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By Elizabeth Lund
Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2001

Propriety necessitates that the following translation of a fragment from an invective Greek poem be censored: "He was like a _______ who _____s a _____, _____ing with such _____ that his _____ is _____ed -"

To fill in the blanks one would have had to attend the lecture "The Poetry of Mockery and Abuse in Ancient Greece" given by Ralph M. Rosen, professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania this past Thursday, Feb. 22. Held in Rolvaag Library 525, the room filled to capacity even before the latecomers trickled in. Professor Rosen himself remarked that even at universities many times larger than St. Olaf College, he had never seen such a crowd.

Rosen's area of interest, unique even by Classics standards, is found in remnants of ancient Greek poems of abuse. So scarce is the material and obscene the language that this area has been neglected and sometimes completely ignored by scholars. But it is the obscenity balanced, or rather contrasted, with the beautiful and unquestionably artful meter of the poems that fascinates Rosen.

The lecture began typically with introductions and a history of the poem fragments. Rosen also read some translations of various fragments that would have turned Snoop Doggy Dog bright red from shame. In fact, Rosen drew a correlation between Snoop's lyrics and these poems from thousands of years before.

Though the poem fragments were shocking, one is not to conclude that the Greeks were a degenerate society. The invective poems occupied a very specific role in their culture and were read publicly, an expression of that important human right, freedom of speech.

How was Rosen attracted to this area of the Classics? Says the professor, "In high school, what really interested me were those little obscene Catullian poems that were left out of the text books." From there he delved deeper into the tradition, and eventually authored the book Old Comedy and the Lambographic Tradition. One freshman remarked after the lecture, "If people really knew what those ancient poets wrote ,we'd probably have organizations like Mothers Against Classical Literature."

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