Ille mi par esse deo videtur ille, si fas est, superare divos, qui sedens adversus identidem te spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnes 5 eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi vocis in ore,
lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus flamma demanat, sonitu suopte 10 tintinant aures, gemina teguntur lumina nocte.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est: otio exsultas nimiumque gestis otium et reges prius et beatas 15 perdidit urbes.
Let’s live and love ... (poem 5)
Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis! soles occidere et redire possunt: nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux, 5 nox est perpetua una dormienda. da mi basia mille, deinde centum, dein mille altera, dein secunda centum, dein usque altera mille, deinde centum, dein, cum milia multa fecerimus, 10 conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus, aut ne quis malus invidere possit, cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
Lesbia’s Sparrow is Dead(poem 3)
Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque, et quantum est hominum venustiorum, passer mortuus est meae puellae, passer, deliciae meae puellae, quem plus illa oculis suis amabat. 5 nam mellitus erat suamque norat ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem, nec sese a gremio illius movebat, sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc ad solam dominam usque pipiabat; 10 qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum illuc, unde negant redire quemquam. at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis: tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis. 15 o factum male! o miselle passer! tua nunc opera, meae puellae flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.
A Woman’s Words ...(poem 70)
nulli se dicit mulier mea nubere malle quam mihi, non si Iuppiter ipse petat. dicit: sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.
Now I know you for what you are ...(poem 72)
dicebas quondam solum te nosse Catullum, Lesbia, nec prae me velle tenere Iovem. dilexi tum te non tantum ut vulgus amicam, sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos. nunc te cognovi: quare etsi impensius uror, 5 multo mi tamen es vilior et levior. qui potis est, inquis? quod amantem iniuria talis cogit amare magis, sed bene velle minus.
Odi et amo ...(poem 85)
odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
Get this into your head, it’s All Over(poem 8)
miser Catulle, desinas ineptire, et quod vides perisse perditum ducas. fulsere quondam candidi tibi soles, cum ventitabas quo puella ducebat amata nobis quantum amabitur nulla. 5 ibi illa multa cum iocosa fiebant, quae tu volebas nec puella nolebat, fulsere vere candidi tibi soles. nunc iam illa non volt: tu quoque impotens noli, nec quae fugit sectare, nec miser vive, 10 sed obstinata mente perfer, obdura. vale, puella. iam Catullus obdurat, nec te requiret nec rogabit invitam. at tu dolebis, cum rogaberis nulla. scelesta, vae te, quae tibi manet vita? 15 quis nunc te adibit? cui videberis bella? quem nunc amabis? cuius esse diceris? quem basiabis? cui labella mordebis? at tu, Catulle, destinatus obdura.
The Last Goodbye(poem 11)
In the first four verses of this poem, given here in translation, Catullus describes the loyalty and friendship of Furius and Aurelius:
Furius and Aurelius, comrades of Catullus, whether he journeys to furthest India, whose shores are pounded by the far-resounding Eastern waves,
or whether he travels to soft Arabia, to Persia, Scythia, or the arrow-bearing Parthians, or the plains which are darkened by the seven mouths of the river Nile,
or whether he crosses the lofty Alps, visiting the scene of great Caesar’s triumphs, over the Rhine and the ocean, to Britain on the edge of the world,
ready to join in any adventure, whatever the will of the gods may bring, carry a few bitter words to my girl ...
cum suis vivat valeatque moechis, quos simul complexa tenet trecentos, nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium ilia rumpens; 20
nec meum respectet, ut ante, amorem, qui illius culpa cecidit velut prati ultimi flos, praetereunte postquam tactus aratro est.
