I do recall Catullus being a set text. I don’t recall Carmina XVI being featured:
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 duros nequeunt movere lumbos.
Vos, quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.
It’s Catullus defending himself and his poetry against accusations of indecency, of being — in modern terms — a sissy snowflake. He tells Aurelius and Furius to ‘get stuffed’. Those names in full are Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus and Marcus Furius Bibaculus. The latter, it seems, had had it off with Catullus’ ‘playmate’.
Because it was the one verse that seemed to get missed, we eager students instantly spotted it for what it must be. Rather as we had recognised the lines in Chaucer that were asterisked out. All good stuff, but it’s the opening line that had us all close to bewilderment.
Pedicabo: obviously future simple, “I will … what?” Lewis and Short doesn’t instantly help. First we are cross-referred to paedico, which is fair enough. Then a quick nod at Greek: παιδικός. OK, with you — adjective, masculine, of a child. Then the open-ended definition: to practise unnatural vice. So, we are left to guess precisely what ‘vice’ is involved. Though, to be honest, not much guesswork is needed there.
irrumabo: again future simple, again “I will do something to you”. Diligent work gets us to page 1003, middle column, of Lewis and Short:
Which is either gender deceptive or clouded in the extreme. The clue is there Catullus and Martial: both a bit on the naughty side. But what’s this Auct. Priap.? On page vii, under Abbreviations used in referring to Ancient Authors and their Works, that’s Auctor Priapeorum, v. Priap. They’re not making it easy, are they? The third page on (page x), we get:
Priapea, a collection of satiric and erotic poems and fragments happened to L. Müller’s Catullus.
Time for a retrospection.
The literary archaeology of Catullus
It would seem there was a single manuscript text of Catullus floating around in the first millennium. Isidore of Seville could quote from the poems, which is in the very early seventh century, at a time when the Visigoths were barely tolerating academic and intellectual activity. And then it all goes dark. Bishop Ratherius, around AD996 , runs into some of Catullus’ poems, in Verona. Thus is credible, because Catullus came from an equestrian (i.e. the rank below ‘noble’) family of Verona — so the local boy.
Vicenza is the next major stop, thirty miles or so, on the railway from Verona to Padua (and then on to Venice). Vicenza is where Catullus next crops up.
By the early fourteenth century, Vicenza was controlled by the della Scala family from Verona, in particular Can Francesco della Scala, Cangrande. Cangrande deserves credit as Dante’s patron, but is credibly the main transmission for Catullus. A Vicenzan layer, and associate of Cangrande, Benvenuto Campesani, knocked out a bit of verse celebrating ‘Franciscus’ who had ‘rediscovered’ the work of his fellow-Veronan, Catullus. After which, it was open house for all comers on Catullus. All the way down to the classic German edition by Müller in 1885.
Müller came into the hands of Sir Richard Burton, who did metrical translations in 1890. This was published, discreetly and by an off-colour published, by Burton’s widow in 1894. The Burton rendering of Carmina XVI is only partly helpful:
I’ll —— you twain and ——
Pathic Aurélius! Fúrius, libertines!
Who durst determine from my versicles
Which seem o’er softy, that I’m scant of shame.
For pious poet it behoves be chaste
Himself; no chastity his verses need;
Nay, gain they finally more salt of wit
When over softy and of scanty shame,
Apt for exciting somewhat prurient,
In boys, I say not, but in bearded men
Who fail of movements in their hardened loins.
Ye who so many thousand kisses sung
Have read, deny male masculant I be?
You twain I’ll —— and ——
What ‘——’ could have been in Burton’s manuscript is anyone’s guess. Burton’s collaborator there was publisher (and pal of Oscar Wilde) Leonard C. Smithers, who did a parallel prose version — again not helping too much:
I will paedicate and irrumate you, Aurelius the bardache and Furius the cinaede, who judge me from my verses rich in love-liesse, to be their equal in modesty. For it behoves your devout poet to be chaste himself; his verses — not of necessity. Which verses, in a word, may have a spice and volupty, may have passion’s cling and such like decency, so that they can incite with ticklings, I do not say boys, but bearded ones whose stiffened limbs amort lack pliancy in movement. You, because of many thousand kisses you have read, think me womanish. I will paedicate and irrumate you!
Where’s all this going, Malcolm?
In the Penguin translation of Catullus two words are left untranslated. ‘Pedicabo et irrumabo vos’, writes the poet of his foes Furius and Aurelius and ‘pedicabo et irrumabo vos’ is how it stays in Peter Whigham’s English version. The first word means ‘I will bugger you’. When the present writer turned as a schoolboy to Lewis and Short’s Latin dictionary he learnt that pedicare meant only to perpetrate some nameless ‘unnatural vice’. The second word is also often translated as ‘to bugger’. The same Lewis and Short gives an even vaguer definition ‘to treat in a foul or shameful manner’. The real meaning of irrumareis one of the revelations in Mr J N Adams’s masterful new guide, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, to which perplexed schoolboys and scholars will henceforth be able to turn for unerring advice on these erstwhile delicate matters.
After which, as they say, ‘all is revealed’. Refer there for a complete explanation.