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Mysterious Pharsalia XI Parody Papyrus Discovered in Ex-Classicist’s Hard Drive

November 8, 2010

Nine years ago or something, I took a Lucan class. Lucan is a terrible writer from the first century AD. His uncle was Seneca, another person of the Stoical persuasion whose writing we could all do without. I guess at some point during the semester I got fed up with the whole business (despite the awesomeness of my professor, whose taste in Roman literature is still one of the first things we argue about whenever we see each other) and wrote this parody. An excerpt was subsequently published in issue III.3 of Summer GRAD News. This afternoon, perusing my poetry folder for something I could conceivably submit to a Canadian literary journal (one word: FAIL!), I came across it and read through it again. I’m still pretty stoked about it, and since it’s unlikely to appear in a future issue of Prairie Fire, I figure it might as well have a place here.

Although the poem was written long before “The Office” began to air, fans of the program may notice Marcia’s uncanny resemblance to Angela Martin…

When the trumpets sounded, the men ran forth into the battle,
Thrusting their swords straight into their relatives’ entrails;
Every father decapitated his first-born son, and brother slew brother:
Heaps upon heaps of mangled reeking corpses were piled in the water,
And fields that had grown green were rendered red by the wrath of the river.
One man, Odius, whose left hand, semi-severed, was dangling
From his helpless wrist, oozing blood and pus, for the wound was already infected,
And whose head had been hacked and haphazardly sewn back on crooked,
And whose wrenched-out right eye like a pendulum swung from its socket
(He had swallowed the left one by accident during a spearfight),
And whose lips had been lopped off and pinned, with quills, onto his backside,
And whose heart had been ripped from his chest and replaced with a pine cone,
Was stoically fighting against the fierce forces of Caesar;
Though shrieking in agony, his were the thoughts of a Stoic:
“Alas, woe, degenerate race of Lavinian Hesperian Romans!
Behold: it is my time to die, and I am completely indifferent.”

Meanwhile, Flatus Insidius Lardo, a friend of Petreius,
Having grabbed his seventy-five-year-old grandfather, sawed him in quarters,
And then he reached into one of the quivering quadrants of torso,
Pulled out the spleen and extracted the lower intestine,
Tied the one to the other, hung them secure on a tree branch,
And played tether-organ all day while his comrades were fighting.
Thus the battle continued, while Stoical Cato the Stoic,
Along with his army, marched quickly to join the Pompeians.
That night, Cato allowed his men to lie down and rest for the first time
In seventeen days, and, to his surprise, he found he was just a bit weary.
But, while his men lay their tired frames upon piles of soft oak leaves,
Cato himself constructed a bed of cement and a pillow of horseshoes,
Upon which he slept, uninclined to acknowledge that he was in any discomfort.

While he floated in oblivion, he saw the most beautiful vision:
Before him appeared his wife, with a crown of dead flowers
Woven into her uncombed hair, looking old and disheveled
In a grey dress and grey sandals, and showing no facial expression:
No undesirable happiness or sadness had altered her Stoical features.
And in a monotone voice she addressed her monotonous husband:
“Cato, since you would not bring me, your unbeloved, with you through the desert
To be bitten by various snakes and be thirsty and sick and exhausted,
Even though Magnus allowed his wife the exalted privilege of seeing his murder—
As if she were in some way a better or worthier partner than I am!—
I chose to take control of my own life and die like a Stoic.
Rather than spend the rest of my old age apart from my master
(Well, I was only thirty-three, but truly, I felt geriatric),
I chose to lock myself into my bedroom and set the grey curtains on fire,
And, within minutes, I was engulfed in a small ecpyrosis.
This vision you see is my spirit; my body has turned to grey ashes,
For I am dead. Cato, say goodbye to your wife.” Having said this,
Marcia was silent, and Cato just nodded and asked her a question:
“Before you died, did you make sure my name would be carved on your tombstone?”
“I did,” she replied. “I arranged that a good week beforehand,
And, I presume, in dying, I have brought my one goal in life to fulfillment.”
Cato said to his wife, in a tone entirely devoid of emotion,
That never in all his life had he been more proud of a woman.
He did not reach out to embrace her, for he had read Homer
And knew that his efforts to hug the dead Marcia would not be successful;
Furthermore, as a heroic Stoic, valiant Cato had no inclination
To engage in gratuitous sexual acts, so he merely waved to her,
Watching with passive interest as her shade dissipated before him.

Then he awoke with a pre-planned shudder, and gazed all around him,
First at his soldiers and then at the sky’s constellations,
White stars burning holes in the delicate fabric of darkness,
Which every day the sun consumes in a new ecpyrosis,
But which, in defiance, re-weaves itself nightly and smothers the sunlight.
Far away, in the direction of the constellation of Rex Constipatus,
Lay the Asinine Mountains, their peaks stretching up to the ether;
On this side, off to the left, and back a bit further,
But not too far back, was the slow-trickling stream of Achrestos,
And, behind that and diagonally off to the right somewhat was the river Eupyge,
Named for the nymph who lived there (she has nothing to do with this story);
On that side, in the corner and off to the east and out in the distance,
Where Notus (or Eurus or Auster) blasts with its windgusts the Plains of Angina,
And Boustrophedon is constantly pelted with hard Jupiterian rainstorms,
Lay the small and irrelevant Lake Aëïöüeion;
In the centre, behind the craggy Asinine range, lived the Porces,
A race of men who had taken sows as their wives and upon them
Begat litters of pigchildren loathsome to look at but famous in battle.
O relentless Description! Are you so cruel that you would continue
To inflict upon the reader so much geographical vagueness
For no apparent reason? O heartless unmerciful harlot!
Could you not at least divide your loquacious outbursts into more than one sentence?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Joaquin Ayala permalink
    November 9, 2010 8:52 pm

    Ahhh, the Stoics. The Rodney Dangerfields of the Classical world: they get no respect.

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road ?

    Epictetus : And what concern is it to you what the chicken does or does not ?
    Crossing the road is in your power, the fact that the chicken crosses the road
    is not.

    Marcus Aurelius: Remember how so many brilliant chickens have crossed the road
    in the past and are now long forgotten.

    Seneca : My dear Lucilius, I understand how much interest you find in the
    question of why the chicken may have crossed the road. Many chickens that we
    know have crossed the road for several reasons, and I will expose them to you.
    In the ancient times, we know that Xerxes’ chickens have crossed the road to try
    to invade Greece; some chickens in Nero’s house have been spotted to cross the
    road in order to fornicate. [… skip ahead 15 pages …] But my own views on the
    topic may differ from that of our school. Be wary not to go too deep into
    theoretical questions, for what time have we left ?

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