THE poet Annianus, 1 and with him many other devotees of the same Muse, extolled with high and constant praise the verses of Virgil in which, while depicting and describing the conjugal union of Vulcan and Venus, an act that nature's law bids us conceal, he veiled it with a modest paraphrase. For thus he wrote: 2
So speaking, the desired embrace he gave,But they thought it less difficult, in speaking of such a subject, to use one or two words that suggest it by a slight and delicate hint, such as Homer's παρθενίη ζώνη, or “maiden girdle”; 3 λέκτροιο θεσμόν, “the right of the couch”; 4 and ἔργα φιλοτήσια, “love's labours”; 5 that no other than Virgil has ever spoken of those sacred mysteries of chaste intercourse in so [p. 185] many and such plain words, which yet were not licentious, but pure and honourable. But Annaeus Cornutus, a man in many other respects, to be sure, lacking neither in learning nor taste, nevertheless, in the second book of the work which he compiled On Figurative Language, defamed the high praise of all that modesty by an utterly silly and odious criticism. For after expressing approval of that kind of figurative language, and observing that the lines were composed with due circumspection, he added: “Virgil nevertheless was somewhat indiscreet in using the word membra.” 6
And sinking on the bosom of his spouse,
Calm slumber then he wooed in every limb.