A follow-up to this post, which Blogger in its wisdom has placed behind a content-warning: on Coleridge's ‘Tribade Riddle’. I've been reading a bit of George Buchanan lately, and came across this quatrain of his. It's one of a series addressed to a woman called Leonora, roasting her for her indiscriminate promiscuity. She has sex, it seems, with all manner of monks, and cooks (the Latin, coquus, includes a double-entendre with ‘cock’ that is almost, but not quite, true of the English word), taking her pleasure with the ‘members of young men’ (nervi juvenum) as well as with the poet. This enrages and saddens him, though he can't break away from her. Here is ‘In Leonorum’:
Vive male, monachique, tui lixaeque coquique‘Groupies’ is, in the original, lixae. A lixa is a camp-follower, somebody who traipses after the army, either as a sutler or prostitute. I've assumed the latter meaning extends beyond just military usage, to mean any kind of person who follows others for sexual reasons, although obviously there's more than a touch of anachronism in my translation. I'm more interested in tribas: a word often turned into English as ‘lesbian’, but which more precisely refers to any practitioner of sexual frottage (the word comes from the Ancient Greek τρίβω tríbō, “to rub”). Martial's poem about an aggressive lesbian called Philaenis (Martial 7:67; I'm here quoting Gillian Spraggs's salty translation) opens: ‘Philaenis the tribade buggers boys/And randier than any married man/she eats-out eleven girls a day.’ Martial, here, is mocking Philaenis; he finds it cruelly hilarious that her butch lesbian aspirations, her filling her life with such masculine activities as lifting weights at the gym and wrestling, are all undermined by the fact that what she really likes doing is performing cunnilingus on women. Why Buchanan specifies a black tribade (‘nigra’) in his poem, is a puzzle. He might mean the word in the sense of wicked, evil, or, like Shakespeare's Dark Lady, it might be that Leonora is black-skinned. At any rate I wonder if Coleridge knew this poem. We know he read George Buchanan: he borrowed Buchanan's Poemata quae extant (Leyden, 1628) from Jesus College library, and he working through the 1790s on an, in the event, unrealised project to publish a collection of the best Neo-Latin verse with his own translations.
Mater edax, illex filia, nigra tribas.
Ne tamen interea, vestri immemor arguar esse,
vos penes hoc nostri pignus amoris erit.
Live wickedly, with your monks, your groupies and cooks
you greedy mother, seductress girl, black frigger.
Meantime, in case I’m accused of forgetting you,
you’ll soon possess this token of our love.