood far from the traditional ‘silent women’ of Rome.”

3a. Sulpicia no. 86 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Thwarted”:

Hateful birthday, here again, and I must pass a tedious
tearful trip to the country — all without Cerinthus.
For what’s more charming than the city? Is a draughty villa
fit for the girl about town? Arno’s freezing river?
Too much now, Messalla, you’re stifling me — give this girl a rest,
since travel, uncle, does not broaden every mind.
For if my body’s carried off, then I’ll leave my thoughts behind,
since you won’t let me judge what I know — or love — the best.

3b. Sulpicia no. 87 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Saved”:

Have you heard, I’ve been released? Yes, the weight of that dull journey
has been lifted from your girl, freed from rural humdrum
to celebrate her birthday in Rome; a treat for all which comes
to you by surprise, my love — and with it, of course, me.

3c. Sulpicia no. 88 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Angry”: 

Here’s a pleasant thought: now you’ve become so careless over me
there’s no sad chance that I might take a sudden tumble.
So take more trouble for some rag-bag tart in tatty toga
than for Sulpicia, Servius’ non-servile daughter;
there are those who trouble about me, those whose greatest grumble
is that I might now let it slip — and for nobody.

3d. Sulpicia no. 89 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Sick”: 

Have you no respect, Cerinthus, no concern for your sweetheart
now fever fires up my feeble frame, allows no rest?
Oh, but I don’t desire a cure, an end to torrid torment
if you don’t want it too, won’t play your own willing part.
For what good are cures, why conquer cares, if you could not care less,
can bear this heat so coolly, all your compassion spent?

3e. Sulpicia no. 90 (Balmer): “Sulpicia Sorry”: 

Don’t carry a burning torch for me, my love, my fierce bright light,
— as I thought perhaps you might have done these past few days —
if I have ever done anything more foolish in my life,
anything I could confess to you that might outweigh
this grievous greatest crime of leaving you alone late last night
desiring only to disguise my own red-hot blaze.

3f. Sulpicia no. 91 (Balmer): “Sulpicia’s Advice to a Lover on His Birthday”:*
*Sulpicia or auctor de Sulpicia?

This festive day, Cerinthus, this day which delivered you to me,
will be sacred forever, our own blazing portent.
For when you were born the cruel Fates cried down fresh slavery
on women, made you harsh overseer, searing torment.
And I burn more than most. But I’ll take my pleasure on these coals,
Cerinthus, if my fierce fires can somehow fire you too;
on our tender tinder love, and to your own slow sparking soul,
I’m praying that this same desire will catch hold in you.

So I’ll make the sacrifice, birth spirit, fan his dying flame;
you turn his thoughts to mine, make his body yearn for mine.
But if by chance he’s smouldering at the sound of some new name,
then leave his hearth-fires smoking, desert that faithless shrine.
And you, Venus, play us fair; either forge us both together
slave to branded slave, or release me from my bondage —
no better make it together, and with your strongest fetter,
the links not even time can corrode or disengage.

You see, the man has his wants but still says silent as he’s wont,
too shamed (so far) to speak those three small words out loud.
But in my brazen birthday suit, my love, here’s my binding vow:
you’ll be damned if you do, but damned (by me) if you don’t.

3g. Sulpicia no. 92 (Balmer): “To Cerinthus at the Hunt”:
*Sulpicia or auctor de Sulpicia

Don’t toy with my boy, ugly boar, as your roam the great outdoors,
poring over crooked paths, your hidden mountain lairs —
and please, don’t think to sharpen those tough old tusks; this isn’t war:
Love, protect him for me, just return him unimpaired;
for he’s been captured for the chase, and Diana’s all the rage
(oh those dark woods can pine away, hounds go to the dogs).
What frenzy’s this, what sort of scheme, to use forests for a cage
or wound those oh so supple hands, give self-harm the nod?
And what pleasure’s here, among wild beasts, to penetrate their hides,
brand with thorns those milk-white thighs, endure such stinging barbs?
So here’s the plan, Cerinthus, clear: let me wander by your side,
bear your tangled, twisted webs along such shady paths;
yes, I can rake the cooling traces, track down your own fast deer,
slip the leash, unchain the dog, swoon at the scent of hare
(oh these dark woods can give such pleasure, if you, my light, stay near).
So let’s make love — to prove the point — by the sets and snares;
and we’ll let wild beasts walk by our mesh, retire again intact
(crashing boars could never jolt the joy of our caress).
But don’t play Venus without me, make Diana’s virgin pact:
be chaste, not chased, my own true boy, cast your purest nets.
And if some girl should stalk my love, mark him our for secret prey,
then let the beasts tear out her heart, you just cut her charms;
the chase’s thrill is not for you, leave your father to the fray,
except, of course, for this charge — into my waiting arms.

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lecture

Ovid’s Heroines.

Identifications
Ovid’s Heroides
— ancient fan fiction

1. Ovid (1st c. BCE and CE), Tristia 2.361-376. Translated by A. L. WheelerRevised by G. P. Goold.

Moreover, not I alone have written tales of tender love, but for writing of love I alone have been punished. What but the union of love and lavish wine was the teaching of the lyric muse of the aged Tean bard [=Anacreon, 6th c. BCE]? What did Lesbian Sappho teach the girls if not love? Yet Sappho was secure, the Tean also was secure. It did not injure thee, scion of Battus [=Callimachus, 3rd c. BCE] that thou didst often in verse confess to the reader thy wanton pleasures. No play of charming Menander [4th/3rd c. BCE] is free from love, yet he is wont to be read by boys and girls. The very Iliad—what is it but an adulteress about whom her lover and her husband fought? What occurs in it before the flaming passion for Briseis and the feud between the chiefs due to the seizure of the girl? What the Odyssey except the story of one woman sought in her husband’s absence for love’s sake by many suitors?

2a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 86, 87):

“Our evidence for the role of Penelope in post-Homeric accounts of the story is scanty…but it seems clear that it was Ovid who took the imaginative step of representing the events of the Odyssey from her point of view. In so doing, he has taken her character far beyond the traditional role of a paradigm of fidelity.”

“Ovid’s epistle of Penelope is not simply a rhetorical reworking of a Homeric theme, but a masterly exploration of character, making new the material of the oldest literary tradition available to him.”

