April 1st, 2020 by Chris Francese

Hecuba Tiger Queen

Ovid on the Metamorphoses compares Hecuba to a lioness, not a tigress, but as I discuss based on Pliny and Valerius Flaccus, the two animals were grouped together in the Roman mind under the heading of savage mothers who get cubs stolen by raptores. In honor of the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness I though I would do an episode on tigers in Roman poetry.

Illustration: Hecuba and the Trojan Women Murdering Polymestor (Hecuba Polymnestori oculos ervit), from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' 1606 Antonio Tempesta Italian

Hecuba and the Trojan Women Murdering Polymestor (Hecuba Polymnestori oculos ervit), from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’
(1606) by Antonio Tempesta

I discuss the following passages:

Pliny, Natural Historry 8.66

Tigrim Hyrcani et Indi ferunt, animal velocitatis tremendae et maxime cognitae, dum capitur totus eius fetus, qui semper numerosus est. ab insidiante rapitur equo quam maxime pernici atque in recentes subinde transfertur. at ubi vacuum cubile reperit feta—maribus enim subolis cura non est—, fertur praeceps odore vestigans. raptor adpropinquante fremitu abicit unum ex catulis; tollit illa morsu et pondere etiam ocior acta remeat iterumque consequitur ac subinde, donec in navem regresso inrita feritas saevit in litore.

Hyrcania and India produce the tiger, an animal of terrific speed, which is most noticeable when the whole of its litter, which is always numerous, is being captured. The litter is taken by a man lying in wait with the swiftest horse obtainable, and is transferred successively to fresh horses. But when the mother tiger finds the lair empty (for the males do not look after their young) she rushes off at headlong speed, tracking them by scent. The captor when her roar approaches throws away one of the cubs. She snatches it up in her mouth, and returns and resumes the pursuit at even a faster pace owing to her burden, and so on in succession until the hunter has regained the ship and her ferocity rages vainly on the shore.

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 6.146-49

Exomatas venatus alit, nec clarior ullis arctos equis;

abeunt Hypanin fragilemque per undam

tigridis aut saevae profugi cum prole leaenae,

maestaque suspectae mater stupet aggere ripae.

The Exomatae live by the chase, nor is the North more famous for any steeds; over the Hypanis and its fragile waves they speed, carrying off in their flight the cub of a tiger or fierce lioness, while the mother stands dazed with grief on the rampart of the treacherous bank.

and Ovid, Metamorphoses  545 ff.

qua simul exarsit, tamquam regina maneret,         545

ulcisci statuit poenaeque in imagine tota est,

utque furit catulo lactente orbata leaena

signaque nacta pedum sequitur, quem non videt, hostem,

sic Hecabe, postquam cum luctu miscuit iram,

non oblita animorum, annorum oblita suorum,         550

vadit ad artificem dirae, Polymestora, caedis

conloquiumque petit; nam se monstrare relictum

velle latens illi, quod nato redderet, aurum.

credidit Odrysius praedaeque adsuetus amore

in secreta venit: tum blando callidus ore 555

‘tolle moras, Hecabe,’ dixit ‘da munera nato!

omne fore illius, quod das, quod et ante dedisti,

per superos iuro.’ spectat truculenta loquentem

falsaque iurantem tumidaque exaestuat ira

atque ita correpto captivarum agmina matrum         560

invocat et digitos in perfida lumina condit

expellitque genis oculos (facit ira potentem)

inmergitque manus foedataque sanguine sonti

non lumen (neque enim superest), loca luminis haurit.

As soon as her rage blazed out, as if she still were queen, she resolved on vengeance and was wholly absorbed in the punishment her imagination pictured. And as a lioness rages when her suckling cub has been stolen from her, and follows the tracks of her enemy, though she does not see him, so Hecuba, wrath mingling with her grief, regardless of her years but not her deadly purpose, went straight to Polymestor, who wrought the heartless murder, and sought an audience with him, pretending that she wished to show him a store of gold which she had hoarded for her son and now would give him. The Thracian was deceived and, led by his habitual lust for gain, he came to the hiding-place. Then craftily, with smooth speech he said: “Come, Hecuba, make haste, give me the treasure for your son! I swear by the gods of heaven, all shall be his, what you give now and what you have given before.” She grimly eyed him as he spoke and swore his lying oath. Then did her rising wrath boil over, and, calling the captive women to the attack, she seized upon him, dug her fingers into his lying eyes and gouged his eyeballs from their sockets—so mighty did wrath make her. Then she plunged in her hands and, stained with his guilty blood, she plucked out, not his eyes, for they were gone, but the places of his eyes.

