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Guest poetic effort: Concerning Marbod of Rennes

February 8, 2011

The set text for today’s Latin class was the first half of Marbod of RennesDissuasio Amoris Venerei – “Dissuasion from the Love of Venus” (not love for Venus, but venereal love – sexual as opposed to platonic.) It’s fiendishly nasty Latin, as Marbod sacrifices nearly all rules of syntax on the altar of form (leonine – internally rhyming – hexameters, should you care). But if you can fight your way through the thickets there is decent poetry there. It’s very sad: the narrator is desperately in love with a boy, who is in love with a girl, who is in turn pursuing the narrator. Unrequited and unhappy, the narrator ends up declaring that Venereal love causes more problems than it causes and that chastity is its own reward, but is not overly convincing about it.

Here’s the beginning of the segment we were set. It goes on for quite a bit longer, but I am still wrestling with the syntax in the second half.

A striking look, just full enough,
shining brighter than snow, redder than the spring rose;
a face like heaven; a laugh promising soft things –
the fiery offerings of swollen lips;
white teeth held in serried rows;
juicy limbs; artless virtues;
these that girl has, who seeks to join herself to me.

Her, that exceptional boy – whose beauty is my fire –
Her he loves, he desires, and turns himself to please her;
She (having spurned the boy) wants me, greets me,
And flatters me; because I reject her, she almost dies.

(There is not, to my knowledge, a public source of the Latin text anywhere on the Internet. Readers with subscriptions to an academic library may find it in Patrologia Latina vol. 171, col. 1655A-D. Translation by wickedday 2011; please ask if you wish to use it elsewhere.)

Last night, knee-deep in labyrinthine syntax and wishing that if he had to angst he could at least do it lucidly, I ended up complaining on Facebook. (As you do.) To which this afternoon Seamus magnificently responded with not one but two versifications on the subject, which he has kindly given me permission to share with the wider Web.

A Limerick on the Subject of Marbod of Rennes

There once was a poet named Marbod,
Who said, “Phwoar, get a load of that thar bod!”
But the boy he admired
Did not swoon as required
So instead he wrote poems that star God.

A Double-Dactyl on the Same Theme

Hodius podius
Breton Marbodius
Lately shot down, claims
“I chastely forbore!”
But reading his work leaves me
Flustered, and just as
Debauched as before.

An award of one (1) Internet has been duly conferred.


Final observation, because I am both massively geeky and hugely juvenile:

In the last line of the extract translated above, the Latin word I have rendered as “almost” is paene. Marbod, in line with common usage in the postclassical era, spells it pene – which is also how one would spell the ablative of penis. So pene moritur, “almost died”, could out of its context also be read as “died by the penis”. The more you know!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 4:27 pm

    Does Latin have the same conflation of death and orgasm that later languages have (like the French “petite mort” or Shakespeare’s puns about dying in people’s laps)? It’d put a further interesting spin on that last line.

  2. February 8, 2011 4:42 pm

    I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn that it was a deliberate pun.

  3. February 8, 2011 8:49 pm

    @atomicspin: Not sure. Lewis & Short (still the go-to Latin dictionary, and free online) does not list any innuendous meanings for morior; but it does give “to pass away, vanish, lose its strength” as a subsidiary meaning, which could easily be adapted into a euphemism. (There’s also the possibility that the online L&S has been purged of its rude words, as neither pedicare nor irrumare give any results.)

    @Michael Mock: Neither would I. I was too much of a coward to mention this in class, however.

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