2b. Fresco from the north interior wall of the Macellum in Pompeii c. 65 CE. Thought to depict Penelope and Odysseus as beggar (cf. Odyssey 19.51-360).

2c. Ovid, Heroides 1.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

These words your Penelope sends to you, O Ulysses, slow of return that you are; writing back is pointless: come yourself! Troy, to be sure, is fallen, hated of the daughters of Greece; but scarcely were Priam and all Troy worth the price to me. O would that then, when his ship was on the way to Lacedaemon, the adulterous lover had been overwhelmed by raging waters! Then had I not lain cold in my deserted bed, nor would now be left alone complaining of slowly passing days; nor would the hanging web be wearying now my widowed hands as I seek to beguile the hours of spacious night. When have I not feared dangers graver than the real? Love is a thing ever filled with anxious fear.

2d. Ovid, Heroides 1.59-63, 66-80:

Whoso turns to these shores of ours his stranger ship is plied with many a question ere he go away, and into his hand is given the sheet writ by these fingers of mine, to render up should he but see you anywhere…[1.66] In what lands are you abiding, or where do you idly tarry? Better for me, were the walls of Phoebus still standing in their place—ah me inconstant, I am wroth with the vows myself have made! Had they not fallen, I should know where you were fighting, and have only war to fear, and my plaint would be joined with that of many another. But now, what I am to fear I know not—yet none the less I fear all things, distraught, and wide is the field lies open for my cares. Whatever dangers the deep contains, whatever the land, suspicion tells me are cause of your long delay. While I live on in foolish fear of things like these, you may be captive to a stranger love (peregrino captus amore potes, 1.76)—such are the hearts of you men! It may be you even tell how rustic a wife you have—one fit only to dress fine the wool. May I be mistaken, and this charge of mine be found slight as the breeze that blows, and may it not be that, free to return, you want to be away!

2e. Ovid, Heroides 1.83-94:

Let him chide on — yours I am, yours must I be called; Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, ever shall I be. Yet is he bent by my faithfulness and my chaste prayers, and of himself abates his urgency. The men of Dulichium and Samos, and they whom high Zacynthus bore—a wanton throng—come pressing about me, suing for my hand. In your own hall they are masters, with none to say them nay; your goods, my very life, are being pillaged. Why tell you of Pisander, and of Polybus, and of Medon the cruel, and of the grasping hands of Eurymachus and Antinous, and of others, all of whom through shameful absence you yourself are feeding fat with store that was won at cost of your blood?

2f. Ovid, Heroides 1.115-116:

As for myself, who when you left my side was but a girl, though you should come straightway, I surely shall seem grown an aged dame.

3. Ovid, Heroides 10.1-16. Go back and reread Catullus 64.

Gentler than you I have found every race of wild beasts; to none of them could I so ill have trusted as to you. The words you now are reading, Theseus, I send you from that shore from which the sails bore off your ship without me, the shore on which my slumber, and you, so wretchedly betrayed me—you, who wickedly plotted against me as I slept. ’Twas the time when the earth is first besprinkled with crystal rime, and songsters hid in the branch begin their plaint. Half waking only and languid from sleep, I turned upon my side and put forth hands to clasp my Theseus—he was not there! I drew back my hands, a second time I made essay, and o’er the whole couch moved my arms—he was not there! Fear struck away my sleep; in terror I arose, and threw myself headlong from my abandoned bed. Straight then my palms resounded upon my breasts, and I tore my hair, all disarrayed as it was from sleep.

4. Dani Bostick (@danibostick), “The Voice of the Heartbroken.” In Medias Res. Nov. 20 2018.

‘How well did Ovid write in the female voice? From the perspective of one 19th-century male, he nailed it. Among Heroides’ merits are “its insights into the female heart,” per Arthur Palmer in 1898. Modern scholarly reception of Heroides tends praise the work’s intertextuality while remaining critical of Ovid’s narrative voice. Ovid has been described as a caricaturist who diminishes female power. Others have accused him of ascribing “verbose powerlessness” to the heroines and creating female characters who use the epistolary genre “in the service of self-marginalization.”

As I read the Heroides, I was struck by how accurately Ovid portrayed the emotions associated with abandonment and unrequited love. Nonetheless, I was not left with the impression that Ovid has special “insights into the female heart.” Ovid did not need special insights because certain experiences transcend both gender and time. Ovid, like Tredget, could relate to the heroine’s experiences and imagine himself in their position.’

5a. Peter Knox, Ovid: Heroides. Select Epistles (1995: 278-279):

“Phaon was a ferryman who worked the route between Lesbos and the mainland. The goddess Aphrodite came to him disguised as an old woman seeking transport, which he provided free of charge. As a reward the goddess endowed Phaon with attractiveness irresistible to any woman. It was almost inevitable that this figure of local lore on the island of Lesbos would eventually be associated with the celebrated female poet who wrote so much about love…It is reasonable to assume that the story of her love for Phaon originated as a speculative reconstruction derived from a reference in her poetry to the local tradition of the ferryman. No fragment of her poetry refers to this, but one ancient mythographical treatise (Palaeph. De incred. 48) explicitly records that Sappho wrote about this Phaon….The author of the Heroides 15, unlike Ovid, struck out on an original path, taking the biographical traditions about a literary figure as the basis for an epistolary fiction.”

5b. Glenn Most, “Reflecting Sappho” (1996: 17): 

“The earliest surviving example of this strategy is Heroides 15, attributed, perhaps correctly, to Ovid*. This poem, in the form of a letter written by Sappho to Phaon, is by far the most influential document in the history of the reception of Sappho: when it was discovered in the early 15th c., it was thought to be a genuine letter by Sappho, translated into Latin; and for centuries after, when its author had been identified as Ovid, its elegance, massive availability, and easy comprehensibility ensured that it would dominate over the few, scattered, difficult genuine fragments in establishing the image of the poetess. Indeed, the text Sappho is clutching in Raphael’s fresco Parnassus [1509-1511] in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican is most likely to be this very epistle.”

*in a note here, Most writes: “I deliberately avoid taking a firm position here on the controversial question of the authenticity of this poem,…; but I will remark that none of the arguments that have been brought against its Ovidian authorship seems to me decisive.”

