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Catallus 16 - The Latin they don't teach you in school (NSFW)

There is a common misconception that the Ancient Romans patricians were a moralistic, dull bunch of blokes who spent their lives orating pompously to the mob and modelling for marble busts. And if you read anything by Cicero about Duty and Law that’s the impression that you’ll get. Of course, the Romans also knew how to organise an orgy or two, so they were a contradictory bunch.


Catallus. Looking more stern and moral than his words.


Which brings me to Catallus 16. Most poems are known by their first lines, but not Catallus 16. This is because the first line is probably about one of the most sexually explicit things you’ll ever read. This poem wasn't even published into English until the late twentieth century.


Catallus 16 is all about Catallus having a go at his acquaintances Aurelius and Furius for calling him a sissy over some love poems he wrote to a woman. The things he’s going to do to them to prove his manliness wouldn’t be out of place in some of the more extreme videos on Pornhub and Catallus doesn’t use any euphemisms in describing them.


In Latin, it looks pretty respectable:


Pēdīcābō ego vōs et irrumābō

Aurēlī pathice et cinaede Fūrī,

quī mē ex versiculīs meīs putāstis

quod sunt molliculī, parum pudīcum.

Nam castum esse decet pium poētam

ipsum, versiculōs nihil necesse est

quī tum dēnique habent salem ac lepōrem

Sī sint molliculī ac parum pudīcī

et quod prūriat incitāre possint

nōn dīcō puerīs sed hīs pilōsīs

quī dūrōs nequeunt movēre lumbōs.

Vōs quod mīlia multa bāsiōrum

lēgistis male mē marem putātis?

Pēdīcābō ego vōs et irrumābō.



In English... wow.


I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,

cocksucker Aurelius and butt-boy Furius,

who think, from my little verses,

because they're a little soft, that I have no shame.

For it is right for the devoted poet to be chaste

himself, but it's not necessary for his verses to be so.

[Verses] which then indeed have taste and charm,

If they are delicate and have no shame,

And because they can incite an itch,

And I don't mean in boys, but in

Those hairy men who can't move their loins.

You, because [about] my many thousands of kisses

You've read, you think me less of a man?

I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.



Apparently Catallus contends that a good poet should be virtuous, but his verses needn’t be. And they certainly aren't.


Wikipedia offers a good translation of Catallus 16, but there are translations on the web that, while less blatantly biological, sound more like natural speech to the modern ear. In Wiki’s translation Catallus sounds like a seriously demented sexual predator. I can't help picturing him wearing a mask, carrying rope and duct tape, and I have a feeling I’m doing him an injustice. There are a lot of better modern translations out there. I prefer the ending of an anonymous translation, which I think captures the spirit of the poem better: Fuck you both. You can blow me.


So next time you think the Romans were a staid, boring bunch, always going on about duty and morality, just think of Catallus and remember that the Romans were actually just as dirty, filthy, and petty as the rest of us.

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