Catullus to Secundus, then fall to ignorance, bigotry & intolerance

Nearly 2100 years ago within the Roman Republic, the Veronese poet Catullus wrote passionate Latin poems of incarnated love. Writing in Latin about 1535 in Spain, the young Dutch poet Janus Secundus expressed the continuing vitality of Catullus’s sense of love. But post-seventeenth-century obfuscations of men’s sexual windsurfing in translations of Lucian’s second-century True Story show the historical swerve. William Sanger’s pioneering mid-nineteenth-century social-scientific study of New York prostitution documents increasing criminalization of men’s sexuality. Sanger disparaged classical Latin authors for including “the coarsest words” in their writings. The Brothers Grimm in early nineteenth-century Germany similarly created fairy tales effacing the fleshly grandeur of incarnated love. Today’s ideologically puerile societies with a broken heritage of European culture desperately need a renaissance of understanding lost after the misnamed European Middle Ages. Today’s ideologically puerile societies, mired in ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, desperately need to recover mature, humanistic appreciation for men’s sexuality.

The ancient Latin poet Catullus understood men’s sexuality to be a blessing. Like a learned philosopher, Catullus in Carmen 7 answered a difficult love question and declared his answer’s ethical implications:

You ask how many of your kissing sessions,
Lesbia, for me would be satisfying enough and more:
as great as number the Libyan sand-grains
that lie on silphium-bearing Cyrene
between the oracle of passionate Jove
and the sacred tomb of aged Battus,
or as many as the stars that, when the night rests,
see the secret loves of human beings.
So much I kiss you with so many kisses
satisfying enough and more for mad Catullus,
that neither the assiduous are able to count
nor an evil tongue able to penis-charm.

{ Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Jouis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua. }[1]

Catullus’s answer to his girlfriend’s question about his satisfaction with her kissing is ostentatiously learned. His adjective Libyan {Lybyssus} comes from the Greek Λιβύη, while silphium {lasarpiciferis} appears in Catullus newly translated into Latin from the Greek term σίλφιοφόρος. Silphium provides a foul-smelling medicinal resin called asafoetida. Moreover, Cyrene, a Greek colony in present-day Libya, is the birthplace of the eminent Hellenistic poet Callimachus. Battus is both the name of Cyrene’s mythical founder and the name of Callimachus’s father. Jove as Jupiter Ammon in fact had a revered oracle at the oasis of Ammonium (Siwah) within the Libyan desert.[2] These are crazy learned references in a love poem by a poet who third-personally describes himself as mad.

The method in Catullus’s madness comes from the combination of sand and stars. The mathematician Archimedes, working in the third century BGC, calculated in his treatise The Sand Reckoner {Ψαμμίτης} an upper bound for the number of grains of sand that would fill the universe: ten raised to the sixty-third power.[3] With respect to stars, a modern literary scholar noted:

Even on the clearest nights the number of stars visible is no more than 3000. Catullus would have been a little surprised at this fact, just as I was astonished when I first heard it.

{ Es sind auch in den klarsten Nächten nicht mehr als 3000. C. würde sich über diese Tatsache nicht wenig gewundert haben, genau wie ich erstaunt war, als ich sie zuerst hörte. }[4]

From 3000 to a sixty-four-digit number is a huge range for the number of kisses that would more than satisfy Catullus. With respect to the figures of sand and stars, a learned literary scholar noted, “The two conceits do not appear to be elsewhere amalgamated.” Attributing both to Hellenistic poetry in general would make Hellenistic poetic inhabit a huge expanse of subsequent Latin poetry.[5] Moreover, both figures are elsewhere amalgamated. Surely almost all medieval European thinkers would quickly recognize a blessing:

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.[6]

{ כִּֽי־בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ
כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל־שְׂפַת הַיָּם }

Both Horace and Cicero disparaged faithful translators. Those translators were plausibly Jews living in Rome. Catullus, with all his learning, surely could have encountered Hebrew scripture, perhaps in Greek translation. Both Jews and Christians, like Catullus, had a cosmic perspective on love and life. Kissing for Catullus is associated with the seminal blessing of abundant life.

