You're a rabbit

vir facie, mulier gestu, sed crure quod ambo,
jurgia naturae nullo discrimine solvens,
es lepus, et tanti conculcas colla leonis.
--Ennodius, c. 500
So, I cannot make sense of this poem. Or, I can make sense of it. It seems totally clear. I feel like I "understand" it. I think about it. I tell people about it, and have done so for the year or so that I've known about it. It stays with me, and makes appearances in my life at the nicest moments. It is a good friend. But I don't really have a context for it, and I don't know how or why it was written.

Also I can't translate it. I can crib it, and I can point out some of what is going on in the poetry, but I can't reforge it in English. Except I'm pretty happy with "You're a rabbit" for "es lepus". So, two words down. (Update: Although technically a lepus is a hare, not a rabbit. I was always told they were the same thing, and certainly Bugs Bunny cartoons agreed, but apparently not.)

Ennodius was a Gallo-Roman bishop around 500 and is mostly remembered for some theological writing and for leaving a bunch of letters that offer historians information on some of the political and religious issues of the time. And he wrote some poems, including some Martial-like epigrams, and I suppose this poem is one of them. I found it in Thomas Stehling's Medieval Poems of Male Love and Friendship, though you could argue that this poem maybe doesn't strictly fit that title. Stehling also published a translation, but it was really a crib.

(There's a nice comment on that Amazon page, by the way.)

Here's my stab at a crib:
A man in your appearance, a woman in your gestures, but in between your thighs, a bit of both, / resolving nature's quarrel by ignoring any distinction, / you're a rabbit, and you trample the throat of such a big lion.
One doesn't expect sixth century bishops to write epigrams praising the ability of hermaphrodites to destroy gender binaries and overpower nature itself! And I might be too stuck in my twenty-first century mind, but poem seems entirely positive about it! This is what I don't understand.

Anyway, I'm going to think about this for a few more years while I'm in grad school. I should go look up a few more of his epigrams. Or more references to rabbits vs. lions in late antiquity/early medieval times. Hey, let me get back to you.



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