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Catullus XVI

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
nam castum esse decet pium poetam
ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est;
qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem
si sunt molliculi ac parum pudici
et quod pruriat incitare possunt,
non dico pueris sed his pilosis
qui duras nequeunt movere lumbos.
vos, quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

-Gaius Valerius Catullus

Catullus 16

I will sodomise and face-fuck you,
cocksucking Aurelius and poofter Fucius,
because you thought me, because of my little verses,
which are a bit sissy, indecent.
For a proper poet should be pure,
himself, but his poems don’t need to be;
indeed, they have salt and wit
if they’re sissified and indecent,
and only when they can arose an itch,
not, I say, in boys, but those hairy men
who cannot move their rough cocks.
Because you’ve read of my thousands of kisses,
you suppose I’m a soft man?
I will sodomise and then skull-fuck you.


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Catullus 13

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster,
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis,
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

-Gaius Valerius Catullus

An Invitation to Dinner

You will dine well, O my Fabullus, at my home
in a few days, if the gods favour you,
if you bring with you a good and big
dinner- be not without a pretty girl
and wine and all kinds of laughter.

I say if you have brought these things, my charming one,
you will dine well; for the purse of your Catullus
is full of cobwebs.

But in return you will receive pure loves
or something that is sweeter or more excellent:
for I will give perfume, which Venuses and Cupids
did give to my girl,
which when you smell, you will ask the gods,
O Fabullus, to make you all nose.


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I am drawing up a political map of late 7thC Northern Britain. It is incredibly difficult work which requires me to sift through the sources, dozens of papers, chasing down exactly what Bede means when he says imperium or rex, exactly how the Cenél nEógain interacted with Dál Riata, how everyone interacted with the Picts, how the church politics influenced the secular. It is a lot of fun, for all that I complain about not getting any sleep.

In the latter half of the century there are several men whom I’ve taken to calling the “B-men”, after the first letter of their name. Their roles appear to be vaguely defined, but they clearly held positions of great importance on Northumbria’s Pictish frontier. Lately I have been reading into these men, and the titles which are assigned to them by our sources. If I can pin down exactly who they are, and what they are doing, it will go a considerable way to explaining international relations in our period.

The three men are as follows:

Beornhaeth: Described by Eddius Stephanus as audax subregulus (brave underking) in his description of the Ecgfrith’s Pictish war, 671. He also occurs in the Durham Liber vitae, although I have to check that. While whatever region over which he was subregulus is not named, the connections the other two ‘B-men’ have with the Picts and Irish could point toward a location for his dominion.

Fraser claimes that the region of Niuduera, in southern Pictish territory, was held by Bernicians.1 If we accept his argument, it could be reasonable to suppose that Beornhaeth and his kin held the region beneath the imperium of Ecgfrith’s Northumbria. As only Beornhaeth of the three is actually named subregulus by our sources, it may be going too far to title the region a petty kingdom, but it is not inconceivable that it was a high office of some kind, potentially transferable to kin. Eddius may have named Beornhaeth audax subregulus to emphasise this importance rather than ascribing to him royal status.

Berht: described by Bede as dux and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (and the Old English translations of Bede) as ealdorman. It is this Berht who led the 684 attack upon the Irish at Mag Brega. It ‘seems probable’ that this Berht is the same man as the Berctred dux regius killed in 698 in battle against the Picts during the reign of Aldfrith.2 Irish sources tell us that this man is the son of Beornhaeth [AU 697/8].

Berctfrith: Described by Bede as praefectus (ealdorman in ASC), he also fought against the Picts in 711 [HE V.24]. He is described by Eddius as secundus a rege princeps and regis princeps, and appears to have acted as regent for Aldfrith’s son Osred.