Catullus’s Carmen 7 emphasizes in its final verse an evil tongue. The present active infinitive of fascino has been commonly translated in Carmen 7 as “bewitch.”[7] But fascino is associated with a fascinum, a penis-shaped amulet. The evil tongue penis-charms by engaging tongues and mouths solely in forming words. That was the preoccupation of learned Hellenistic poets engaged, like merchants, in seeking, counting, and accumulating poetic figures and meters. In contrast, tongues and mouths in personal human experience of love are truly good and blessed in kissing that leads to genital communication. Lacking appreciation for the penis, modern readers have failed to appreciate the implicit concluding good in Catullus’s Carmen 7.

The expression of love hidden in Catullus’s Carmen 7 is made more explicit in his Carmen 5. Those assiduous in counting are thoroughly overwhelmed:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love.
The talk of very stern old women
all that isn’t worth one cent.
Suns are able to die and rise again,
but for us, when our one brief light has died,
night is one perpetual sleep.
Bestow on me a thousand kisses, then another hundred
then a thousand add then a second hundred
then a further thousand add then another hundred
then, when we have done many thousands,
we’ll confuse our counting, so we won’t know how many.
At least an evil person cannot refuse to see us
when she knows that our kisses are that many.

{ Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum,
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum. }

Life and love are inextricable in the history and future of humanity. In Catullus’s time, and much more so in our time, stern authorities of gynocentric social sentiment have sought to suppress viciously and unjustly men’s sexuality to the detriment of women and men. These authorities seek to make flesh-and-blood human beings invisible to each other. When Catullus and Lesbia kiss each other beyond counting, they insist on their substantial existence as persons in love. Life in love overcomes evil.

You! You who read about many thousand kisses,
you think I’m not much of a masculine man?
I with my dick will bang up your crapper and stuff your mouth.

{ vos quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. }[8]

Brutalizing representations of men’s penises are deeply entrenched in millennia of human communication, yet sophisticated literature affirmed the goodness of men’s seminal blessing. The first century Songs of Priapus {Carmina Priapea} subtly challenged the brutalization of men’s sexuality. That subtle critique has largely been lost within modern anti-men bigotry. In ninth-century Germany, the learned Christian monk Walahfrid Strabo replaced Gallus’s figure of men waging war for women’s love with loving mutuality and joy in plowing a garden. Similarly, the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini, in addition to recovering Lucretius’s On the nature of things {De rerum natura} with its brilliant critique of gyno-idolatry, sought to affirm men’s sexuality with humane, delightful tales. Yet Poggio’s most important work — his collection of tolerant, men-affirming tales — tends to be ignored or trivialized in modern moralistic literary studies.

The last vibrant literary expression of Catullus’s understanding of incarnated love was the early modern kissing poems best represented by Janus Secundus’s Kisses {Basia}. Secundus recognized that brutalizing representations of men’s penises suppress life-creating love:

“Give me a sweet little deep kiss, charming young woman,” I said.
Soon you brushed my lips with your lips.
Then like one jumping back in terror after stepping on a snake,
you abruptly pulled your mouth far from my mouth.
That isn’t giving a sweet little deep kiss, my light, but merely giving
a tearful desire for a sweet little deep kiss.

{ Da mihi suaviolum, dicebam, blanda puella;
libasti labris mox mea labra tuis.
Inde, velut presso qui territus angue resultat,
ora repente meo vellis ab ore procul.
Non hoc suaviolum dare, Lux mea, sed dare tantum
est desiderium flebile suavioli. }[9]

One might give a sibling or a grandparent a sweet little kiss, but this sweet little kiss was a mutual, passionate brush of lips. It didn’t involve penetration. Secundus wanted more:

A hundred kisses times a hundred,
a hundred kisses times a thousand,
a thousand kisses times a thousand,
and as many thousands
as there are drops in the Sicilian sea,
as there are stars in the sky.

