Lucretius on Walking Pornography

If you have been around the ‘Nacle for a spell you can’t have missed the oft discussed issue of men, women, and sexual response (one strap messenger bags, walking pornography, and thus and so).  Sometimes it seems that this anxiety is peculiar to modern day Mormons, but, as Qoheleth would point out, it is not new under the sun.  In the first century BCE Lucretius composed his De Rerum Natura setting forth versified Epicurean doctrine in an attempt to seduce Romans of the elite ruling class to eschew the agonistic life of war, politics, and the forum and embrace the contemplative and quiet existence of the Epicurean sage.  In the fourth book Lucretius takes on the question of love and sex and the snares which they pose to a man (this and the following translation are taken from the Loeb addition).

As soon as the seed comes forth, driven from its retreats, it is withdrawn from the whole body through all the limbs and members, gathering in fixed parts in the loins, and arouses at once the body’s genital parts themselves (4.1041-44).

So far the discussion is conventional enough, if a bit quaint to our sex educated ears.  Lucretius asserts that semen is generated in the body and coalesces in the genitals.  But what he says next is startling.

Those parts thus exited swell with the seed, and there arises a desire to emit it towards that whither the dire craving tends; and the body seeks that which has wounded the mind with love.  For all generally fall towards a wound, and the blood jets out in the direction of the blow that has struck us, and if he is close by, the ruddy flood drenches the enemy.  So therefore, if one is wounded by the shafts of Venus, whether it be a boy with girlish limbs who launches the shafts at him, or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he tends to the source of the blow, and desires to unite and to cast the fluid from body to body (4.1045-56).

This is a devastating view of a man’s sexual attraction.  His mind is wounded by visual missiles launched from the body or body part of the viewed person, his mind and body then lurch forward, ejaculating metaphorical blood/actual semen directly at the person or body part counterattacking the visual assault with a tangible humor.  Both parties suffer; the assailant, the woman or boy, wounds the man, but the assailant is stained in return by the man’s emissions.  Aggressive, violent, messy.  Nobody wins, everybody is hurt.

Does this overblown rhetoric sound at all familiar?

Interestingly Lucretius does not tack in the direction to which which we Mormons are accustomed.  The women and attractive boys are not told to cover up.  Rather, Lucretius more or less says: ” Men, don’t look at women and attractive boys, think of other things.  And if you can’t think of other things, remember that women are petty things, gussied up but not really appealing, not really worth a man’s time or energy, and pretty disgusting once you get to know them–oh, and they fart too, and their farts stink (et miseram taetris se suffit odoribus ipsa).”

So a good way for a man to overcome the desires caused within him by an attractive woman is to belittle her in his mind to the point that she is no longer appealing and to think of her doing gross things.

Or sing a hymn.

PhD Language Exam Exhaustion or Why I Am Looking Forward to Comprehensive Exams

These last 18 months have been brutal.  Since April of 2009 I have prepped and sat for 4 language examinations and I am two to four weeks away from sitting for my last one.  First French, then five months later Greek, then two months later Latin, then five months German, and now Hebrew.  I have actually enjoyed studying for each of the exams and I have relished adding further linguistic/academic implements to my tool-belt.  But I am getting a bit weary.  I stare at Hebrew words and my mind refuses to register the morphology or determine what word these three consonants are making–they all look the same.  But the end is in sight and just today I was looking at the reading lists of some of my senior classmates’ comprehensive exams and I got a sick nervous feeling but also a thrill of excitement–soon I will be forming and reading my own lists about stuff in which I am interested.  Praise Yah!

So, for all of you readers who are interested or curious about doing PhD work in NT and Ancient Christianity, I give you a breakdown of language exam requirements for my particular program (others’ programs are sure to differ, however).


Three passages covering two pages to be done in two hours.  This test was easier than the German exam but it had its own tricks.  One passage was on modern methods of high-speed travel, including a paragraph on hovercrafts and hovercraftery (as all of us being examined hit the passage within a few minutes of each other, it was amusing and distressing to watch those around me freak out when the word didn’t appear in their dictionaries–luckily, my dictionary had it, hats off to the Robert Collins Unabridged!).  This test is administered university wide so the topics are almost guaranteed to not be one’s field.


Two passages, slightly shorter than the French exam.  This was one was especially tricky since the first passage was an op/ed piece about the Austr0-German conflict (or something like that) from a 19th century German newspaper that included a patchwork of half a dozen quotes from contemporary politicians and pundits.  Painful.  This was also a university wide exam, so again neither of the sections was in my field.  Dictionaries allowed.