5c. Raphael’s fresco Parnassus in the Stanza della Segnatura at the Vatican. Image: Wikimedia. The god Apollo, seated at the centre, plays the lyre surrounded by the nine Muses, and by ancient and modern poets, among whom Homer (blind), Virgil and Dante are easily recognisable behind him, as well as the poetess Sappho seated at the bottom left, with her name written on the scroll she holds in her left hand.

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6a. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.1-12. Translated by Grant ShowermanRevised by G. P. Goold.

Tell me, when you looked upon the characters from my eager right hand, did your eye know forthwith whose they were—or, unless you had read their author’s name, Sappho, would you fail to know whence these brief words come? Perhaps, too, you may ask why my verses alternate, when I am better suited to the lyric mode. I must weep, for my love —and elegy is the weeping strain; no lyre is suited to my tears. I burn—as burns the fruitful acre when its harvests are ablaze, with untamed east-winds driving on the flame. The fields you frequent, O Phaon, lie far away, by Typhoean Aetna; and I—heat not less than the fires of Aetna preys on me.

6b. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.15-20:

Neither the maids of Pyrrha charm me now, nor they of Methymna, nor all the rest of the throng of Lesbian daughters. Naught is Anactorie to me, naught Cydro, the dazzling fair; my eyes joy not in Atthis as once they did, nor in the hundred other maids I loved here to my reproach; unworthy one, the love that belonged to many maids you alone possess.

6c. Ovid (?), Heroides 15.31-41:

If nature, malign to me, has denied the charm of beauty, weigh in the stead of beauty the genius that is mine. If I am slight of stature, yet I have a name fills every land; the measure of my name is my real height. If I am not dazzling fair, Cepheus’ Andromeda was fair in Perseus’ eyes, though dusky with the hue of her native land. Besides, white pigeons oft are mated with those of different hue, and the black turtledove, too, is loved by the bird of green. If none shall be yours unless deemed worthy of you for her beauty’s sake, then none shall be yours at all. Yet, when I read you my songs, I seemed already beautiful enough.

7. P. Oxy. 1800 fr. 1, Oxyrhynchus papyrus (late 2nd or early 3rd c. CE).

Sappho was a Lesbian by birth, of the city of Mytilene. Her father was Scamander or, according to some, Scamandronymus, and she had three brothers, Erigyius, Larichus and Charaxus, the eldest, who sailed to Egypt and associated with one Doricha, spending large sums on her; Sappho was more fond of the young Larichus. She had a daughter Cleis, named after her own mother. She has been accused by some of being irregular in her ways and a woman-lover. In appearance she seems to have been contemptible and quite ugly, being dark in complexion and of very small stature. The same is true of (Alcaeus?) who was smallish . . .

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Cleopatra: The Impossible Queen.

Identifications
— Cleopatra VII

1. Limestone stele in the Louvre. Dedicated to Cleopatra VII 2 July 51 BCE by Onnophris, the Greek. Cleopatra is represented here (right) as a traditional, male pharaoh wearing double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, and a triangular loincloth. Two vases are offered to the goddess Isis, who nurses her baby, Horus.

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2. Cleopatra meets Julius Caesar in 48 BCE (Alexandria):

2a. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Life of Julius Caesar 49

So Cleopatra, taking only Apollodorus the Sicilian from among her friends, embarked in a little skiff and landed at the palace when it was already getting dark;  and as it was impossible to escape notice otherwise, she stretched herself at full length inside a bed-sack, while Apollodorus tied the bed-sack up with a cord and carried it indoors to Caesar. It was by this device of Cleopatra’s, it is said, that Caesar was first captivated, for she showed herself to be a bold coquette, and succumbing to the charm of further intercourse with her, he reconciled her to her brother on the basis of a joint share with him in the royal power.

2b. Cleopatra (1963):

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2c. Assassin’s Creed, Origins (2017):

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3a. A bronze coin struck in Cyprus showing Cleopatra VII and her young son Caesarion, 48–30 BCE. Image: CNGcoins.

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3b. Relief of Cleopatra VII and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Before 30 BCE. Image: Wikimedia.

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4. Mark Antony and Cleopatra meet at Tarsus in 41 BCE (Cilicia):

4a. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Life of Mark Antony 25

Such, then, was the nature of Antony, where now as a crowning evil his love for Cleopatra supervened, roused and drove to frenzy many of the passions that were still hidden and quiescent in him, and dissipated and destroyed whatever good and saving qualities still offered resistance. And he was taken captive in this manner. As he was getting ready for the Parthian war, he sent to Cleopatra, ordering her to meet him in Cilicia in order to make answer to the charges made against her of raising and giving to Cassius much money for the war. But Dellius, Antony’s messenger, when he saw how Cleopatra looked, and noticed her subtlety and cleverness in conversation, at once perceived that Antony would not so much as think of doing such a woman any harm, but that she would have the greatest influence with him. He therefore resorted to flattery and tried to induce the Egyptian to go to Cilicia “decked out in fine array”* (as Homer would say), and not to be afraid of Antony, who was the most agreeable and humane of commanders.”

*“decked out in fine array” =  a quotation from Homer Iliad 14.162, where Hera prepares her body to be beautiful so that she can seduce and deceive Zeus. Hera enlists the help of Aphrodite (Iliad 14.190ff.).

4b. Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Life of Mark Antony 26

Though she received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, she so despised and laughed the man to scorn as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded poop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute blended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Cupids in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the   fairest of her serving-girls, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous scents from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks.  Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia… (27) Cleopatra observed in the jests of Antony much of the soldier and the common man, and adopted this manner also towards him, without restraint now, and boldly. For her beauty, as we are  told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but conversation with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. It’s said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Macedonian dialect.

5a. Silver denarius of Mark Antony, 32 BCE (RRC 543/1). Left: Antony; Armenian tiara behind portrait as an allusion to his conquests in the East. Right: Cleopatra with diadem, in front of the bust, a ship’s bow as an allusion to her war fleet. Image: CRRO.

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5b. Kevin Butcher (2016) The face of Cleopatra: was she really so beautiful?

