Saturday, January 26, 2013


The Last of the Victorians

Kenneth J. Reckford, "Shameless Interests: The Decent Scholarship of Indecency," American Journal of Philology 117.2 (Summer 1996), pp. 311-314 (at 311):
How strange they seem now, all those expurgated editions, those unhelpful commentaries, those mystery-keeping professors. Like Byron, we all had comic encounters with the "grosser parts":
They only add them all in an appendix,
Which saves, in fact, the trouble of an index...
Perhaps we worked harder than Byron. I remember, early on, struggling with Cat. 56 (which even Housman misinterpreted in his notorious 1931 "Praefanda," for Catullus does not look on, masturbating, but plunges in, making a threesome); and I struggled with Martial. I may even, at sixteen, have been the last of the Victorians, learning about sexual by-paths from Latin poetic grammar and syntax. (Loebs were forbidden under pain of death: but had I consulted Ker's Martial, I would have found the offending passages translated into Italian, not English: "On the theory," Rolfe Humphries once said, "that God doesn't understand Italian.") We laughed; it was good fun. Yet our half-prurient inquisitiveness was mixed with genuine philological research; we resented roadblocks to learning; and years later, when Fordyce's Catullus appeared with twenty-two "dirty poems" left out, we felt absolutely betrayed.
Related post: Bowdlerization.

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