{ Centum basia centies,
centum basia millies,
mille basia millies,
et tot milia millies,
quot guttae Siculo mari,
quot sunt sidera caelo }[10]

The woman pulled back with a disparaging figure of a man’s penis — a snake. Secundus was left with only his tearful desire for her. Drawing imaginative force from Christian understanding of love, Secundus associated suffering with passion:

If you count tears, you may count kisses, but if
you don’t count tears, don’t count kisses.
And give me, as empty solace for wretched anguish,
uncountable kisses for uncountable tears.

{ Si numeras lacrimas, numeres licet oscula, sed si
non numeras lacrimas, oscula ne numeres;
et mihi da, miseri solatia vana doloris,
innumera innumeris basia pro lacrimis. }

The central medieval European understanding of love in its most important expression was Jesus’s bodily suffering of crucifixion and the boundless love of Christ. Medieval art explicitly depicted Jesus Christ as a fully masculine human being. Secundus’s empty solace of uncountable kisses for uncountable tears lacks the consummation of promised new life. That promise depends on a woman’s vagina encompassing a man’s penis.

Grotesque anti-men gender bias in both public discussion of rape and punishment for sex offenses, along with state-imposed forced financial fatherhood, make men particularly vulnerable in the heterosexual act that creates life. Secundus imagined his beloved woman protecting him from persecution for his passionate, vigorous heterosexuality:

Some say that I unite in kisses too effusively,
not in the manner that our aged fathers learned.
Hence when I draw your neck tightly in my desiring arms,
my light, and I die in your little kisses,
should I anxiously ask what everyone’s saying about me?
Who I am, or where I might be, barely comes to my mind.
Lovely Neaera heard and laughed. She then
encircled my neck with her snow-white hands
and gave me a little kiss, one no less lustful
than any charming Venus planted on her lover Mars.
“Why,” said she, “do you fear the decrees of the stern mob?
Only my court has competence in this case.”

{ Basia lauta nimis quidam me iungere dicunt,
qualia rugosi non didicere patres.
Ergo, ego cum cupidis stringo tua colla lacertis,
Lux mea, basiolis immoriorque tuis,
anxius exquiram quid de me quisque loquatur?
Ipse quis, aut ubi sim, vix meminisse vacat.
Audiit, et risit formosa Neaera, meumque
hinc collum nivea cinxit et inde manu;
basiolumque dedit, quo non lascivius umquam
inseruit Marti Cypria blanda suo;
et, “quid,” ait, “metuis turbae decreta severae?
Causa meo tantum competit ista foro.” }

That’s a masculine fantasy. Lack of facts or lack of competence hasn’t forestalled modern mobs from virtually stoning men for sex crimes against women. Men’s lives begin with women’s choices, and women’s choices can also end men’s lives.

naked man riding phallic snail

Men are reticent to express their feelings because women often don’t respond sympathetically to men’s feelings. Men thus often become emotionally and sexually repressed within gynocentric society. Secundus poignantly depicted that effect:

Why are you offering me your flaming little lip?
No, I do not wish to kiss you, hard woman,
harder than hard marble Neaera.
Would I make these placid kisses
of yours so passionate, proud one,
that, so often with my rigid organ erect,
I would perturb my tunic and yours
and mad with vain desire
I would wretchedly waste away with my cock burning?
Where are you fleeing? Wait, don’t deny me your little eyes,
nor your flaming little lip.
You now, I wish to kiss you, soft woman,
softer than soft goose down.

{ Quid profers mihi flammeum labellum?
Non te, non volo basiare, dura,
duro marmore durior Neaera.
Tanti istas ego ut osculationes
imbelles faciam, superbe, vestras,
ut, nervo toties rigens supino,
pertundam tunicas meas, tuasque;
et, desiderio furens inani,
tabescam, miser, aestuante vena?
Quo fugis? Remane, nec hos ocellos,
nec nega mihi flammeum labellum:
Te iam, te volo basiare, mollis,
molli mollior anseris medulla. }

In this poem, Secundus initially rejected the placid kisses so common today in sexless marriages. When he explained his bodily desire and suffering to Neaera, she turned to flee. In response, Secundus in the last three verses suppresses his feelings and settles for separating love from the sexual act that makes new life. That’s a characteristically modern position.

