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[personal profile] starlady
I am reading the epigrams of Martial for research for a fic (the XMFC Roman AU, to be precise). Martial is really not that great a poet. He keeps comparing himself to Catullus and implying he's better; he isn't. But the poems are a wealth of sociological and topographical information about Rome, Roman habits, and particularly Roman sexual habits and mores. So far the second half of book III, in which the poet is unabashedly dirty, is my favorite.

I'm reading the most recent Loeb edition because it's bilingual, and I've gotten to the point where I very much distrust not being able to compare the actual text with the translation. Bowdlerization is a longstanding problem in classics, and continues via the watering-down of the standard lexicons (i.e. Liddell for Greek and Lewis & Short for Latin) and even many contemporary translations--most of my dirty Latin I learned from my student's Catullus, and thank goodness for that.

So, here's what may be my favorite poem of them all thus far: 

Ut faciam breviora mones epigrammata, Corde.
"fac mihi quod Chione": non potui brevius. (III.83)
D. R. Shackleton Bailey translate this thus: 

You tell me to write shorter epigrams, Cordus.
"Do for me what Chione does." That's as short as I could make it.

Chione is one of Martial's stock names for prostitutes: thus, "do for me what Chione does" could be more loosely rendered as "go fuck yourself." Well, I laughed.

It's rather ploddingly literal, but it gets the job done. I can't make sense of this next one, though, either as translated or as written.

Sit culus tibi quam macer, requiris?
pedicare potes, Sabelle, culo.

You ask how lean your arse is, Sabellus?
You can sodomize with your arse. (III.98)
Leaving aside the unfortunate English verb (I don't know of any one-word synonyms for it, though, and the Romans had a very precise sexual vocabulary--there's even a verb for shaking one's ass), I'm interested in culus here--it is very clearly only ever "asshole" or "anus" in Catullus, which is where it is mostly found, and has already been used in that sense earlier in Martial. But taking culus as "hole"--Bailey must be right to take culo here as an ablative, though of course it could also be dative (but would make even less sense)--seems odd, though no less odd than taking it as "arse" I guess. Thoughts? Is my imagination for sexual insults just stunted?

When I eventually write up a post I'll go back and find the poem where Bailey confuses irrumo "to face-fuck" and fello "to perform oral sex" in a really unfortunate way that totally warps the translation. The bowdlerization is less in this edition, but not fully banished.
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