December 1st, 2019 by Chris Francese

Catullus and Martial on Unguents

Catullus 13 (text: G.P. Goold, 1983, via PHI)

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.              5
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster,
cenabis bene: nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusvest:                      10
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque;
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis,
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Fabullus, come over in a few days
and you will dine well, gods willing.
Just bring along a fine and ample
dinner, and don’t forget a lovely girl.
Bring wine, wit, and all kinds of laughter.
Bring all this, my charming man,
and you will dine very well, I say,
for Catullus’ purse has only cobwebs.
In return you will get pure, unmixed
love, or something even more elegant:
I’ll give you a scent, passed on to
my girl by Venus and Cupid themselves.
And when you smell that, dear Fabullus,
you will beg the gods on your knees
to turn you into one colossal nose. (Trans. Chris Francese)

Martial, Epigrams 3.12 (text: Heraeus and Borovskiy, via PHI)

Convivis here, sed nihil scidisti.
Res salsa est bene olere et esurire.
Qui non cenat et unguitur, Fabulle,
Hic vere mihi mortuus videtur.                       5

The perfume you gave your guests yesterday was, I admit, a good one, but you carved nothing. It’s amusing to smell nice and go hungry. He who doesn’t dine but is anointed, Fabullus, really seems to me a corpse. (trans. William Fitzgerald)

November 24th, 2019 by Chris Francese

Seneca, Medea 895-910

Marble relief fragment with the head of Medea 1st–2nd century A.D. Metropolitan Museum.

Marble relief fragment with the head of Medea, 1st–2nd century A.D. New York, Metropolitan Museum.


Seneca’s Latin play Medea was written in the mid-first century AD. Less famous than the version of Euripides, it is nonetheless very powerful, and is generally considered to be the strongest of his earlier plays. In this scene, Medea prepares herself to kill her own children as a way of taking revenge on her faithless husband, Jason (plot summary).

quid, anime, cessas? sequere felicem impetum.

pars ultionis ista, qua gaudes, quota est?

amas adhuc, furiose, si satis est tibi

caelebs Iason. quaere poenarum genus

haut usitatum iamque sic temet para:

fas omne cedat, abeat expulsus pudor;

uindicta leuis est quam ferunt purae manus.

incumbe in iras teque languentem excita

penitusque ueteres pectore ex imo impetus

uiolentus hauri. quidquid admissum est adhuc,

pietas uocetur. hoc age! en faxo sciant

quam leuia fuerint quamque uulgaris notae

quae commodaui scelera. prolusit dolor

per ista noster: quid manus poterant rudes

audere magnum, quid puellaris furor?

Medea nunc sum; creuit ingenium malis:

This is Zweierlein’s text (1987) via the Packard Humanities Institute. Here is the translation written for this episode by Ashley Roman-Francese:

My soul, why do you hesitate? Follow up your successful attack.

You rejoice in but a tiny part of true vengeance. 

Raging heart, if Jason wifeless is enough for you, then you still love the man. 

Seek a unique form of punishment and prepare yourself now:

All morality, be gone! Drive out and banish shame!

Vengeance is light when pure hands enact it. 

Bear down on your anger! Stir your sluggish self!

Dig deep, dredge the old violence from within, and attack.

What you’ve done so far, that should be called family love.

Do it! Let them realize 

how trivial and common were the crimes I did for others.

Through them my grief was rehearsing. 

What great enterprise could my then unskilled hands dare?

What good was my girlish anger? 

Now I am Medea. My genius has blossomed with my crimes. 

If you have a minute, check out the exclusive sponsor for this episode, the Latin Interjection!

November 17th, 2019 by Chris Francese

J.K. Rowling and Peter Needham: Distribuens Petasus

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) has a delightful Latin version, Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis (2003), by Peter Needham. Needham taught Classics at Eton for over thirty years and also translated A Bear Called Paddington into Latin. In this edition of Latin Poetry Podcast we check out his elegant version of the Sorting Hat Song. The meter is the elegiac couplet.

Hat on stool in large hall

discipuli, pulchrum si me non esse putatis,

externa specie plus valet ingenium.

nam petasus nusquam toto si quaeritis orbe

me melior vobis inveniendus erit.

lautitias odi: nolo tegmenta rotunda,

neve cylindratos tradite mi petasos.

Distribuens Petasus vobis Hogvartius adsum

cui petasos alias exsuperare datur.