Men writers have always endured a difficult position in relation to women. If they forego writing about genderless persons and openly express their experiences as men in relation to women, they risk incurring women’s wrath and might even be called misogynists. From his unsafe position, Secundus dared to offer strong words:

Because I sing about chaste kisses in my limp book,
dusky Lycinna makes fun of my verses,
and Aelia calls me a poet of the droopy little penis —
she who sells her love at crossroads and under colonnades!
Of course they expect also to get to know my penis.
Hold off, you wicked little ones. My cock is nothing to me.
I neither sing for you, nor thrust in kisses for you.
May the awkward bride of the tender young man read them,
so also the tender bridegroom, not yet mature for the wars
that the nurturing love goddess practices in various ways.

{ Casta quod enervi cantamus Basia libro,
Versibus eludit fusca Lycinna meis,
Et me languiduli vatem vocat Aelia penis,
Quae venerem in triviis porticibusque locat.
Scilicet exspectant nostrum quoque noscere penem!
Parcite turpiculae, mentula nulla mihi est.
Nec vobos canto, nec vobis basio figo:
Ista legat teneri sponsa rudis pueri.
Ista tener sponsus, nondum maturus ad arma,
Exercet variis quae Venus alma modis. }[11]

While bearing a burden of performance, men also endure attacks on their masculinity. Castration culture encourages men to deny their own penises. Secundus, however, denied his penis as a man writer within an elaborate rhetorical mocking of hostile women readers like Lycinna and Aelia. Until they gain maturity and experience, those not sophisticated enough to understand how the penis relates to kissing interpret kissing to be just kissing.

man showing his asshole

Appreciation for Catullus’s sense of incarnated love shriveled in the seventeenth century and the subsequent modern period. Catullus and Janus Secundus bind roughly in time the sense of incarnated love that reached its most vibrant expression between them. In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, few can imagine the joy of sex poignantly described in medieval Latin literature. No man poet today could write about women of old Pavia as the Archpoet did in the twelfth century. The vibrant celebration of diversity, scholarly study, and heterosexuality in King Alfonso X’s song about the dean of Cádiz is inconceivable today. Contrary to modern stereotypes, medieval clerics loved women across an expansive understanding of love. With carnal and creative representations of sex, medieval men protested men’s subordination to women and women’s exploitation of men. The thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose humorously transfigured in its end the sense of incarnated love that medieval thought associated with human salvation. Failing to understand the source of Catallus’s figure of seminal blessing is a telling mistake.[12] Now more than ever, modern culture must swerve to embrace the seminal blessing that comes through incarnated love.

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[1] Catullus, Carmen 7, Latin text from Catullus Online, my English translation, benefiting from those of Beck (2017), Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and Burton & Smithers (1894). To help the general reader understand the sound of the Latin, I’ve replaced u and i with v and j, respectively, in the appropriate places in the Latin text. The subsequent quote from Catullus’s Carmen 5 is similarly sourced. Lesbia is thought to represent Clodia Metelli, the wife of Quintus Metellus Celer.

Catullus apparently introduced into Latin poetry the words basio and basium, and he created the related substantive basiatio {kissing session}. Catullus wasn’t, however, the person who originally brought basio from a Gallic dialect into Latin. Wong (2017) p. 20. Cf. Fordyce (1990) pp. 106-7.

[2] On these obscure references, Elder (1951) p. 108, and Commager (1965) p. 85 and p. 106, notes 7 and 12. Some critics have interpreted this song as representing childish love. “This dainty little poem is a work of dalliance.” Elder (1951) p. 107. For citations of similar interpretations, Commager (1965) p. 84, and n. 6, p. 106. Commager aptly observed:

The poem suggests, rather, a formal catechism: question (quaeris …), answer (quam magnus numerus…), and conclusion (tam te basia … satis et super Catullo est).

Id. p. 84.

[3] Aaronson (1999) p. 3. For an English translation of Archimedes’s Sand-Reckoner, Mendell (2003).

