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Selections from Catullus
John Porter, translator

Notice: This translation is the copyrighted property of the author and should not be reproduced without the author's permission.

On Catullus, see the Course Notes on Catullus (Porter). Links in the following passages are to that discussion.

Some of Catullus' poems are "earthy" in the extreme.
If you are easily offended by obscene or politically incorrect poetry, you might want to skip this selection.

Poem 29

Who can see this? Who can endure it,
except for the depraved, the gluttonous, the gamblers —
Mamurra [FN 1] holding in his possession all the sleek wealth that Gallia Comata [FN 2]
used to have, and that of farthest Britain?
Pathic Romulus, will you see this and endure it? 5
And now will that fellow do the rounds of all
the bedrooms, proud and prodigal,
like a white little dove or an Adonis?
Pathic Romulus, will you see this and endure it?
You're depraved, a glutton, and a gambler. 10
Was it for this, o sole commander,
that you busied yourself on the farthest island of the setting sun,
that this fucked-out prick of yours might
devour twenty or thirty million sesterces?
What is misguided generosity but this? 15
Had he plowed through too few fortunes? Not gobbled down enough?
First he demolished his paternal wealth,
then the Pontic plunder [FN 3]; third came that from
Spain — all the riches gold-bearing Tagus knew, [FN 4]
and now there's fear for Gaul and Britain. 20
Why, dammit, do you cherish this fellow so? What skill's he got,
other than wolfing down rich patrimonies?
Was it for this, o most pius men of Rome,
father and son-in-law, that you wrought havoc on the world?

[To Course Notes on Catullus: Life]
[To Course Notes on Catullus: Catullus as Eques]

Poem 93

I have no real desire, Caesar, to wish to seek your favor,
or to know whether you are white or black. [FN 5]

[To Course Notes on Catullus]

Poem 10

My friend Varus had taken me from the forum
(I had nothing going on) to visit his latest love —
a little tart, so she struck me at first sight,
not at all without charm and wit.
When we got there we fell into conversation 5
on a variety of topics, among which was the question of
what Bithynia was like these days, how things were going there,
and whether it had proved at all beneficial to my purse. [FN 6]
I told them the truth — that there was nothing there, either for the locals
or for the praetors or for the praetor's cohort 10
that would cause anyone to carry a sleeker head —
especially for those who had an irrumator [FN 7] for a praetor,
one who didn't give a straw for his cohort.
"But at the very least," they said, "you must certainly
have acquired what they say is the native custom, 15
some slaves to bear your litter?" I (thinking I would increase
my standing in the girl's eyes)
replied, "Things weren't so bad for me that,
just because I'd landed a lousy province,
I wasn't able to acquire eight good strong men." 20
(Yet in fact I had no one, neither here nor there,
who might carry on his neck the
fractured foot of my ancient little cot.)
At this point she said — as you'd expect from a little tramp —
"Please, my dear Catullus: lend them to me 25
just for a short while. I want to be carried to Serapis' temple [FN 8]
in style." "Hold on!" I said to her.
"That which I said I had a moment ago —
What was I thinking? My friend,
Gaius Cinna, [FN 9] he acquired them. 30
But, really, whether they're his or mine, what's that to me?
I have the use of them, just as if I bought them.
But you, with your wicked wit, are a downright plague,
who allow no one the slightest latitude of speech."

[To Course Notes on Catullus: Catullus as Eques]
[To Course Notes on Catullus: Catullus as Neoteric Poet]

Poem 28

Piso's companions, [FN 10] empty-handed cohort,
rigged out with your tiny packs, emptied of unessentials —
Veranius, my friend, and you, Fabullus,
how are things going? Have you enjoyed enough
chilly starvation with that good-for-nothing? 5
Any profit to record — as lost?
My case is much the same: having followed my
praetor, I now set down my very expenses as gain.
O Memmius, you held me flat and at your leisure jammed
that log of yours down my throat good and long. 10
But, as far as I can see, your luck was much the same —
stuffed by no less formidable a prick.
Oh yes! "Seek out noble friends"!
But you two [FN 11] may the gods and goddesses grant
many evils, you sources of shame to Romulus and Remus. 15

[To Course Notes on Catullus: Life]
[To Course Notes on Catullus: Catullus as Eques]

Poem 47

Porcius and little Socrates, Piso's two
left hand men, blight and bane of the earth —
have that Priapus [FN 12] and his hard-on placed you ahead in favor
to my little Veranius and Fabullus?
Do you hold lavish drinking parties with all the finery 5
in the middle of the day, while my friends
stand on the public streets seeking dinner invitations?

[To Course Notes on Catullus: Life]
[To Course Notes on Catullus: Catullus as Eques]

Poem 16

I'll jam it up your ass and down your throat,
fairy Aurelius and queen Furius,
you who've deduced from my little poems,
because they're somewhat soft and sensual, that I'm not quite proper.
I'll admit that the godly poet ought to be modest of behavior himself, 5
but there's no need for his poems to be —
those only have wit and charm
if they are somewhat soft and sensual and not quite proper
and have something in them that might incite an itch,
not in boys, but in those shaggy gray-beards
who can scarcely rouse their sluggish members. 10
You two, because of what you read about those
many thousands of kisses, do you think me less than a man?
I'll jam it up your ass and down your throat.

[To Course Notes on Catullus]

Poem 79

Lesbius is pretty, [FN 13] who denies it? He whom Lesbia loves
more than you and your whole family line together, Catullus.
But all the same, that "pretty" Lesbius would sell off Catullus and his line [FN 14]
for just three kisses from his friends. [FN 15]

[To Course Notes on Catullus]


[FN 1] A Roman eques who served under both Pompey and Caesar and was one of Caesar's chief administrators in Gaul. [Return to text]

[FN 2] I.e. Transalpine Gaul. [Return to text]

[FN 3] The spoils from Pompey's defeat of Mithridates (63 B.C.). [Return to text]

[FN 4] From Caesar's campaign as propraetor in Spain in 61 B.C. [Return to text]

[FN 5] A colloquial way of indicating complete ignorance and indifference about somebody. [Return to text]

[FN 6] Catullus evidently has just returned from Bithynia, where he served on the staff of the propraetor C. Memmius in 57-56 B.C. [Return to text]

[FN 7] An irrumator is someone who practices the activity described below in poem 28, lines 9-10. [Return to text]

[FN 8] An Egyptian divinity popular with women. [Return to text]

[FN 9] C. Helvius Cinna, tribune in 44 B.C. and another of the neoteric poets. [Return to text]

[FN 10] L. Calpurnius Piso: father-in-law of Caesar and governor of Macedonia in 57-55 B.C. [Return to text]

[FN 11] I.e. Memmius and Piso. [Return to text]

[FN 12] A Roman vegetation deity commonly portrayed with a large erect penis. [Return to text]

[FN 13] Latin — Pulcher. [Return to text]

[FN 14] I.e. into slavery. [Return to text]

[FN 15] I.e. for any petty motive, without a thought. (The Romans commonly greeted one another with a kiss.) [Return to text]

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Copyright John Porter, University of Saskatchewan, 1995.
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