Like a God ... mi = mihi fas = right superare = surpass adversus = opposite dulce = sweetly quod = (a thing) which nihil ... vocis = no voice est super = remains, is left torpet = is paralysed tenuis = thin, subtle sub = to the depths of artus = limbs demanat = flows down suopte = suo tintinant = ring gemina = double teguntur = are covered lumina = eyes exsultas = get excited gestis = become restless prius = before now beatas = prosperous
Let’s live and love ... vivamus = let us live rumores = gossip unius ... assis = at a single ‘as’ aestimemus = let us value semel = once est ... dormienda = must be slept through basia = kisses dein, deinde = next usque altera = yet another conturbabimus = we’ll lose count ne quis = in case anyone invidere = cast the evil eye tantum = such a large number
Lesbia’s Sparrow is Dead lugete = mourn quantum est = all the company of venustiorum = tender, loving passer = sparrow (?) It could be a linnet or any small song-bird. mellitus = sweet as honey norat = knew ipsam = ‘herself’, his mistress tam ... quam = as ... as gremio = lap circumsiliens = hopping about usque = continually tenebricosum = dark, shadowy quemquam = anybody vobis male sit = curses on you Orci = the Underworld, Hell o factum male! = O dreadful deed! Miselle = wretched little tua ... opera = because of you turgiduli = swollen rubent = are red ocelli = poor eyes
A Woman’s Words ... nulli = dative of nemo mulier = woman non si = not even if cupido = eager, passionate amanti = lover rapida = rushing, racing
Now I know you for what you are ... nosse = knew prae = instead of, rather than tenere = possess vulgus = the common man gnatos = natos quare = and so etsi = although, even if impensius = more violently uror = I burn levior = more worthless qui potis est? = how can that be? bene velle = like, be friendly
Odi et amo ... quare = how requires = you want to know fieri = it’s true, it’s happening
Get this into your head, it’s All Over ineptire = being a fool perditum = lost, gone for ever ducas = consider candidi = bright ventitabas = often went, came and went nobis = mihi quantum = as, as much as .ibi = then, in those days Iocosa = moments of fun vere = truly nunc iam = as things are now impotens = as you can’t do anything about sectare = chase after perfer = endure it obdura = be firm requiret = go looking for nulla = not at all scelesta = wretched girl vae te ! = alas for you! basiabis = you will kiss labella = lips mordebis = you will nibble destinatus = determined
The Last Goodbye
valeat = thrive, prosper moechis = lovers, adulterers complexa = embrace identidem = over and over ilia = groin rumpens = bursting respectet = count on illius culpa = thanks to her cecidit = has died prati = meadow ultimi = furthest, at the edge
Catullus: Love poems to Lesbia
A great deal is known about the life of Gaius Valerius Catullus, and most of it from the best possible source: his own poetry. In fact it is possible to tell his life story through the poems themselves (quaintly arranged in the manuscripts according to their metre), and this has been well done, in far more detail than is possible here. Born in 87 or 88 BC in the northern city of Verona, of wealthy parents and probably of Gallic descent, he lived certainly till 55 BC (as reference in his poems to Caesar's invasion of Britain shows), and would have been thirty or thirty-three years old when he died, probably from illness. He had a villa on the beautiful peninsula of Sirmione, on Lake Garda, and spent a good deal of his life in Rome, where he moved in a sophisticated literary circle which admired and imitated the later Greek poetry of Alexandria. It was in Rome that he met and fell in love with the fascinating 'Lesbia', who was almost certainly Clodia, the wife of a Roman aristocrat Metellus Celer and sister of L. Clodius Pulcher, the supporter and agent of Julius Caesar. Clodia and her brother were of the aristocratic Claudian family, but changed their names, perhaps for political reasons, to sound plebeian, rather like a Clarissa becoming Claire, and a Charles, Charlie. Of this episode we learn something from Catullus himself in these poems. The other important person in his life was an elder brother, who died, perhaps on official duty, in Asia Minor, and possibly about the same time as Catullus's quarrel with Lesbia. It was this double blow which took him abroad as a junior member of the staff of the governor of Bithynia, Memmius. He hoped, no doubt, to forget his sorrows and, like many another penniless young artistocrat, to earn a fortune by cheating the locals. He did not succeed, but he did visit his brother’s tomb, went on a tour of the “famous cities of Asia”, and bought a yacht in which he sailed home to his beloved Sirmione. Soon afterwards he fell sick and died.