[4] Friedrich (1908), comment on Catullus 7.7, cited by Segal (1968) p. 294, n. 18.

[5] The statement that the two conceits (poetic figures) of sand and stars are not elsewhere combined is from Segal (1968) p. 106, n. 14. Segal (1974) strains to find an allusion to Hellenistic poetry in the second conceit concerning stars (Catullus 7.7-8). A figure of stars as over-seers {ἐπἰσκοποι} surely isn’t limited to Helenistic poetry. Cf. id. p. 139.

[6] Genesis 22:17. Cf. Genesis 15:5, 26:4; Exodus 32:13; 1 Chronicles 27:23.

[7] “Bewitch” is used in the English translations of Catullus 7.12 in Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and both Burton and Smithers in Burton & Smithers (1894). Fordyce (1990), p. 110, puts forward that translation. Beck (2017) has “put a curse.” On fascina, Whitmore (2017).

[8] Catullus, Carmen 16, vv. 12-14, sourced as previously. Wong (2014) / Wong (2017) recognizes that Carmen 16 relates to Carmen 5 and 7, as well as Carmen 48 and 99The vos quod of 16.12 is an early humanistic correction for hosque. For some analysis, Wong (2014) pp. 33-5.

[9] Janus Secundus, Basia 3, Latin text from Burmannus & Bosscha (1821) via the Latin Library, my English translation, benefiting from the translations of Wong (2017) p. 71, Price (1996) p. 75, Nichols (1979) p. 491, and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) p. 375-6, which provides the English translations of John Nott (1775) and Thomas Stanley (1647). Subsequent quotes from Secundus are similarly sourced. Although written about 1535, Secundus’s Basia were first published in full posthumously in 1541.

Both Nichols (1979) and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) translate all of Secundus’s Basia, as well as his Wedding Poem {Epithalamium}. Black Cat Poems apparently provides Secundus’s Basia in a light adaptation of Nott’s 1775 translation.

In Secundus’s Basia 3, the most difficult translation issue is the word suaviolum, used three times in this six-verse poem. According to the fourth-century Roman grammarian and rhetoric teacher Aelius Donatus, Latin distinguishes three types of kisses:

oscula were formal duty, basia chaste affection, and savia lustful or with loving desire

{ oscula officiorum sunt, basia pudicorum affectuum, savia libidinum vel amorum }

Donatus, Commentum Terenti, Latin text from Wong (2017) p. 20, my English translation. Maurus Servius Honoratus, a Roman grammarian writing about 400 GC, similarly stated:

An osculum must be understood to be pious, and a savium to be voluptuous. Some say, however, that an osculum is given to children, a basium to one’s wife, and a savium to a whore.

{ sciendum osculum religionis esse, savium voluptatis, quamvis quidam osculum filiis dari, uxori basium, scorto savium dicant. }

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil 1.256, Latin text from the edition of Thilo & Hagen (1881) via Perseus, my English translation. Savium is an early form of suavium; suaviolum is a dimunitive of the latter. Catullus used saviolum in Carmen 99, verses 2 & 14.

These distinctions between Latin words for kisses were often ignored in practice. Ovid, who hardly wrote about kissing as a formal duty or as affection for children, exclusively used osculum. Fordyce (1990) pp. 107. On the occurence of different Latin words for kissing, Roth (2006).

Secundus’s Basia 3 seems to me to benefit from Donatus’s and Servius’s distinctions among kisses and transfered sense from suavis {sweet}. Moreover, contrast is a typical aspect of Secundus’s poetics. Price (1993) pp. 9, 33. “The quintessential Basium has a strong volta that marks a contradiction in sentiment or style.” Id. p. 59. Embracing Secondus’s use of contrast, I’ve translated suaviolum in Secundus’s Basia 3 as “sweet little deep kiss.” Wong, Price, Nichols, and Nott translated that word as “little kiss.”

[10] Secundus, Basia 7.1-6 (full, poetic translation of Basia 7). This poem obviously draws upon Catullus, Carmen 5 and 7. Secundus more directly refers to Lesbia and Catullus:

Give me a hundred kisses,
give me as many kisses as Lesbia gave
to her many-seeking poet, as she received.

