One aspect that makes the subject of my research so exciting is its versatility, brought about by the wide range of issues covered in these remarkable texts, from the mundane to the highly philosophical.
This week’s examples will be on the mundane side – and decidedly so.
Unlike the name suggests, SHAG week is not an invitation to a week of widespread, uninhibited consensual sexual pleasures (we are in Britain after all!).
Much rather, it is a week dedicated to Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance, with numerous activities and workshops offering quintessential advice on sexual health and hygiene as well as on the DOs and DON’Ts of consensual sex – important lessons to learn early on.
So, as a contribution to St. Andrews’ 2014 SHAG week, here are my personal Top 3 Latin inscribed poems on symptoms that may hint towards venereal diseases or sexually transmitted diseases (existence, spread, and extent of ancient medical awareness of which are matter of ongoing academic debate), or at least loosely related issues to do with less-than-desirable side-effects of love-making – just to make sure everyone knows exactly what to avoid (or to expect).
A word of warning: if you are easily offended by explicit sexual content – do stop reading here!
1. CIL IV 1516 = CLE 955 (Pompeii)
Hic ego nu[nc f]utue formosa(m) fo[r]ma puella(m)
laudata(m) a multis, set lutus intus eerat.
Here I have now shagged a girl, beautiful of appearance,
praised by many, but inside she was pure slime.
A famous epigram, here in a version from Pompeii, that has, with some variations, become known from a number of places across the Roman Empire. It is not known, of course, what exactly this writer was referring to when suggesting that she was lutus inside. A nearby inscription of the same type (CIL IV 1517) opens virtually identically, but then refers to a disease (morbus) that affected the girl’s face.
Lutus as a reference to a (clearly undesirable) vaginal discharge is also used in Carmina Priapea 83.37 (transl. Sir Richard Burton):
Quid hoc novi est? Quid ira nuntiat deum?
Silente nocte candidus mihi puer
tepente cum iaceret abditus sinu,
venus fuit quieta, nec viriliter
iners senile penis extulit caput. 5
Placet, Priape, qui sub arboris coma
soles, sacrum revincte pampino caput,
ruber sedere cum rubente fascino?
At, o Triphalle, saepe floribus novis
tuas sine arte deligavimus comas, 10
abegimusque voce saepe, cum tibi
senexve corvus impigerve graculus
sacrum feriret ore corneo caput.
Vale nefande destitutor inguinum,
vale Priape: debeo tibi nihil. 15
Iacebis inter arva pallidus situ,
canisque saeva susque ligneo tibi
lutosus affricabit oblitum latus.
At o sceleste penis, o meum malum,
gravi piaque lege noxiam lues. 20
Licet querare, nec tibi tener puer
patebit ullus, imminente qui toro
iuvante verset arte mobilem natem,
puella nec iocosa te levi manu
fovebit apprimetve lucidum femur. 25
Bidens amica Romluli senis memor
paratur, inter atra cuius inguina
latet iacente pantice abditus specus,
vagaque pelle tectus annuo gelu
araneosus obsidet forem situs. 30
Tibi haec paratur, ut tuum ter aut quater
voret profunda fossa lubricum caput.
Licebit aeger angue lentior cubes,
tereris usque, donec (a miser! miser!)
triplexque quadruplexque compleas specum. 35
Superbia ista proderit nihil, simul
vagum sonante merseris caput luto.
Quid est, iners? Pigetne lentitudinis?
Licebit hoc inultus auferas semel,
sed ille cum redibit aureus puer, 40
simul sonante senseris iter pede,
rigente nervos excubet libidine,
et inquietus inguina arrigat tumor,
neque incitare cesset usque dum mihi
venus iocosa molle ruperit latus. 45
What news is this? What does the anger of the gods announce? When in the silent night a lovely boy lay with me hidden in my warm bosom, my desire was quiescent, nor did the sluggish penis courageously raise its senile head. Does it please thee, Priapus? who under the foliage of a tree art wont, thy sacred head circled with the leaves and tendrils of the vine, ruddy to sit with rubicund fascinum. But, O Triphallus, oft fresh flowers with loving care have I wreathed in thy locks; and oft driven off with my shouts an aged raven or an active jackdaw when it would have pecked thy sacred head with its horny bill. Fare thee well, Priapus, I owe thee naught. Farewell, impious forsaker of the privities, thou shalt he in the glebe mouldy with neglect; a savage dog shall continually piss upon thee, or a wild boar rub against thee his side befouled with mire. O cursed father of the penis, to whom my calamity [is due], thou shalt expiate this injury with a severe and pious atonement. Thou canst complain: no tender lad shall yield to thee who on the groaning bed with aiding art shall writhe his mobile buttocks. Nor shall a sportive girl caress thee with her gentle hand, or press against thee her lubricious thigh. A mistress with two teeth is prepared for thee, who can call to mind the time of Romulus; and amid her gloomy loins and loose-stretched hide, covered with frost and full of mould and cobwebs, thy privity shall blockade the entrance. This is the one prepared for thee, that thrice and four times her bottomless ditch may swallow up thy lubricious head. Notwithstanding weak and languid thou liest, thou shalt shag her again and again until, O miserable wretch, thrice and fourfold thou fillest her cavity. And now thy pride shall avail thee naught when thou plungest thy reeling head into the splashing mire. Why is [my yard] inert? doth not its sluggishness displease thee? This once thou mayst deprive it of vigour with impunity. But when that golden boy shall return, at the same time that thou hearest the patter of his foot upon the path, on a sudden let a restless swelling excite my nerves with lust and raise my privy part; nor let it cease to incite more and more until sportive Venus shall have spent my feeble strength.
2. CIL IV 1882 (cf. p. 465) = CLE 47 (Pompeii)
Accensum qui pedicat urit mentulam
He who buggers an inflamed, burns his prick.
This one-liner derives its jocular force from the ambiguity of the term accensus (‘inflamed’), denoting either someone suffering from some kind of inflamation – or, as a technical term, the holder of a low-level office.
3. CIL IV 1820 (cf. p. 704) = CLE 50c (Pompeii)
Chie, opto tibi ut refricent se ficus tuae
ut peius ustulentur quam ustulatae sunt.
Chius, I hope your piles will become irritated again,
so that they may get inflamed worse than they were inflamed before.
In antiquity, piles were taken to be a side-effect of anal penetration, as e. g. Edward Courtney pointed out – thus this short epigram is to be included among the others here, as a double threat against Chius: the writer wishes him to be at the (according to ancient thought: less desirable) receiving end of anal intercourse, and he hopes that it will result in additional pains as well.
Chius may not be the name of any specific person, but merely a pun, as the best figs (ficus) were said to come from the island of Chios. Except that ficus is also the Latin term for ‘piles’…
Tracy Jordan, in the US comedy programme 30 Rock, advises Kenneth, the page, to live every week like it’s Shark Week.
Looking at the sound advice provided in leaflets and other materials, one should add: live every week like it’s SHAG week, too!
Read more about sexual diseases and the ancient world (to give but a small selection, from the entertaining to the technical):