Fwd: BMR: Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems
>Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 12:32:31 -0400 (EDT)
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>Subject: BMR: Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems
>(From BMCR 2003.07.45)
>Alistair Elliot (trans.), Roman Food Poems. Devon: Prospect Books,
>2003. Pp. 160. ISBN 1-903018-25-0. L12.50.
>Reviewed by Farouk F. Grewing, Universita+t zu Ko+ln
>Word count: 1103 words
>"The Roman poets mention food quite a lot" (p. 9). Thus the first
>sentence of Alistair Elliot's (henceforth E.) annotated bilingual
>collection of Roman poems or sections of poems that deal with or are in
>some way or another related to (the making, consumption, or digestion
>A playwright and poet himself, E. is well known for his translations
>and adaptations of quite a few ancient (e.g. Aristophanes, Euripides,
>Virgil) but also French (Verlaine) and German (Heine) works; his
>version of Medea opened at the Almeida Theatre (London) in the fall of
>This 'food book' embraces pieces by Ennius, Lucretius, Catullus,
>Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Phaedrus, Seneca, Lucan, Petronius, Martial,
>Juvenal, and also a few inscriptions. As E. emphasizes, the collection
>is highly selective and subjective; he intentionally left out some
>central poems of Horace, e.g. Satire ii 8, and others in order to not
>"overload the book with too many lines" of the same poet(s) (p. 9).
>The material is arranged in three chapters: I. "Ingredients, sources,
>taste, morality, gifts and mythology", II. "Meals -- invitations,
>occasions, manners, courses and aims", III. "Making the day's food".
>Being by far the largest part of this book (80 or so out of 150 pp.),
>chapter 1 is also the most wide-ranging or, if you want to put it less
>nicely, disorganized. To be honest, I was unable to discover any
>particular structural arrangement -- by (say) subject-matter (kinds of
>food, regions, etc.), author / chronology, genre, or whatever. Hence,
>one comes across passages from poems as diverse as Ennius'
>Hedyphagetica, followed by the Ovidian Pythagoras and the "Forbidden
>Food" (p. 27) of Seneca's Thyestes, etc.
>At chapter end, there are two inscriptions. I cannot really see why CIL
>iv 7038 = CLE 1934 appears here ('Stercorari ad murum progredere. / si
>pre(n)sus fueris, poena(m) patiare neces(s)e est. / cave.', p. 94). Yes,
>the second sentence is a hexameter (p. 157), but the mere fact that (as
>far as I can tell) any defecation is inevitably the result of eating
>(usually food) should not justify the graffito's presence in this book,
>unless for reasons of closure. The threat uttered sounds very Priapean
>(at Priap. 35, the god's menace is quite explicit), the piece as a whole
>mock-religious.[] You could as well quote Iuv. ix 43-44 and its
>The other inscription, CIL iv 1645 = CLE 953 (from the Palatine), is a
>lover's threat: 'Crescens: Whatever rival fucks my girl, may a bear eat
>him in remote mountains.' One needs a good deal of imagination to
>consider this a food poem. The two Latin lines have become no less than
>eight in E.'s rendition (p. 97). However, the comment that "[t]he Latin
>here is a clumsy adaptation of a couplet about Love burning [...]
>wherever you are, even in the distant mountains" (p. 157) is not
>compelling. The threat is not directed at a mountain-climber. Also,
>Crescens is most likely nominative (add 'dicit' or so) rather than
>vocative; see Courtney, Musa, pp. 304 and 307.
>Chapter 2 is much better structured. It contains invitation poems
>(Catullus, Martial) and some related party-pieces (e.g. Horace, Ovid,
>Martial). Again, one finds an inscription at the end (p. 138), the
>anonymous line "Quod edi, bibi, mecum habeo, quod reliqui perdidi" (CIL
>vi 18131 = CLE 244 = ILS 8155a). The verse is part of an epitaph (hence
>E.'s translation of mecum habeo as 'I still have as a ghost', p. 139).
>But why omit the prose lines that frame this mediocre septenarius,
>"D.M.T. Flavius Martialis hic situs est" and "vi(xit) a(nn.) lxxx"?
>Indeed, this is one of the many adaptations of the so-called epitaph of
>Sardanopallus, for which see Cic. Tusc. v 101; cf. R. Lattimore, Themes
>in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana 1962 [= 1942]), 261-262.
>Chapter 3, "Making the day's food", contains just two texts: the
>Moretum, the preparation of bread and the flavoring of cheese, and the
>opening 12 lines of Ovid's 'biography', Trist. iv 10.
>It probably matters little that E. does not indicate from which
>(critical or uncritical) editions the Latin texts were taken since it
>is the English renditions that are the substance of this collection.
>Still, the philologist may at times be interested in the exactitude of
>the Latin. Only regarding the Moretum does E. refer to a particular
>edition and commentary (that of E.J. Kenney [Bristol 1984]), from which
>he departs occasionally, without however giving any reasons (pp.
>159-160). All in all, E.'s deviations from the standard texts are, I
>think, mostly immaterial; but note that the text of the inscriptions is
>not reliable. E.g., in the 6-line elegiac poem written in the corner of
>a Pompeian wall-painting, which depicts a young woman suckling an
>elderly man, (CIL iv 6635 = CLE 2048), E. prints ll. 4-5 thus:
>"as[pice, ia]m venae lacte [rep]lente tument. / [ambiguo]q(ue) simul
>voltu fri[c]at ipsa Miconem" (p. 32), which is a mixture of conjectures
>by various hands (cf. Lommatzsch's ed.). However, we should (exempli
>gratia) print "re[plente tument]"; but even the 're-' is uncertain.
>Secondly, as E. rightly remarks, "friat (crumbles) is surely a mistake
>of the painter" (p. 155), so it should be "fri<c>at" (unless you want
>to defend friat with Mau). I am, however, willing to agree with anyone
>saying that my philological nitpicking is out of place here.
>Most readers who have little background will find the notes (pp.
>153-160) insufficient. There are a huge number of details that would
>require some, however brief, comment to help the layperson. Also, it
>needs to be pointed out that many of the poems convey significance in
>interpretive contexts well beyond their actual surface meaning. E.
>mentions, e.g., the 'big fish' of Iuv. iv (pp. 9 and 155). There is,
>however, a lot more allegory or metapoetry involved in many of the
>other food poems. E. Gowers' magnificent The Loaded Table (Oxford 1993)
>gives some idea. E. suspects a metapoetic dimension in Mart. vii 91,
>addressing Juvenal (quoted at 66): "here surely the nuts are a comment
>on Martial's production of short epigrams compared with the younger
>man's production of large satires" (p. 156). I leave that open to
>debate. Some pieces may seem dull unless they are read in their (intra-
>and intertextual) context. So it is regrettable that any indications of
>context, allusions, references, quotations, etc. are virtually absent
>from the notes.
>On the whole, E.'s English renditions are masterful. It would be
>inappropriate to discuss their accuracy or even correctness since they
>are poems of their own right; all deviations from the Latin are
>intentional and ultimately document the editor's commitment and joy.
>1. See E. Courtney, Musa Lapidaria (Atlanta 1995), 354 for
>inscriptional parallels. It is not certain if stercorari is vocative
>(as e.g. in OLD, s.v. '-ius', whence E.'s "dung-producers"). It could
>as well be an irregular deponent form of stercoro; the infinitive would
>then be one of purpose (Courtney 354).
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