I intend to look into the titles used in more detail. My starting point for this is a very useful article from A. T. Thacker whose hand I would now very much like to shake.3

rex: Bede only ever describes English rulers as rex, even as he may describe a dominion as imperium as he does for Oswiu or Ecgfrith. This means that even powerful English rulers have this as an upper limit for their title, relegating all inferiors to lesser titles. Significant men who might well have regarded themselves as full kings are given titles such as subregulus or princeps. My supervisor pointed out to me that Bede was a philologist who knew what words meant; his careful usage here is suggestive. Hrm.

imperium: While Bede is sparing with imperium, it is clear that Ecgfrith retained that kind of power over the kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia, as well as various other regions during his reign. Overlordship is a fragile thing, as a dominated region lacked any kind of natural unity. It took the greater part of the 7thC to transform Deira and Bernicia into Northumbria; the modern institution of ‘Great Britain’ is scarcely any better despite having existed for centuries.

praefectus: While often translated in OE as gerefa and then in MnE as ‘reeve’, this term was generally applied to men of the highest rank. When it comes to Bercfrith, the term is generally translated ealdorman, signifying that the translators thought of the position as a kind of ‘chief minister’. A significant number of praefecti appear in our sources, describing various figures important to Ecgfrith and his successor Aldfrith. Some appear to be tied to cities, one (Waga) was entrusted with Queen Iurminburg during Ecgfrith’s ill-fated 685 war with the Picts, and another was visited by Saint Cuthbert both as prior and bishop of Lindisfarne.

dux: In the seventh century, dux was not the standard word for an official. Eddius uses it somewhat less frequently than Bede, but for both it generally appears when describing a figure at the head of an army or in another military capacity. It is used in the Vita Wilfridi describe the Frankish mayor of the palace, Ebroin. Those who arrest the saint in 680 are described as duces regis.

dux regius: Among the Anglo-Saxons, men of the royal blood appear to have had prestige similar to that of their reigning kin. Charles-Edwards cites the example of Mul, brother to Caedwalla- the weregild paid for his death was royal.4 Presuming that this also applied to other family members, then it seems likely that Berht and Berctfrith may have had the same petty-royal status as Beornhaeth. This would mean dux regius is translated as ‘royal leader’ rather than ‘king’s leader’. Conversely, Bede describes the leaders of Penda’s army defeated in 655 as duces regii. As there are thirty of them, it is less likely that they are all of royal blood.

princeps: The term was used as a general term for ‘both rulers and their chief subjects’, and was used by the Frankish mayors of the palace during the seventh century. In England the title was used of kings and other royal or possibly royal figures. In the case of Beornhaeth, it could have also been used to describe a powerful member of a family once royal but now subordinate to an overlord. This seems likely, given the subregulus at the top of the group here.

It is difficult to describe these men and their power in modern terms. My supervisor suggested ‘regal’ when we discussed duces regii, before pointing out that ‘regal’ does not have connotations of political power in the modern world. It is clear from the careful use of the Latin titles that these men were not merely warlords or frontier generals. They were cabinet leaders, ministers of war, whose domain appears to have been relations with Pictland- and along with that, perhaps Ireland. That Berht and his family were important is of clear significance to my interest in the 684 attack ordered by Ecgfrith upon Ireland, and unravelling these terms in critical to my understanding.

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Amores 1.5

Aestus erat mediamque dies exegerat horam;
apposui medio membra leuanda toro.
pars adaperta fuit, pars altera clausa fenestrae,
quale fere siluae lumen habere solent,
qualia sublucent fugiente crepuscula Phoebo
aut ubi nox abiit nec tamen orta dies.
illa uerecundis lux est praebenda puellis,
qua timidus latebras speret habere pudor.

ecce, Corinna uenit tunica uelata recincta,
candida diuidua colla tegente coma,
qualiter in thalamos formosa Semiramis isse
dicitur et multis Lais amata uiris.

deripui tunicam; nec multum rara nocebat
pugnabat tunica sed tamen illa tegi,
cumque ita pugnaret tamquam quae uincere nollet,
uicta est non aegre proditione sua.

ut stetit ante oculos posito uelamine nostros,
in toto nusquam corpore menda fuit.
quos umeros, quales uidi tetigique lacertos!
forma papillarum quam fuit apta premi!
quam castigato planus sub pectore uenter!
quantum et quale latus! quam iuuenale femur!
singula quid referam? nil non laudabile uidi,
et nudam pressi corpus ad usque meum.
cetera quis nescit? Iassi requieuimus ambo.

proueniant medii sic mihi saepe dies!

