Catullus LXVIII: Two Poems In One


A. To Manlius


That, battered as you are by Fortune’s harsh

Onslaught, you send me this tear-written note–

Will I rescue this shipwrecked man, outcast

In the frothing waves and sprawled on death’s threshold,

Whom Holy Venus suffers not to rest***************************5

In soothing sleep on deprivation’s bed,

Nor by the Muses’ solace can he find ease

In long-dead poets, while anguish keeps awake?–

That you should ask me this for friendship’s sake,

Is surely something that can’t help but please,******************10

First that you count me friend, and then your plea

For Venus’s and the Muses’ gifts, through me.


Yet, Manlius, I’d not have you ignorant

I too am burdened by affliction (lest

You think I grudge the duty of a guest).*************************15

In Fortune’s waves I too flounder

So don’t request what only Content can grant.

It’s true that from the time I was first allowed

The pure white toga, while my youth flowered,

I played, and plenty! Nor is that goddess unaware***************20

Of me who laces bitter-sweet with care.

But now my brother’s death has emptied

Me of all such interests. (Brother, stolen

Away from me, in dying you have broken

My content. All our house with you is buried,********************25

All our joys with you perished, vanished,

Joys which in life your sweet love nourished.)

For, since his passing, from my mind I’ve banished

All those delightful, frivolous pursuits I’d cherished

When in love’s toils I frolicked as I languished,******************30

Ignorant of grief’s meaning as I anguished.

So when you write, “It’s shameful that Catullus

Stays up in Verona while some distinguished

Personage warms chilled limbs in a deserted bed,”

That’s not shameful, Manlius–rather, wretched!*****************35

So you’ll forgive me if I do not grant

Gifts of which grief’s deprived me, for I can’t!

As for the second option you suggest,

To turn to Latin some Greek masterwork

Again I must decline, but would not shirk***********************40

To honour your request.

That I can’t lay my hands on a great store

Of writers is because I live in Rome;

That’s where my life is spent, my base, my home.

One book-box follows me up here, no more.*********************45

This being so, I would not have you task

Me with meanness or disingenuous malice,

In thus withholding either source of solace.

Had I supply, you would not need to ask.


B. For Allius


Never, Muses, shall I be reconciled

In silence to the years’ dismembering flight

Nor that this memory be concealed


In ignorant, impenetrable night:

How Allius helped me and with what weight*********************5

Of kindnesses, as I proclaim to you


And you’ll broadcast to many thousands, who

Will hear my pages speak, speak as they age;

And more and more his fame will have the edge


On death, nor will the spider, weaving on high*******************10

Her slender web, over his forsaken name

Work her fine tracery. For the sly


Amathusian Goddess played her double game

On me–as, Muses, you know well–scorching

Me with such fire as, searching**********************************15


Crag and crevice, licks Mount Etna’s slopes,

Or, as the Hot Springs at Thermopylae

On Mount Oeta, in Malis, scalding me,


While I, seeing the death of all my hopes,

Wore out my eyes with such a heavy rain*************************20

As drenched my cheeks. But as, gleaming on high,


Down from the mossy stone a torrent leaps

And tumbles headlong down a steep ravine,

To cross a crowded road, offering sweet


Relief to wayfarers, who toil and sweat***************************25

Their way, while from on high the heat

Pounds the burnt-out gaping fields; as when


For sailors, in a black storm tossed, a gen-

-tle following wind brings proof they prayed

To Castor and to Pollux not in vain–*****************************30


Such help was Allius to me. He made

A space for love by opening up a fenced

Field with a broad bridle path, supplied


A house for us and for that house a mistress,

That there our shared love might be evidenced,*******************35

And there my goddess, in her radiant progress


Softly stepping, rested her dazzling foot.

Her sandal drew a shrill creak from the worn

Threshold. She seemed like Laodamia, brought


Ablaze with love to the house in vain commenced*****************40

By Protesilaus. Her husband would be torn

From her embrace before two winters were out,


Or even one. What had she to look back

On? For a neglected sacrifice,

No sacred blood to slake the altar’s thirst, plac-*******************45


-ate the Lords of Heaven (Nemesis,

Maiden of Rhamnos, never may I fulfil

Any desire without these Lords’ consent!)


The Fates foresaw he’d be the first to fall,

Not far the day, joining in that long brawl*************************50

Provoked by Troy, when Argive chiefs, in all


Their gathered fury, should resolve to strike

Troy’s walls in bloody punishment

For Helen’s abduction. Troy, common grave


Of all Europe and Asia, the ash of men****************************55

And manliness alike!

Did she not bring also my brother death? Stolen


From me, poor brother, to my grief, I grieve

You and our whole house buried with you, you

With whom our joys have been devoured, joys which***************60


Your sweet love nourished while you were alive

Before Death stole the light out of your eyes,

That light by which our lives were made so rich


The short time that it lasted. We little knew

That so far off would be your rendezvous**************************65

With Death, so soon. There you lie buried


Far off from where your family are laid

To rest–in Troy, remote, repugnant, al-

-ien soil, and to that very place were ferried


All Hellas’s warlike elite, who did not fail**************************70

The vengeful summons, but, rather, hurried,

Forsaking hearth and home, lest Paris should avail


Himself at too great leisure in her chamber

Of his adulterous, abducted renegade.

