Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo: what was Catullus on about?
Lucky Catullus (in Alma-Tadema's version, centre, above). He has had more publicity in the last 24 hours than in the last 24 years. Whole cohorts of journalists who have never read a word of the first century BC poet have been puzzling (with the help of wiki usually) about what the words 'pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo" really mean?
Because these were the word written by Mark Lowe in an email to a young woman who had asked him the meaning of "diligite inimicos vestros".
What it means is quite simple (though a number of family newspapers have refrained from printing a translation without a good few dashes and asterisks): "I will ram my cock up your ass and down your throat."
Mark Lowe's defence is that Catullus was being witty. A few journalists have half-sided with him -- suggesting that this was meant as a lusty to retort to the Latin she wanted him to translate. The passage, which is from St Matthew, says 'love your enemies'. No says Catullus, bugger them.
If anyone had actually read (and thought about) the complete poem -- for the offending phrase is the first and last line of Catullus Poem 16 -- they would have seen a better joke and a better defence.
For it's a poem about an old conundrum: can you deduce a person's character or behaviour from what they write? Catullus addresses Furius and Aurelius (the "queer" and the "faggot") who have suggested that because he writes poems about kisses he might be a little on the effeminate side.
Not a bit of it, says our poet. You can't tell a man from his verses. And 'pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo' for saying you can. But the joke is (or rather one of the jokes in this complicated little poem) -- if you cant infer from his kiss-y verses that he is effeminate, then neither can you infer from his poetic threats of violent penetration that he is capable of that either.
That would have been a much better defence for Mr Lowe.
First rule for undergraduates: always check where the quote actually comes from!
For more on Catullus 16, try this by Dan Selden.