{ da mi basia centum,
da tot basia, quot dedit
vati multivolo Lesbia, quot tulit }

Basia 16.3-5. The subsequent three quotes are from Basia 6.23-6 (If you count tears…), 11 (Some say that I unite in kisses…), and 14 (Why are you offering me…).

Like Catullus, Secundus makes clear that he wasn’t interested in just kissing. In a non-Christian second-century Greek novel perhaps written for young persons, a character devalues sexual intercourse:

The love act itself comes to an end and one is soon sated with it. It is nothing if you take away the kisses from it. The kiss does not come to an end, never brings satiety, and is always fresh.

{ τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔργον τῆς Ἀφροδίτης καὶ ὅρον ἔχει καὶ κόρον, καὶ οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἐὰν ἐξέλῃς αὐτοῦ τὰ φιλήματα· φίλημα δὲ και ἀόριστόν ἐστι καὶ ἀκόρεστον καὶ καινὸν ἀεί. }

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon {Λευκιππην και Κλειτοφωντα} 4.8, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Gaselee (1969) pp. 204-5. In this passage, Clitophon expresses his anguish at the thought of Charmides kissing Clitophon’s beloved Leucippe.

Being satisfied with passionate kissing is inconsistent with fundament Jewish and Christian values. Wong uses the above quote from Leucippe and Clitophon as an epigram to his book. Wong (2017) p. ix. Perhaps he meant that quote to be understood ironically. Such a construction would be consistent with Catullus and Secundus’s poetic style.

[11] Secundus, Epigrams 1.24, “On his little book of kisses {De libello suo basiorum}.” Price (1996) p. 87 provides a Latin text and English translation, while Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854), p. 367, provides an English translation by George Ogle (1731). Wong (2017) p. 102 provides a partial English translation. In v. 1 above, the adjective “chaste {enervis}” also suggests castration. Above I’ve used “cock {mentula}” as a less formal translation of “penis {penis}.” Secundus’s rhetorical invocation of castration culture is apparent elsewhere:

Go away, go far away, you molesting crowd,
you shameful old and young women.
How much more chaste is my Neaera,
who certainly likes little books without a cock
better than a poet without a cock.

{ Ite hinc, ite procul, molesta turba,
matronaeque, puellulaeque turpes;
quanto castior est Neaera nostra,
quae certe sine mentula libellum
mavult, quam sine mentula poetam. }

Basia 12.14-18. Martial expressed a similar sentiment more impersonally:

Don’t be wishing that my little books would be castrated.
Nothing is more repulsive than a Priapus like a eunuch Gallus.

{ nec castrare velis meos libellos.
Gallo turpius est nihil Priapo. }

Martial, Epigrams 1.35, Latin text from Heraeus & Borovskij (1976) via Perseus, my English translation.

Secundus. along with his brothers Grudius and Marius, appreciated women’s strong, independent sexuality. Secundus’s beloved Neaera is thought to be a Spanish prostitute. Price (1996) pp. 26-7, 59. Moreover, Secundus in his elegies sings his ardent love for Julia. Murgatroyd (2000). In a letter to his brothers Secundus and Marius, Grudius wrote:

Julia (yours when this was reported) was for long enough ill with an eye ailment and ailments of other parts of her body. They suspected that she had the noble disease. I don’t think so. Now she shows the best complexion and agility and is most elegantly dressed. She is seen to have some other defilement. If you ask what affairs she’s carrying on, she goes about with her mother and her sister and (which is a sign of good health and a good cunt):
she continues to arrange her various charms for love work
and to wriggle her pliable ass with soft art
until Venus totally floods her inners with desired drops
and she falls back, languid from the sweet labor.
Be well and be diligent in your studies. That is the best way to recline, and in fact exactly what our father orders, and such is besides what the matter urges.

