New Latin Literary Discovery


First there was this – and now this came over the wire by International Press (IP):

Classics professor discovers lost works of Roman poet

A purposeful look at some naughty pictures accidentally leads to the discovery of some even naughtier poems.

By Mitch L. Joseph/The Kensington Klarion Kall

FRASCATI, Italy (April 1, 2011) – Any school child knows the Latin poets – Catullus of course, verily Virgil and Horace, too, if only hither and thither.

These conjugating cantors are preparing to welcome another declining fellow to their ranks thanks to a recent disovery in a book shop in Frascati, Italy.

This southeastern Italian town is already well-known for its dry white wines and as the staging area for great historical feats of combat by both the ancient Romans – who maintained a fortress on the mountain overlooking the town – and the Nazis whose howitzers mercilessly shelled Rome from the town’s ramparts during World War II.

But thanks to an exciting new find by a classics professor grazing the stalls and bins of a book shop on the outskirts of this already fairly historical town, the world will soon know Frascati for holding and now giving up the lost works of Roman poet Crispinius Brevis Bardus Mucro – or Mucro for short.

Secret Life

According to Richard Hippolytus Thrax-Levi, who holds the Halfsheet-Crammette Chair in Roman and Greek Classical Studies at the University of Lexumbria, Switzerland,the scrolls – numbering some 25 in all – are the poems of Bardus Mucro, a Roman poet whose dates overlapped those of Jesus Christ, living from 26 BC to AD 12. His only other extant work is a little-known dialogue about overpopulation called The Phlaton,” Thrax-Levi said.

“Even at that time, believe it or not, the world was concerned about having too many children,” he said.

Thrax-Levi said that thanks to the find Mucro’s name will likely become every bit as much a household name as his until-now more famous contemporaries and near-contemporaries Catullus, Horace, Juvenal and Virgil.

“He has the same sort of aggressive prosody of Horace, the epic vision of Virgil and the saltiness of Catullus – and yet he transcends them all with his own unimpeachable and rather original style,” he told The Kensington Kall in a phone interview from Italy.  “Not to mention the same affinity for satire as the juiciest jujubes that Juvenal could dish out.”

“Not much is really known about Mucro,” Thrax-Levi said. “The only mention made of him is in a very tangled anagram found in the Seventh Book of The Aeneid of Virgil. There’s also some suspicion that a few of the anonymous verses found in Aulus Gellius’ Noctes Atticae [“Attic Nights”] could be attributable to Mucro.”

Apparently Mucro lived most of his life in and around Rome, Thrax-Levi said – one fact among many he hopes to confirm once the manuscripts are fully examined.

“What classics scholars know about him you could put in a phylactery and it would rattle,” he added.

Scrolls among the scrolls

That Mucro wrote poetry at all was only confirmed, Thrax-Levi said, because archeologists discovered fragments of his verses during excavations of ancient Roman latrines at the foot of the Janiculum.

“The most popular theory has it that the latrines were attached to the hibernia – that is, winter quarters – for certain frivolous frolickers and circus performers who would have accompanied Caesar when he was out conquering this, that or another chap’s country,” Thrax-Levi said.

While none of the Mucro latrine-fragments were large enough to translate, Thrax-Levi said that he believes once he cross references them with the Mucro Frascati-scrolls (F-Scrolls), he will have answered definitively this “particularly sticky wicket” of classical scholarship.

Thrax-Levi claimed that the find also establishes once and for all that the Romans rolled their toliet linens – a soft and absorbent hygenic cloth which served as a precursor to today’s toliet paper – from the top down for easier dispensation from the rolls.

“The theory goes that Mucro’s scrolls, a popular favorite in the Latrines for their short but scatological references,” he said, “emulated in the way they were rolled up the technique whereby the average Roman would roll his hygenic cleansing towels on the spindle beside the commode.”

Booked Up

Thrax-Levi said, Roberto’s Vespa Repair and Bookshop, the Frascati book shop where he made his find had been a favorite haunt of his on previous vacations to the wine country south of Rome. On his most recent visit, he began fingering the spines of various tomes when he stopped to look at some classic fine art prints.

“Actually, they were pictures of Sophia Loren posing in the various attitudes of Petronius’ more famous scenes of, well, shall we say, raw comedy,” he explained.  “I furtively slipped the tome from the shelf, and after briefly – all too, too briefly – browsing through the volume of Ms. Loren portraiture I made as if to return the said monograph back to its place on the shelf when lo! what should I see but a very worn, very tattered and very intriguing packet bound in leather thongs peeking out from the back of the shelf.”

