Shit poetry (no, seriously)

A sixth-century poem, preserved in the Anthologia Palatina and ascribed to Agathias Scholasticus, celebrates the renovation of Smyrna‘s suburban latrines by Agathias himself in his capacity as father of the city (AP 9.662, transl. W. R. Paton):

C7C43G.jpg

Latrines at Ephesus.

Χῶρος ἐγὼ τὸ πρὶν μὲν ἔην στυγερωπὸς ἰδέσθαι,
πηλοδόμοις τοιχοις ἀμφιμεριζόμενος.
ἐνθάδε δὲ ξείνων τε καὶ ἐνδαπίων καὶ ἀγροίκων
νηδὺς ἐπεγδούπει λύματα χευομένη.
ἀλλὰ πατήρ με πόληος ἐναλλάξας Ἀγαθίας
θῆκεν ἀρίζηλον τὸν πρὶν ἀτιμότατον.

I am a place formerly hideous, divided by brick walls, and here the bellies of strangers, natives, and countrymen thunderously relieved themselves. But Agathias, the father of the city, transformed me and made me distinguished instead of most ignoble.

Transformation was clearly on Agathias’ mind when he reflected on the purpose of the place in another poem – potentially giving generations of modern-day archaeologists ideas of what to look out for in their excavations of latrines and ancient sewage systems (AP 9.642):

Πᾶν τὸ βροτῶν σπατάλημα, καὶ ἡ πολύολβος ἐδωδὴ
ἐνθάδε κρινομένη τὴν πρὶν ὄλεσσε χάριν.
οἱ γὰρ φασιανοί τε καὶ ἰχθύες, αἵ θ᾿ ὑπὲρ ἴγδιν
τρίψιες, ἥ τε τόση βρωματομιξαπάτη
γίνεται ἐνθάδε κόπρος· ἀποσσεύει δ᾿ ἄρα γαστὴρ
ὁππόσα πειναλέη δέξατο λαυκανίη.
ὀψὲ δὲ γινώσκει τις, ὅτ᾿ ἄφρονα μῆτιν ἀείρων
χρυσοῦ τοσσατίου τὴν κόνιν ἐπρίατο.

All the extravagance of mortals and their expensive dishes excreted here have lost their previous charm. The pheasants and fishes, and the mixtures pounded in the mortar, and all that variety of kickshaws, become here dung. The belly rids itself of all that the ravenous gullet took in, and at length a man sees that in the pride of his foolish heart he spent so much gold on nothing but dust.

Similarly, if in a somewhat more, shall we say, constipated style (AP 9.643):

Τί στενάχεις κεφαλὴν κεκακωμένος; ἐς τί δὲ πικρὰ
οἰμώζεις, μελέων πάγχυ βαρυνομένων;
ἐς τί δὲ γαστέρα σεῖο ῥαπίσμασιν ἀμφιπατάσσεις,
ἐκθλίψαι δοκέων μάστακος ἐργασίην;
μόχθων τοσσατίων οὔ σοι χρέος, εἰ παρὰ δαιτὶ

μὴ τοῦ ἀναγκαίου πουλὺ παρεξετάθης.
ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ μὲν στιβάδος φρονέεις μέγα, καὶ στόμα τέρπεις
βρώμασιν, εὐτυχίην κεῖνα λογιζόμενος·
ἐνθάδε δ᾿ ἀσχάλλεις· μούνη δ᾿ ἀλιτήματα λαιμοῦ
ἡ γαστὴρ τίνει πολλάκι τυπτομένη.

Why do you moan with the headache and groan bitterly for the heaviness you feel all over, and keep on smacking your belly, thinking to force out the work of your jaws? You would never have had all this trouble and labour if you had not largely exceeded yourself at table. When you are lying there guzzling you have a high opinion of yourself, and delight your palate with the viands, deeming that happiness. But here you are in distress, and your belly only gets many smacks to pay for the sins of your gullet.

This theme reminds me of a set of inscriptions from Ostia.

But Agathias does not only have words for those who greedily overate. He has some words of relief (sorry, not sorry) for those unable to afford lavish meals as well, thereby implicitly acknowledging the democratic nature of communal latrines (AP 9.644):

Εὖγε μάκαρ τλήθυμε γεωπόνε· σοὶ βίος αἰεὶ
μίμνειν καὶ σκαπάνης ἄλγεα καὶ πενίης·
λιτὰ δέ σοι καὶ δεῖπνα, καὶ ἐν ξυλόχοισι καθεύδεις,
ὕδατος ἐμπλήσας λαιμὸν ἀμετροπότην.
ἔμπης ἀρτίπος ἐσσί, καὶ ἐνθάδε βαιὰ καθεσθεὶς

αὐτίκα γαστέρα σὴν θῆκας ἐλαφροτάτην·
οὐδὲ καταψήχεις ἱερὴν ῥάχιν, οὐδέ τι μηροὺς
τύπτεις, αὐτομάτως φόρτον ἀρωσάμενος.
τλήμονες οἱ πλουτοῦντες ἰδ᾿ οἱ κείνοισι συνόντες
οἷς πλέον ἀρτεμίης εὔαδεν εἰλαπίνη.

Blest are you, long-suffering labourer! You have only to put up, all your life, with the pains of hoeing and poverty. Simple are your meals, and you sleep in the woods, after satisfying your throat’s vast thirst for water. Yet you are perfectly sound, and sitting here for a few moments lighten your belly. You don’t rub down the lower part of your spine, or beat your thighs, but you get rid of the burden naturally. They are in evil case, the rich and those who associate with them, whom feasting pleases more than sound health.

Some might say that these epigrams are just crap.

I would argue that they’re not to be sniffed at.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
This entry was posted in Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Shit poetry (no, seriously)

  1. MQ@Carsulae says:

    Execrable verse

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. gianfranco agosti says:

    Dear Peter,
    that’s wonderful that you discuss some epigrams by Agathias, thank you ! I
    would like just to bring to your attention that there is also an epigram i*n
    latrinio *by Alcuin on the same subject (cp. F. Stella, La poesia
    carolingia, Firenze 1995 [transl by GA])
    all the best
    Gianfranco

    Le ven. 8 févr. 2019 à 09:17, The Petrified Muse a écrit :

    > Peter Kruschwitz posted: “A sixth-century poem, preserved in the
    > Anthologia Palatina and ascribed to Agathias Scholasticus, celebrates the
    > renovation of Smyrna’s suburban latrines by Agathias himself in his
    > capacity as father of the city (AP 9.662, transl. W. R. Paton): Χῶρος ἐγ”
    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful – thank you so much for the reference!

    Like

  4. Carmina Latrina Epigrammatica

    Liked by 1 person

  5. chattykerry says:

    Only you could write an eloquent post with shit in the title!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  7. azjackson says:

    You have to praise Shetland Libraries for keeping up this tradition:

    http://www.shetland-library.gov.uk/Bards.asp

    Liked by 1 person

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