“Cleopatra is always newsworthy. So when in February 2007 a small coin in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle was said to have changed our understanding of her, it made headlines around the world. Journalists reacted with shock. Cleopatra was no beauty queen, said the reports. The face on the coin was nothing like that of Elizabeth Taylor. Instead she looked “plain”, even “shrewish”, and had a “hook-like hooter”. This was announced as a revelation. Yet for all the fanfare, there was nothing particularly unusual about the Newcastle coin. There are plenty of coins surviving with Cleopatra’s portrait on them, and they generally repeat the same features that seemed to astound reporters: a prominent nose, sloping forehead, sharply pointed chin and thin lips, and hollow-looking eye sockets.

These coin portraits, surprising though they may be to those who have grown up with a ‘Hollywood Cleopatra’, are the only certain images we have of her. That hasn’t stopped people from attempting to dismiss them as inaccurate and overly stylised – hoping against hope that there could have been another face of Cleopatra, a hidden one whose face would better match our expectations. Perhaps, they suggest, these unconvincing portraits were the work of unskilled artists.”

6a. Assassin’s Creed, Origins (2017): “I will sleep with anyone! As long as they agree to be executed in the morning!”

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6b. Prudence Jones, Cleopatra: A sourcebook (2006: 260):

“Alexander Pushkin [in Egyptian Nights, 1825] revived a little-known anecdote about one of Cleopatra’s pastimes. The 4th c. AD historian Sextus Aurelius Victor is the only source for this story. As he puts it, Cleopatra was “so lustful that she often prostituted herself, and so beautiful that many men bought a night with her at the price of their lives.” [De Vir. Ill. Urbis Romae 86.2] The tale may be no more than stock invective, however; Diodorus Siculus relates the same anecdote about the Babylonian queen Semiramis.”

6c. Helen King (@fluff35), “Cleopatra and the vibrator powered by bees.” Mistaking histories. Aug. 8 2017.

“One of the most far-fetched myths about ancient sexuality, repeated online but also in print, is that Cleopatra invented the vibrator. Some sites date this event to ‘circa 54 BC’ while others go for 45 BC: there’s nothing like a date to make a story look more convincing.

Now, there’s obviously one little problem here: the power source. How do you have a vibrator without electricity? In a particularly unconvincing part of a very dodgy but much-cited book, Rachel Maines’ The Technology of Orgasm (1999: you can read more about my issues with this book here and it has recently been challenged even more extensively here), water power was suggested as an alternative source for vibrators in the Roman world. Hmmm. The Cleopatra story goes in a different direction: it claims that this device was either an empty gourd or a papyrus box, and it was powered by bees.”

6c. Horace, Odes 1.37. Translated by Niall Rudd (2004). 

Now let the drinking begin! Now let us thump the ground with unfettered feet! Now is the time, my friends, to load the couches of the gods with a feast fit for the Salii!

Before this it was sacrilege to bring the Caecuban out from our fathers’ cellars, at a time when the queen, along with her troop of disgustingly perverted men, was devising mad ruin for the Capitol and death for the empire—a woman so out of control that she could hope for anything at all, drunk, as she was, with the sweet wine of success.

But her frenzy was sobered by the survival of scarcely one ship from the flames; and her mind, crazed with Mareotic wine, was brought down to face real terror when Caesar pursued her as she flew away from Italy with oars, like a hawk after a gentle dove or a speedy hunter after a hare on the snowy plains of Thessaly, to put that monster of doom safely in chains.

Determined to die more nobly, she showed no womanly fear of the sword, nor did she use her swift fleet to gain some hidden shore. She had the strength of mind to gaze on her ruined palace with a calm countenance, and the courage to handle the sharp-toothed serpents, letting her body drink in their black venom. Once she had resolved to die she was all the more defiant—determined, no doubt, to cheat the cruel Liburnians: she would not be stripped of her royalty and conveyed to face a jeering triumph: no humble woman she.

7a. Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra (1963): 

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7b. Shelley P. Haley, “Black Feminist Thought and Classics: Re-membering, Re-claiming, Re-empowering.” 1993: 29.

“I had disliked discussing Cleopatra; I had been uncomfortable and ill at ease. Why? I began to see and am still arriving at seeing that Cleopatra is the crystallization of the tension between my yearning to fit in among the classicists and my identity politics. I clouded this tension by professing that the Ptolemies of the first century B.C.E were Greco-Egyptian. To me, “Egyptian”, “Greco-Egyptian”, “Greek”, “Roman” had been cultural designations. I refused, rather self-righteously, I admit, to colorize the question as my grandmother had done, along with my students, and most recently Newsweek (“Was Cleopatra Black”: September 23, 1991). What I resisted was the act that my culture is colorized: Black literature, Black music, Black art, Black feminism. Gradually, by reading my history and Black feminist thought, I perceived that Cleopatra was a signifier on two levels. She gives voice to our “anxiety about cultural disinheritance” (Sadoff 1990: 205), and she represents the contemporary Black woman’s double history of oppression and survival.”

8. Al-Mas’udi, Prairies of Gold, 10th c. CE Arabic. Excerpt from Prudence Jones (2006: 271). Translated by Camilo Gomez-Rivas.

Ptolemy [XII Auletes, king of Egypt] was succeeded by his daughter, Cleopatra. Her reign lasted twenty-two years. She was wise, tried her hand at philosophy and was a close companion to wise men. She has works, both bearing her name and ascribed to her, of medicine, and science, known by those versed in medicine.

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Augustan Rome.

Identifications
— Augustan marriage laws
— Livia
— Ovid’s love poetry

1a. Ara Pacis Augustae, The Altar of Augustan Peace. Pledged 13 BCE, dedicated 9 BCE. The altar, made of Carrara/Luna marble, was erected in the northern Campus Martius, voted in 4th July 13 BCE by the senate (according to Augustus’ Res Gestae 12) to commemorate his safe return from Gaul and Spain, and dedicated 30th January 9 BCE, the birthday of Augustus’ wife, Livia (Ovid Fasti 1.709-722). An acanthus frieze binds the whole design in unity. Image: “Rabax63” (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia.

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1b. Hypothesized colour light projection. Image: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images, see Bond 2017. See also this video which shows the other sides with colour projected.

