Catullus 16

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Catullus 16 or Carmen 16 is a poem by Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84 BC – c. 54 BC). The poem, written in a hendecasyllabic (11-syllable) meter, was considered to be so sexually explicit following its rediscovery in the following centuries that a full English translation was not published until the 20th century.[1] The first line, Pēdīcābo ego vōs et irrumābō ("I will sodomize and face-fuck you"), sometimes used as a title, has been called "one of the filthiest expressions ever written in Latin—or in any other language".[2]

Carmen 16 is significant in literary history as an artistic work censored for its obscenity, but also because the poem raises questions about the proper relation of the poet, or his life, to the work.[3] Subsequent Latin poets referenced the poem not for its invective, but as a work exemplary of freedom of speech and obscene subject matter that challenged the culturally prevalent decorum or moral orthodoxy of the period. Ovid,[4] Pliny the Younger,[5] Martial,[6] and Apuleius[7] all invoked the authority of Catullus in asserting that while the poet himself should be a respectable person, his poetry should not be constrained.[8]

Censored editions[edit]

Several editions of Catullus' works omit the more explicit parts of the poem. A noteworthy example is the 1924 Loeb edition: this omits lines 1 and 2 from the English translation, but includes them in the Latin; lines 7–14 are omitted from both Latin and English; a later Loeb edition[9] gives the complete text in both languages. Other editions have been published with the explicit words blanked out.[10]

NPR bleep censored the first line of Catullus 16, both in Latin and English translation in the radiophonic exchange between Guy Raz and Mary Beard in 2009.[11] C. H. Sisson writes "the obscenity of Catullus has long been a stumbling block". He follows Loeb, omitting poem lines as non-sequitur:

because it seems to me that the poem is better without them (the last eight lines). In the shorter version, Catullus is making a point (as always): the additional lines are probably spurious. It is unlike Catullus to exalt the pornographic quality of what he wrote; his mind was too much on his subject.[8]

Thomas Nelson Winter notes: "In the sense that this is the normal language of those to whom he directs the poem, it is not obscene. Obscenity, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder".[8]

Social and literary context[edit]

Catullus (left-center) by Alma-Tadema

The poem raises questions about the proper relation of the poet, or his life, to the work.[3][12] Catullus addresses the poem to two men, Furius and Aurelius. Furius refers to Marcus Furius Bibaculus, a first-century BC poet who had an affair with Juventius, for whom Catullus' had an unrequited passion. Aurelius refers to Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus, a first-century BC consul, or senator, during the Julio-Claudian dynasty.[13][14][15]

Those two men either together or singly also appear in so called Catullus' Furius and Aurelius "cycle", in poems 11, 15, 21, 23, 24 and 26. The cycle considers sexual themes and with the exception of Catullus 11 uses an abusive language toward the two.[16] The two are described elsewhere as fellow members of Catullus' cohort of friends: comites Catulli.[12] According to Catullus 16, Furius and Aurelius find Catullus's verses to be molliculi ("tender" or "delicate"), implicating that the author is an effeminate poet.[16] According to T. P. Wiseman, Catullus speaks about himself in feminine terms even in his love poetry. Catullus's gentle attitude left him vulnerable in the cynical and cruel environment of Roman high society.[17] The criticism of Furius and Aurelius was directed at Catullus 5, apparently from "many thousands of kisses" at line 13. Kenneth Quinn observes:

16.12 comes closest to the words of Poem 5, especially at 5.10. Comparing these two lines makes it extremely tempting to ascribe the reference to Poem 5 and to Poem 5 alone, especially since this assumption explains neatly the accusation, defense, and counter-accusation of Poem 16.[8]

Catullus maligns the two and threatens them with rape.[12] According to T. P. Wiseman, Catullus used the obscenity to get his message that "soft" poetry could be more arousing than explicit description to "sensibilities so much cruder than his own".[17] According to Thomas Nelson Winter, Catullus could still claim that he has a pure life (79.16), despite the self evidence of pederasty (poems 14, 109) and his love of a married woman (poem 83 mentions Lesbia's husband).

