Recently I bought a nice little book `How to Insult, Abuse & insinuatei in Classical Languge, by Michelle Lovric and Nikiforos Doxiadis Mardas. I found it in a secondhand bookshop for 1,50 euro. It contains Latin phrases with translations, often well found like `egghead’ for `calve’ (calvus means `bald’ and calve is the vocative). Finally I can use abusive language without being beaten up!
It also includes an epigram by Martial:
Lesbia se iurat gratis numquam esse fututam
verum est, cum futui vult, numerare solet.
This is of course a very mean statement towards Lesbia. The name Lesbia reminds us of the Lesbia for whom Catul wrote his poems, but as Martial lived well a 100 years after Catul, it can’t refer to the same woman. As the Lesbia of Catul is a nickname – probably Claudia Metelli Celeris – it is likely that this Lesbia is a nickname too.
The Latin is easy: an a.c.i. construction with se referring to the subject of the main clause. Numerare means `to pay’. literally `to count’ of course meaning counting money. I will come back on fututam and futui.
The book I bought has the following translation:
Lesbia swears she only does it for money,
and it’s true. When she wants it,
she usually pays cash.
A nice translation, but Martial is writing more bluntly. The verb futuare means `to fuck’. Indeed, as this verb belongs to vulgair Latin speech, we should not upgrade it with `making love’. But why does Martial use the passives fututam and futui? Well, from the same root the noun fustis `club’ is formed and now it is easy to see why: only a male can be the subject of the active voice.