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The Priapus Poems: Erotic Epigrams from Ancient Rome [Hardcover]

Richard W. Hooper

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Book Description

April 1999
Unmistakable by virtue of his exaggerated phallus, Priapus - one of Rome's minor fertility gods - inspired a host of epigrammatic poems that offer one of the best primary sources for the study of ancient sexuality. Despite their apparent frivolity, the Priapus poems raise basic questions of class and gender, censorship, and the nature of obscenity. The god's self-conscious indecency placed him squarely in the realm of comedy, but his role as guardian of fertility also gave him a deep religious significance. Richard Hooper's introduction explores this important duality and places the poems in their historical context. Essentially graffiti clothed in the refined forms of classical poetry, "The Priapus Poems" offers the reader "a trip to Coney Island in a Rolls Royce." Hooper's lively translation makes these playful poems available for the first time to the nonspecialist in an appealing, elegant, and readable version. This edition includes the original Latin texts as well as a commentary on classical references and textual problems.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 147 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press (April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252024435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252024436
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 345 g

Product Description


"Why bother with smut, even if it's ancient? For one thing, much of the Priapea is quite funny even if not fodder for the family hour; for another, as Hooper takes pains to point out, these rude verses uncover Roman sexuality and sexual mores in skewed but revealing ways." - Jennifer Howard, The Washington Post "Affords the reader a rich introduction to Priapus' fortunes and a valuable commentary on every poem. By turns gross and funny, these poems, which have exerted a huge influence on Western literature, are certain to delight many readers and offend others." - Virginia Quarterly Review "The sexual customs of the ancient Romans - like their empire - astonish, impress, and sometimes disturb the sexually pseudo emancipated US observer. Hooper has not softened the variegated obscenities (oral, anal, and genital), the grotesque invective (against women, thieves, and homosexuals), or ludicrous vaunts (power and size)." - Choice "A fascinating account of historical significance... A humorous and erotic collection of poetry for those interested in ancient poems rooted in Greek and Roman Mythology. It also provides profound insight into the cultures of those times, without which, most of the poems would on their own, seem obscene. But taken in the context of the times, the humor, or bite, shines through." - R. C. Travis, Poetic VoicesADVANCE PRAISE "A fine piece of work. The introduction is sensible, scholarly without being off-putting. And the translations are graceful, burly, and plausible."-David R.Slavitt, translator of The Oresteia of Aeschylus "An absolutely brilliant translation."-Judith Hallett, coeditor of Roman Sexualities "Witty, accessible, and enjoyable. Hooper's translation is excellent."- Catharine Edwards, author of The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome

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Dear reader, though my uncombed verse be queer, unfurl at once that supercilious sneer. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stiff Dose of Roman Comic Poetry Nov. 9 2006
By J. Pfundstein - Published on Amazon.com
Hooper's slim volume contains the original Latin text of the Priapaea, a fresh translation of it and brief commentary on the translation, along with some Priapic poems from other sources.

The Latin text is clean and readable but doesn't (in Hooper's words) "pretend to be based on a fresh study of the manuscripts." The introduction gives a concise but useful discussion of sexual mores in Greece and Rome, and the kind of meaning the Priapus figure had for the original audience of these poems. The commentary gives some depth and scholarly context to the translation, and there is a useful bibliography.

The real glory of this book, though, is in the translation: witty, deft and accurate. One could quibble here or there, but that would be to miss the blunt weighty point. These translations brilliantly recreate their originals in English which is clear, frank, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

A caveat, if any is necessary: this book is not about the glory that was Greece or the grandeur that was Rome, nor is it (in spite of the subtitle) particularly erotic. It's a collection of phallic jokes; any reader likely to be offended should pass this book by. But for anyone interested in sexuality in the ancient world, or the overlapping topics of humor and sexual aggression, this book is a very useful resource.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Dec 21 2010
By Brian Smith - Published on Amazon.com
The poems were probably written anonymously by a number of famous Roman poets such as Catullus. As such they not only give insight into the pseudo-religious world of lesser deities but also show Roman humor at its most sordid. If you're easily offended by sexual writing don't bother with this book; if not then you'll find the epigrams entertaining and the additional information insightful.

As this book seems to be out of print a good alternative is Envocation to Priapus.

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