Old Flames

Peter Parsons

  • The Latin Sexual Vocabulary by J.N. Adams
    Duckworth, 272 pp, £24.00, September 1982, ISBN 0 7156 1648 X
  • Ovid: The Erotic Poems translated by Peter Green
    Penguin, 450 pp, £2.95, November 1982, ISBN 0 14 044360 6
  • Women’s Life in Greece and Rome by Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant
    Duckworth, 294 pp, £24.00, September 1982, ISBN 0 7156 1434 7
  • Heroines and Hysterics by Mary Lefkowitz
    Duckworth, 96 pp, £8.95, September 1982, ISBN 0 7156 1518 1

Time and philology turn dirt into dust. Housman had to veil Latin obscenity in Latin obscurity; Paul Brandt chose to publish under the speaking pseudonym of ‘Hans Licht’; Hopfner’s monumental Sexualleben was left a torso by a pupil less pious than pudibund. But nowadays, whatever a Latinist always wanted to know, he has no further need to ask: it is in print, sanitary and systematic. By 1984 the snigger will be an endangered species. J.N. Adams’s Vocabulary is a milestone in the brave new frankness. It is also a sterling scholarly achievement by a distinguished philologist: shrewd, learned, concise and rigorous. It contributes something to the study of poetry. (Catullus mourned his sparrow: avian or anatomical? Catullus’s Lesbia ‘peeled’ her lovers: how, exactly?) It contributes something to literary history: that cheerful faker, the Augustan History of the Roman emperors, is shown to have a penchant for the archaically risqué. Above all, it makes possible the serious study of categories: slangy against folksy, vulgar against obscene, social taboo against literary taste, nonce-formation against archetypal image.

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