Catullus 66 Translation
Catullus 66 was written while the poet was grieving the death of his brother. This poem is not about death, but is about Berenice who is the daughter of the king of Cyrene, Magas. In her story, the Egyptian princess promised that the gods could have a lock of her hair if they promised her husband could safely travel to and from Syria. She gave the lock of hair, but it disappeared the next day.
Berenice had a court astronomer named Conon who said he saw the lock of hair in the stars. He believed that the gods put it there and he named the new constellation Coma Berenices. In this poem, Catullus tells the story of Berenice’s lock of hair and Conon, who finds it.
While the poem tells of the story, there are moments when Catullus shows what he was really thinking. In lines 21-23, he wrote about tears that weren’t shed for an empty bed, but for the loss of a brother. That sorrow “gnawed the inmost marrow” of the heart. Throughout several lines that followed the place where Catullus shared his grief, he comments on how Berenice must have felt sorrow while her husband was at war in Syria.
In line 47, he asks “What shall locks of hair do, when such things as this yield to steel?” It seems that Catullus is thinking about how trivial things like hair, that don’t matter much after a loved one dies or yields to steel. Moments like this show how disjointed the poem is as he wrote it while he was experiencing so much grief.
Despite the disjointed storytelling, the poem is loaded with imagery and allusions. He mentions so many mythological figures like Callisto, Venus, Orion, Ethiopian Memnon, and so many more. These bring the poem to life and make it worthy of reading.
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OMNIA qui magni dispexit lumina mundi,
CONON, he who scanned all the lights of the vast sky,
qui stellarum ortus comperit atque obitus,
who learnt the risings of the stars and their settings,
flammeus ut rapidi solis nitor obscuretur,
how the flaming blaze of the swift sun suffers eclipse,
ut cedant certis sidera temporibus,
how the stars recede at set seasons,
ut Triuiam furtim sub Latmia saxa relegans
how sweet love calls Trivia from her airy circuit,
dulcis amor gyro deuocet aereo:
banishing her secretly to the rocky cave of Latmus —
idem me ille Conon caelesti in limine uidit
that same Conon saw me shining brightly among the lights of heaven,
e Beroniceo uertice caesariem
me, the lock from the head of Berenice,
fulgentem clare, quam multis illa dearum
me whom she vowed to many of the goddesses,
leuia protendens brachia pollicita est,
stretching forth her smooth arms,
qua rex tempestate nouo auctus hymenaeo
at that season when the king, blest in his new marriage,
uastatum finis iuerat Assyrios,
had gone to waste the Assyrian borders,
dulcia nocturnae portans uestigia rixae,
carrying the sweet traces of our battles at night
quam de uirgineis gesserat exuuiis.
which he had won by conquering my virginity.
estne nouis nuptis odio Venus? anne parentum
Is Venus hated by brides? and do they mock
frustrantur falsis gaudia lacrimulis,
the joys of parents with false tears,
ubertim thalami quas intra limina fundunt?
which they shed plentifully within their virgin bowers?
non, ita me diui, uera gemunt, iuerint.
No, so may the gods help me, they lament not truly.
id mea me multis docuit regina querellis
This my queen taught me by all her lamentations,
inuisente nouo proelia torua uiro.
when her newly wedded husband went forth to grim war.
et tu non orbum luxti deserta cubile,
But your tears, forsooth, were not shed for the desertion of your widowed bed,
sed fratris cari flebile discidium?
but for the mournful parting from your dear brother,
quam penitus maestas exedit cura medullas!
when sorrow gnawed the inmost marrow of your sad heart.
ut tibi tunc toto pectore sollicitae
At that time how from your whole breast did your anxious
sensibus ereptis mens excidit! at ego certe
spirit fail, bereft of sense! and yet truly
cognoram a parua uirgine magnanimam.
I knew you to be stout-hearted from young girlhood.
anne bonum oblita es facinus, quo regium adepta es
Have you forgotten the brave deed by which you gained a royal
coniugium, quod non fortior ausit alis?
marriage, which none else could venture and so win the title of braver?
sed tum maesta uirum mittens quae uerba locuta est!
But at that time in your grief, when parting from your husband, what words did you utter!
Iuppiter, ut tristi lumina saepe manu!
How often, O Jupiter, did you brush away’the tears with your hand!
quis te mutauit tantus deus? an quod amantes
What mighty god has changed you thus ? is it that lovers
non longe a caro corpore abesse uolunt?
cannot bear to be far away from the side of him they love?
atque ibi me cunctis pro dulci coniuge diuis
And there to all the gods for your dear husband’s welfare
non sine taurino sanguine pollicita es,
you vowed me not without blood of bulls,
si reditum tetulisset. is haut in tempore longo
so he should complete his return. He in no long time
captam Asiam Aegypti finibus addiderat.
had added conquered Asia to the territories of Egypt.
quis ego pro factis caelesti reddita coetu
This is done; and now I am given as due to the host of heaven,
pristina uota nouo munere dissoluo.
and pay your former vows with a new offering.
inuita, o regina, tuo de uertice cessi,
Unwillingly. O queen, I was parted from your head,
inuita: adiuro teque tuumque caput,
unwillingly, I swear both by you and by your head;
digna ferat quod si quis inaniter adiurarit:
by which if any swear vainly, let him reap a worthy recompense.
sed qui se ferro postulet esse parem?
