Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hot Latin for Guys & Guys: Martial, Epigrams 9.63

Ad cēnam invītant omnēs tē, Phoebe, cinaedī.
     Mentula quem pascit, nōn, putō, pūrus homō est.

All the cinaedi invite you to dinner, Phoebus.
     A man whose dick feeds him is not, I think, pure man.

Mentula quem pascit - "His dick feeds him," he's a sugar baby, he puts out in exchange for a meal, jewelry, tickets to Evita, cash, etc.

Trotting Glossary
Ad, to
cēnam, dinner
invītant, they invite
omnēs, all (modifies cinaedī)
tē, you (object of invītant)
Phoebe, Phoebus (a man's name, the addressee of the poem)
cinaedī, (the) cinaedi (effeminate men presumed to enjoy submitting to anal penetration by other men; here, they are the subject of invītant)
mentula, (his) mentula (obscene word for "penis")
quem, (he) whom
pascit, feeds
nōn, not
putō, I think
pūrus, (a) pure
homō, man (usually in the sense of "human being," but here clearly "man")
est, is

ad (prep. + acc.), to, toward
cēna, cēnae, F., dinner
invītō (1), invite
omnis, omnis, (adj.), every all
tū, tuī, (pron.), you
Phoebus, -ī, M., Phoebus (a man's name)
cinaedus, -ī, M., cinaedus (pl., cinaedi; a generally pejorative term for an effeminate man presumed to enjoy submitting to anal penetration by other men)
mentula, ae, F., mentula (pl., mentulae; an obscene word for "penis")
quī, quae, quod (pron.), who, which
pascī, pāvī, pastus (v.),  cause to eat; feed, pasture
nōn (adv.), not
putō (1), think
pūrus, -a, -um (adj.), clean, pure, uncontaminated
homō, hominis, M., human being, man
sum, esse, futurus sum (v.), be

This little epigram is very dear and important to me, not only because it is brilliant, but also because it is a beautiful example of my thesis that a queer camp aesthetic prevails in much Roman poetry that has traditionally been viewed as harsh homophobic invective.

In this poem, Martial (that is, the poet's poetic persona) is addressing his friend Phoebus (we know they are friends from another poem that I will post in another Hot Latin for Guys and Guys). His name is a cult epithet of the god Apollo, and means "the radiant one." His name is thus the basis for the word play (perhaps "pun" is too strong a word) at the end of the poem,  where Martial says that he does not think Phoebus is in fact so pure and uncontaminated as his divinely inspired name would suggest.

What Martial is getting at here is twofold: (1) Phoebus is a hustler who plays the top to effeminate men who like to be penetrated by masculine men; but (2) if Phoebus earns his keep by hustling—that is, if his penis "feeds" him—he would seem not to be so masculine a man after all.

Traditionally, this poem has been viewed as an example of Roman attitudes toward masculine gender identity and male sexuality. That is, we learn from this poem that it is good for men to be masculine and sexually dominant (as Phoebus seems to be on the surface, at least), while it is bad for men to be effeminate and sexually submissive (like the cinaedi who invite him to dinner, clearly intending Phoebus himself to be the dessert). More than that, we understand that Martial severely disapproves not only of the effeminate sexual submissiveness of the cinaedi, but also of Phoebus' thinly disguised sexual solicitation.

But to this traditional reading I respond (à la Seth and Amy): Really!?!

I mean, sure, the starting point for this poem is the normative structure of male gender identity and sexual role play: (1) dominant/top is good, (2) submissive/bottom is bad, and (3) ministering to the pleasure of others for profit or gain ("dinner" is, I believe, a synecdoche for "money") undermines a man's respectability, and ultimately his masculinity.

However: the idea that the poetic speaker here expresses earnest moral censure is, I think, an "outsider" reading; that is, that's the way the poem is going to be understood by a "straight" reader who does not understand the dynamics of Rome's homosocial and indeed homosexual subculture. An "insider" reader is going to understand that Martial is winking and nodding at both Phoebus and the cinaedi even as he pretends to reprove them. In effect, the poet belongs to the same group that his poetic invective seems to target for moral censure.

This kind of feigned moral sincerity, standing in for an actual rejection of normative morality (particularly as regards normative sex and gender) is the quintessence of camp, the performative mode associated with homosexual subcultures at least from the time of Oscar Wilde. Indeed, since the middle of the twentieth century, camp has often been called "the gay sensibility."

What I've just written is basically the argument both of my dissertation and of my subsequent scholarly research and writing. This argument for a camp aesthetic at work in Roman invective poetry that targets male effeminacy and homosexuality is, in a word, what my entire scholarly project is all about.

Stay tuned to Hot Latin for Guys and Guys for more examples of poems that I believe fit into this category of Roman camp.