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CATULLUS, Gaius Valerius

Carmen 2 - Sparrow, my sweet girl’s delight

Passer , deliciae meae puellae ,

quicum ludere , quem in sinu tenere ,

cui primum digitum dare adpetenti

et acris solet incitare m o rsus ,

cum desiderio meo nitenti

carum nescio quid ibet iocari

( et solaciolum sui doloris ,

credo , ut tum gravis adquiescat ardor ),

tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem

et tristis animi levare curas !


Sparrow, my sweet girl’s delight,

whom she plays with, holds to her breast,

whom, greedy, she gives her little finger to,

often provoking you to a sharp bite,

whenever my shining desire wishes

to play with something she loves,

I suppose, while strong passion abates,

it might be a small relief from her pain:

might I toy with you as she does

and ease the cares of a sad mind

Carmen 3 – Lesbia’s Sparrow

Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque,

et quantumst hominum venustiorum.

passer mortuus est meae puellae,

passer, deliciae meae puellae,

quem plus illa oculis suis amabat:

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.

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.

o factum male! o miselle passer!

tua nunc opera meae puellae

flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

All you Loves and Cupids cry

and all you men of feeling

my girl’s sparrow is dead,

my girl’s beloved sparrow.

She loved him more than herself.

He was sweeter than honey, and he

knew her, as she knows her mother.

He never flew out of her lap,

but, hopping about here and there,

just chirped to his lady, alone.

Now he is flying the dark

no one ever returns from.

Evil to you, evil Shades

of Orcus, destroyers of beauty.

You have stolen the beautiful sparrow from me.

Oh sad day! Oh poor little sparrow!

Because of you my sweet girl’s eyes

are red with weeping, and swollen.

Carmen 5

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,

rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis!

soles occidere et redire possunt:

nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux

nox est perpetua una dormienda.

da mi basia mille, deinde centum,

dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,

deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.

dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,

conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,

aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,

cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,

and let us judge all the rumors of the old men

to be worth just one penny!

The suns are able to fall and rise:

When that brief light has fallen for us,

we must sleep a never ending night.

Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,

then another thousand, then a second hundred,

then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.

Then, when we have made many thousands,

we will mix them all up so that we don't know,

and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out

how many kisses we have shared.

translation by Rudy NEGENBORN

Carmen 7 - How Many Kisses: to Lesbia

Lesbia, you ask how many kisses of yours

would be enough and more to satisfy me.

As many as the grains of Libyan sand

that lie between hot Jupiter’s oracle,

at Ammon, in resin-producing Cyrene,

and old Battiades sacred tomb:

or as many as the stars, when night is still,

gazing down on secret human desires:

as many of your kisses kissed

are enough, and more, for mad Catullus,

as can’t be counted by spies

nor an evil tongue bewitch us.

Carmen 8 - Advice to myself

Sad Catullus, stop playing the fool,

and let what you know leads you to ruin, end.

Once, bright days shone for you,

when you came often drawn to the girl

loved as no other will be loved by you.

Then there were many pleasures with her,

that you wished, and the girl not unwilling,

truly the bright days shone for you.

And now she no longer wants you: and you

weak man, be unwilling to chase what flees,

or live in misery: be strong-minded, stand firm.

Goodbye girl, now Catullus is firm,

he doesn’t search for you, won’t ask unwillingly.

But you’ll grieve, when nobody asks.

Woe to you, wicked girl, what life’s left for you?

Who’ll submit to you now? Who’ll see your beauty?

Who now will you love? Whose will they say you’ll be?

Who will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?

But you, Catullus, be resolved to be firm.

Carmen 51 (transl. Clive BROOKS)

He seems to me quite like a god,

Perhaps one greater than divine,

Who, ever in your company,

Sees you and hears.

Your gentle laughter, which alas

Robs me of sense; for since I first

My Lesbia, saw you I have

No voice to speak,

My tongue grows numb, a subtle flame

Runs through my body, while my ears

Are buzzing and my eyes grow dim

With twofold night.

Idly, Catullus, sit and fret,

As idly writhe in ecstasy,

The bane of kings and wealthy towns

Is idleness

Carmen 64 (transl. T. BANKS)
The Minoan girl, at seaweed's edge, stares far, far out at him

with suffering eyes. Like a Bacchante's stone statue she stares out--

how sad!--and she swirls in great billows of hurt:

blond hair not in place under delicate scarf,

bosom not covered by thin outer dress,

milk-white breasts not bound under smooth inner dress.

All cloth, from her whole body fallen,

the salt tide sports with at her feet.

But not then for the fate of her scarf, not then for her swirling dress

does she care, Theseus: with all her heart, with all her spirit,

with all her mind the forlorn girl needs you.

Ah, poor girl, with what ceaseless griefs rough Venus

threw you down. She sowed in your heart the nettles of hurt

on that day--from that day--when fierce Theseus

left the curved shores of Piraeus, Athenian harbor,

and reached the Cretan palace of unjust King Minos.

Once, they say, King Cecrops' Athens was forced by cruel

plague to pay the price for Androgeos' murder: was accustomed

to give chosen youths and the loveliness of unwed maids

together as feast for the Minotaur.

Since his narrow city walls were shaken by these evils,

Theseus himself, for the sake of his dear Athenians, yearned

to put forth his own body, rather than let such living dead

of Cecrops' land be borne to Crete.

Thus, then, firm in the light ship, in gentle breezes,

he came to proud Minos and his haughty palace.