Catullus and Clodia first met, probably at Rome, in about 62 BC. He was then in his early twenties, recently arrived from Verona, and not yet known as a poet; she was nearly ten years older, a member of a famous and ancient Roman family, and married to a great man, Metellus, who was in 62 governor of Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy); indeed it is possible that she first met Catullus there, at Verona. Catullus was fascinated by her beauty and charm, but he was at first too shy to approach her directly, so he expressed his deep admiration for her in a poem which is a translation (in the same Sapphic metre as the original) of an ode written by the Greek woman poet Sappho in the 7th century BC. She had written her poem to a girl in her own island of Lesbos, so Catullus calls Clodia by the name of 'Lesbia' (which is of the same metrical quantity as Clodia) in this and all other poems written to or about her; it would have been considered impolite to call a lady by her own name in a poem which anyone could read.
This is that first outpouring of Catullus' youthful adoration.
The first time ever I saw your face
That man seems to me to be like a god, and, if I dare say it, even greater than the gods - because he sits opposite you and watches you, and listens to you, over and over again, as you laugh so sweetly.
It takes away all my senses at once - poor me! - for the moment I first saw you, Lesbia, there was nothing left ... (There is a gap in the text here.)
My tongue falls still, a tiny flame runs wild through my limbs, my ears ring with their own sounds, and my two eyes are veiled in blackness.
The last verse of this short poem seems to have nothing to do with the rest of it, and some scholars have thought that it is from a separate poem: the text is very badly corrupted.
You don't like having nothing to do, Catullus: when you have nothing to do, your mood swings from exultation to despair. This kind of idleness has destroyed kings before now, and brought down prosperous cities.
Let us live and love...
Let us live and love, my Lesbia, and let us value the gossip of censorious old men at just one as!
As stated in the introduction to these poems, Catullus called his lady-friend "Lesbia" - metrically exactly the same as her real name (if it was indeed she!) Clodia, and in honour of the Greek poet Sappho, whose home was the island of Lesbos. The "censorious old men" are no doubt Clodia's husband Metellus and his friends. An as was the smallest bronze coin in circulation in Catullus' Rome - worth next to nothing.
Suns can set and rise again:but when the short-lived light of our day has been extinguished, one long eternal night must be slept through.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred: then another thousand, and a second hundred; then yet another thousand, and a hundred more. Then, when we've done it many thousand times, we'll lose count of them so that we don't know how many there are, and so that no ill-wisher can cast the evil eye on us, when he knows the total number of kisses!
Catullus is suggesting a typical market scene here - the rapid movement of a merchant's hands on his abacus. He can rapidly reckon up the most complicated sums using this simple machine. He can also accidentally-on-purpose make a mistake in his calculations leaving his customer confused or out of pocket! But knowledge is power - and this is why Catullus wants to keep the exact number secret. Belief in the evil eye is still widespread in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Lesbia's Sparrow is Dead
This is a delicate parody of the conventional elegy to a dead person. Catullus has transformed a rather hackneyed theme - "gone, never to return" - into a love poem. Notice how he subtly shifts the emphasis from the little bird in line 3 to Lesbia herself in the very last line. Poems to pets were not uncommon in the Roman world: dogs, birds, horses and other animals were kept, though there is no particular mention of pet cats - they were seen as more working animals, tolerated in the house to keep the mice down. Catullus was not the first to lament a dead pet - Ovid had done so (Amores, book 2, poem 6, in which he describes the death of a parrot, but in a much longer and more obviously satirical poem.) There is a charming inscription from Auch in southern France, dating from after Catullus' time but clearly based on this poem, the subject of which is a lap-dog called Flea.