Distribuens Petasus scrutatur pectora vestra,

quodque videre nequit nil latet in capite.

in caput impositus vobis ostendere possum

quae sit, vaticanans, optima cuique domus.

vos forsan iuvenes Gryffindor habebit alumnos;

hanc semper fortes incoluere domum.

gens hominum generosa illa est fortisque feroxque;

illi nulla potest aequiperare domus.

gentibus a iustis et fidis Huffle tenetur

Puff. adversa tamen scit domus illa pati.

hic homines animisque piis verique tenaces

invenietis. erit vestra secunda domus.

tertia restat adhuc Ravenclaw nomine dicta;

est vetus et sapiens ingeniisque favet.

sunt lepus hic hominum cultorum artesque Minervae;

discipulos similes hic habitare decet.

forsitan in Slytherin veri invenientur amici;

improbus es? fallax? haec erit apta domus.

ut rata vota habeant scelus omne patrandum est

gentibus his; quaerunt nil nisi lucra sua.

verticibus iubeo me vos imponere nec non

pectoribus firmis rem tolerare velim!

‘incolumes eritis petasi tutamine,’ dicunt,

‘cum careat manibus, cogitat ille tamen.’

And here is the J.K. Rowling original (via Mugglenet):

Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,
But don’t judge on what you see,
I’ll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There’s nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can’t see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don’t be afraid!
And don’t get in a flap!
You’re in safe hands (though I have none)
For I’m a Thinking Cap!

For an appreciation of Harrius Potter and how it can bring more Latin into your life, see Justin Slocum Bailey’s article from Eidolon 2017.



November 11th, 2019 by Chris Francese

Reynard and the Side of Bacon (Ysengrimus 1.269-288)

Ysengrimus is a Latin mock epic, an anthropomorphic series of fables written in 1148 or 1149 in Latin elegiac couplets. Its chief character is Isengrin the Wolf; the plot describes how the trickster figure Reynard the Fox overcomes Isengrin’s various schemes. This week’s Latin Poetry Podcast is a excerpt in which Isengin and Reynard collaborate to bamboozle a peasant and steal his bacon. The translation is by Ashley Roman Francese, from the Latin text edited by Jill Mann: Ysengrimus. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Harvard University Press, 2013.

Drawing of Reynard on hill fling flag of victory while other animals cheer him on.

The trickster figure Reynard the Fox as depicted in an 1869 children’s book by Michel Rodange (Wikipedia)


November 4th, 2019 by Chris Francese

Claudian on Mules (De Mulabus Gallicis)

Unidentified man with mule carrying baskets of food. Italy, 1870s. Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Unidentified man with mule carrying baskets of food. Italy, 1870s. Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Claudian (ca. 370-ca.404 AD) is best known for his political poetry (he was associated with the court of the Roman emperor Honorius at Milan). But his miscellaneous carmina minora include a fascinating variety of shorter poems, such as a description of a marble chariot (CM 7), a sepulchral epigram on a beautiful woman (11), an invective against a poet with gout (13), and this poem on some marvelous mules.

Aspice morigeras Rhodani torrentis alumnas

imperio nexas imperioque uagas,

dissona quam uarios flectant ad murmura cursus

et certas adeant uoce regente uias.

quamuis quaeque sibi nullis discurrat habenis

et pateant duro libera colla iugo,

ceu constricta tamen seruit patiens que laborum

barbaricos docili concipit aure sonos.

 absentis longinqua ualent praecepta magistri

frenorum que uicem lingua uirilis agit.

 haec procul angustat sparsas spargit que coactas;

haec sistit rapidas, haec properare facit.

 laeua iubet? laeuo deducunt limite gressum.

mutauit strepitum? dexteriora petunt.

 nec uinclis famulae nec libertate feroces,

exutae laqueis, sub dicione tamen.

 incessu que pares et fuluis pellibus hirtae

esseda concordes multisonora trahunt.

 miraris si uoce feras pacauerit Orpheus,

cum pronas pecudes Gallica uerba regant?

Here is a translation by Chris Francese made for this episode.

Behold the compliant daughters of the rushing Rhone, interwoven by command and made to wander by command, see how they turn in various directions in response to various spoken commands and how the ruling voice directs them down fixed paths. Although each on goes its way without reins, and its neck is free from the harsh yoke, still it serves as if bound and works hard, listening to barbaric sounds with a docile ear. The far-off instructions of their absent master have their effect, and a man’s tongue serves as bridle and harness: this collects them when scattered, and scatters them when collected; this stops them as they run, and this makes them pick up speed. Does he order left? They step to the left. Has he changed his cry? They head to the right. Unchained slaves, but not defiant in their freedom, they have shaken off the halter but remain under control. With synchronized gate, their shaggy coats tawny, they harmoniously pull the noisy carts. Are you surprised that Orpheus tamed wild beasts with his voice, when Gallic words rule downward-looking beasts?

July 20th, 2015 by Chris Francese

Sulpicius Severus Life of St. Martin in full

St. Martin Simone Martini

At the kind suggestion of William Turpin I have collected the recordings of the Latin text of Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin that I originally made to accompany my commentary on that text. So here it is, the Life of St. Martin entire, over an hour and a half of Latin read aloud (no translation), broken up into three chunks. Hope you enjoy!