Ara Pacis colour

1c. Aerial plan of the Ara Pacis. Text overlay by Čulík-Baird based on Pollini ap. Tuck 2016: 121; base image: “Augusta 89” (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

1d. Detail of frieze on the south side of the Ara Pacis, showing individuals believed to be Agrippa, Livia, and Tiberius. Strong visual connection to the 5th c. BCE Parthenon frieze at Athens. Unprecedented depiction of women and children in a sculptural relief. Image: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia.

ara_pacis_relieve_roma_01 (1)

2. Portraits of Livia (b. 58 BCE, d. 29 CE), wife of Augustus (r. 27 BCE – 14 CE).

2a. Mid to late 30s BCE, marble. Livia is represented with “a new coiffure with no precursors in the ancient world — the nodus hairstyle — in which a section of hair is arranged in a nodus or roll over the forehead. The rest of the hair is brushed back in loose waves over the ears and fastened in a bun at the back of the head” (Diana Kleiner I, Claudia 1996: 53). Image: Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery.

baltimore-walters-art-gallery-23-211.jpg

Diana Kleiner (I, Claudia 1996: 53): “In these portraits, Livia is depicted as a serene beauty with almond-shaped eyes and a small rounded mouth. Her prominent aquiline nose is also accentuated. There is in these portraits little indication, even in Livia’s later years, of the aging process. This was in keeping with the Augustan ideal of an eternal youthfulness for portraiture of men and women that was based on the images of youthful male athletes and goddesses.”

2b. Siân Phillips as Livia in the 1976 BBC television adaptation of I, Claudius.

sian-phillips-livia.jpg

3. Suetonius (2nd c. CE), Life of Augustus 62-63

Shortly after that he married Scribonia…He divorced her also, “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition,” as he himself writes, and at once took Livia Drusilla from her husband Tiberius Nero, although she was with child at the time; and he loved and esteemed her to the end without a rival. [63] By Scribonia he had a daughter Julia, by Livia no children at all, although he earnestly desired issue. One baby was conceived, but was prematurely born.

4a. Suetonius (2nd c. CE), Life of Augustus 34:

He revised existing laws and enacted some new ones, for example, on extravagance, on adultery and chastity, on bribery, and on the encouragement of marriage among the various classes of citizens. Having made somewhat more stringent changes in the last of these than in the others, he was unable to carry it out because of an open revolt against its provisions, until he had abolished or mitigated a part of the penalties, besides increasing the rewards and allowing a three years’ exemption from the obligation to marry after the death of a husband  or wife. When the knights even then persistently called for its repeal at a public show, he sent for the children of Germanicus and exhibited them, some in his own lap and some in their father’s, intimating by his gestures and expression that they should not refuse to follow that young man’s example. And on finding that the spirit of the law was being evaded by betrothal with immature girls and by frequent changes of wives, he shortened the duration of betrothals and set a limit on divorce.

4b. Women in the Classical World, p302-303:

“The Augustan laws, designed to penalize those citizens who remained unmarried or childless (women between 20 and 50 and men after the age of 25) and those who committed adultery or married women or men of the “wrong” social rank or status, had as their goals the moral revitalization of the upper class, the raising of the birth rate among citizens, and the policing of sexual behaviour  in the attempt to reintroduce conservative social values and control the social conduct of an upper class seen as more interested in pleasure and autonomy than in duty and community…The laws, first issued probably in 18 BCE, and amended by supplementary legislation more than 25 years later in 9 CE as the Lex Papia Poppaea, are today known mainly in fragmentary and sometimes distorted from in the writings of later jurists and historians who cite them. Issues of marriage and reproduction that once had been mainly under the control of families now became, at least on paper, public and the purview of the community as a whole. The laws penalized people who did not marry or have children by attacking their eligibility to inherit wealth.”

5. Julia and Julia. 

  • Julia the Elder (daughter of Augustus) in 2 BCE was charged with multiple adulteries and sent into exile (Velleius Paterculus 2.100.3; Pliny NH 7.149) — Velleius gives a list of five adulterers, all with noble Republican names, including Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony); Julia was initially sent to the island of Pandateria, an island less than 2 miles long (Tacitus Annales 1.53Dio Cassius 55.10.14), later Reggio.
  • Julia the Younger (daughter of Julia) was also exiled for adultery in 8 CE, suspected of an affair with D. Silanus (Tacitus Annales 3.24.5); Julia was sent to the island of Trimerus. Augustus refused to allow Julia’s child, born in exile, to be raised (Suet. Aug. 65). The poet, Ovid, who was also exiled in 8 CE, writes that it was because of carmen (poem) and error (a mistake), Tristia 2.207. Tristia 2.103ff. claims he saw something unwittingly.

6a. Ovid, Amores 1.5. Translated by John Svarlien. 

It was hot – the day already more than half gone.
I lay where I’d dropped on the bed.
It happened a window was half-open. Light filtered in
like light falling in a forest;
like the afterglow of twilight or when it’s dawn
but the night hasn’t quite faded.
That’s the kind of dim light shy girls like – it gives
their modesty some cover.
The door opens. In comes Corinna, her dress half buttoned,
her hair fixed to show off that lovely neck.
She looked as lovely as Semiramis on her wedding night
or Lais in anyone’s bed.
I tore off the dress. To make it more fun she fought
to keep the flimsy thing half on.
We struggled; I won! Her protests betrayed
the truth: she had wanted to lose.
Clothes littered the room. There stood Corinna nude.
God, what a masterpiece she was!
Looking was not enough; I had to touch those shoulders, those arms;
mold my hands round each round breast.
Her belly’s subtle curves coaxed my fingers on. Soon I felt
the supple swell of hips and thighs.
But why catalogue the store of pleasure her body held?
I held her naked in my arms.
You can fantasize the rest. We were exhausted and slept.
May many afternoons be so well spent.

6b. Ovid, Amores 1.8.35-54. Translated by John Svarlien.

Does that make you blush? Hmm, a little color adds tone to your complexion;
but dab on some rouge; don’t rely on nature.
Keep your eyes leveled on your lap; gear your fetching glances
to the price a customer’s gift will bring.
Maybe in Tatius’ time the Sabine girls went unadorned and
refused service to any but a husband.
Now Mars leads our boys around the world to test their courage;
but Venus rules the city of her Aeneas.
The fun’s non-stop for sexy girls; the chaste are those no one asks out.
Only a hick wouldn’t ask the man herself.
As for prim matrons, take another look – those venerable wrinkles hide
tales of debauchery that would shock you.
Penelope knew how to try the strength of young men: she had them
straining to arch the bow’s bone.
Time slips by unnoticed – it goes spinning along out of control;
a year has raced by before you know it.
Bronze is polished bright by use; a lovely dress is made to show off,
if a house stands empty, it rots.
The same goes for beauty: you have to use it. You can’t save it for rainy days.
Don’t think one lover makes a spring.