Apparently Catullus and his contemporaries believed a man could do almost anything sexually and remain respectable, so long as he stayed within the masculine role. Thus Catullus' insistence on his own propriety and on his potent manhood is all one. Catullus is a proper man.[8]

Craig Arthur Williams says Catullus 16 demonstrates that in Roman ideology of masculine vir, a man is not compromised by his penetration of other males, in fact his manhood status is bolstered.[18] Mary Beard finds the poem's message to be ironic:[3]

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 can't infer from his kiss-y verses that [Catullus] is effeminate, then neither can you infer from his poetic threats of violent penetration that he is capable of that either.

Latin text and translation[edit]

Latin reading of Catullus 16
External audio
audio icon Catullus 16 (English), read by Louis Zukofsky, PennSound
Line Latin text English translation[19][20][21][22]
1 Pēdīcābō ego vōs et irrumābō, I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,
2 Aurēlī pathice et cinaede Fūrī, bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius,
3 quī mē ex versiculīs meīs putāstis, you who think, because my poems
4 quod sunt molliculī, parum pudīcum. are sensitive, that I have no shame.
5 Nam castum esse decet pium poētam For it's proper for a devoted poet to be moral
6 ipsum, versiculōs nihil necesse est; himself, [but] in no way is it necessary for his poems.
7 quī tum dēnique habent salem ac lepōrem, In point of fact, these have wit and charm,
8 sī sint molliculī ac parum pudīcī if they are sensitive and a little shameless,
9 et quod prūriat incitāre possunt, and can arouse an itch,
10 nōn dīcō puerīs, sed hīs pilōsīs and I don't mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
11 quī dūrōs nequeunt movēre lumbōs. who can't get it up.[23]
12 Vōs, quod mīlia multa bāsiōrum Because you've read my countless kisses,[24]
13 lēgistis male mē marem putātis? you think less of me as a man?
14 Pēdīcābō ego vōs et irrumābō. I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.

Micaela Wakil Janan offers the following modern English prose translation of the poem:

Fuck you, boys, up the butt and in the mouth, you queer Aurelius and you fag Furius! You size me up, on the basis of my poems, because they're a little sexy, as not really decent. A poet has to live clean – but not his poems. They only have spice and charm, if somewhat sexy and really not for children – if, in fact, they cause body talk (I'm not talking in teenagers, but in hairy old men who can barely move their stiff bums). But you, because you happen to read about "many thousands of kisses," you think I'm not a man? Fuck you, boys, up the butt and in the mouth![25]

Sexual terminology[edit]

Latin is an exact language for obscene acts, such as pedicabo and irrumabo, which appear in the first and last lines of the poem. The term pedicare is a transitive verb, meaning to "insert one's penis into another person's anus".[26] The term pathicus in line 2 refers to the "bottom" person in that act, i.e., the one being penetrated.[27] The term irrumare is likewise a transitive verb, meaning to "insert one's penis into another person's mouth for suckling",[28] and derives from the Latin word rūma, meaning "udder" (as in: "to give something to suck on"). A male who suckles a penis is denoted as a fellator or, equivalently, a pathicus (line 2).[29] Catullus neither confirms nor denies the claim of Aurelius and Furius that he is "not a man", since, while the terms "irrumare" and "pedicare" have the literal meanings of sexual acts (that is, to receive fellatio and to bugger), they could also be employed as simple vulgarities meaning as little as "go to hell".[25]


Paul Allen Miller, Professor of Comparative Literature and Classics at the University of South Carolina, suggests Catullus 16 contains information regarding:

  1. the historical mutability of socially accepted behavior
  2. the constructed nature of sexual identity
  3. the nature and function of gender
  4. the omnipresence and play of both power and resistance
  5. the admonitory and optative function of poetic art[30]

Musical settings[edit]

The poem is included as the sixteenth movement of Michael Linton's seventeen movement "Carmina Catulli", a song-cycle for bass-baritone and piano.[31][verification needed]