Your wedding song turned to a strain more sombre,****************75


Fairest Laodamia, in that long raid

Robbed of a husband sweeter than life and breath,

Sucked from contentment by Love’s seething tide


And plunged into a sheer abyss, such as the Greeks report

Hercules himself, Amphitryon’s son (as falsely thought!),***********80

Dug out to drain a swamp’s gross soil beneath


Mount Cyllene, near Pheneus in Arcadia, cut-

-ting deep into the mountain’s marrow, what

Time he pierced with his unerring arrows


Monstrous Stymphalian birds that chose**************************85

Living human flesh for meat. Thus he obeyed

A lesser lord, taskmaster king who laid


Those heavy labours on him. Yet his reward

To be raised up, a new god treading

Heaven’s gateway, by his true lord********************************90


And father, Jove, and find a goddess bride,

Hebe, who would preserve her virgin pride

No longer than their wedding.


But deeper than that famed

Abyss, Laodamia (stlll untamed),*********************************95

Your deep Love taught you to sustain that yoke.


Your love surpassed an old man’s for his late-

Born grandson, even as some fortune-hunt-

Ing kinsman circles round. The joke


Is on the vulture shooed out of his legacy.*************************100

Your love surpassed even the passionate

She-dove, who hangs more shameless on her mate,


Pecking at kisses more incessantly,

Than the most much-desiring woman. You did not stint

Your love, Laodamia, but you went*******************************105


Beyond all those and their crazed passion in

Your loving union with your fair-

Haired husband. Nor do I demean


My light by any false compare

In claiming she fell short of such a one****************************110

By no means or by little. That day she gave


Herself into my lap, and often Cupid, run-

-ning here and there about her, gleamed

Dazzling in saffron tunic. She doesn’t save


Herself for just Catullus, that is true.******************************115

But I don’t see that she is to be blamed

For this (let her keep always in view


Discretion!) I would not be numbered

Among the stupid crew.

I love the lady, would not have her lumbered.**********************120


Even Juno, greatest of

Her sex in heaven, slammed

Down hard on her own blazing anger,


Learning the thefts of All-Desiring Jove,

(Though likening men to gods is deemed***************************125

Impiety). I would not be damned


As overbearing, over-anxious, one who seemed

More like a parent than a lover. I can’t anchor

Love on any contract, for she came


Not on her father’s arm to her new home***************************130

Fragrant with Assyrian perfume

But on a night of wonder bearing little stolen


Gifts lifted from her husband’s lap. I am content

Should she but celebrate that day’s magnificence

With me, and with no other, spent.*********************************135


And so to you, Allius, this grateful token,

Achieved in song, no better recompense,

For all your many kindnesses is sent,


Lest this day and the next and next corrode

Your name with rust. Whatever else is owed************************140

By ancient custom to a faithful soul


The gods in their good time will add.

I wish all happiness to you and to

The one you call your life, and to the house


Where, man and mistress, my love and I both played****************145

Together, and to Afer,

Who introduced us to you, and thus the source


Of all the good things in my life that make it whole,

And, beyond all, to her, dearer to me by far

Than my own self, my light,***************************************150


Merely by living makes my life delight.


Notes on individual lines

Part A

32-34. I suggest that the “distinguished personage” is Metellus, to whom Catullus has for now abandoned his “bed,” i.e. sexual relations with Lesbia. There are many interpretations, however.

Part B

13. Amathusian: from Aphrodite’s shrine at Amathos in Cyprus.
38-9. A touch of irony here, as this was regarded as a bad omen.
39–109. These lines, a long digression containing further digressions, recount the myth of Protesilaus and Laodamia summarised by Garrison as follows: “The story is that Laodamia first crossed the threshold of her new husband, Protesilaus, without making due sacrifice. He left soon after their wedding to become the first Greek to land at Troy and the first to die in the Trojan War. The relevant points of the simile, which emerge slowly, are deep love and rash haste” (Garrison, D.H. The Student’s Catullus, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004).
47. From the temple of Nemesis, goddess of retribution, at Rhamnos in Attica.
79-83. The word used for abyss is barathrum, also an underground drainage shaft.
84-6. In his fifth labour, Hercules killed the man-eating birds by Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia.




Catullus probably lived c. 85-c. 54 BC. He is most famous for his love poems, especially those inspired by the faithless Clodia Metelli (wife and later widow of the politician and general Metellus Celer). He gives her the name Lesbia in his poems as a tribute to the Greek poetess, Sappho of Lesbos. He also, however, wrote fine poems celebrating friendship, excoriating his enemies, including Julius Caesar (often obscenely), and recounting Greek legend.

Ranald Barnicot

Ranald Barnicot has a BA in Classics from Balliol College, Oxford, and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Birkbeck College, London. He is now retired from a career as an EFL/ESL teacher, having worked in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the UK. He has had, or is due to have, original poems or translations (Catullus, Horace, Verlaine, and Mallarmé) published in Priapus, AcumenSentinel, The Rotary Dial, The French Literary Review, MetamorphosesTransference, Ezra, Stand, and InTranslation. Besides Latin and French, he has also translated from Ancient Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

English translation copyright (c) Ranald Barnicot, 2017.