Praefatio and chapters 1-10:

Vita Martini Praefatio and Chapters 1-10

Chapters 11-19:

Vita Martini Chapters 11-19

Chapters 20-27:

Vita Martini Chapters 20-27

Image: St. Martin of Tours and the Beggar, painted about 1320 by Simone Martini for the chapel of St. Martin in Assisi. Photo: Jim Forest

October 8th, 2013 by Chris Francese

Rhythmic Fluency 2: The Hendecasyllable

bust of Catullus in Sirmione. (via fickr user Elliot Brown, CC-BY-2.0)

bust of Catullus in Sirmione. (via fickr user Elliot Brown, CC-BY-2.0)

In this second installment of a three part series, Lance Piantaggini drums his way to a better understanding of the Latin hendecasyllable, using Catullus 1.1-2 as an example. He also discusses the downside of scansion, and suggests a system where, rather than indicating metrical feet above the line, we simply rely on macrons to make clear vowel quantities, and underline syllables that are long by position.

Rhythmic Fluency – 2

Cui dono lepidum novum libellum
arido modo pumice expolitum?


August 19th, 2013 by Chris Francese

Rhythmic Fluency: The Dactylic Hexameter

Rhythmic Fluency – 1

In this guest podcast (first of a three-part series) Latinist and drummer Lance Piantaggini discusses the dactylic hexameter, and provides drum backing tracks (of the kind a jazz musician might use) for us to practice feeling the natural rhythms of the line. He pays special attention to the caesura, and argues for a mode of reading that follows the natural word accent, rather than the ictus. When reading a line of poetry, he argues, it is easy to become bogged down in isolated dactyls and spondees, and inadvertently stress the ictus, when what we have to do is fluidly connect each word and anticipate the natural pause.

head shot of Lance Piantaggini

May 13th, 2013 by Chris Francese

Abracadabra (Serenus Sammonicus Lib. Med. 923-941)



mortiferum magis est quod Graecis hemitritaeos
vulgatur verbis; hoc nostrā dicere linguā
non potuēre ulli, puto, nec voluere parentes.
inscribes chartae quod dicitur abracadabra
saepius et subter repetes, sed detrahe summam
et magis atque magis desint elementa figuris
singula, quae semper rapies, et cetera figes,
donec in angustum redigatur littera conum :
his lino nexis collum redimire memento.
nonulli memorant adipem prodesse leonis.

Quinctius Serenus Sammonicus, Liber Medicinalis 923-941 (ed. Vollmer in Corpus Medicorum Latinorum 3.2, Leipzig: Teubner, 1916). The work seems to date from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD, and is usually assigned by scholars to around AD 200, based on the dubious identification of the author as Serenus Sammonicus, a scholar and moral critic of the age of Septimius Severus.

Vollmer sensibly suggests linques or scribes for figes, which he believes is a corruption carried over from figura in the previous line.

Here is my translation:

The malady the Greeks call hemitritaeos is more deadly. None of our ancestors could name this disease in our own language, nor did they feel the need to. On a piece of parchment, write the so-called “abracadabra” several times, repeating it on the line below; but take off the end, so that gradually individual letters, which you will take away each time, are missing from the word. Continue until the (last) letter makes the apex of a cone. Remember to wind this with linen and hang it around the neck. Many people say that the lard of a lion is effective . . .

Here is Daniel Defoe, in his (fictionalized) Journal of the Plague Year (1722):

But there was still another madness beyond all this, which may serve to give an idea of the distracted humour of the poor people at that time, and this was their following a worse sort of deceivers than any of these ; for these petty thieves only deluded them to pick their pockets and get their money, in which their wickedness, whatever it was, lay chiefly on the side of the deceivers deceiving, not upon the deceived. But in this part I am going to mention it lay chiefly in the people deceived, or equally in both, and this was in wearing charms, philtres, exorcisms, amulets, and I know not what preparations, to fortify the body with them against the plague ; as if the plague was not the hand of God, but a kind of a possession of an evil spirit, and that it was to be kept off with crossings, signs of the zodiac, papers tied up with so many knots, and certain words or figures written on them, as particularly the word Abracadabra, formed in triangle or pyramid, thus . . .

I might spend a great deal of time in my exclamations against the follies, and indeed the wickedness, of those things, in a time of such danger, in a matter of such consequences as this, of a national infection. But my memorandums of these things relate rather to take notice only of the fact, and mention only that it was so. How the poor people found the insufficiency of those things, and how many of them were afterwards carried away in the dead- carts and thrown into the common graves of every parish with these hellish charms and trumpery hanging about their necks, remains to be spoken of as we go along.

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