Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Naughty Bits

Curculio is reluctant to post an epigram from the Palatine Anthology (10.45), because some of his students occasionally read his blog. His reluctance is probably a good idea. Recall that a Latin teacher recently lost her job at a Vermont high school, because she had her students read some ancient graffiti from Pompeii.

Censorship and bowdlerization can actually promote enthusiasm for scholarship among students. Witness Selections from the Brief Mention of Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, ed. C.W.E. Miller (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1930), p. 52: "Unregenerate boys are especially fond of looking up the lacunae in expurgated editions."

In the essay on Juvenal in his book Classical Bearings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), Peter Green tells about the great lengths to which he and some of his Sixth Form fellows at Charterhouse went to find out as much as they could about obscene passages omitted in bowdlerized school editions of the classics, for example Juvenal 1.39 (vetulae vesica beatae), much of Juvenal's sixth satire, all of Juvenal's second and ninth satires, etc.

They spent long hours of their free time in the well-stocked school library tracking down these naughty bits, poring over commentaries and lexicons, and trying to figure out what the censored passages meant. In the course of doing so they greatly improved their knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Green goes so far as to say (p. 242), "This was how I first acquired the basic techniques of scholarly research."

Update: On this same subject, Laura Gibbs at Bestiaria Latina discusses a naughty fable that Ben Edwin Perry refused to translate in his Loeb edition of Babrius and Phaedrus.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend Bestiaria Latina, which is now on my daily reading list and will soon be added to my sidebar of links. Lovers of the classics are deeply indebted to Laura Gibbs for her excellent web site devoted to ancient and medieval fables, and her blog is also a must-read. Check out, for example, her post on the English word nice.

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