This is the grand-daddy of them all for my program and it is a beast.  The exam contains two sections with two passages in each section.  Each section is budgeted 2 hours for a 4 hour total.  The first section is the harder of the two.  It covers the entire NT–no exceptions.  And no lexica.  All 650 odd pages of the Nestle-Aland Edition.  The two passages that appeared on my exam (both of about average chapter length) came from the latter part of Acts (during one of Paul’s trial scenes, I can’t remember which now) and the other from Hebrews 5 and 6.  If you are wondering how one studies for this, here was my method:  I read the NT cover to cover 5 times and re-read a 6th or 7th time the hard passages like Hebrews, 2 Corin, Petrine epistles etc.  The second section covers 50 Oxford Edition (or equivalent) pages of Greek ranging from Classical to Late Antique chosen by the student in consultation with the examiner.  My selection included Plato (Statesman), Corpus Hermeticum (Poimander), Origen (Treatise on Prayer), and an epistle of Ignatius.  For this section we are permitted the use of a lexicon.  On both sections there are about 15-20 questions on parsing, syntax, style, and rhetorical devices.


This was the least awful of the five for me since it only covered 50 pages of Oxford Edition Latin agreed upon with the examiner.  The exam is two hours long but with no lexica.  30 of my pages were drawn from one of Cicero’s defense speeches (pro sulla) and the other 20 were from Lucretius’ de rerum natura.  There were about 20 questions total on parsing, syntax, and grammar.  The test was challenging but enjoyable since reading Lucretius is one of my joys in life and since I love/hate Cicero.


This exam covers the least material but has been a hard one for me since I do not have any training in Semitics beyond basic Hebrew Bible grammar.  The exam is two hours long with two passages culled from a pre-set list of 30 chapters from the HB.  I have not yet taken this one but so far the preparation has been tough but somewhat enjoyable.  I struggle with prophecy chapters (esp. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel) and with poetry (esp. Psalm 22, Song of Songs 1) but the narrative chapters are not so bad.   I have gotten through all 30 chapters 3 times as of today, and I think that after one more time through, I will sit for the exam.  The exam, from what I have heard, has several questions on morphology and a few on poetic structure.  No lexicon.

So there you have it.  This is what my life has been dedicated to for the last year and half (aside from coursework) and this is what you have to look forward to if you are self-hating enough to sign up for a PhD program in this field.  Perhaps the most depressing part about all of this is how fast one language fades as others are bolstered.  At one point last year I could cruise through a French article in my field–not so fast now.  But luckily, all of these seem to come back just fine with a little polish.

Does the BOM take it easy on Satan?

So a few weeks ago I was reviewing some recent, secondary literature on the famous scene of Peter’s rebuke in Mk 8:33 (“Get behind me, Satan!”). My own interests were in the language of interscholastic (as in Hellenistic philosophical schools) rebuke and frank criticism. However, during this survey, I quite unexpectedly came upon a passage which caught my interest as a Mormon. The source is Hans F. Bayer’s Das Evangelium des Markus (Witten: Brockhaus, 2008), a volume in the Historisch-Theologische Auslegung series for the NT. The context of the passage is the exegesis of Peter’s rebuke and his misunderstanding of the concept of a messiah. Bayer first points out that Peter’s political messianic expectations clouded his own rebuke of Jesus’ assertion that he must suffer and die. He then discusses the theological implications of such misguided messianic hopes.

“Above all, this notion at the same time unwarily and perfunctorily flouts the fundamental problem of alienation from God. Furthermore this expectation underestimates the power of Satan. The divine way goes to the root of this problem.

Every religion or philosophy of life which over-plays or makes light of these root issues of the fundamental alienation from God and the power of Satan (e.g. Palestinian Judaism, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Buddhism, the doctrine of Confucius, Hinduism; cf. also for example the Stoic philosophy of life), ultimately defies the sovereignty of God and his will, as in the case of Peter. Here also there is fundamental fact that the individual, from his own idealistic perspective, does not require a vicariously suffering Messiah. Only from the revealed perspective of God does the individual recognize his grave alienation and enmity toward God (the burden of sin) as well as the power of Satan. From this he realizes that he is existentially reliant upon the vicariously suffering and, moreover, ruling Messiah.”

I am no specialist in German translation so this rendering is a bit slavish and rough. Also I am not a theologian so I may have botched some technical terms. That being said, what is Bayer suggesting here? Why would Bayer include the Book of Mormon in the list of works, disciplines, or philosophies which either over- or under-play humankind’s alienation from God and the power of Satan? Does the BOM over- or under-play these two issues? Does it over-play the one and under-play the other?

I suppose that the statement surprised me because I think of the BOM as pretty heavy handed when it comes to the notion of humankind’s alienation and dependence upon divinity and the influence/power of Satan. Maybe Bayer is confusing some other Mormon theological developments or ideas bandied about from time to time (humans as divine entities, spirits as co-eternal with God, abolition from the concept of hell, Satan and Jesus as bros, etc.) with what the BOM itself offers.