No sooner did Princess Ariadne gaze at him with glowing eye--

she whom her chaste little bed that sighed sweet scents

had raised in her mother's soft embrace

(scents like the myrtles the streams of River Eurotas engender

or like the spectrum of colors the spring breeze brings forth)--

no sooner did she lower from him her incandescent eyes

than she conceived throughout her body a flame,

and totally, to the center of her bones, she burned.

Alas, while you stirred her pitiful ragings with a pitiless heart,

O divine Cupid, boy who mixes humans' joys with hurts,

and you, Venus, who reign over the Golgi and leafy Idalium,

on what billows you tossed the girl, her mind aflame,

sighing over and over for her blond guest!

How great the fears she bore in her barely beating heart,


Carmen 66 - The Lock of Hair: Berenice

He who gazed at all the lights in the vast heavens,

who learnt the rise and setting of the stars,

how the fiery beauty of the swift sun’s darkened,

how constellations vanish at fixed times,

how sweet love entices Diana, secretly passing

near the Latmian cliffs, in her airy course:

that same Conon, the astronomer, saw me shining brightly

at heaven’s threshold, a lock of hair from Berenice’s head,

she who stretching out her delicate arms

made promises to a multitude of gods,

at that time when the great king newly married

was gone to lay waste the borders of Assyria,

bearing sweet traces of nocturnal strife,

those that are brought about by virgin spoils.

Is Venus really hated by new brides? Is parents’ joy

deceived by their false tears, shed copiously within

the threshold of the bed? If it were truth they sighed

they’d not have supported my divinity so. 

My queen taught me that, with her many woeful cries,

when her new husband went off to grim battle.

And is it not the bereavement of an empty bed you mourn,

but the tearful separation from a dear brother?

How sad cares eat at the heart’s core from within!

As though, troubled, your mind is wholly lost,

robbed of all feeling in your breast!

But I recognise true greatness in a girl.

Surely that brave act is not forgotten by which a husband’s

kingdom was gained, that no one stronger dared?

But what sad words were said in sending off this husband!

Jupiter, how often your eyes were brushed by your hand!

What god has changed you so? Or is it a lovers wish

not to be absent from the beloved body for long?’

And, there too, you promised me, to all the gods,

not without blood of bulls, for your dear husband,

if it brought his return. It did not take him long

to add captive Asia to the bounds of Egypt.

I discharge former promises, for those deeds,

by this new tribute that joins me to the heavens.

Unwillingly, O Queen, I was parted from your hair,

unwillingly: I swear it by you and that head of yours,

that is worthy, even though one were to swear in vain:

but who could claim to be equal to steel itself?

Even the mountain’s overthrown by it, the greatest

bright child of Macedonia’s shores, over-passed

when the Persians created a new sea, when barbarians

drove their fleet through the midst of Athos.

What can hair do when such things fall to the blade?

By Jupiter, that the tribe of Chalybes might all perish,

and those who first pursued the search for veins of metal

below the earth, and how to cut tough things with iron!

A little while ago the sisters were mourning my fate

as a shorn lock, when, out of Locri, Arsínoe sent

the winged horses of Ethiopian Memnon himself,

beating, with quivering wings, Zephyrus’s,

the West Wind’s, air, the brother born with him,

and carrying me through the shadowed sky, he flew,

and placed me in chaste Venus’s lap.

Arsínoe herself sent her servant there,

Greek inhabitant of the Canoptic shore.

My arrival changed the heavens, so the golden crown

from Ariadne’s brow might not be fixed alone

in the bright sky: but, so that I too might shine,

a faithful spoil of that golden hair, the goddess

passing, wet from the flood, to the gods’ temple,

placed me as a new constellation among the old.

For, touching the Virgin’s stars and the savage Lion,

joined to Callisto daughter of Lycaon,

I fall towards the west, leading slow Bootës,

who merges tardily with the deep Ocean.

But though the footsteps of the gods touch me by night,

light still returns me to the ancient sea.

(Let this be known, by your leave, Fate, Virgin Ramnusia,

since I hide nothing of the truth through fear,

nor though the stars disperse me with angry words,

do I choose to hide the buried truth of the heart.)

I don’t delight in these things, as much as I suffer

from being parted, parted from my lady’s hair,

with which, when the girl used to try out

all perfumes, I myself absorbed many thousands.

Now you, whom the longed-for marriage torches join,

don’t surrender your bodies to mutual embrace,

baring your breasts with clothes removed,

before the onyx delights me with its pleasing gift,

your onyx, you who by right adorn the chaste bed.

But she who gives herself to impure adulteries,

let her absorb from sin the vain gift of light dust:

since I seek no prize from the undeserving.

But let great harmony, O brides, always inhabit

your house, continual love always.

You, my Queen, when you see your divine constellation,

as you placate Venus with festive lights,

don’t leave me free of your perfumes,

but endow me with more great gifts.

I wish that the stars would fall! I’d become royal hair,

and then let Orion shine next to Aquarius!

Carmen 85

Odio et amo. Quare id faciam,

Fortasse requiris.

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior

I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask.

I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.

Ik haat en heb lief.

Waarom ik dat doe, is uw vraag?

Geen idee. Maar ik merk:

Het verscheurt me

Vert.: Marietje d’HANE-SCHELTEMA


Carried through many nations and over many seas,

I arrive, brother, for these wretched funeral rites

so that I might present you with the last tribute of death

and speak in vain to silent ash,

since Fortune has carried you, yourself, away from me.

Alas, poor brother, unfairly taken away from me,

now in the meantime, nevertheless, these things which in the ancient custom of ancestors

are handed over as a sad tribute to the rites,

receive, dripping much with brotherly weeping.

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.