Catullus 65 Translation

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Introduction

 

In this poem, Catullus discusses his brother’s death, but the reader doesn’t learn this until line six. In the first five lines, Catullus writes about his grief and sorrow, and how those emotions get in the way of the Muses giving him sweet ideas for poetry. Even though Catullus is writing a poem, he tells Hortalus that he cannot write the poem he commissioned because of his grief for his brother. 

Catullus uses repetition in lines 9 and 10 to show how much grief he is feeling. The repetition includes clauses that begin with never, in reference to how Catullus will never see, hear, or speak to his brother again. In lines 11 through 14, Catullus says he will always love his brother and will sing mourning songs, like the Daulian bird sings about the fate of Itylus, who was accidentally killed by his mother. 

To satisfy Hortalus, Catullus tells him he is sending translated Battiades verses. He does this so Hortalus knows Catullus is thinking about the assignment, but he is unable to write unique verses for him. He compares the situation of giving the translated verses to a situation where a young girl forgot that she had a secret gift from a lover. The situation Catullus describes is a poem itself. So, in this one poem, Catullus begins with what feels like an epic poem mourning the death of his brother, then switches to an elegiac poem about a young girl who is in love. 

The lighthearted final lines, 19 through 24, show that Catullus might not be completely honest with Hortalus. Clearly, Catullus has been inspired by the Muse. He wrote a poetic epic simile about a girl who is caught lying to her mother about a secret lover. Maybe Catullus has lied to Hortalus before, and has used his brother’s death a crutch. But, in his poetry, Catullus seems to be brutally honest, so the idea of lying to someone about whether or not he could write poetry for a client doesn’t fit with his previous works. 

Since Catullus only wrote about the loss of his brother in a few poems, maybe he didn’t have a brother at all. He never wrote about his brother in other non-literary works. 

 

Carmen 65

 
LineLatin textEnglish translation

1

ETSI me assiduo confectum cura dolore

THOUGH I am worn out with constant grief,

2

seuocat a doctis, Hortale, uirginibus,

Hortalus, and sorrow calls me away, apart from the learned Maids,

3

nec potis est dulcis Musarum expromere fetus

nor can the thoughts of my heart utter the sweet births of the Muses,

4

mens animi, tantis fluctuat ipsa malis–

tossed as it is with such waves of trouble;

5

namque mei nuper Lethaeo in gurgite fratris

so lately the creeping wave of the Lethaean flood

6

Pallidulum manans alluit unda pedem,

has lapped my own brother’s death-pale foot,

7

Troia Rhoeteo quem subter litore tellus

on whom, torn away from our sight,

8

ereptum nostris obterit ex oculis.

under the shore of Rboeteum the soil of Troy lies heavy.

9

alloquar, audiero numquam tua facta loquentem,

Never shall I speak to thee, never hear thee tell of thy life;

10

numquam ego te, uita frater amabilior,

never shall I see thee again, brother more beloved than life.

11

aspiciam posthac? at certe semper amabo,

But surely I shall always love thee,

12

semper maesta tua carmina morte canam,

always sing strains of mourning for thy death,

13

qualia sub densis ramorum concinit umbris

as under the thick shadows of the boughs sings

14

Daulias, absumpti fata gemens Ityli–

the Daulian bird bewailing the fate of Itylus lost.

15

sed tamen in tantis maeroribus, Ortale, mitto

Yet, in such sorrows, Hortalus, I send

16

haec expressa tibi carmina Battiadae,

to you these verses of Battiades translated,

17

ne tua dicta uagis nequiquam credita uentis

lest haply you should think that your words have slipped from my mind,

18

effluxisse meo forte putes animo,

vainly committed to wandering winds:

19

ut missum sponsi furtiuo munere malum

as an apple sent as a secret gift from her betrothed lover

20

procurrit casto uirginis e gremio,

falls out from the chaste bosom of the girl,

21

quod miserae oblitae molli sub ueste locatum,

which — poor child, she forgot it! — put away in her soft gown,

22

dum aduentu matris prosilit, excutitur,

is shaken out as she starts forward when her mother comes;

23

atque illud prono praeceps agitur decursu,

then, see, onward, downward swiftly it rolls and runs;

24

huic manat tristi conscius ore rubor.

a conscious blush creeps over her downcast face.

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Resources

 

VRoma Project: http://www.vroma.org/~hwalker/VRomaCatullus/065.html