A Brief History of Insults (and So’s Your Mother)

Posted by Stephen Petrey on Monday, June 26, 2023

Deb Amlen, writing for the New York Times

Speaking of not taking criticism well, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most hostile “Oh yeah?” insults of the period. The Roman author Catullus’s poem “Carmen 16” was a response to two men, Furius and Aurelius, who were going around telling people that Catullus’s poetry was soft, a euphemism for effeminate. (This was considered an insult in those days.)

Catullus, who had apparently woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, proceeded to let the men know in no uncertain terms that not only had they missed the point of his work, but that he was willing to inflict great bodily harm on them to prove it.

The poem opens with a criminal threat that is so filthy and violent that it can’t be included here. And, humorously enough, his main point — after threatening the two men — was that sometimes softly rendered messages could be more erotic than openly prurient writing.

“Carmen 16” is available online for those who are inclined to search for it.

I am indeed inclined and then some! Translated from the Latin, here’s the hilarious and sexually hostile insult Catullus hurled at Furius and Aurelius:

I will sodomize you and face-fuck you,

bottom Aurelius and catamite Furius,

you who think, because my poems

are sensitive, that I have no shame.

For it’s proper for a devoted poet to be moral

himself, [but] in no way is it necessary for his poems.

In point of fact, these have wit and charm,

if they are sensitive and a little shameless,

and can arouse an itch,

and I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men

who can’t get it up.

Because you’ve read my countless kisses,

you think less of me as a man?

I will sodomize you and face-fuck you.

Dang! Catullus is ready to square up with Furius and Aurelius!

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