Monday, December 16, 2013

Priapea - Verses of Priapus, in translation (by Elise Green)


Verse 1

Carminis incompti lusus lecture procaces,
   conveniens Latio pone supercilium.
non soror hoc habitat Phoebi, non Vesta sacello,
   nec quae de patrio vertice nata dea est,
sed ruber hortorum custos, membrosior aequo,
   qui tectum nullis vestibus inguen habet.
aut igitur tunicam parti praetende tegendae,
   aut quibus hanc oculis adspicis, ista lege.

You, about to read the frivolous amusements of the unpolished verse,
   place the fitting frown on Latin sensibility.
Not the sister of Phoebus, not Vesta in her shrine, dwell here,
  and not the goddess who has sprung forth from the father's head,
but the crimson protector of the gardens, a cock larger than is fair,
   who keeps it hidden under no clothing.
Either, therefore, stretch out the tunic for the part to be covered,
   or read such with which eyes you behold these verses.

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This epigram is the introductory verse of the remaining collection of poems which are said could be found etched on statues of Priapus which the Romans placed as protective guardians in their gardens, like ancient versions of the modern garden gnome. More likely, a group of popular poets from the 1st century met at the house of a main patron of the arts, Maecenas, and composed these ditties for fun.

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