{ Iulia (quando etiam hoc vestra refert) satis diu aegrotavit et ex oculo et ex aliis corporis partibus; sunt qui suspicentur fuisse morbum nobilium. Id ego non puto, nunc enim prodit colore optimo, et agilis, et vestita cultissime; videtur habere aliquem pollum. Quod si quaeritis quid rerum gerat, agit cum matre et sorore, et (quod signum est bonae valetudinis et boni cunni),
Pergit opus Veneris variis disponere formis,
Et docilem molli flectere ab arte natem,
Dum quaesita Venus totis guttata medullis
Perfluat, et dulci laxa labore cadat. Valete, et diligenter studiis vestris, hoc est optimis incumbite; quod ipsum et ipse iubet pater, et alioqui res ita urget. }

Letter from Grudius to his brothers Marius and Secundus, May 29, 1532. Latin text from Guépin (2000), section 2.2.1, my English translation, benefiting from that of Endres (1981) p. 25. The “noble disease” is syphilis. On the rhetoric of this letter, Godman (1988) pp. 264-5.

[12] The tradition from Catullus to early modern kissing poems fundamentally concerns the presentation of masculinity. Wong (2017) pp. xiii, 115, 314-5. Wong interprets the issue in relation to hard {durus} and soft {mollis} aspects of masculinity:

In simplified terms, what continues in Secundus from his ultimate model, the ‘father of kisses’, is the sense of two registers in competition: one hard, aggressive, demonstratively masculine, and rapacious; the other soft, passive, effeminate, tender. Both registers are ironized, each by the other, and both relate sexuality to poetry through the idea of style. Catullus 5 and 7 alone do not provide this tension; they do so in relation to poem 16 and to the corpus as a whole.

Wong (2017) p. 103. Is masculinity in Jewish and Christian understanding “hard” or “soft”? No good answer exists, and the question itself isn’t interesting. Understanding Catullus’s concern to be incarnated love encompasses masculine love that’s both hard and soft, and in both senses intensely personal. Christianity largely carried that sense of incarnated love across medieval Europe through the early modern period and basia. The genre of basia faded in the seventeenth century. Wong (2017) p. 11. So too did elite appreciation for incarnated love as reflected in Catullus’s poetry and Jewish and Christian understanding.

Other scholars have recognized a change in the representation of love about the eighteenth century. Analyzing the reception of Catullus 5, Braden observed:

the intervening seventeen-hundred years have done drastic things to Catullus’ subject matter. The love of which Catullus speaks is of course sexual: “of course” because almost no classical author, not even the senes seueriores, would imagine any other form of love between a man and a woman. Catullus’ ambitions for that love, the range of values with which he seeks to invest it, are extraordinary, possibly even unprecedented, and ultimately disastrous; yet the physical dimension itself is not what needs explaining or excusing. Lesbia certainly does not have to be talked into accepting sex as a part of her life, and Carmina 5 seems anyway to deal with an affair already begun; the real issue is not the sexuality of their love, but its quality and intensity. The intervention of Christian morality, however, alters the terms on which Catullus’ poem could be imitated, and probably even the very way it could be perceived. A poem about sexual love must now devote a sizable amount of its energies to defending the rightness of such love in general, and by a serious shift in the center of gravity, the adaptations of Viuamus, mea Lesbia have to become, with only a few exceptions, seduction poems.

Braden (1979) pp. 207-9. Braden’s argument hinges on the deus ex machina of “Christian morality.” That’s completely incredible to anyone with broad knowledge of medieval European literature. For the unambitious, just read the tenth-century Exeter riddles and the Roman Catholic priest William Dunbar’s The Treatise of the Two Married Women and the Widow {The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo}, written about 1500In exasperation, one is tempted to make Saint Jerome’s obscene gesture to Jovinian.

[images] (1) Knight riding a snail with a penis-shaped head. Folio 184v of Morgan Library MS M.358 (Book of Hours made in southern France c. 1440-1450). More on snails, classical epic, and gender. (2) Man displaying his asshole. From folio 61r of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324).


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Wong, Alex. 2017. The poetry of kissing in early modern Europe. From the Catullan Revival to Secundus, Shakespeare and the English Cavaliers. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. Chapter 4 draws on Wong (2014). (review by Syrithe Pugh)