The Vergil reference is a compound allusion to the translation of the works of Vergil by the Rev. Robert Corbet Singleton (the phrase “Who could the nymphets sing?” appears on page 60 of volume 1 of the 1855 two-volume edition, available on Google Books). The allusion has been clarified by many scholars.

The fascinum here is a dildo, but the word usually means “a phallic emblem worn around the neck as a charm” (usually put on a child or baby to protect them from the evil eye) or, by transference, “penis” in classical Latin (in the neuter gender: Hor. Epod. 8.18, Ap. Apol. 35). For Petronius and some Christian writers it becomes a standard word for an artificial penis (J.N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, Johns Hopkins UP, 1982, p. 63-4). Lexicographers speculate that the word is connected to the Greek word baskanos, which means “sorcerer,” or as an adjective, “slanderous” (baskanos ophthalmos is “evil eye”). 

Fascinum was a word denoting the organ in its fertile and especially apotropaic functions, and Fascinus was the name of a phallus-shaped deity impersonating those functions (Plin. Nat. 28.39). Sam Gwynn is right in that the words fascinare and fascinatio are indeed related to fascinum, through connotations of magic. Fascinus shared some characteristics with Mutunus Tutunus, another phallic deity, and that one seems to have been represented as a “Priapus-like figure on the phallus of which the bride was seated at some point in the marriage ceremony, obviously to make her fruitful” (J.H. Rose, “The Oldest Stratum of Roman Religion,” included in his The Roman Questions of Plutarch. New York, 1974, p. 84).

Finally, the legal minimum age of marriage for girls was 12 in Ancient Rome, but betrothals could happen before that, and Augustus set the minimum age for betrothal at 10 (Beryl Rawson, “The Roman Family,” in The Roman Family: New Perspectives, ed. by Beryl Rawson, Cornell UP, 1987, p. 21).

Based on these findings, I think the phrase “some brides of ten compelled to seat themselves on the fascinum” is a Humbertian exaggeration, suggestive and verisimilar, but historically not entirely accurate.

Sergey Karpukhin 

On Aug 29, 2017, at 11:50 AM, Sam Gwynn <rsgwynn1@CS.COM> wrote:

I wonder if Humbert is making some kind of multi-lingual pun or willful mistranslation of Virgil's Nescio quis teneros oculus  mihi fascinat agnos. ("I wonder what fearsome eye has v(h)exed my lambs.")

Sam Gwynn

-----Original Message-----
From: Mo Ibrahim <mibraheem@GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Tue, Aug 29, 2017 5:43 am
Subject: [NABOKV-L] Fascinum in LOLITA?

H.H. describes some pictures:

"Here is Virgil who could the nymphet sing in single tone […] Here are two of King Akhnaten’s and Queen Nefertiti’s pre-nubile Nile daughters (that royal couple had a litter of six), wearing nothing but many necklaces of bright beads, relaxed on cushions, intact after three thousand years, with their soft brown puppybodies, cropped hair and long ebony eyes. Here are some brides of ten compelled to seat themselves on the fascinum, the virile ivory in the temples of classical scholarship." (19)

The Virgil reference could be to two stanzas in ECLOGUES that reads: “Who could the Nymphets sing? Who strew the ground \ With blooming plants, or mantle o'er the springs”.

The "Nile daughters" is a reference to a wall painting of Neferneferure and Neferneferuaten - two daughters of King Akhnaten and Queen Nefertiti.

However, Appel didn't note a reference to ten-year-old brides straddling ivory dildos. And I can't seem to locate one. Maybe, this isn't an allusion. Any ideas?

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