Be Careful What You Quote…

Posted on December 7th, 2009 by

…especially when you live in a country with a long history of classical education.  This just in from the BBC: City boss denies lewd Latin claim.

A City financier accused of trying to kill an employee sent a work experience girl an obscene message in Latin, a tribunal hears.

She sent over a Latin passage from St Paul which talked about “love your enemy” and, in response, the 59-year-old millionaire replied with the phrase, “irrumabo vos et pedicabo vos” from the poet Catullus.

The phrase threatens a violent sex act, the tribunal heard.

However Mr Lowe said: “It is burlesque, it was always light-hearted in the first century and it still is now.

“It’s a more robust and more pagan response to love your enemies.”

Here’s Mary Beard’s excellent take on the matter:

What it means is quite simple (though a number of family newspapers have refrained from printing a translation without a good few dashes and asterisks): “I will ram my cock up your ass and down your throat.”

If anyone had actually read (and thought about) the complete poem — for the offending phrase is the first and last line of Catullus Poem 16 — they would have seen a better joke and a better defence.

For it’s a poem about an old conundrum: can you deduce a person’s character or behaviour from what they write? Catullus addresses Furius and Aurelius (the “queer” and the “faggot”) who have suggested that because he writes poems about kisses he might be a little on the effeminate side.

Not a bit of it, says our poet. You can’t tell a man from his verses. And ‘pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo’ for saying you can. But the joke is (or rather one of the jokes in this complicated little poem) — if you cant infer from his kiss-y verses that he is effeminate, then neither can you infer from his poetic threats of violent penetration that he is capable of that either.

Get it?

That would have been a much better defence for Mr Lowe.

First rule for undergraduates: always check where the quote actually comes from!


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