Sunday, 17 March 2013

carmina priapea 1,4,5,22. The power of a garden gnome.

I am the proud owner of two garden gnomes in my front yard of 5-6 m2. The Romans had their garden gnomes too: statues of Priapus. This originally Greek god is a dwarf with an oversized membrum virile. Romans had different views on sexuality than we have, as any reader of Roman comedies, Ovid Catull and Martial knows. Apart from that the male organ had – as in many cultures – magico-religious connotations. In India you will find statues of the lingam of Shiva everywhere. This does not mean that India has liberal thoughts about sexuality, as is sadly proved by the high number of rapes and the consequent shame for the women involved. What the lingam refers to is the power of Shiva and its connotations are not erotic, but religious. In classical Greece the herma, a statue of Hermes, often roughly carved with just a head and the penis. These statues where placed at crossings, borders and at the entrances of houses in order to ward off thieves. So the function of the male organ is apotropaic and the statues of Priapus had this function too: they were intended to keep thieves away from the garden. I wonder if there was any Roman who actually believed this…
The carmina priapea is a collection of 95 epigrams dedicated to this god and many of these epigrams are presented as been written on the statues of Priapus. It is very possible that at least some of them were. The poems are from the classical period, but the author is unknown – or authors as scholars are divided on this issue. Some attribute this corpus to Ovid, but more likely is an intelligent editor who also wrote various poems himself (so E.M. O’Connor as quoted by Christiane Goldberg, whose commentary I have used).

For the poets of this collection the emphasis lays wholly on the erotic aspect: they are frivolous as is stated in the introductory poem. The Romans were no religious virtuosi, to use a term by the German sociologist Max Weber, and Priapus was for these poets just a good reason to write erotic poetry. These poems are not so much interesting in themselves, but they give a good insight in Roman sexual morality. For understandable reasons not much attention has been paid to this collection in the past, but from the sixties onwards they have intensively studied by classical scholars and a number of commentaries, translations and studies have been published.
I almost forgot to tell you: my garden gnomes are decently dressed!

Carmina Priapea

 Carminis incompti lusus lecture procaces,
conveniens Latio pone supercilium.
non soror hoc habitat Phoebi, non Vesta sacello,
nec quae de patrio vertice nata dea est,
sed ruber hortorum custos, membrosior aequo,
qui tectum nullis vestibus inguen habet.
aut igitur tunicam parti praetende tegendae,
aut quibus hanc oculis aspicis, ista lege.

incomptus: `uncombed’, inelegant, artless
lecture: vocative of the future participle
procax: frivolous
conveniens Latio: normal for Latium (= Rome)
supercilium: litt.: `eyebrow’, hence: haughtiness
soror Phoebi = Diana
sacellum: shrine
de patrio vertice nata dea = Minerva (who sprang out of the head of Jupiter). All three goddesses are virgins.
rubor: red is the colour for danger and warning.
membrosior aequo: with a bigger male organ than appropriate
inguen, inis (n): private parts
praetendo: spread before
aut quibus hanc oculis aspicis, ista lege: or with the eyes you look at this part (hanc partem). read this!

Obscaenas rigido deo tabellas
dicans ex Elephantidos libellis
dat donum Lalage rogatque, temptes,
si pictas opus edat ad figuras.

Obscaenas tabellas ex Elephantidos libellis = obscene pictures from the book of Elephantis (or Elephantine). This book contained all kinds of erotic pictures. These pictures served as examples for erotic paintings on walls, as is well known from Pompeii and Herculaneum. As for Elephantidios (a Greek genitive), it can refer to Elephantis, a name for an hetaera or to the Egyptian palce Elephantine, known for its prostitution.
dicare: to dedicate (but most manuscripts have ducens)
Lalage: name of an hetaerae
si pictas opus edat ad figuras = si opus edat ad pictas figuras `that she can turn the pictures into work)’ i.e. she is asking Priapus for clients.

Quam puero legem fertur dixisse Priapus,
versibus his infra scripta duobus erit:
'quod meus hortus habet sumas inpune licebit,
si dederis nobis quod tuos hortus habet.'

fertur dixisse Priapus: Priapus is said to have told
inpune: unpunished
sumo: to take (away)
licebit: it will be allowed. Often forms of this impersonal verb have no syntactical relation to the rest of the sentence: translate as: `you are free to take away etc.’

 Femina si furtum faciet mihi virve puerve,
haec cunnum, caput hic praebeat, ille nates.

furtum facio: to steal
cunnum:  the female pudenda
natis, -is (but more common in the plural nates): buttocks

Translations (note that poem 1 in this post is the introduction poem in this link):


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