Weep, love goddesses and cupids, and all you kind-hearted people: my girlfriend's little bird has died, the little bird who was her delight, which she loved more than her own eyes -
It isn't surprising that the infatuated Catullus should invoke Venus and her son Cupid in the first line. There is also an echo of her name in the word "venustiorum" in the second line. We don't know exactly what species the little bird was - the word "passer" meant any kind of small singing bird. It is usually translated as "sparrow" but sparrows are not particularly noted for their melodious song! Perhaps it was a linnet or even a blackbird.
- for it was her honey and knew its mistress as well as the lady knew her own mother, and never moved far from her lap, but hopping about here and there piped its song to her alone. But now it is going on the shadowy journey from which they say none returns.
The Romans used the word "honey" much as modern Americans do. Cicero even used it to describe his own son in one of his letters to his friend Atticus. The word "ipsam" - Herself - is the word a slave would have used to name his owner. The journey from which none returns is a well-worn theme of ancient poetry but small birds don't usually feature in it! Also, although the word "tenebricosum" seems rather solemn and serious, it isn't really - in classical Latin it is only found describing the darkness inside a chicken coop (by Varro) and inside the pub ( by Cicero)!
Curse you, you wicked shadows of the Underworld, who devour everything that is beautiful: you have stolen away from me such a beautiful little bird.
Catullus' language here is gently mocking - the word "bellum" which he repeats here is not the usual literary word for "beautiful" - it is more of a colloquialism, which is probably why it came to be the word from which the Romance languages derived their word, much as they chose "caballus" - an old nag - instead of the politer "equus" - to describe a horse.
O what an evil deed! O, you sad little bird! Because of you, my girlfriend's poor little eyes are all red and swollen with weeping.
Language is again important here - Catullus uses several diminutive forms (miselle, turgiduli, ocelli) to convey both the grief and tiny size of its object, though the last two describe Lesbia herself.
A Woman's Words
Catullus seems to be over his initial infatuation with Lesbia, and realises that the older, sophisticated socialite may not be what she would like him to think ...
My woman says she would rather marry no-one but me, no, not even if Jupiter himself asked her. That's what she says, but what a woman says to her adoring lover should be written on the wind and in fast-flowing water.
Notice how Lesbia has ceased to be "puella" and started to be "mulier" - no longer the sweet innocent girl, now the "woman" - the root of the slang term "moll" for a gangster's girlfriend! Jupiter is the king of the gods, and one would think that a girl would be flattered to be courted by him - until one remembers some of the unpleasant fates that befell his conquests. The repeated "dicit" is deliberately placed prominently at the start of the line: that's what she SAYS... (but...) The last line is self-explanatory.
Now I know you for what you are
The bitter truth has finally dawned upon Catullus.
You used to say that you only slept with Catullus, Lesbia, and that you would rather marry me than even Jupiter.
Some of the language in this short poem deliberately echoes that in the previous one. "Nosse" - the shortened form of "novisse" - means "to know" in the biblical sense. The reference to Jupiter is also an echo.
At that time I loved you, not as an ordinary man loves his ordinary mistress, but as a father loves his sons and his daughters' husbands.
Catullus is hardly unique in believing that his love is utterly unlike that experienced before or since by anyone. He is not "vulgus ' - the common man - and she is not "amica" - any old girl. His love is much deeper and more meaningful. However while "gnatos" can mean both sons and daughters, "generos" must specifically mean sons-in-law - is the love bond between a girl's father and her husband this strong?
But now I know you better: so although I now burn for you more strongly than ever, yet you are now cheaper and more worthless in my eyes. How can this be, you ask? Because such a great injustice makes a lover love the more, but like the less.
The eternal conundrum: can you love someone without liking them, or without respecting them? Catullus has seen the light, but he is not happy about it. The "injustice" is, of course, Clodia's unfaithfulness to Metellus, and has nothing to do with Catullus: this poem seems to have a carefully-constructed air of detachment about it all the way through, as though Catullus is trying very hard to maintain a "well-I-never-really-liked-her-anyway" attitude.
Odi et amo
I hate her, and I love her. How can you do that, I expect you want to know? I don't know, but I do, and I'm in torment.