6c. Ovid, Amores 2.13. Diane Arnson Svarlien.

For trying to unseat the burden crouched in her swelling womb,
for her audacity, Corinna lies near death.
I should be furious: to take such a risk! And without telling me!
But anger fails me — I’m so afraid.
You see, I’m the one who got her that way, or so I believe;
I might as well be, since I could have been.
Isis! Great queen of Paraetonium, of Canopus’ joyful plains,
of Memphis, and of Pharos, rich in palm-trees,
of the broad delta where the swift Nile spreads, and pours
his waters to the sea through seven mouths,
I pray, by your sacred rattles, by the venerated face of Anubis —
may faithful Osiris forever love your rites!
may the unhurried snake glide always amid your offerings,
and horned Apis travel at your side! —
come here, look kindly upon her, and save two lives in one:
for you’ll give life to her, and she to me.
She’s been devout: performed each service on your festival days,
observed the Gallic laurel ritual.
And you, who comfort laboring women in their time of distress, when
the lurking burden strains their bodies hard,
come gently now, and smile upon my prayers, Ilithyia —
she’s worthy of your intervention — please!
I myself, in white robes, will bring incense to your smoking altar;
I myself will offer votive gifts
and lay them at your feet with the inscription, “For Corinna’s Life.”
Goddess, give occasion for those words!
Corinna, listen, if you’re out of danger:
please don’t ever go through this again!

6d. Ovid, Amores 2.14.1-22. Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien.

What good does it do for girls to be exempt from combat, freed
from all the dangers that our soldiers face,
if they will suffer self-inflicted wounds far from the front lines,
and blindly brandish arms against their own
bodies? The woman who first took aim at her helpless fetus
should have died by her own javelin.
Can it be possible that, simply to avoid a few stretch-marks,
you’d make your womb a bloody battleground?
What if our forebears had forborne to bear? Without willing mothers
the world would be unpopulated – again
someone would have to seed the empty earth with flung stones.
Priam’s palace wouldn’t have been sacked
if sea-goddess Thetis had refused to shoulder (so to speak) her load;
if Ilia, her belly swollen big,
had terminated her twins in utero, who would have founded
the City that was bound to rule the world?
If Venus, in her audacity, had aborted fetal Aeneas
the Caesars never would have graced our land.
Even you (though you were meant to be born a beauty) would have died
if your mother had attempted what you’ve tried.
I myself (though personally I plan to die of love) would not
have seen the light of day, had mother killed me.

7a. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.451-466. Translated by A. D. Melville.

In entered Philomela, richly robed
In gorgeous finery, and richer still
Her beauty; such the beauty of the nymphs,
Naiads and Dryads, as we used to hear,
Walking the woodland ways, could one but give
The nymphs such finery, such elegance.
The sight of her set Tereus’ heart ablaze
As stubble leaps to lame when set on fire,
Or fodder blazes, stored above the byre.
Her looks deserved his love; but inborn lust
Goaded him too, for men of that rough race
Are warm for wenching: Thracian villainy
Joined flaring with his own. An impulse came
To bribe her retinue, suborn her nurse,
Even assail the girl herself with gifts,
Huge gifts, and pay his kingdom for the price —
Or ravish her and then defend the rape
In bloody war. Nothing he would not do…

7b. Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.669-80. Translated by G. P. Goold.

After kisses how much was lacking to your vow’s fulfilment? ah! that was awkwardness, not modesty. You may use force; women like you to use it; they often wish to give unwillingly what they like to give. She whom a sudden assault has taken by storm is pleased, and counts the audacity as a compliment. But she who, when she might have been compelled, departs untouched, though her looks feign joy, will yet be sad.

7c. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.553-557. Translated by A. D. Melville.

…and Philomela, seeing the sword,
Offered her throat and hoped she would have died.
But as she fought, outraged, for words and called
Her father’s name continually, he seized
Her tongue with tongs and, with his brutal sword,
Cut it away.

7d. Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.576-586. Translated by A. D. Melville.

On clumsy native loom
She wove a clever fabric, working words
In red on a white ground to tell the tale
Of wickedness, and, when it was complete,
Entrusted it to a woman and by signs
Asked her to take it to the queen; and she
Took it, as asked, to Procne, unaware
What it contained. The savage monarch’s wife
Unrolled the cloth and read the tragic tale
Of her calamity — and said no word
(It seemed a miracle, but anguished locked
Her lips.) Her tongue could find no speech to match
Her outraged anger; no room here for tears;
She stormed ahead, confusing right and wrong,
Her whole soul filled with visions of revenge.

8a. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.709-713. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Iphis, a name that gave its mother joy:
It meant no fraud — it could be a girl or boy.
So long the lie that love began lay hid.
She dressed her as a boy, and, whether judged
As boy or girl, the child was beautiful.

8b. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.722-728. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Ianthe longed to fix the wedding day,
To be a wife and take to be her man
Her Iphis, whom she took to be a man.
Poor Iphis loved a girl, girl loving girl,
And knew her love was doomed and loved the more.
Almost in tears, ‘What will become of me?’
She said, ‘possessed by love unheard of, love
So monstrous, so unique?’

8c. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.786-797. Translated by A. D. Melville.

Walked Iphis, as she went, with longer strides
Than usual, her cheeks of darker hue,
Her features firmer, limbs more powerful,
Her hanging tresses shorter and her strength
Greater than woman’s wont. She who had been
A girl a moment past was now a boy.
Rejoice, rejoice, with fearless faith! Go, bring
Your offerings to the holy shrine! They brought
Their offerings and beside them placed a plaque,
And on the plaque a couplet was inscribed:
“These offerings, vowed by Iphis as a maid,
By Iphis, now a man, are glady paid.”
The morning’s radiance revealed the world;
Venus, Juno, and Hymen joined to bless
The wedding rite; their love was sanctified
And Iphis gained Ianthe, groom and bride.

