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Lay of Ancient Rome -- Thomas Ybarra

I wish I had found this poem a week ago...
(Poem #499) Lay of Ancient Rome
 Oh, the Roman was a rogue,
   He erat was, you bettum;
 He ran his automobilis
   And smoked his cigarettum;
 He wore a diamond studibus
   And elegant cravattum,
 A maxima cum laude shirt,
   And a stylish hattum!

 He loved the luscious hic-haec-hoc,
   And bet on games and equi;
 At times he won, at others, though,
   He got it in the necqui;
 He winked (quo usque tandem?)
   At puellas on the Forum,
 And sometimes even made
   Those goo-goo oculorum!

 He frequently was seen
   At combats gladiatorial,
 And ate enough to feed
   Ten boarders at Memorial;
 He often went on sprees
   And said, on starting homus,
 "Hic labor --- opus est,
   Oh, where's my hic--hic--domus?"

 Although he lived in Rome --
   Of all the arts the middle --
 He was (excuse the phrase)
   A horrid individ'l;
 Ah! what a diff'rent thing
   Was the homo (dative, hominy)
 Of far-away B.C.
   From us of Anno Domini.
-- Thomas Ybarra
"Quiquid latine dictum sit altum viditur" - whatever is said in Latin sounds
profound <grin>. Well, not always, as today's poem makes clear. A neat little
follow-up to Martin's theme of last week: patchy in parts, but very entertaining
in sum.



Bettum, automobilis, cigarettum, studibus, cravattum, hattum, necqui, homus -
are all pseudo-Latin, as is the word 'pseudo-Latin' itself. (self-reference,

"erat" - a pun on 'a rat'.

"maxima cum laude" - with the maximum distinction (compare 'magna cum laude',
with great distinction, and 'summa cum laude', with the highest distinction).
Used usually in the context of graduation. Note the pun on 'laundered'.

"hic-haec-hoc" - a reminiscence of grammar exercises while studying Latin cases,
but also a clever pun on (drunken) hiccoughs and hock (slang for cheap liquor).

"equi" - horses.

"domus" - unlike 'homus' above, 'domus' actually does mean 'home'.

"puellas" - wenches.

"forum" - 'the marketplace or public place of an ancient Roman city forming the
center of judicial and public business' [Merriam-Webster]. The modern meaning
derives from this.

"oculorum" - eye

"quo usque tandem?" - the opening phrase from Cicero's first oration to
Catiline. The full sentence is, "Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia
nostra?" - "How long, oh Catiline, will you abuse our patience?". The entirety
is a masterpiece of rhetoric - not for nothing is Cicero considered the greatest
orator of all time. O tempora, o mores!

"Hic labor --- opus est" - a take on Virgil, the Aeneid, book VI, where the
Sybil tells Aeneas:

        "Facilis descensus Averno;
        noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
        sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
        hoc opus, hic labor est.

In Robert Fitzgerald's beautiful translation,

        "The way downward is easy from Avernus.
        Black Dis's door stands open night and day.
        But to retrace your steps to heaven's air,
        There is the trouble, there is the toil."

Avernus is 'the burning lake', and Dis is another name for Pluto, God of the
Underworld. The phrase also appears in Ovid.

"homo" - short for Homo sapiens - Man, the Wise (!).

"(dative, hominy)" - Latin words change their form based on their case;
schoolchildren studying Latin therefore have to memorize various inflections and
declensions, such as dative, possessive, ablative and so on... needless to say,
'hominy' has nothing to do with 'homo'; instead, it means "kernels of corn that
have been soaked in a caustic solution (as of lye) and then washed to remove the
hulls" [Merriam-Webster], as in 'hominy grits'.

"Anno Domini" - literally, the Year of Our Lord; colloquially used to refer to
'modern times'.


Thomas Ybarra's only other claim to fame (insofar as Google is concerned) is
that he was the originator of the following aphorism: "A Christian is a man who
feels repentance on Sunday for what he did on Saturday and is going to do on

[Administrivia and Gloatitude]

You may have noticed that advertisements have started to pop up at the beginning
of each Minstrels email. This is not our doing; it's just that the
powers-that-be at eGroups decided it would be a nice change. Needlees to say, we
disagree, and are looking into ways of getting rid of the 'service'. With any
luck the issue will be resolved in a day or two.

On a happier note, you may also have noticed that today is our 500th poem - yup,
five hundred. That's quite a milestone, wouldn't you say? The good thing is,
it's still every bit as much fun sending out Minstrels emails today as it was a
year and a half ago, and we have no plans to stop any time in the near future.
Besides, there are still so many wonderful poems that we have yet to cover...
watch this space!

19 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

sandi_ordinario said...

Can someone publish a bio on Ybarra? My elders
sang paeans to Ogden Nash while they transformed
nicotine to ash. I will do the same to Thomas Ybarra
while I gulp in caffeine without cremora.


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nice poem is a very good one I'm so pleased.

rxmex said...

how many words has been inspired in the ancient Rome, how many stories has moved the human heart when we hear the name of Rome, how much glory carries in all those centuries after the rise and fall of maybe the most important empire in the planet.

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