Monday, November 23, 2009

Catullus Carmina 11

A translation of Poem 11 by Catullus:

Furius and Arelius, comrades of Catullus,
whether he penetrates the extremes of India
where the shore is pounded by
the waves of dawn

whether to Hyrcanus or to the soft Arabs
or to Sacus or to the archers of Parthius
whether to where the seven-mouthed Nile
colors the sea’s surface

whether he trudges across the high alps
viewing the monuments of mighty Caesar,
the Gaullic Rhine, the turbulent waters,
the furthest outposts of Briton

or whether he attempts all these simultaneously
bearing whatever heaven wills--
speak these few words to my girl
not pleasantries

may she live & grow strong in her adulteries
may she take 300 men into her clasp at once,
not loving one in truth, but repeatedly
herniating them all

nor may she look back at my love
as before, which through her fault
has fallen like a flower at the meadow’s edge
touched by a passing plow.

In this poem Catullus exposes all his moods: the conversational, the mock heroic, the brutal invective, the delicately tender. He begins by addressing two "comrades of Catullus," opening a long rhetorical sentence that turns on the preposition "siva," "whether." Then, referring to himself in third person, he outlines an empire vast enough to get lost in. The locations he cites are not merely poetic, they map the exact delineations of the empire: India, Arabia, Egypt, the Rhine, Brittan. His hurt is as big as the empire itself. There is an ironic juxtaposition here of the personal and the politic, the intimacy of his grief vs the vastness of the Roman occupations. Concluding this sentence, he tells his comrades that he has a few words he wants them to impart to Lesbia, and he warns them they are not pleasant. Thus the invective--an art form, if you wish, for which Catullus has been remembered for 2000 years. Against the anger and brutality of his statement to Lesbia, is the the almost unbearable tenderness of the last lines, cast aside like a flower tacto arato est.

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