But what man can claim to be as strong as steel?
ille quoque euersus mons est, quem maximum in oris
Even that mountain was overthrown, the greatest of all in those shores
progenies Thiae clara superuehitur,
which the bright son of Thia traverses,
cum Medi peperere nouum mare, cumque iuuentus
when the Medes created a new sea, and when the youth
per medium classi barbara nauit Athon.
of Persia swam in their fleet through mid Athos.
quid facient crines, cum ferro talia cedant?
What shall locks of hair do, when such things as this yield to steel?
Iuppiter, ut Chalybon omne genus pereat,
Jupiter, may all the race of the Chalybes perish,
et qui principio sub terra quaerere uenas
and he, who first began to seek for veins underground,
institit ac ferri stringere duritiem!
and to forge hard bars of iron!
abiunctae paulo ante comae mea fata sorores
My sister locks, sundered from me just before, were mourning for my fate,
lugebant, cum se Memnonis Aethiopis
when the own brother of Ethiopian Memnon appeared,
unigena impellens nutantibus aera pennis
striking the air with waving wings,
obtulit Arsinoes Locridis ales equos,
the winged follower of Locrian Arsinoe.
isque per aetherias me tollens auolat umbras
And he sweeping me away flies through the airs of heaven
et Veneris casto collocat in gremio.
and places me in the holy bosom of Venus.
ipsa suum Zephyritis eo famulum legarat
On that service had the Lady of Zephyrium, the Grecian queen,
Graiia Canopitis incola litoribus.
who sojourns on the shores of Canopus, herself sent her own minister.
hi dii uen ibi uario ne solum in lumine caeli
Then Venus — that among the various lights of heaven,
ex Ariadnaeis aurea temporibus
not only should the golden crown taken from the brows of Ariadne
fixa corona foret, sed nos quoque fulgeremus
be fixed, but that I also might shine,
deuotae flaui uerticis exuuiae,
the dedicated spoil of Berenice’s sunny head,
uuidulam a fluctu cedentem ad templa deum me
me too, wet with tears, and transported to the abodes of the gods,
sidus in antiquis diua nouum posuit.
me a new constellation among the ancient stars did the goddess set;
Virginis et saeui contingens namque Leonis
for I, touching the fires of the Virgin and the raging Lion,
lumina, Callisto iuncta Lycaoniae,
and close by Callisto daughter of Lycaon,
uertor in occasum, tardum dux ante Booten,
move to my setting, while I point the way before slow Bootes,
qui uix sero alto mergitur Oceano.
who scarce late at night dips in deep ocean.
sed quamquam me nocte premunt uestigia diuum,
But though at night the footsteps of the gods press close upon me,
lux autem canae Tethyi restituit
whilst by day I am restored to gray Tethys
(pace tua fari hic liceat, Ramnusia uirgo,
(under thy sufferance let mespeak this, O Virgin of Rhamnus;
namque ego non ullo uera timore tegam,
no fear shall make me hide the truth,
nec si me infestis discerpent sidera dictis,
no, not even though the stars shall rend me with angry words
condita quin ueri pectoris euoluam),
will I refrain from uttering the secrets of a true heart),
non his tam laetor rebus, quam me afore semper,
I do not so much rejoice in this good fortune, as grieve that parted,
afore me a dominae uertice discrucior,
ever parted must I be from the head of my lady;
quicum ego, dum uirgo quondam fuit omnibus expers
with whom of old, while she was still a virgin, delighting herself
unguentis, una milia multa bibi.
with all kinds of perfumes, I drank many thousands.
nunc uos, optato quas iunxit lumine taeda,
Now, ye maidens, when the torch has united you with welcome light,
non prius unanimis corpora coniugibus
yield not your bodies to your loving spouses,
tradite nudantes reiecta ueste papillas,
baring your breasts with vesture opened,
quam iucunda mihi munera libet onyx,
before the onyx jar offers pleasant gifts to me,
uester onyx, casto colitis quae iura cubili.
the jar which is yours, who reverence marriage in chaste wedlock.
sed quae se impuro dedit adulterio,
But as for her who gives herself up to foul adultery,
illius a mala dona leuis bibat irrita puluis:
ah! let the light dust drink up her worthless gifts unratified:
namque ego ab indignis praemia nulla peto.
for I ask no offerings from the unworthy.
sed magis, o nuptae, semper concordia uestras,
But rather, O ye brides, may concord evermore dwell
semper amor sedes incolat assiduus.
in your homes, ever abiding Love.
tu uero, regina, tuens cum sidera diuam
And you, my queen, when gazing up to the stars
placabis festis luminibus Venerem,
you propitiate Venus with festal lamps,
unguinis expertem non siris esse tuam me,
let not me your handmaid want perfumes,
sed potius largis affice muneribus.
but rather enrich me with bounteous gifts.
sidera corruerint utinam! coma regia fiam,
Why do the stars keep me here? I would fain be the queen’s lock once more;
proximus Hydrochoi fulgeret Oarion!
and let Orion blaze next to Aquarius.
VRoma Project: http://www.vroma.org/~hwalker/VRomaCatullus/066.html