According to Thrax-Levi, he removed the packet – which was half-wedged into the shop’s crumbling brick wall– and opened the contents. What he found, he said, will chang the course of Western Literature forever – once he delivers an official paper on his find and finds a suitable publisher for the attendant translation which will no doubt go into several reprints and editions and lead to lucrative contracts with other publishing ventures.

“It was clearly an old leather pocketbook of some sort – the kind that a courier would carry with him between forum and temple,” the professor said. “I was careful to open it, though, when what should be its contents but a series of very small, pencil thin scrolls tucked like cigarettes into their carton.”

In fact, Thrax-Levi announced today in a press conference held at the same book shop where he made the discovery that he is currently preparing a translation of Mucro’s scrolls to be released in England through Aimless House Books (Slodgepole, Surrey, Salisbury, Stalefuss, Singleton) and in the United States through Korrektiv Press (Seattle, Snohomish, Spokane, San Diego, Soldiers Grove).

Among the most surprising discoveries of the text, Thrax-Levi said, the verses are even more prurient and salacious than he’d suspected.

“There’s a good bit of the blue to them, that’s for sure,” he said. “But what’s most captivating is that the poems seem to follow a single narrative thread. That’s practically unheard of among the Roman lyric poets. The narrative, if there is one, is usually superficial – say the downplayed drama of Horace’s country house or Catullus’ mad yet episodic love for Lesbos/Julia.”

Hailed news

Already the critics are responding to the news in kind – with a mix of enthusiastic ribaldry and sophisticated crudity.

“This translation will be the most exciting literary event,” said Figueroa “Figs” Pompaso, books editor of the Paris (Texas) Review, “since Jim Morrison wrote about his latest hard-on.”

Looking forward to the publication of the texts with the translation, Pompaso said that it will make a nice book end for the travelogue Thrax-Levi wrote on his previous visits to Frascati.

“What a fitting way to complete his ingenious diary of intellectual and sensual discovery,” Pompaso said. “It’s really something to see a classics guy who’s also so with it when it comes to the pleasures of life.”

The series of essays by Thrax-Levi on the Frascati region were published in installments in the Paris (Texas) Review and Pompaso hopes to find an agent to publish them as an appendix to the Mucro translations.

A stylus with style

Noting that his peers are absorbing the ramifications of the F-scrolls, Thrax-Levi is pleased to see that, in his words, “Academia, too, is waking up to what among the fustian and palaver of us eggheads amounts to ‘bated breath.’”

“It really is quite exciting,” agreed Penelope Saxonlocke, professor of Antiquities at the University of Leedenfall, England. “Quite, quite, quite, quite – quite exciting.”

A student of Thrax-Levi and a contributing editor to the Winterwassen Review, Kuntzerstein, Germany, Saxonlocke said that she’s not surprised that her old mentor would eventually discover Mucro’s work.

“It’s been a dream of his,” she told The Kensington Klarion Kall. “Ever since that summer we spent on the Isle of Eweless doing…research, I know he’s dreamed of finding Mucro’s works because it was all he could talk about. He ate Mucro, he drank Mucro, he walked Mucro around the park – he would even talk about Mucro in his sleep. Yes, he was rather passionate about it, as I recall. Certainly more passionate than he was about other things…”

Serving as Thrax-Levi’s secretary during many of his trips to Frascati, Saxonlocke said she was a frequent visitor with the academician to the bookshop.

“I stress the word ‘was,’” she added.

Considering the age and history of that particular building, Saxonlocke believes that the packet was part of a large number of works lost to antiquity and no doubt deposited in the structure as part an attempt to shore it up against its ruin.

“Although it’s hard to say how they wound up wedged in the brickwork of an old book shop,” she added. “If I were to hazard a guess, I would say they may have been hidden in their since the days of ancient Rome and they could have been jarred loose by the violent shock of the Nazi guns. Many of the foundations in the town are untrustworthy, to say the least, if not downright hazardous.

“Of course, the Nazis were shooting off their large guns at some point in the early 1940,” she continued. “Those scrolls were just waiting for some lucky Tom, Dick or Harry to be at the right place at the right time and – voila! – a renaissance for Mucro and instant fame, in this case, for Dick.”

According to Thrax-Levi, there were no other artifacts to be found – once he and Roberto Erni, the shop’s proprietor, pulled the bookcase back from the wall.

“But what else would you want?” he said. “No, as I used to tell my esteemed colleague at Leedenfall, Professor Penelope Saxonlocke, I think the discovery of one literary genius is sufficient for any age.”


  1. Matthew Lickona says

    I stopped here:

    According to Richard Hippolytus Thrax-Levi, who holds the Halfsheet-Crammette Chair in Roman and Greek Classical Studies at the University of Lexumbria, Switzerland

    Because the story could not possibly get any better after that.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Sacred looking. Worth a taxpayer funded junket to Italy for sure.

    Thanks JOB.

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