When you open a modern edition of Catullus, you will notice that the poem 18-20 are lacking. Although these poems form part of the manuscript tradition of Catullus, scholars don’t regard them as genuine since the last hundred years or so. The fact that the same poems also appear in some manuscripts of the Appendix Virgiliana shows that ancient scholars and editors were also puzzled about the authorship of these poems. This poem was nuber 20 in the old editions pf Catullus.
They belong to so-called Priapeia, sometimes slightly or more than slightly obscene poems put in the mouth of Priapus, often not without a touch of humour. Priapus is the predecessor of the modern garden gnome and thanks to some mischievous friends I am now the proud owner of two of these creatures. Alas, they don’t have that mentula to ward of robbers…
Priapic poems were hung or inscribed on statues of Priapus. They contained warnings against thieves and passers-by (viatores) not to take away anything.
The owner of this Priapus is clearly not so well off, as the statue is made of poplar wood and this Priapus explicitly tells us. This does not prevent him from being self-conscious: look at the anaphoric ego and mihi.
Meter: trimester iambic (i.e. 3 feet of each two iambs. The very first iamb can be replaced by an anapaest and the initial short position of each foot can be replaced by a long position.)
Ego haec ego arte fabricata rustica,
ego arida, o viator, ecce populus
agellulum hunc, sinistra, tute quem vides,
herique villulam, hortulumque pauperis
5 tuor, malasque furis arceo manus.
Mihi corolla picta vero ponitur:
mihi rubens arista sole fervido:
mihi virente dulcis uva pampino:
mihique glauca duro oliva frigore.
10 Meis capella delicata pascuis
in urbem adulta lacte portat ubera:
meisque pinguis agnus ex ovilibus
gravem domum remittit aere dexteram:
tenerque, matre mugiente, vaccula
15 deum profundit ante templa sanguinem.
Proin, viator, hunc Deum vereberis,
manumque sorsum habebis: hoc tibi expedit.
Parata namque crux, sine arte mentula.
Velim pol, inquis: at pol ecce, villicus
20 venit: valente cui revulsa brachio
fit ista mentula apta clava dexterae.
Ego…tuor (= tueor): I guard (the accusatives are the objects of this verb)
ego haec fabricata rustica arida populus
populus (f.): poplar
agellulus: a very small field (diminutive of ager)
sinistra: at your left
tute: emphatic tu (a better reading is sinistra et ante: at your left and behind
villula: small villa
arceo arcui: to protect
fur furis (m.): thief
The four lines staring with mihi describe the four seasons, starting with spring.
corolla: small garland
ponitur goes with all the clauses
arista: ear of grain
pampinus: a foliage of vine
glauca oliva: bright olive oil (oliva is plura. Another and perhaps better reading is mihi coacta oliva: thickened (by the cold) olive oil. The adjective glaucus is quite rare.)
capella: she-goat (diminutive of caper)
adulta lacte ubera: udders full with milk
meis pinguis ex ovillibus: from my fat sheep pastures (oville)
gravem domum remittit aere dexteram: brings home the right hand (of the master) heavy with money
matre mugiente: while the mother is lowing
deum = deorum
profundo profudi profusum: to pour out
proin = proinde: hence
vereor veritus sum: to respect (the future, like the next one, is used as an imperative.)
manumque sorsum habebis: and have your hand up! (implying that the hand of the viator was already down for picking some fruit.)
hoc tibi expedit: this is profitable for you (or if we take it with the next sentence: this is prepared for you.
Parata namque crux, sine arte mentula: my artless male organ is ready to serve as your cross (or `as your punishment’)
pol = edepol: by Pollux
villicus: tenant of a farm, but maybe here just the farmer
valente brachio: in his strong arm
revello revelli revulsum: to tear out
clava: club (apta clava is apposition to mentula)
Translations: the Metrical Part by Capt. Sir Richard F. Burton, R.C.M.G.,F.R.G.S., etc., etc., etc., and the Prose Portion by Leonard C. Smithers
I thuswise fashionèd by rustic art
And from dried poplar-trunk (O traveller!) hewn,
This fieldlet, leftwards as thy glances fall,
And my lord's cottage with his pauper garth
Protect, repelling thieves' rapacious hands.
In spring with vari-coloured wreaths I'm crown'd,
In fervid summer with the glowing grain,
Then with green vine-shoot and the luscious bunch,
And glaucous olive-tree in bitter cold.
The dainty she-goat from my pasture bears
Her milk-distended udders to the town:
Out of my sheep-cotes ta'en the fatted lamb
Sends home with silver right-hand heavily charged;
And, while its mother lows, the tender calf
Before the temples of the Gods must bleed.
Hence of such Godhead, (traveller!) stand in awe,
Best it befits thee off to keep thy hands.
Thy cross is ready, shaped as artless yard;
"I'm willing, 'faith" (thou say'st) but 'faith here comes
The boor, and plucking forth with bended arm
Makes of this tool a club for doughty hand.
I, O traveller, shaped with rustic art from a dry poplar, guard this little field which thou seest on the left, and the cottage and small garden of its indigent owner, and keep off the greedy hands of the robber. In spring a many-tinted wreath is placed upon me; in summer's heat ruddy grain; [in autumn] a luscious grape cluster with vine-shoots, and in the bitter cold the pale-green olive. The tender she-goat bears from my pasture to the town milk-distended udders; the well-fattened lamb from my sheepfolds sends back [its owner] with a heavy handful of money; and the tender calf, 'midst its mother's lowings, sheds its blood before the temple of the Gods. Hence, wayfarer, thou shalt be in awe of this God, and it will be profitable to thee to keep thy hands off. For a punishment is prepared—a roughly-shaped mentule. "Truly, I am willing," thou sayest; then, truly, behold the farmer comes, and that same mentule plucked from my groin will become an apt cudgel in his strong right hand.
Terracotta statuette of Priapus, Turkey.