Monday, October 26, 2009

Catullus (84-54 BC)

The Roman poet Catullus is famous for his love poems to Lesbia, "Let's you and me live it up, my Lesbia, Viuamus, mea Lesbia . . . " He is also famous for his wildly profane language:

Up your ass and in your mouth
Aurelius, you too Furius, you cocksuckers
calling me dirt because my poems
have naughty naughty words in them.

But right now I'm interested in the direct, engaging way Catullus begins a poem and plan to copy him. Here are some of his openers:

Hello, sparrow . . .
Just how many kisses do I want . . .
You feel bad, Catullus, but quit acting stupid . . .
Calvus, old buddy . . .
Aurelius, you father of every hunger . . .
Look Thallus, you fat little fairy . . .
Listen kid, go bring us something/ decent to drink . . .
I hate her and I love her . . .
You're invited to a feast, Fabullus, my place . . .

Lively, profane, irreverent, the most secular of ancient poets, Catullus speaks with what Bunuel called "virile insolence." He insults Caesar:

I've no big wish to please you, Caesar,
or to know who or what the hell you are.

I know very little Latin, but the liquidity of Catullus's lines comes through: Mellitos oculos tuos, Iuuenti . . . Your honeyed eyes, Juventius.

Next week we'll be talking about Catullus in our readers group. I've succumbed to his charms and won't say a word against him.

He was born in Verona, where this Roman road has been worn smooth, and died too young.


  1. Yo Miriam,

    If they can't handle a little Roman poetry, fuckem!

  2. Or as Catullus would say, "There you go getting mad at my poems again,/ my innocent poems, you big bad general, you." I'm sure my reading group will enjoy the poems.

  3. I loved Latin, did 4 years at high school, but we never got Catullus, only Pliny & Ovid. I hope you post about your reading group!

  4. Here's another of his poems, an exuberant one:


    Veranius, my best friend, dearer to me than
    any thousand friends I know, is it true
    that you've come back home again, come home
    to your loving brothers, your elderly mother?
    It is true. And what beautiful news to me!
    I'll see you safe and sound, listen to you
    tell all about Hiberia, people, places, things
    the way you always do, hug you by the neck,
    kiss you on the mouth and those eyes I love . . .
    So how do you do, all of you happy people!
    Can anybody around be any happier than I am?