I have a reprint of the German translation of the Kamasutra from about 1910 by Richard Schmidt. Wherever it becomes interesting, Schimdt switches from German to Latin in order to make clear that his translation is meant for scholars and is no ordinary pornography. Schmidt was a meticulous philologist and his translation is probably as best as one can get and superior to the translation of Burton (btw, the Kamasutra is one of the most boring pieces of literature one can imagine….). This illustrates that Latin was the language used when another language was seen as improper: e.g. I have a Greek – Dutch dictionary in which sexual vocabulary is glossed in Latin and in a pre-war Latin - Dutch dictionary there is no translation but simply a vague circumscription in Latin….. Fortunately I have also a more recent Latin - Dutch dictionary with quite frank translations and explanations. Such dictionaries are necessary when reading Martial.
The following epigram by Martial is rather explicit, both in vocabulary and in imagination. It is a rude, sexist, anti-feminine epigram, but – I can’t help it – it is also funny.
In this poem Martial describes a prostitute who by success in her profession had become rather slack. He compares her vagina with a hoop, a wheel, a wet shoe, a widely cast net, veils at the theatre, a bracelet, a pillow without stuffing, the old trousers of a Britton and the open throat of a pelican. The end is the climax: people say I fucked her in the fishing pool, but it was (like) the fishing pool itself. But the comparisons are grotesque and elusive – causing a lot of problems for modern philologists – and even for the contemporary reader not immediately clear. Despite its banal theme it is literature, unlike Fifty shades of grey, which I have never read: I have read the reviews and that was enough. I did not even manage to finish the Kamasutra, not in German/Latin, let alone in Sanskrit …
Lydia is of course an imaginary prostitute and this epigram is not autobiographical, it is wild fiction.
Martial book 9, epigram XXI
Lydia tam laxa est equitis quam culus aeni,
quam celer arguto qui sonat aere trochus,
quam rota transmisso totiens inpacta petauro,
quam vetus a crassa calceus udus aqua,
quam quae rara vagos expectant retia turdos,
quam Pompeiano vela negata Noto,
quam quae de pthisico lapsa est armilla cinaedo,
culcita Leuconico quam viduata suo,
quam veteres bracae Brittonis pauperis, et quam
turpe Ravennatis guttur onocrotali.
Hanc in piscina dicor futuisse marina.
Nescio; piscinam me futuisse puto.
laxus: broad, wide, slack
culus: buttock, ass
equitis quam culus aeni: N.M. Kay, whose commentary I am using now, is puzzled by the comparison to a bronze (aenus, adj.) statue of a horseman and suspects a corruption, but I don’t think so: statues of a rider on a horse are hollow, so the ass of such a horseman is so to say one big hole.
celer, celeris: fast
aes, aeris (n.): copper, brass, metal (etymologically connected with German Eisen and English iron.)
trochus: hoop (a hoop was made of metal and had iron rings (annuli), making a sharp (argutus) noise when set in motion.
quam rota transmisso totiens inpacta petauro: here the Latin – German dictionary by Karl Georges is superior to Lewis & Short. A petaurum is not a springboard here, but a wheel hanging in the air through which one had to jump. So rota = petaurum: as the wheel (or maybe better: hoop) so often hit, when (it as) petaurum is passed through. Another possibility is that Martial coined the word petaurus `a gymnast jumping from a springboard through a rota’. (Suggested by Housman and adapted by Kay, but I feel a bit uneasy about this solution.)
quam vetus a crassa calceus udus aqua: as an old shoe (calceus), wet (udus) by muddy (crassus) water.
rara retia: thin nets were used to catch birds. The image is that those nets were cast widely around bushes.
turdus: thrush (small bird used in the Roman kitchen from the species turdidae.)
quam Pompeiano vela negata Noto: as the veils at the Pompeian theatre, denied (to the audience) by the north wind. Veils were used at the theatre to protect the audience from the sun. When there was a strong north wind, these veils could not be used.
quam quae de pthisico lapsa est armilla cinaedo = quam armilla quae lapsa est de phtisisco cinaedo
labor lapsus sum: fallen of
pthisicus cenaedus: consumptive queer (phtisicus or better phthisicus ia a Greek loanword , a cinaedus is a homosexual who performs the female part and has therefor negative connotations.) the idea is that the cinaedus is so emaciated, that his bracelet falls off.
Leuconicum (tomentum): Leuconican (stuffing). The Leuci were a Gallic tribe, famous for their wool.
viduus: bereft (connected with English widow)
bracae, -arum: trousers (It is a celtic word also taken over in Germanic languages: English breeches, Dutch broek.)
turpis: ugly, repulsive
Ravennatis: from Ravenna (not the place to be at the time, as it was surrounded by swamps.)
guttur gutturis (n.): throat
onocroctalus: pelican. A pelican is swallowing fish, but the reference to fish in in the next line: piscine.
piscina marina: fishing pool
futuo futui fututum: to fuck
Translation by Nigil M. Kay:
Lydia is a slack as a bronze horseman’s anus, as the speedy hoop which sounds it’s clear rattles, as the wheel hit so many times by gymnast going through it, as an old shoe soggy with muddy waters, as the loosely woven nets which wait for wandering thrushes, as the awnings denied to the audience by the wind in Pompey’s theatre, as an armband that has fallen off a consumptive queer, as a pillow bereft of its Leuconic stuffing, as the old trousers of a British pauper, and as the disgusting throat of a pelican from Ravenna. It’s this woman I’m supposed to have fucked in a marine pool: I am not sure – I think I fucked the pool itself.