Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hot Latin for Guys & Guys: Juvenal 6.33-37

aut sī dē multīs nūllus placet exitus, illud
nōnne putās melius, quod tēcum pūsio dormit?
pūsio, quī noctū nōn lītigat, exigit ā tē
nūlla iacēns illic mūnuscula, nec queritur quod
et laterī parcās nec quantum iussit anhēlēs.

Of the many ways out of marriage, if none pleases you,
don't you think it is better to sleep with a boy?
A boy, who at night does not argue, does not lie there
demanding little gifts,  and does not complain
that you slack off or don't pant on command.

Pusio dormit - "He sleeps with a boy," especially a pretty young boy, a twink
Pusio non dormit - "He doesn't sleep with a boy," that is, he's not into younger guys

Noctu litigat -  "He argues at night," he's difficult, argumentative (cf. English "litigate, litigious")
Noctu non litigat -  "He doesn't argue at night," he's easy, he lets his man do whatever he wants

Exigit munuscula - "He demands little gifts," he's sexually demanding or a pushy bottom

Queritur - "He complains," he's high maintenance
Non queritur - "He doesn't complain," he's low maintenance

Lateri parcas - "You slack off," sort of like "You spare the rod; you're all meat, no motion."
Lateri non parcas - "You don't slack off," you give it all you've got, you really put your hips into it

Quantum iussit anheles - "You pant as much as he orders," you're very verbal, you moan a lot in bed

Why I Love This Passage

As with most of the passages (complete poems or excerpts) that I will feature in Hot Latin for Guys and Guys, I love this passage because of its queer sensibility, which I also call a camp sensibility.

What do I mean by "queer"? I can answer that on different levels. It's about same-sex desire. It resists heteronormative conceptions of sex, gender, and kinship. To borrow Esther Newton's terminology for analyzing camp drag performance, it uses incongruity (as a subject matter), theatricality (as a style), and humor (as a strategy) to embrace stigmatized identity.

Now, there is a dark underbelly to the "fun and artifice and elegance" (to quote Christopher Isherwood on camp) in this brief passage; namely, the reputation for misogyny that has accrued to Juvenal's sixth satire for hundreds of years. On the surface, Juvenal 6 seems to be a virulent screed against women and marriage. But camp employs a rhetorical strategy that translation theorist Keith Harvey has called ambivalent solidarity: feigning adherence to moral principles that the camp speaker in fact rejects, principles that are in fact the very opposite of what he actually believes. As Maria Plaza has argued (in her book, The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying, although the title and the subtitle really should have been reversed), the misogyny of Juvenal 6 completely falls apart—the misogynistic speaker's fear and hatred ultimately subvert and undermine his attack, so that he is left demonstrating not the inferiority of women, but rather the inferiority of men.

Plaza seems to think, if I read her correctly, that this subversion is a function of the satirist's humor getting the better of him; that is, the poem ends up saying something opposite to what the historical Juvenal intended. But while I revel in Plaza's point-by-point analysis, I come to a completely different conclusion: the subversion of misogyny is precisely what Juvenal intended, because his sixth satire is a camp text. Of course, in the long wake of Wimsatt and Beardsley, we are not supposed to pay any attention to authorial intention. And indeed, authorial intention does not really matter to my camp interpretation of this or any other text. But the fact is, I think we need to revisit the intentional fallacy, because nobody ever picked up a pen or sat down in front of a computer keyboard without having an intention.

Other objections to my reading of this passage have to do with debates among classicists and historians of sexuality about categories like queerness, masculinity, and stigma. The standard line is that the speaker of this poem is not a stigmatized figure, because he is a masculine, sexually dominant man talking about sex with a feminized, sexually submissive boy. But, once again, as you may have seen me argue elsewhere, I have a one-word response to this claim: Really?!?

That is to say, sure, the speaker would appear to be masculine and sexually dominant, while the boy (who is only hypothetical, I should probably hasten to add) appears to be feminine and sexually submissive. But the operative and very crucial word here is appears. As Antonin Scalia once said from the bench of the Supreme Court, acknowledging a constitutional right to commit sodomy opens the door to all sorts of madness, including gays in the military and same-sex marriage. And so it did (Google Lawrence v. Texas if you want to know more). Similarly, and by the laws of camp duplicity, Juvenal's conservative-looking scenario in this passage, where an older man is sexually dominant and a younger boy is sexually submissive, opens the imaginary door to all sorts of madness, like sissy boys on top and manly men on the bottom, not to mention gays in the military and same-sex marriage.

Trot Gloss, Vocab, and Commentary to come...

Trotting Glossary

NOTE: I've yanked some words out of their original order and put them together into meaningful groups, since the objective of this trotting glossary is to help you see how the Latin works.

aut, or
sī, if
dē multīs, from among the many (understand "suggested ways out of marriage")
nūllus exitus, no exit
placet, pleases (you)
nōnne putās, don't you think?
illud melius, that (i.e., the following course of action; understand "would be") better
quod, (namely) the fact that