Catullus 13; name unguentam dabo...

Discussion in 'Lingua Latina (Latin)' started by William Stein, Sep 29, 2013.

  1. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English

    I just read Catullus 13 ( for the first time in Wheelock, and I was surprised at how erotic (or borderline pornographic) it was. Not because I don't think Catullus was capable of that but it surprises me that Wheelock would put it in the text. I may be wrong, of course, but to me it sounds like "unguentam dabo quod meae puellae donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque" is an obvious allusion to his girl's (house slave's?) vaginal secretions (unguents given to her by Venus and Cupid?), although the translation in Wikipedia gives "perfume". The first part of the poem is about how Catullus is absolutely penniless (has only cobwebs in his purse) and can't put any food on the table so how he could he offer any expensive perfumes/lotions/unguents? I think he's really saying: Well you'll have to bring your own food but you won't regret coming because you can take a ride on my incredibly hot house slave. The only problem with that in interpretation is that Catullus tells Fabullus to bring his own "candida puella" in the first lines.
    I would be interested in hearing what more knowledgeable people have to say about it.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2013
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    unguentum (not –am) does indeed mean “ointment, perfume”.

    The “sexual” interpretation of these verses is criticised in a learned article by Charles Witke, Classical Philology 75 (1980) pp. 325-331, with references to previous studies. If you have access to JSTOR you can find it here:
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  3. William Stein Senior Member

    San Jose, Costa Rica
    American English
    I see that others have come to the same conclusion as I did (I had a hard time believing that was an original idea, it's so obvious). I admit I'm not convinced by those counter-arguments:
    "For the poet to offering his amores in this poem, he would have to be explicit".
    It's not a classified ad! On the contrary, he's much more likely to be metaphorical and use innuendo in even a semi-public form of art.

    "While the bestowal of a female to another man as a sexual partner cannot be ruled out prima facie, elsewhere we find no such casual offering...."

    There's hardly an extensive corpus available and that's no valid criterion anyway.

    Anyway, thanks for calling my attention to that article.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013

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