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The Epigrams

To the Reader

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.

Thou, who be ready to read these cultureless sallies of singing,
Lower awhile yon brow suiting the Latian pride:
Here in this fane dwells not or Phoebus' sister or Vesta,
Neither the deity sprung forth of the patrial poll;
But the red guard of our garths, with organ grosser than rightful
Aye of his privities nude, guiltless of covering gear.
So with thy tunic hide what part is made to be hidden,
Or with what eyes see the parts deign these my lines to peruse.

Do thou, who art about to read these wanton sallies of careless verse, lay aside the brow befitting Latium.[1] Not Phoebus's sister, not Vesta in her sanctuary, nor that Goddess sprung from her father's brain,[2] dwells here: but the ruddy Protector of our Gardens, larger membered than is usual, and who has his groin covered by no garment. Therefore, either spread thy tunic over that part which 'tis meet to conceal; or with the same eyes that thou lookest upon it, peruse these.

[1. The poet commemorates the three goddesses, Diana, Vesta and Minerva, whose perpetual virginity knew no man. 'Callimachus, in a Hymn to this Goddess [Diana], represents her as asking Jove for perpetual chastity and many names; attributes which seem rather discordant to us, who are taught to esteem a number of aliases as not connected with any virtue. However, she thought the distinction of value, for she preserved it more carefully than Jove's other gift. Minerva is, I believe, of all heathen goddesses the only one of quite unimpeached chastity, except the Furies.'--The Poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, trans. George Lamb, 1821.

2. It has been thought that the penis of Priapus was reddened by its exposure to the weather, and its normal condition of rigid tension. This is not so. It was painted red. Pliny has a curious passage on the custom practised by the early Romans of adorning the faces of their gods, and even the bodies of their triumphant generals, triumphantumque corpora, with red paint. Camillus, he says, followed that fashion when he triumphed. The Hindus use vermilion extensively in painting their gods.]

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