  1. ^ "Catullus Purified: A Brief History of Carmen 16". Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  2. ^ Harry Mount, "Mark Lowe is right: The Romans said it better," Telegraph 25 Nov 2009, online. Archived 14 April 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c Mary Beard (25 November 2009). "Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo: what was Catullus on about?". The Times Literary Supplement. Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  4. ^ Ovid, Tristia 2.353–354.
  5. ^ Pliny the Younger, Epistulæ 4.14.
  6. ^ Martial, Epigrams 1.36.10–11.
  7. ^ Apuleius, Apologia 11.3.
  8. ^ a b c d e Winter, Thomas Nelson (1973). "Catullus Purified: A Brief History of Carmen 16". Arethusa. 6: 257–265. Archived from the original on 14 March 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2006.
  9. ^ "Publisher references censorship for consideration of decency in former edition". Archived from the original on 10 October 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  10. ^ The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus by Gaius Valerius Catullus, published in 1894. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016 – via Project Gutenberg.
  11. ^ Ted Scheinman (14 December 2009). "NPR on Naughty Catullus Poem: Alea Redacta Est". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
  12. ^ a b c Ralph J. Hexter; Daniel L. Selden (10 November 1992). Innovations of Antiquity (PDF). Routledge. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-415-90129-1. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  13. ^ Arnold, Bruce; Aronson, Andrew; Lawall, Gilbert, Teri. (2000). Love and Betrayal: A Catullus Reader. Edited to clarify Furius and Aurelius 11-29-2009 by Teri.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  14. ^ "list of poems that Furius is in". Archived from the original on 1 September 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  15. ^ "list of poems that Aurelius is in". Archived from the original on 16 July 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  16. ^ a b Phyllis Young Forsyth; Classical Association of the Atlantic States (1986). The Poems of Catullus: A Teaching Text. University Press of America. pp. 144, 162. ISBN 978-0-8191-5151-3.
  17. ^ a b T. P. Wiseman (26 September 1986). Catullus and his World: A Reappraisal. Cambridge University Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-521-31968-3. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  18. ^ Craig Arthur Williams (1 February 2010). Roman Homosexuality. Oxford University Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-19-538874-9. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  19. ^ "Dictionary". Archived from the original on 18 June 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  20. ^ "Translation #1". Archived from the original on 17 July 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  21. ^ "Translation #2". Archived from the original on 13 August 2006. Retrieved 18 August 2006.
  22. ^ John C. Traupman (1994). The New College Latin & English Dictionary. Bantam Books. ISBN 9780553573015.
  23. ^ Literally, "who can't get their inflexible loins to move." Although lumbus, singular, can sometimes be a euphemism for the penis, in the classical Latin of Catullus, the plural form "in sexual contexts … for the most part occurs in descriptions of the movements of seduction or copulation," notes J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 48, citing multiple examples, including this line, "where it should be taken in its original sense," that is, the loins. Durus, "hard," is thus a reference to the physical inflexibility of the aging body, not to the rigidity of the penis. Some English translators, however, find the predicament best expressed by the older male's difficulty in achieving an erection.
  24. ^ Literally, "many thousands of kisses," usually taken as a reference to Carmina 5, Vivamus mea Lesbia atque amemus, and 7, Quaeris quot mihi basiationes.
  25. ^ a b Micaela Wakil Janan (1994). When the Lamp Is Shattered: Desire and Narrative in Catullus. SIU Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-8093-1765-3. Archived from the original on 12 January 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  26. ^ Forberg 1824, pp. 80–189
  27. ^ Forberg 1824, p. 80
  28. ^ Forberg 1824, pp. 190–261
  29. ^ Forberg 1824, pp. 190–191
  30. ^ Ronnie Ancona (2007). A Concise Guide to Teaching Latin Literature. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8061-3797-1. Archived from the original on 24 December 2016. Retrieved 27 September 2016.
  31. ^ Bury, Laurent (2013) "Carmina Catulli; Praise, Lesbie, Diane et caetera" (forumopera, 11 September 2014)


  • Forberg, Friedrich Karl (1824). De figuris Veneris (translated into English as Manual of Classical Erotology by Viscount Julian Smithson, MA and printed privately in 1884 in Manchester, England. Reprinted in 1966 ed.). New York: Grove Press. LCCN 66024913.
  • MacLeod CM (November 1973). "Parody and Personalities in Catullus". The Classical Quarterly. New Series. 23 (2): 294–303. doi:10.1017/S000983880003679X. JSTOR 638185. S2CID 170297767.
  • Richlin A (1981). "The Meaning of Irrumare in Catullus and Martial". Classical Philology. 76 (1): 40–46. doi:10.1086/366597. JSTOR 269544. S2CID 162094918.
  • Adams, JN (1990). The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-4106-4.
  • Hallett JP, Skinner MB (1997). Roman Sexualities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-01178-3.
  • Selden, D. L. (2007), "Ceveat lector: Catullus and the Rhetoric of Performance" in Catullus (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies), ed. J. Gaisser. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 490-559. ISBN 0199280355

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