Five Poems by Catullus

Non ideo, Gelli (Catullus XCI)

Gellius, I hoped that I could count on you
In this unhappy, desperate love affair
Of mine, not as I knew you well, or thought you’d spare
Me out of loyalty
Or you could shun such foulness as you had in view,

But rather as I knew that she for whom
Great love devoured me was neither your
Mother nor sister. Also, you’d set little store
By any intimacy
There’d been between us. But you set some. You’ve room

In your corrupt soul only for such depravity
As thrives by perpetrating injury.

Gellius est tenuis (Catullus LXXXIX)

Gellius is slender. Of course!
His mother’s so kind and robust.
His sister’s so charming. We must
Not forget uncle, so benev-
olent, nor, clust-
ering round, a bev-
-y of cousins. In such
Company, why give up being thin?
Though he’s forbidden to touch,
He’ll think being thin no sin.
For thin-ness he’ll find plenty cause.

Gellius audierat (LXXIV)

Uncle would often rant,
As Gellius had heard,
At any he deemed decadent
In thought or deed or word,
So to pre-empt
An incident
Young Gellius gave his aunt
(His uncle’s wife, that is)
A good going-over, turned Uncle to Harpocrates,
Finger to mouth like that Egyptian child-
God. Gellius could be at ease.
He’d done enough.
Were his prick to stuff
His uncle’s mouth, his uncle, thus defiled
Would likewise breathe no word.

Quid dicam (Catullus LXXX)

Tell me, Gellius, if you know,
Why those rosy lips of yours
Are whiter than the winter’s snow,

Mornings when you walk outdoors,
Later, as the day drags on,
Roused from sweet siesta? Cause

There is, surely. Don’t know but gone
Whispering all round the town
There’s a rumour–fact or fiction?–

That you gobble and grind down
One man’s massive hard-on. Sure,
This is true and your renown
(Which forever will endure)

Is proclaimed by wretched Victor’s
Ruptured groin! Another factor’s
White whey smeared on lips, and flecked,
By the aforesaid, once erect.

Quid facit is (LXXXVIII)

What shall we call the man who frolics nightlong
Naked with mother, sister, tunics flung
Off in their passion, strewn on the floor?
Who strips his uncle of all but a husband’s name?
We’ll call him Gellius, Gellius, one whose shame
Is not to be washed away by Ocean, Nymphs’ Sire, nor,
At the world’s edge, Tethys, one we despise
As no less criminal than any who’d stoop to gnaw
And guzzle himself between the thighs.



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 degree in Classics from Balliol College, Oxford and has worked as a teacher of EFL/ESOL in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the UK. He is now (very recently) retired and has published shamefully little. He recently published a translation of Verlaine in Acumen, and he has translations of Catullus forthcoming in Stand and Ezra. His ambition is to publish his Catullus translations in book form.

English translation copyright (c) Ranald Barnicot, 2017.