Standard
lecture

Anonymous poems.

Identifications
— anonymity
— inscriptions

1. Anonymous no. 101* (Balmer). Athens, late 5th century BCE.
*inscribed into stone (Peek, Griechische Vers-Inschriften I: 1415)

Your love, Biote, was like honey, like truth,
and now I’m placing a slab above your grave.
Set it in stone: Euthylla took you for her
lover and these tears are your memorial
falling one by one
for the years we have lost.

2. Anonymous no. 102* (Balmer). Amorgos, mid 5th century BCE.
*inscribed into stone (SEG: XV.548)

marble, not flesh, a woman turned to stone;
O Bitte, it’s all I have left of you —
the memory of your face
a mother’s hardening grief.

3. Anonymous no. 104* (Balmer). Cape Zoster near Athens, 56/55 BCE.
*inscribed into stone (Kai 118)

My daughter I raised in Athens, sent her
to serve a foreign Queen; even at court
she still shone, was treasured like a jewel.
And now I have brought her back in a box,
showered her not with golden desert sand
but the warm soft soil of her own homeland.

4a. Anonymous no. 108* (Balmer). 5th c. BCE.
*inscribed into a drinking cup (kylix) currently in the Met Museum.

For Melosa the conqueror
women’s champion at carding wool.

4b. Terracotta kylix. 5th c. BCE. Above: Two warriors fight between the eyes. On the other side, a woman captive with a warrior (Helen and Menelaus?). Below: the inscription of 4a below the foot, from Milne 1944.

melosa  44.11.1. .jpg

Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 5.01.39 PM.png

5. Anonymous no. 109* (Balmer). Athens, after 350 BCE.
*inscribed into an arch (Kai 776).

With the skill of her hands and the courage in her soul,
Melinna raised her family, and this stone to you,
lady Athena, the workers’ friend (ἐργάνη) — a share of all
she has sacrificed: a monument to kindness, grace.

6. Anonymous no. 110* (Balmer).
*transmitted by Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (697b).

What do you do to me? I’m on my knees
and begging, please, don’t give the game away:
before my man walks in the door, get out
of bed; he’ll wipe the floor with you and me.
Believe me, my love, it’s already day —
first light is at my window, can’t you see?

7. Anonymous no. 112* (Balmer).
*transmitted by Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Greek Questions 6.26.1.

Come, Lord Dionysus, come,
to the temples of Elis,
bring your holy Graces
to the temple.

Rage like the bull
horned and hoofed,

worthy bull,
worthy bull.

8. Anonymous no. 114* (Balmer).
*transmitted by Plutarch (1st/2nd c. CE), Life of Titus Flamininus 16.

Having been thus saved by Titus, the Chalcidians dedicated to him the largest and most beautiful of the votive offerings in their city, and on them such inscriptions as these are still to be seen: “This gymnasium is dedicated by the people to Titus and Heracles,” and again in another place, “This Delphinium is dedicated by the people to Titus and Apollo.” Moreover, even down to our own day a priest of Titus is duly elected and appointed, and after sacrifice and libations in his honour, a set hymn of praise to him is sung: it is too long to be quoted entire, and so I will give only the closing words of the song:

So now let us honour the Trust of Rome
a faith to stand guard on far-shining oaths.

Sing, girls, Sing!
Lift up your voices
to great Zeus and
Roma  too

to Titus, the Trust
of Rome.
Praise Him!

Titus, our saviour.

9. Anonymous no. 116* (Balmer).
* quoted among drinking songs (skolia) by Athenaeus (c. 200 CE), The Learned Banquet (693f-694c).

A scorpion waits under every stone:
take care in case it should suddenly strike —
deceit creeps in with the dark
and the unknown.

 

 

Standard
lecture

I, Claudia.

Identifications
— Catullus
— Clodia
— Lesbia

“Bad Kid Catullus” (2017):

review of bad kid catullus.jpeg

1. Catullus poems:

  • Lesbia is a married woman: 83.
  • Poems declaring love for Lesbia: 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 51, 85, 87, 107, 109.
  • Poems comparing her to other women: 43, 86.
  • Poems about their fights: 36, 83, 92, 104.
  • Poems criticizing her for cheating on him: 8, 68, 70, 72, 75, 76.
  • Poems of strong abuse against her: 11, 37, 58, 79.
  • Poems about her other lovers: 37 (Egnatius), 91 (Gellius), 79 (her own brother??)
  • Catullus’ poems also describe a love affair with a man named Juventius: 15, 21, 24, 48, 81, 99.

2a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 2. Translated by Peter Green.

Sparrow, precious darling of my sweetheart,
always her plaything, held fast in her bosom,
whom she loves to provoke with outstretched finger
tempting the little pecker to nip harder
when my incandescent longing fancies
just a smidgin of fun and games and comfort
for the pain she’s feeling (I believe it!),
something to lighten that too-heavy ardor —
how I wish I could sport with you as she does,
bring some relief to the spirit’s black depression!

2b. Roman wall painting from the House of the Golden Bracelet (close-up on a nightingale). Pompeii, 1st c. BCE or CE. Image: mtholyoke.edu.

myholyoke-birdie-e1518457527248.png

2c. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 3. Translated by Peter Green.

Mourn, Cupids all, every Venus, and whatever
company still exists of caring people:
Sparrow lies dead, my own true sweetheart’s sparrow,
Sparrow, the pet and darling of my sweetheart,
loved by her more than she valued her own eyesight.
Sweet as honey he was, and knew his mistress
no less closely than a child her mother;
nor from her warm lap’s safety would he ever
venture far, but hopping this and that way
came back, cheeping, always to his lady.
Now he’s travelling on that dark-shroud journey
whence, they tell us, none of the departed
ever returns. The hell with you, you evil
blackness of Hell, devouring all that’s lovely–
such a beautiful sparrow you’ve torn from me!
Oh wicked deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
It’s your fault that now my sweetheart’s eyelids
are sore and swollen red from all her weeping.

2d. Left: a tintinnabulum from Pompeii, 1st c. CE (Inv. 27839). Image: Marie-Lan Nguyen (CC-BY 2.5) via wikimedia. Right: phallic amulets from Roman Gaul. Image: wikimedia.

