Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Size Matters

[Warning: X-rated.]

It's difficult not to write satire, says Juvenal, when vice abounds everywhere. Is it possible to keep silent, for example (1.37-41; tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
—when you are shoved out of the way by men who earn legacies by night work, men who are raised to the skies by what is now the royal road to highest advancement—a rich old woman's snatch? Proculeius gets one-twelfth but Gillo eleven-twelfths: each heir gets a share of inheritance to match his performance.

cum te summoveant qui testamenta merentur
noctibus, in caelum quos evehit optima summi
nunc via processus, vetulae vesica beatae?
unciolam Proculeius habet, sed Gillo deuncem,        40
partes quisque suas ad mensuram inguinis heres.
Braund boldly and accurately translates vetulae vesica beatae, but slips into euphemism with her rendering of ad mensuram inguinis, which more literally means "to match the size of his penis." Cf. the translation of Braund's Loeb predecessor G.G. Ramsay, who obscures the literal meaning of both phrases:
when you are thrust on one side by men who earn legacies by nightly performances, and are raised to heaven by that now royal road to high preferment—the favours of an aged and wealthy woman? Each of the lovers will have his share; Proculeius a twelfth part, Gillo eleven parts, each in proportion to the magnitude of his services.
Both of the terms for the genitals in this passage (inguen, normally groin; vesica, normally bladder) share an interesting semantic characteristic. See J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982; rpt. 1993), p. 47:
Sometimes an explicit word is replaced by a word which strictly designates a neighbouring part without sexual significance. Of words in this category inguen was the most common, and the most readily interchangeable with the uoces propriae for the sexual organs.
Id., pp. 91-92:
I have shown earlier that the sexual organs may be referred to by the name of a nearby part of no sexual significance (pp. 47ff.). A use of uesica (lit. 'bladder') at Juv. 1.39 ('in caelum quos euehit optima summi / nunc uia processus, uetulae uesica beatae') seems to be of the same type: Juvenal may deliberately have failed to make a distinction between the bladder / urethra and the vagina (for the position of the uesica note Cels. 4.1.11 'in feminis (uesica) super genitale earum sita est').
Michael Hendry, "Juvenalia", Museum Criticum 30-31 (1995-1996) 253-266:
As Courtney says, the sense is "each inheriting a share proportionate to the size of his penis". Explaining the point of a joke is a thankless task, all the more so when it is as filthy and tasteless as this one. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a bit more to it than that. Besides the comic (and comically precise) exaggeration — a disproportion of 11:1 is far beyond anything likely to be found in nature — Juvenal surely expects us to be amused by the idea that someone so preternaturally ill-endowed as Proculeius can make a living as a gigolo,2 despite his lack of the most basic qualification for the job.3

2 Perhaps not a very good living, unless the estate is large enough to make even a one-twelfth share substantial.

3 Of course, he may have other talents, but the text suggests that the unnamed uetula thinks that size is everything when it comes to lovers.

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