Catullus

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Suns may set and rise again. For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept the sleep of one unbroken night.

Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84 – c. 54 BC) was a Roman poet, the dominant figure among the New Poets (neoterici) of the 1st century BC.

Quotes[edit]

Carmina[edit]

Quotations in English are taken from The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, trans. Francis Warre Cornish (Cambridge University Press, 1904), unless otherwise noted.
To whom am I to present my pretty new book?
  • Cui dono lepidum novum libellum
    Arido modo pumice expolitum?
    • To whom am I to present my pretty new book, freshly smoothed off with dry pumice stone?
    • I, lines 1–2
Mourn, ye Graces and Loves, and all you whom the Graces love. My lady's sparrow is dead.
  • Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque,
    Et quantum est hominum venustiorum.
    Passer mortuus est meae puellae,
    Passer, deliciae meae puellae.
    • Mourn, ye Graces and Loves, and all you whom the Graces love. My lady's sparrow is dead, the sparrow my lady's pet, whom she loved more than her own eyes.
    • III, lines 1–4
    • Lord Byron's translation:
      • Ye Cupids, droop each little head,
        Nor let your wings with joy be spread:
        My Lesbia's favourite bird is dead,
        Whom dearer than her eyes she loved.
  • Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
    illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.
    • Now he goes along the dark road, thither whence they say no one returns.
    • III, lines 11–12
  • Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus
    rumoresque senum severiorum
    omnes unius aestimemus assis
    soles occidere et redire possunt:
    nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
    nox est perpetua una dormienda.
    • Let us live, my Lesbia, and love, and value at one farthing all the talk of crabbed old men. Suns may set and rise again. For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept the sleep of one unbroken night.
    • V, lines 1–6
    • Thomas Campion's translation:
      • My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love;
        And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
        Let us not weigh them: Heaven's great lamps do dive
        Into their west, and straight again revive,
        But, soon as once set is our little light,
        Then must we sleep one ever-during night.
        • From A Book of Airs (1601)
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand, then a hundred.
  • Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
    dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
    deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
    • Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand, then a hundred.
    • V, lines 8–7
  • Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
    tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque?
    • You ask how many kissings of you, Lesbia, are enough for me and more than enough?
    • VII, lines 1–2
  • Per caputque pedesque.
    • Over head and heels.
    • XVII, line 9
  • Ipse qui sit, utrum sit an non sit, id quoque nescit.
    • What he himself is, whether he is or is not, he does not know so much as this.
    • XVII, line 22
  • O quid solutis est beatius curis,
    cum mens onus reponit, ac peregrino
    labore fessi venimus larem ad nostrum,
    desideratoque acquiescimus lecto?
    hoc est quod unum est pro laboribus tantis.
    • Ah, what is more blessed than to put cares away, when the mind lays by its burden, and tired with labour of far travel we have come to our own home and rest on the couch we longed for? This it is which alone is worth all these toils.
    • XXXI, lines 7–11
  • Nam risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
    • There is nothing more silly than a silly laugh.
    • XXXIX, line 16
He seems to me to be equal to a god, he, if it may be, seems to surpass the very gods, who sitting opposite thee again and again gazes at thee and hears thee sweetly laughing.
  • Ille mi par esse Deo videtur,
    ille, si fas est, superare Divos,
    qui sedens adversus identidem te
    spectat et audit
    dulce ridentem.
    • He seems to me to be equal to a god, he, if it may be, seems to surpass the very gods, who sitting opposite thee again and again gazes at thee and hears thee sweetly laughing.
    • LI, lines 1–5. Cf. Sappho 31.
  • Otium et reges prius et beatas
    perdidit urbes.
    • Idleness ere now has ruined both kings and wealthy cities.
    • LI, last lines
  • Quid datur a divis felici optatius hora?
    • What is given by the gods more desirable than the fortunate hour?
    • LXII
  • Ut flos in saeptis secretus nascitur hortis,
    Ignotus pecori, nullo contusus aratro,
    Quem mulcent aurae, firmat sol, educat imber;
    Multi illum pueri, multae optavere puellae.
    • As a flower springs up secretly in a fenced garden, unknown to the cattle, torn up by no plough, which the winds caress, the sun strengthens, the shower draws forth, many boys, many girls, desire it.
    • LXII
  • Nunc iam nulla viro iuranti femina credat,
    nulla viri speret sermones esse fideles;
    quis dum aliquid cupiens animus praegestit apisci,
    nil metuunt iurare, nihil promittere parcunt:
    sed simul ac cupidae mentis satiata libido est,
    dicta nihil metuere, nihil periuria curant.
    • Henceforth let no woman believe a man's oath, let none believe that a man's speeches can be trustworthy. They, while their mind desires something and longs eagerly to gain it, nothing fear to swear, nothing spare to promise; but as soon as the lust of their greedy mind is satisfied, they fear not then their words, they heed not their perjuries.
    • LXIV
  • Omnia fanda nefanda malo permixta furore
    iustificam nobis mentem avertere deorum.
    • All right and wrong, confounded in impious madness, turned from us the righteous will of the gods.
    • LXIV
What a woman says to her ardent lover should be written in wind and running water.
  • Mulier cupido quod dicit amanti
    in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua.
    • What a woman says to her ardent lover should be written in wind and running water.
    • LXX, lines 3–4. Compare Keats' epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."
  • Desine de quoquam quicquam bene velle mereri,
    Aut aliquem fieri posse putare pium.
    • Leave off wishing to deserve any thanks from anyone, or thinking that anyone can ever become grateful.
    • LXXIII, lines 1–2
  • Huc est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa
    atque ita se officio perdidit ipsa suo,
    ut iam nec bene velle queat tibi, si optima fias,
    nec desistere amare, omnia si facias.
    • To this point is my mind reduced by your fault, Lesbia, and has so ruined itself by its own devotion, that now it can neither wish you well though you should become the best of women, nor cease to love you though you do the worst that can be done.
    • LXXV, lines 1–4
  • Siqua recordanti benefacta priora voluptas
    Est homini.
    • If a man can take any pleasure in recalling the thought of kindnesses done.
    • LXXVI, lines 1–2
  • Difficile est longum subito deponere amorem.
    • It is difficult suddenly to lay aside a long-standing love.
    • LXXVI, line 13
  • Si vitam puriter egi.
    • If I have led a pure life.
    • LXXVI, line 19
  • Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
    nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
    • I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask. I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.
    • LXXXV, lines 1–2
And for ever, my brother, hail and farewell!
  • Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
    Advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
    Ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
    Et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
    Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
    Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
    Nunc tamen interea haec prisco quae more parentum
    Tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
    Accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
    Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.
    • Wandering through many countries and over many seas I come, my brother, to these sorrowful obsequies, to present you with the last guerdon of death, and speak, though in vain, to your silent ashes, since fortune has taken your own self away from me—alas, my brother, so cruelly torn from me! Yet now meanwhile take these offerings, which by the custom of our fathers have been handed down—a sorrowful tribute—for a funeral sacrifice; take them, wet with many tears of a brother, and for ever, my brother, hail and farewell!
    • CI, lines 1–10
    • Sir William Marris's translation:
      • By many lands and over many a wave
        I come, my brother, to your piteous grave,
        To bring you the last offering in death
        And o'er dumb dust expend an idle breath;
        For fate has torn your living self from me,
        And snatched you, brother, O, how cruelly!
        Yet take these gifts, brought as our fathers bade
        For sorrow's tribute to the passing shade;
        A brother's tears have wet them o'er and o'er;
        And so, my brother, hail, and farewell evermore!
  • Si quicquam cupido optantique optigit umquam
    insperanti, hoc est gratum animo proprie.
    • If anything ever happened to any one who eagerly longed and never hoped, that is a true pleasure to the mind.
    • CVII, lines 1–2