 

 

2e. Nicolai Abildgaard, (1809) “Catullus and Lesbia after the death of her sparrow.” Image: Wikimedia

Nicolai_Abildgaard_-_Catullus_og_Lesbia_-_1809.jpg

3a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 5. Translated by Peter Green.

Let’s live, Lesbia mine, and love — and as for
scandal, all the gossip, old men’s strictures
value the lot at no more than a farthing!
Suns can rise and set ad infinitum —
for us, though, once our brief life’s quenched, there’s only
one unending night that’s left to sleep through.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then a thousand more, a second hundred,
then yet another thousand then a hundred —
then when we’ve notched up all these many thousands,
shuffle the figures, lose count of the total,
so no maleficent enemy can hex (inuidere) us
knowing the final sum of all our kisses.

3b. Cicero (56 BCE) Pro Caelio 33-34 (trans. Berry):

But I should like to ask her first whether she would prefer me to deal with her in a stern, solemn, old-fashioned way or in a relaxed, easy-going, modern way. If she chooses the severe mode of address, then I must call up from the underworld one of those bearded ancients — not with the modern type of goatee beard that she takes such pleasure in, but the rough type such as we see on antique statues and masks — to castigate the woman and speak in my place (for otherwise she might become angry with me!). Let me therefore summon up a member of her own family — and who better than the famous Caecus [=Appius Claudius Caecus, censor 312 BCE]? He, at any rate, will be the least shocked at her, since he will not be able to see her!

[34] If he appears, this is, I am sure, how he will treat her, this is what he will say: “Woman! What do you think you are doing with Caelius, a man much younger than yourself, with someone from outside your own family? Why have you been either such a friend to him that you lent him gold or such an enemy that you were afraid of poison? Did you not notice that your father, or hear that your uncle, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, your great-great-grandfather and your great-great-great-grandfather were all consuls? And were you not aware that you were recently the wife of Quintus Metellus, that illustrious and valiant lover of his country, who only had to step out of his front door to surpass virtually every one of his fellow citizens in excellence, fame, and standing? Coming from such a distinguished family yourself, and marrying into one so illustrious, what reason did you have for lining yourself so closely to Caelius? Was he a blood-relation, a relation by marriage, a friend of your husband? He was none of these.

What, then, was the reason — unless it was some reckless infatuation? And if you were not influenced by the masks of the men in our family, did my own descendant, the famous Quinta Claudia [204 BCE], not inspire you to rival our family’s glory in the splendid achievements of its women? Or were you not inspired by the famous Vestal virgin, Claudia, who at her father’s triumph [143 BCE], held him in her arms and so prevented him from being pulled down from his chariot by the hostile tribune of the plebs? Why was it your brother’s vices that influenced you, rather than the virtues of your father and ancestors, virtues that have been repeated down the generations from my own time not only in the men but particularly in the women of our family? Did I destroy the peace treaty with Pyrrhus [280 BCE] so you could strike the most disgraceful sexual bargains on a daily basis? Did I bring water to the city [Aqua Appia, Rome’s first aqueduct] for you to foul with your incestuous practices? Did I build a road [Via Appiaroad from Rome to Brundisium] so that you could parade up and down it in the company of other women’s husbands?

3a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 7. Translated by Peter Green.

You’d like to know how many of your kisses
would be enough and over, Lesbia, for me?
Match them to every grain of Libyan sand in
silphium-rich Cyrene, from the shrine of
torred oracular Jupiter to the sacred
sepulchre of Battus; reckon their total
equal to all those stars that in the silent
night look down on the stolen loves of mortals.
That’s the number of times I need to kiss you,
That’s what would satisfy your mad Catullus —
far too many for the curious to figure,
or for an evil tongue to work you mischief!

3b. On silphium and Cyrene:

Riddle (1997) Eve’s Herbs, pp44-45: “On the basis of ancient descriptions and pictures, modern botanists identify silphium as a species of giant fennel (genus ferula), because of the shape of its leaves. The pungent sap from its stems and roots was used as cough syrup, and it gave food a richer, distinctive taste. Its true value was not as a medicine or a condiment, however. When women took silphium by mouth, they supposed that they would not get pregnant….The famous poet Catullus asks how many kisses he and Lesbia may share. Why, he answers, as many times as there are grains of sand on Cyrene’s silphium shores. That is, Catullus told his lover that they could make love for as long as they had the plant.”

 

cyrene-silphium.jpgCyrene was so famous for silphium that the plant became its emblem, see the right hand image of the above coin of Magas of Cyrene (c. 300-282/275 BCE). Image: wikimedia.

silphium-assassins-creed.jpg
Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft), tweeted by me (@opietasanimi, 18 Nov. 2017) “standing” in a silphium field in 49-47 BCE Cyrenaica.

4. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 51. Translated by Peter Green. [Go back to week 6]

In my eyes he seems like a god’s co-equal,
he, if I dare say so, eclipses godhead,
who now face to face, uninterrupted,
watches and hears you

sweetly laughing — that sunders unhappy me from
all my senses: the instant I catch sight of
you now, Lesbia, dumbness grips my <voice, it
dies on my vocal

cords>, my tongue goes torpid, and through my body
thin fire lances down, my ears are ringing
with their own thunder, while night curtains both my
eyes into darkness.

Leisure, Catullus, is dangerous to you: leisure
urges you into extravagant behavior
leisure in  time gone by has ruined kings and
prosperous cities.

5a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 32. Translated by Peter Green.

Please please please, my darling Ipsithilla,
oh my delicate dish, my clever sweetheart,
please invite me home for the siesta —
and, supposing that you do invite me, make sure
no one happens to bolt and bar your shutters,
and that you don’t, on a whim, decide to
go off out: just stay home and prepare for
us nine whole uninterrupted fuckfests.
Fact is, if you’re on, ask me at once, I’ve
lunched, I’m full, flat on my back and bursting
up, up, up, through undershirt and bedclothes!

5b. 

6. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 58. Translated by Peter Green.

Caelius, Lesbia — our dear Lesbia, that one,
that Lesia whom alone Catullus worshipped
more than himself, far more than all his kinfolk —
now on backstreet corners and down alleys
jacks off Remus’ generous descendants.

7. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 85. Translated by Peter Green.

I hate and I love. You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?
I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.

7b.

 

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