Ovid’s Priapus (Notes on Fasti 1.391-441)


These are some notes I made for a class I taught over two decades ago at Boston College on Ovid’s Fasti, his epic poem on the Roman calendar,  At that time, there wasn’t a good commentary on Book 1, although Brill has now brought out one by Steven J. Green. Anyway, I thought I’d put this up in case anybody’s looking for some basic grammatical help.

FASTI NOTES: Book 1, lines 391-441

Following his discussion of the Agonalia, Ovid describes other animal sacrifices.  These lines are strongly remniscent of Lucretius’ condemnation of animal sacrifice, but, while Lucretius was writing a poetic philosophical tract, Ovid is the self-proclaimed poet of Caesaris aras.

Immediately preceding the Priapus and Lotis episode is a description of the weird ritual called the Bugonia, in which cows are killed and their carcasses left out to rot so that bees might be produced.  Vergil describes this in great detail in Book 4 of the Georgics.

391. rigido:  Priapus is an ithyphallic god, like the herms in ancient Greece or the Egyptian god Men.  His image would be placed in gardensand fields to encourage fertility as well as to scare off birds.  To heighten the impression, such images were usually painted red, hence Priapus is called ruber, “the Crimson One” as at line 400.

393. corymbiferi:  “carrying clusters of berries” agrees with Bacchi.

394. bruma: “winter.”  This festival was celebrated biennially.  So why does he write tertia bruma?

395. venere: syncopated form of venerunt.

Lyaei:  genitive sg., a cult title of Dionysus, “He who looses, the Relaxer.”

396. quicumque iocis non alienus:  “whosoever is not a stranger to jokes”

397. prona:  modifies iuventus. Pronus in, “inclined toward”  is idiomatic.

398. quaeque= et quae … deae

399. pando: “hollow.”  Silenus is fat, so he’s left quite a groove in his steed’s back.

400. inguine, from inguen, -inis, n. (!), groin.  “Inguinal” is an English word derived from it.

401 . nacti, perfect participle from nanciscor, “stumble upon, reach, find.”  [Translate nacti as having stumbled upon, actively since it’s a deponent]

402. gramine vestitis (from vestio), “covered with grass”

accubuere: syncopated

403.  coronam, “garland.”  Party-goers in antiquity would bring their own garlands to wear, usually a variety of them, for use in different parts of the evening.  Different flowers had different powers:  early in the evening, some garlands might be worn to enhance the power of alcohol.  Later in the evening, other garlands more effective against crapulence might be worn.  Book 17 of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae (“The Philosopher’s Dinner Party”) is entirely devoted to the topic.

405.  effusis: goes with comis at the end of the next line, “with hair flowing.”  Comis also goes with positis in  406.

pectini, from pecten, inis, m. comb.  sine usu pectinis should be construed with effusis, but admittedly it’s tough getting it into good English.  Frazer just has, “with flowing locks uncombed.”

407. suras: from sura, -ae, f. calf of the leg

collecta: nominative fem. sg. modifying illa, from colligo, “to bind up.”  This is a sort of middle voice construction:  “she, having gotten her tunic gathered up …”  We want collecta to be passive and tunicam to be the object too, so it’s tricky.

408.  dissuto: from dissuo, -ere. “unstitch, rip open.”  Here agreeing with sinu, so perhaps “from her bosom ripped open,” meaning her garment, not some image from Alien.

exserit, “thrust out.”

410. vincula means “chains” but perhaps here refers to “straps (of shoes)”

412. tibi = Priapo.  He is the god whose temples (tempora) are bound with pine.

416. Lotide. abl. sg. of Lotis, the nymph who has caught Priapus’ fancy.

417.  suspirat in: “pants for”

418.  A lovely line.  Note the balanaced repetition of syllables in either half of the couplet.  notis:  I’m not sure what these would be, but not notes as in those you might pass in school.

419. fastus, -us, m. contempt, scorn, whence English “fastidious.”  Interesting choice of word here in the Fasti.  Note earlier use of tempora (line 412).

420. irrisum, from irrideo, -ere, -risi, -risum, “laugh at.”

suo … voltu:  apparently she give him a withering look.  Is the repetition of voltu and nutu here meant to be remniscent of the invocation to Germanicus?

421. vino somnum faciente: ablative absolute (with a present active participle)

iacebant:  “were lying about,” the subject of which are the corpora in the next line.

423. Scan this line to get the cases right.

acernis: “maple” with ramis.

424. humo:  from humus, -i, f. ground (NB it’s feminine)

425.  Priapus is holding his breath.

vestigia, modified by tactiturna.

426. gradu, modified by suspenso.

digitis, “on tip-toes”

427. tetigit, from tango, -ere, “touch”  here “came upon”

cubilia: “sleeping places”  but translate singularly

428. Punctuate by putting a comma after aura. cavet is the main verb, “he was careful, lest …”

429. librabat, from libro, -are, “to weigh” here probably better, “he balanced”

finitima corpus: finitima modifies herba, but has corpus (“her body”) as object

431. tracto velamine: abl. abs.;  velamen, -inis, m. covering, blanket

vota ad sua, “to what he’d prayed for”

432: felici modifies via.

433. rudens, from rudo, -ere, “to bray”

435. nymphe = nympha (the first is a Greek nominative form)

436. reicit, from reicio. “push away”

437. nimium quoque … paratus, “entirely too well-prepared,”  and so he remains.

438. ad = in

439. dedit poenas, from do poenas, “pay the penalty.”

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Classics, Italy, Mythology, Poetry, Rome, Trees & Flowers, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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