Catullus 58 Translation

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Catullus loved Lesbia. Caelius also loved Lesbia. In fact, Caelius was the man that Lesbia turned to after her husband died. In this poem, Catullus writes to Caelius and his relationship with Lesbia. He talks about how he loved her more than he loved himself. The first two lines feel almost like he is crying and mourning her loss, especially since he says her name three times in the course of six words. 

In the final line of the poem, Catullus refers to the descendants of Remus. As Remus is the founder of Rome, he is talking about how Lesbia “peels” with any Roman in the cross-roads and alleys. The word peel is used as a verb in this poem. When used as a verb, peel involves removing an outer layer from food, like fruit or fish. But, it also could involve stripping an outer layer. Catullus is trying to insult Caelius by saying that Lesbia will strip clothing off of the children of Remus. Catullus accuses Lesbia of sneaking into alleys and cross-roads to satisfy her appetite. By mentioning this, he could be attempting to insult Caelius by saying that Lesbia wouldn’t want to be seen with him or the other descendants of Remus. 

Caelius shows up in other poems by Catullus. He also calls him Rufus. In all four poems, Catullus insults Caelius because he won the heart of Lesbia. Caelius clearly hurt Catullus by having a sexual relationship with Lesbia. The belief is that Caelius stepped in when Catullus was out of Rome. Caelius also is offensive to Catullus because he defended Cicero when he tried to kill Lesbia. This little poem shows how much he does not like the man.


Carmen 58

LineLatin textEnglish translation

CAELI, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa.

O, Caelius, my Lesbia, that Lesbia,


illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam

that Lesbia whom alone Catullus loved


plus quam se atque suos amauit omnes,

more than himself and all his own,


nunc in quadriuiis et angiportis

now in the cross-roads and alleys


NON custos si fingar ille Cretum,

Not though I should be moulded in brass like the fabled warder of Crete,


non Ladas ego pinnipesue Perseus,

not though I were to soar aloft like flying Pegasus,


non si Pegaseo ferar uolatu,

not if I were Ladas or wing-footed Persues,


non Rhesi niueae citaeque bigae;

not if I were the swift snow-white pair of Rhesus:


adde huc plumipedas uolatilesque,

add to these the feather-footed gods and the winged,


uentorumque simul require cursum,

and with them call for the swiftness of the winds;–


quos iunctos, Cameri, mihi dicares:

though you should harness all these, Camerius, and press them into my service,


defessus tamen omnibus medullis

yet I should be tired out to my very marrow,


et multis languoribus peresus

and worn away with frequent faintness,


essem te mihi, amice, quaeritando.

my friend, while searching for you.

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