Eleven Poems of Catullus


Sparrow, o, Lesbia’s sweet bird
whom she keeps near to stroke

at her bosom, to whom with delight
she offers a restless finger,

prodding for bites, tiny wounds,
if ever my fiery lady needs some

distraction from passion’s sweet pain…
o! that I could play with you myself

little sparrow, you would free
my thoughts from despair.


Lesbia, come, let us live and love, and be
deaf to the vile jabber of the ugly old fools,
the sun may come up each day but when our
star is out…our night, it shall last forever and
give me a thousand kisses and a hundred more
a thousand more again, and another hundred,
another thousand, and again a hundred more,
as we kiss these passionate thousands let
us lose track; in our oblivion, we will avoid
the watchful eyes of stupid, evil peasants
hungry to figure out
how many kisses we have kissed.


Fabullus, provided the gods favor you,
in a few days’ time we’ll be dining well.
For your part could you bring a decent

sizable meal, a fair-fleshed girl and
also, the wine with your wit and laughter?
If you can manage these, dear friend,

we’ll be dining in style, for right now
Catullus’ purse is a nest of cobwebs;
for your noble efforts you’ll get the

most pure friendship, and all things
sweet and agreeable. I’ll have a perfume
that is my girl’s, it was given her by Venus

and the Cupids. It is so sweet, Fabullus
that when you smell it, you’ll wish
you were nothing but nose.


Calvus, if I did not love you as my own
two eyes, I’d hate you as we hate Vatinius.
Do you not recall
the present you sent me? What is it I did–
what did I say, what wrong did I do–
that you so wish to destroy me?
May the gods bring punishment on your client
who sent you that collection of poetic inanity.
If this fine, new book
arrived by way of Sulla, as I would suspect,
it would not be upsetting, no.
I’d be pleased: for it would mean
you were paid for your work.
What a foul thing you’ve done.
Was your intention, then, to unhinge your Catullus
at the very start of Saturnalia, best of days? No matter.
Come morning, I’ll raid the shelves
of the booksellers. I’ll gather
the worst of Caesii, Aquini, Suffenus–
all that’s utterly stupid and worthless
and I’ll get payback.
In the meanwhile, poets, be gone,
get as far away from me as possible.
On gangrenous feet return to the place
you came from. You are blemishes
on our age, you most stupid of poets.


Aurelius and Furius: little cocksuckers
I’ll fuck you up the ass
and stuff your mouths!
You who think
since my poems are delicate I’m less than chaste.
It’s well known that a poet who is devoted need not
be upstanding in his verses.
It’s clear that my lines are charming, witty.
Then what of it if they’re a tad soft
a bit shameless at times
so long as my readers get turned on?
Mind you I’m not talking about healthy boys, but hairy
old geezers who can’t get it up
by standard methods.
Yet you still think because
I’ve spoken of a good many kisses
I’m somehow less than a man?
Yeah, I’ll fuck you up the ass
and stuff it in your mouths.


Listen up girl, with nose not really petite,
feet less than handsome,
and eyes murky.

Your fingers are not so slender
and your mouth drips slobber.
And did you not know that your

tongue is quite grotesque?
Yet I have this need to ask–
o sweetheart of the debtor from

Formiae–do the humble
people of the provinces
seriously regard you as beautiful?

for I’ve heard they compare
you with Lesbia–Oh
ours is an ignorant and tasteless age!


Porcius and Socration, you lackey
fuckups of Consul Piso, whose names
sound more like “plague” and “famine” than

anything the least bit prestigious. Is it really true
that our deity Priapus prefers you two
to my good friends Veranius and Fabullus?

And tell me, if you will,
how it is that you are virtually shitting
money and hosting sumptuous banquets

at kingly expense, and in broad daylight.
Conversely, my two friends have
to walk the streets, begging for invitations.


Gellius in some way or other was made abundantly
aware of his stern uncle’s dislike of any talk about–
to say nothing of the actual practice of–
salacious deeds in his home:

The old man would nearly punish anyone who did.
So what else could old Gellius do but
coax his uncle’s wife into the sack and show her a thing or two?
In so doing Gellius managed to turn his uncle

into that Egyptian god of stone, Harpocrates, the silent one.
And from that point on, Gellius could do whatsoever
he pleased. For instance, if he wanted to fuck the old moralist
the latter could do nothing, not even whimper. Nothing.


Lesbia, I am mad:
my brain is entirely warped

by this project of adoring
and having you

and now it flies into fits
of hatred at the mere thought of your

doing well, and at the same time
it can’t help but seek what

is unimaginable–
your affection. This it will go on

hunting for, even if it
means my total and utter annihilation.


Lesbius is a beauty. Why? Well,
because sister Lesbia adores him

–and far more than you,
old Catullus,

with your entire family to boot. And
nevertheless this pretty guy

would certainly sell all your relatives,
and you too, Catullus, into slavery

in order to buy the kisses
of several boy-whores.


I hate and love. If you were to ask how

I got this way, I’d have no answer;

but since I can recall, I have suffered

**–I have felt this torment.



Gaius Valerius Catullus is thought to have been born in 84 BCE, dying at age thirty. If we are to go by his work, he lived intensely. We know that he came from a prosperous Veronese family, moving to the big city (Rome) as a young man. With the help of an allowance, he lived the high life, becoming a member of the neoteric, or “new,” poets. Aesthetically radical (though politically conservative), the coterie followed an aesthetic program explicitly opposed to the heroic grandeur of epic, favoring instead the small-scale, exquisite technique of the Alexandrian poet-scholar Callimachus, who famously declared, “Big book, big evil” (μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν).

Michael G. Donkin

Michael G. Donkin is a graduate student in New York. Recent prose has appeared in Chicago Review and The Lifted Brow. The eleven translations published here make up a section of a recently completed manuscript of epigrams, fables, and other short forms.

English translation copyright (c) Michael G. Donkin, 2016.