Love can, and does, turn to hate. You can indeed feel both at once for the same person. The reason for this tiny poem's justified fame, however, is the complete simplicity of the language in which it is couched.
Get this into your head, it's All Over
Poor Catullus, stop being so stupid, and get it into your head that what's so obviously dead is dead indeed.
A poem of contradictions. The first word seems redolent of self-pity - yet that is an emotion which Catullus resolutely refuses to feel.
Brilliant suns shone for you once, when you trotted along wherever the girl led you on to, and you loved her more than any girl will ever be loved again; then there were many pleasant interludes, when you were keen and she not unwilling - oh, yes, brilliant suns shone for you.
It is implied here that Lesbia made all the running; she dictated their meetings (to times and places where Metellus would not find out?) but there is an undercurrent of one-sidedness in the affair. Repetition is a feature of the poenm: here we have the 'brilliant suns' and elsewhere you will see 'miser' (lines 1 and 10), 'puella' (4, 7 and 12), as well as deliberate echoes of a word already used such as 'volebas' and 'nolebat', 'non vult' and 'noli', 'obstinata' and 'destinatus','obdura' and 'obdurat'.
Now she's not willing any more. You must be unwilling too, because you can't do anything about that. Don't chase after what's fled, don't live a life of misery, but 'keep calm and carry on', hold out against it! Goodbye, lass; now Catullus has hardened his heart, and he won't make demands on you or ask you to do anything you don't want to.
This seems to be the "acceptance" stage of grief; Catullus wants to convince himself that he must pull himself together and get on with life after Lesbia.
But you'll be sorry, when nobody comes asking for you.You wretched girl, what sort of a dreadful life awaits you? Who'll make overtures to you? Who will find you beautiful? Whom will you have as your lover now? Whose girlfriend will people call you? Whom will you kiss? Whose lips will you nibble?
But you, Catullus, be strong and stay in control.
A complete change of tone: this is the vindictive side of Catullus coming to the fore. He is using language that implies that instead of the perfect goddess he thought she was, she is really only a common harlot, ready to indulge in loose and sluttish behaviour with anyone who asks.
In the last line, Catullus deliberately echoes the first, making this a kind of circular composition, a device much used by Classical poets.
The Last Goodbye
A translation of the first four verses of this poem appears on the Latin text page.
The poem is addressed to Furius and Aurelius, who in this poem seem to be trusted friends. However, if you read the other poems in which they are mentioned by name (15, 16, 21, 23 and 26) you will see that this is not the case. So, why does Catullus ask them to convey his last message to Lesbia? Could it be because he despises them as much as he now despises her?
The first four verses consist of an almost ridiculous catalogue of far-flung places - the edge of the known world in Roman times. The poet takes us on a long and exhausting mental journey from India through the Middle East and Egypt, then northwards to the Alps and barbaric Britain before Catullus gets to his point: his "friends" are to say a nasty and spiteful goodbye to Lesbia for him.
Let her live and fare well with her lovers - and she can hold three hundred of them in her arms at any one time - truly loving none of them, but screwing them all over and over again.
Catullus uses the 'echo' again here - the poem is written in the same Sapphic metre as his initial outburst of passion for Lesbia; we hear an echo of "vivamus, mea Lesbia..." but at the same time he uses the word 'valeat' - the same verb as is always used to say "goodbye".
His love has really turned to hatred and he falls back on the commonplace emotion - he calls her a whore and uses vulgarly unpleasant language to describe her behaviour.
And she can't count on my love, as she used to. It has died, thanks to her, like the flower in the furthest corner of the meadow, when it is touched by the passing plough.
Lesbia's lack of true emotion is here represented by the image of the destruction of the flower - a fragile thing, which nonetheless seemed safe in its far corner, until mown down by the passing plough. The ploughman, his plough, and even the animals pulling it, have no idea of, and care even less about, the damage they have done. Note the contrast in the way Catullus describes his own and Lesbia's behaviour - the one gross and coarse, the other delicate but doomed.