This poem is directed against an unknown charlatan doctor, who usually peddled his wares from a stage - in this case in Aberdeen (see note below). For a discussion of this phenomenon, see Leask's edition of the poem in Musa Latina Aberdonensis, vol. 3, pp. 5-6. Metre: phalaecian.
In Vappam Circulatorem (n.d.)
In Vappam Circulatorem
1Vappa pessime, vappa pessimorum,
nullos hendecasyllabos mereris
manes melliflui pios Catulli:
sed merere celerrimos iambos
5acria Archilochi venenia linguae.
Abundat tua toxico catasta;
foetet materie officina putri;
quam Batavia misit exoletam
ante annos aliquot tibi ut recentem.
10Hinc miselli opera tua coloni
emunt et colocynthidem, atque mortem. 1
Sed tu vappa loquacior cicadis;
et mendacior omnibus Pelasgis;
inter pocula, crimen innocentes
15in morbos jacis, interimque celas
turpem avaritiam calumniator.
Vinum non bibis; at quid inde? Nostras
fermentum facit ebriosiores,
quo madescis in omnibus tabernis;
20dives Pharmacopola, 2 cujus omnes
merces unius aestimantur assis.
Chirurgi quoque vendicas honorem,
[p140] nec audes tamen aut secare venam,
aut interritus ulcus intueri.
25Inter garrulus ebrios sodales
es sodalibus unicus Galenus.
O vita mihi charior vel ipsa,
o dulcissima patria, inter amnes
duos edita, qui dedere nomen,
30Impostor reus hauriat cicutam,
bibatque ipse domesticum venenum,
qui dat civibus exterum venenum:
aut portetur in insulam scelestus,
ne solatia sentiat suorum:
35aut saltem jubeatur urbe vestra
clitellas redeat cito ad paternas.
Aut detur remanere in urbe vestra,
sit inter capite, absque honore, censos.
Vel si lictor adivit ad tenebras,
40discat mancipium manus ligare.
Ne credat sibi me esse non amicum,
sit lictor sibi, ne sit otiosus,
utque se expediat, libens iambos
44mittam, funibus et furore plenos.
Against the wandering rogue
1You very worst rogue, a rogue of the worst, you deserve no hendecasyllables, the pious spirits of mellifluous Catullus: instead you deserve the swiftest iambs, with the bitter bile of Archilochus' tongue. a Your hawker's platform b abounds with toxins, your workshop stinks of rotting produce; you present as fresh that which Batavia c sent to you, already festering, some years ago. From this stall, the wretched townsfolk buy your wares: both colocynthes d and death. But you, rogue, are more loquacious than the cricket, and falser than every Greek; amidst your potions, you throw accusations at the innocent ill, and, trickster, you conceal your shameful greed. You do not drink wine; so what? Beer makes our townfolk more drunk than that which you drink in every tavern; the wealthy quack, whose merchandise is all assessed at a single penny. You also claim the honour of a surgeon's title,[p140]
23yet you, fearless one, dare neither to cut a vein, e or to look upon a ulcer. You are boastful among your drunken friends, and to them alone you are a Galen. f Oh, more dear to me than life itself, oh sweetest fatherland, elevated between two rivers, which give you your name, g let the guilty imposter drink his own hemlock, and let him be the one to drink native poison, who gives foreign poison to our citizens: or let him be carried as accursed to an island, so that he may not know the solace of his own people. Or at least let him be ordered from your city, and let him return his torture-tools to his fatherland. h Or let him remain in your city, but among those judged fit for death, dishonoured. If a public executioner has passed into death, let his hand learn to bind this slave. To prevent him thinking that we are not friends, let him have an executioner, let him not be idle, and, in order that he may free himself, I freely shall send him iambs, full of rope and rage.
1: 'colocynthis': very rare word, most likely encountered here from Pliny, Naturalis Historia XX.14.1.
2: 'pharmacopola': very rare word, possibly encountered in Cato, Orationes CXI.5; Cicero, Pro Cluentio XL.7; Horace, Sermones I.2.1; or Gellius, Noctes Atticae I.15.9.6
a: Archilochus (c.680-c.645BC), considered by Alexandrian scholars (along with Semonides and Hipponax) to be an 'iambic poet', or one who specialises in obscence or insulting verse.
b: See introduction.
c: Originally a Germanic tribe - this may suggest that the charlatan doctor was German or Dutch.
d: The Citrullus Colocynthis is a bitter fruit, used in pre-modern medicine as a laxative.
e: To let blood, for the purposes of balancing the bodily humours.
f: Galen (129-199AD), a Greek physician, attempted to systematise all of medicine and made major discoveries in anatomy and physiology.
g: According to Leask, the Dee and Don; this seems correct, and means that Aberdeen was where the charlatan doctor was selling his remedies.
h: See note to 'Batavia' above.