Quotes about Catullus[edit]

Tenderest of Roman poets.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • An admirable poet. No Latin writer is so Greek. The simplicity, the pathos, the perfect grace, which I find in the great Athenian models, are all in Catullus, and in him alone of the Romans.
    • Thomas Babington Macaulay, in The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, ed. G. Otto Trevelyan, Vol. I (1875), Appendix, p. 410
  • It is just this quality, this clear and almost terrible simplicity, that puts Catullus in a place by himself among the Latin poets. Where others labour in the ore of thought and gradually forge it out into sustained expression, he sees with a single glance, and does not strike a second time.
  • Catullus is a completely sophisticated, urbane poet, and his sophistication is sincere because his emotions were sophisticated. He expresses the spirit and essence of what we call "society".
  • Catullus was the leading representative of a revolution in poetry created by the neoteroi or "new men" in Rome. Rather than writing about battles, heroes, and the pagan gods, Catullus draws his subjects from everyday, intensely personal life.
    • Frank N. Magill (ed.), Critical Survey of Poetry: Foreign Language Series, Vol. 1 (1984), p. 282
  • It passes my comprehension why Tennyson could have called him 'tender'. He is vindictive, venomous and full of obscene malice. He is only tender about his brother and Lesbia, and in the end she gets it hot as well.
    • Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, Vol. III: The Later Years, 1945–1962, pp. 332–333
  • Catullus was the first Roman who imitated with success the Greek writers, and introduced their numbers among the Latins.
    • John Platts, in A New Universal Biography (1825), p. 725.
  • The most hard-edged and intense of the Latin poets.
    • Ezra Pound, letter to Harriet Monroe (February 1916), in The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941 (1950), p. 69
  • Valerium Catullum, a quo sibi versiculis de Mamurra perpetua stigmata imposita non dissimulaverat, satis facientem eadem die adhibuit cenae hospitioque patris eius, sicut consuerat, uti perseveravit.
    • Valerius Catullus, as Caesar himself did not hesitate to say, inflicted a lasting stain on his name by the verses about Mamurra; yet when he apologised, Caesar invited the poet to dinner that very same day, and continued his usual friendly relations with Catullus's father.
    • Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 73 (tr. John Carew Rolfe)
  • Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen-hundred years ago.

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