Catullus 4 Translation

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In this poem, Catullus writes about a yacht that once was the best of all ships. He describes her as being the fleetest and that no other boat could match her speed with both oars or with sails. In lines six through nine, Catullus writes about all of the places that the yacht went, from the Adriatic and Cyclades and Rhodes. In lines 10 through 12, he recalls when the yacht was once a tree in the leafy forest who would commune with the rustling leaves. 

Catullus continues the ode by sharing how well-known the yacht was, even as a tree on the summit of a mountain. Then, she entered the water and dipped her blades into the seas. After that, she was directed by Jove’s winds who would fill both of the sails at one time. Catullus tells readers that sailers did not have to make vows to the gods because she was such a sturdy ship, they never worried about not making it home. 

Now, this beautiful ship is retired and resting in her life of leisure, dedicating herself to the gods, especially to Castor and Pollux. 

This beautiful ode is on the surface dedicated to a ship that delivered what she promised as she sailed from shore to shore. But, in the style of Catullus, it could be an ode to his woman, Lesbia. She was woman who lived her life to the fullest and delivered as she promised. Then, after she was worn out, she lived her life, but then had to stop and retire, just like this ship. It would not be below Catullus to craft an epic metaphor comparing a woman to a ship. He honors the ship as he honored Lesbia, but she did go from man to man (shore to shore), despite all of the love that Catullus had for her.

Carmen 4

LineLatin textEnglish translation
1PHASELVS ille, quem uidetis, hospites, The yacht you see, my friends, 
2ait fuisse nauium celerrimus, says that she was once the fleetest of ships, 
3neque ullius natantis impetum trabis and that there was never any timber afloat whose speed 
4nequisse praeterire, siue palmulis she was not able to pass, whether she would fly 
5opus foret uolare siue linteo. with oar-blades or with canvas. 
6et hoc negat minacis Hadriatici And this (says she) the shore of the blustering Adriatic 
7negare litus insulasue Cycladas does not deny, nor the Cyclades isles 
8Rhodumque nobilem horridamque Thraciam and famous Rhodes and the wild Thracian
9Propontida trucemue Ponticum sinum, Propontis, nor the gloomy gulf of Pontus, 
10ubi iste post phaselus antea fuit where she who was afterwards a yacht was formerly
11comata silua; nam Cytorio in iugo a leafy forest: for on the height of Cytorus
12loquente saepe sibilum edidit coma. she often rustled with talking leaves. 
13Amastri Pontica et Cytore buxifer, Pontic Amastris and Cytorus greeen with box, 
14tibi haec fuisse et esse cognitissima my galley says that all this was and is well-known to thee; 
15ait phaselus: ultima ex origine she says that from her earliest birthtime 
16tuo stetisse dicit in cacumine, she stood on thy summit, 
17tuo imbuisse palmulas in aequore, in thy waters first dipped her blades, 
18et inde tot per impotentia freta and thence over so many riotous seas
19erum tulisse, laeua siue dextera brought her owner, whether the breeze from left or right 
20uocaret aura, siue utrumque Iuppiter invited, or Jove came down astern
21simul secundus incidisset in pedem; on both sheets at once; 
22neque ulla uota litoralibus deis and that no vows to the gods of the shore 
23sibi esse facta, cum ueniret a mari were made by her all the time she wa s sailing from the furthest sea 
24nouissimo hunc ad usque limpidum lacum. even to this limpid lake.
25sed haec prius fuere: nunc recondita But these things are past and gone; now she rests 
26senet quiete seque dedicat tibi, in old age and retired leisure, and dedicates herself to thee, 
27gemelle Castor et gemelle Castoris.twin Castor, and to thee, Castor’s twin.

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