Thursday, 10 March 2016

Appendix Vergiliana: a parody on Catullus' yacht.



In 1910 the poet Frances Cornford wrote the poem `To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train ‘:

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

The classicist A. E. Houseman immediately parodied this poem:

O why do you walk through the fields in boots,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody shoots,
Why do you walk through the fields in boots,
When the grass is soft as the breast of coots
And shivering-sweet to the touch?

Parody must be as old as poetry and a famous example can be found in the Appendix Vergiliana, a collection of poems ascribed to Vergil, but in reality from various unknown poets from the first century. Part of this Appendix is the Catalepticon `trifles’, a collection 15 or 16 poem, mostly with a funny character. One of these is number 10, a parody on Catullus 4, which I have posted earlier. Instead of Catullus’ elegant yacht, the career of the muleteer Sabinus is described, who was the fastest of all muleteers. He started from humble origin, but ended as magistrate, sitting on an ivory seat (eburnea sede).  Whole phrases are quoted verbatim from Catullus, but sometimes the meaning is different, as for instance `insula’ and ``Cytorio iugo’. This poem should be read with the original of Catullus at hand as then the masterly parodying will become apparent.  It also parodies Catullus’ fondness for archaisms.
Sabinus has not been identified.

Catalepticon X

Sabinus ille, quem uidetis, hospites,
ait fuisse mulio celerrimus,
neque ullius uolantis inpetum cisi
nequisse praeterire, siue Mantuam
opus foret uolare, siue Brixiam.
et hoc negat Tryphonis aemuli domum
negare nobilem insulamue Ceryli,
ubi iste, post Sabinus, ante Quinctio,
bidente dicit attodisse forcipe
comata colla, ne Cytorio iugo
premente dura uulnus ederet iuba.
Cremona frigida, et lutosa Gallia,
tibi haec fuisse et esse cognitissima,
ait Sabinus; ultima ex origine
tua stetisse dicit in uoragine,
tua in palude deposisse sarcinas,
et inde tot per orbitosa milia
iugum tulisse, laeua siue dextera
strigare mula siue utrumque ceperat.
(one verse missing.)
neque ulla uota semitalibus deis
sibi esse facta praeter hoc nouissimum:
paterna lora proximumque pectinem.
sed haec prius fuere: nunc eburnea
sedetque sede seque dedicat tibi,
gemelle Castor, et gemelle Castoris.

mulio mulionis (m.) : mule driver
cisium: light two-wheeled vehicle (Gallic loanword)
opus foret uolare: it was necessary to go in a hurry (foret is an archaic form for esset)
hoc negat …negare: `this (fact) denies the famous house of rivalling Tryphon or the storage houses of Ceryius to deny (that Sabinus is the fastest)’ i.e. they have to admit that Sabinus is the fastest. An insula was a block apartments for poor people, but here a complex of houses and stables.
Ubi..iuba:  Where he, that later (called) Sabinus, former Quinctio, said to have shorn the hairy necks (of mules)  with double scissors  (bidente  forcipes) in order that the stiff manes (iuba, iubae) don’t give a wound (i.e. damage the skin), while the Cyrtoian yoke is pressing’.  attodisse is an old form for attondisse and forceps (scissors) is the old word for forfex.
Cremona is a city in Gallia Cisalpina on the river Po, where Sabinus was born.
lutosus: muddy
ultima ex origine: from  earliest childhood
vorago voraginis (f.): abyss (cf. Catullus: cacumine `top’, tua i.e. Cremona)
palus paludis (f.): swamp
deposisse =  deposuisse
sarcina: load, burden
tot per orbitosa milia: `through endless ways full of cart-cuts’  orbitosa from orbita `cart-cut’, milia are the milestones  alongside the roads.
iugum tulisse (= pertulisse): to have brought to its destination  the yoke/pair of mules (mulae)
strigare ceperat (= coeperat):  begun to slow down
semitalibus deis: for the gods of the roads
hoc novissimum: this  final vote
paterna lora proximumque pectinem: the reigns inherited from his father and the most recently bought currycomb (a comb for the manes of the mules) were dedicated to the gods of the road.
gemelle Castor, et gemelle Castoris: the twin (gemellus) Castor and Pollux were of course protectors of seafarers and had nothing to do with muleteers!

Translation by Joseph J. Mooney (1916):

O STRANGERS, that Sabinus whom you see
Doth say he was the fastest muleteer,
And didn't fail to go beyond the speed
Of any gig that flew, e'en were the task
To fly to Brixia or Mantua.
And this the emulating Tryphon's house
Or noble island of Caerulus don't,
He says, deny, nor th' situation rough
Where that Sabinus, as he afterwards
Became, aforetime says its bushy neck
He sheared for Quinctius with the double shears,
Lest 'neath the boxwood collar pressing, hair
So hard might cause a wound. Cremona cold,
To thee, and thee, O Gaul, that's filled with mud,
Sabinus says these things both were and are
Particularly known, and says that at
His earliest origin he stood amid
Thy depths, and in thy marshes dropped his packs,
And through so many rutty miles from there
He bore his yoke, and whether on the left
Or on the right the mule began to sink,
Or both together. . . .
Nor had he for himself to wayside gods
An offering made, except this final one,
His father's reins and newest curry-comb.
.But these are what have been in former times:
Upon an ivory seat he now doth sit
And dedicates himself to thee, the twin
That's Castor, and to Castor's brother twin.

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