–Publius Ovidius Naso

Amores 1.5

It was warm, and the day had passed the middle hour;
I lay my limbs on the middle of the couch to rest them.
The window was partly open, partly closed,
giving the quality of light they are accustomed to have in a wood,
the kind of twilight that glimmers when Phoebus takes flight
or where night has left yet day has not stirred.
That is the light to tender to ashamed girls,
to have which hiding-places their timid modesty hopes.

Behold Corinna comes, her tunic wrapped loose,
parted hair covering her white throat;
just as the famous Semiranis went into her inner chambers,
it is said, and Lais, loved by many men.

I tore away the tunic- the light material hurt little,
but still she was fighting to be covered with the tunic,
and yet did not fight like as one who wished to win;
she lost not reluctantly, her own betrayer.

Where she stood before our eyes, her robe cast aside,
upon her whole body there was nowhere a blemish.
What shoulders, what arms I saw, I touched!
The form of her breasts, which were perfect to squeeze!
How smooth her belly beneath her taut breast!
How long and soft her side! How youthful her thigh!
Why question everything? I saw nothing not at all praiseworthy,
and pressed her nude body closely against mine.
Who doesn’t know the rest? Together we rested, exhausted.

May such middays often come for me!


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A few days ago, Mister Jarrett posted one of the more revolting hagiographical miracles I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Pleasure may not be the correct term, but his tale of saint-spittle and demonic possession entertained me. What that tells you about me I do not even know. At any rate, it reminded me of the most disgusting piece of Latin I have ever had the pleasure of translating.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an undergraduate essay on Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the famous leper king. My argument was that the apparent softening of attitudes towards lepers in the Latin East had less to do with the king and more to do with other factors. Not least of these was the increasing influence of the order of leper knights, the Order of Saint Lazarus. In order to write about these things I also had to discuss leprosy in the thirteenth century more generally, and a damn fascinating topic it is. I tell you, I was quite the life of the party during that period, delighting in regaling friends and family with the grotesque details of the disease as well as some of the treatments proscribed.

I digress.

One of the more obscure sources I found was one Gerard of Nazareth, bishop of Laodicea by 1140. The scholarly giant Benjamin Z. Kedar wrote a paper on the cleric, having collated the surviving fragments of his works. Among other things, Gerard discussed hermits and monasteries and the imitatio christi interpreted by some as requiring care of the ill. One particular monk he discusses in detail is Alberic, who was devoted to the lepers of a house outside the walls of Jerusalem. (A house I suspect was that granted to the Order of Lazarus, as a matter of fact.) Apparently Alberic was not a quiet man, prone to hurling abuse and invectives at passers-by.

Nonetheless, he was extremely devoted to his charges:

Albericus…Ierosolymis leprosis inservivit. Is ea quae reliqua fecerant leprosi, comedit, singulos quotidie exacta Missa exosculatus est, pedes eorum lavit, tersit, stravit lectos, languentes humeris cubitum portavit.

Alberic… was devoted to the lepers of Jerusalem. He ate those things which the lepers had left over, he kissed them individually every day at the end of Mass, washed their feet, cleansed them, made the beds, he carried those tiring leaning on him by the shoulders.

In fact, he was very devoted.

Cumque uni aliquando pedes lavisset, et aqua sanguine et sanie mixta ipsi nauseam moveret, protinus faciem immersit, et partem non exiguam (horrible dictu) exhausit.

And once when he had washed the feet of one of them, and the water mixed with blood and pus moved nausea in him, right away he immersed his face and (awful to say!) drained not a small part.

Naturally this reveals interesting details in the lives of both lepers and those devoted to them. Cleaning feet will minimize the secondary infections which are so dangerous to those afflicted with the disease, for example. Feeling (natural) disgust at the sight of such infected blood goes against the teachings that Alberic was following. There are valuable insights to be found here.

Yet it is inescapable that this excerpt of Latin describes a monk immersing his face in water mixed with blood and pus and then drinking some. Yum.

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May 2018
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