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 Gaius Valerius Catullus     
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Carmen 68 (in English by Brendan Rau)
<<  ē  >>
Available in Latin, Chinese, Croatian, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Scanned, and Vercellese. Compare two languages here.
That you, overwhelmed by fortune and bitter plight, send me
this short letter, written down with tears, that I may
rescue one shipwrecked, expelled by the frothing waves of
the sea, and bring him back in health from the threshold of
death, him whom heavenly Venus provides no relief, alone in a
celibate bed, in languid sleep, nor Muses delight with sweet
song of ancient writers when your mind stays anxiously awake
all night, pleases me because you tell me I'm your friend
and seek the gifts both of the Muses and of Venus. But lest
you not know my misfortunes, Manius, or think I rue my
guest's obligation, listen, lest you further seek from a
miserable man the blessed gifts wherewith I myself am
submerged in the waves of Fortune. At that time when a grown
man's toga was first handed down to me, when the age, rife
with flowers, issued a pleasant spring, I had plenty of
playful affairs: the goddess is well aware of us, she who
mixes our sweet bitterness with cares. But grief over my
brother's death has taken this pastime away from me
entirely. My brother, unhappily removed from me, as you were
dying, you broke my advantages; my brother, our whole house
was buried along with you, and all our joys perished along
with you, joys which your kind friendship nurtured in life.
Because of untimely death I have expelled from my entire
consciousness these pastimes and all delights of the mind.
Wherefore, because you write that it is shameful for
Catullus to be in Verona, because here, anyone who is anyone
would be wont to warm limbs cold from a lonely bed, it is
not just a shame, Manius, but a source of real grief.
Therefore, please forgive me if I do not grant you the gifts
which grief has taken from me, for I cannot so grant them.
For, as for the fact that I do not have a great abundance of
writings at my family home in Verona, it happens that we
live in Rome: that house, that home of mine, there my life
is browsed, and one small scroll case out of many follows me
here. Since it is so, I wouldn't want you to decide that I'm
doing this out of spite or lack of appropriate generosity
because an abundance of neither kind of poem has been sent
to you though you have sought it. If any such abundance were
forthcoming, I would produce it unasked. I cannot keep
silent, ye goddesses, about the matter with which Allius
Manius has helped me, or about the extent of the obligations
with which he has helped me, lest his life, which slips away
as the generations forget, cover this zeal with a blind
night: but I'll tell you, hereafter tell many thousands and
make this roll of papyrus speak when it is old... ...When he
is dead, may he become more and more famous, and may no
spider do her work, weaving a thin web high upon Allius'
lonely name! You know what concern two-faced Venus has given
me, and in what manner she has parched me, for I've been
burning like Etna's Sicilian crag or the waters of Malis in
the hot gates of Mount Oeta, and my hapless eyes have not
stopped wasting away in unremitting tears, and my cheeks
have not stopped being wet with the gloomy tears of rain. As
a stream, shining on the summit of an airy mountain, a
stream that rushes forth from the mossy stone, cuts through
the way of a dense population and suddenly rolls from a
sloping valley is sweet comfort to a tired, sweaty traveler
when severely hot weather cracks the parched fields, and
precisely as a second wind that comes blowing rather gently
is sweet comfort after sailors have been buffeted about in a
black tornado, such help has Allius Manius been to me, now
that the prayers of Castor and Pollux have been issued. With
a wide path, he has opened up a shut plain, and he has given
a home to me and to Lesbia, to which she and I would come to
ply our mutual love. My radiant goddess brought herself
fleetly to Allius' home and set her foot's gleaming sole in
the worn doorway, her weight balanced on a squeaky sandal,
as Laodamia, burning with love, once came to the house of
her husband Protesilaus, a house begun in vain, since no
sacrificial animal had yet appeased the heavenly masters
with its holy blood. Nemesis, nothing of the sort that is
undertaken recklessly, when the gods are unwilling, would
please me so very much. Laodamia learned how the hungry
altar longed for upright blood when her husband was taken
away, and she was compelled to let go of her new husband's
neck before the return of winter had satisfied her
passionate love in the long nights, with the result that she
was able to live after breaking off the marriage, which the
Fates knew would not be a long way off if he went as a
soldier to Troy. At that time, with the abduction of Helen,
Troy had begun to rouse the chief men of the Argives toward
herself, Troy (horror!), shared tomb of Asia and Europe,
Troy, cruel funeral pyre of all men and virtues, which has
even brought a miserable death to my brother! Our whole
house has been buried together with you, and all our joys
have perished together with you, which your sweet friendship
nurtured in life. A foreign land holds him deep under ground
now, so far away, not among familiar tombs, and not placed
beside the ashes of relatives, but buried unhappily in Troy,
loathsome Troy! Whither, then, the conscripted men of
Greece, hurrying from all directions to forsake their
domestic hearths, are drawn, lest Paris, having rejoiced
after Helen was enticed away, freely spend idle pleasures in
a placid bed chamber. Then, because of this plight, most
beautiful Laodamia, a marriage dearer than life and spirit
was taken away from you. A flood, engulfing you in such a
whirlpool of love, had carried you off into a deep pit of
catastrophe, such as, the Greeks say, drains the floor of
Mount Cyllene, near Pheneus, the swamp having been milled: a
pit which Hercules, falsely fathered, is said once to have
dug, when the innards of the mountain had fallen, at which
time he killed the monsters of Stymphalus with an unerring
arrow under the command of lesser Eurystheus, that the door
of the heavens might be traversed by more divinities, and
Hebe shortly lose her virginity. But deeper than that pit
was your deep love, which, though you were indomitable,
taught you to bear the yoke of marriage. And our daughter
does not cherish so dear the head of a late grandson when
her father is exhausted with age; the grandson, when at long
last having acquired his grandfather's riches, enters his
name in the account books, signed in the presence of a
witness, dislodges a vulture from a whitened head the
impious joys of a ridiculous distant relative; nor did
anyone who was the wife of a snow-white cock pigeon rejoice
so much, a pigeon who is said always to snatch kisses rather
wantonly from many a biting beak; how especially promiscuous
is Lesbia! But you alone have conquered their great
passions, as once and for all you have been united to a fair
husband. My sweetheart, compared to Laodamia, is then worthy
to concede little or nothing to my lap; blond Cupid has
often gleamed in a saffron yellow tunic, running here and
there around her. Although she nevertheless is not satisfied
with one Catullus, we bear the infrequent and furtive trysts
of a chaste mistress, lest we be annoying, in the manner of
fools. Even Juno, the greatest of the goddesses, often
stomachs her burning anger at her husband's wrongdoing,
knowing of more trysts of all-desiring Jupiter. But it isn't
just to compare people to gods... ...Take the unwelcome
burden of a trembling father. Besides, she didn't come
brought down by my father's right hand to my house, redolent
with Oriental fragrance, but gave secret little favors on an
extraordinary night, when she was removed from the very lap
of her husband himself. Therefore, it is enough if this day,
which she marks, is given to me with a whiter stone than
ordinary days! Allius Manius, this gift, wrought as well as
I could in verse, is rendered to you in return for your many
favors, lest this day and that touch your name with a
scabrous blight. To this total, the gods will add so many
more gifts, the which Themis once upon a time was accustomed
to bearing to upright people in ancient times. May you and
your life as well be prosperous, and the very house in which
Lesbia and I have played, and Allius, who first has given us
land and now carries it away, from the tip of whom
everything good was originated, and my sweetheart, who is
far dearer to me than all others, dearer to me than I myself
am: my life is sweet with her alive.

Taken with kind permission from Brendan
© copyright 17-4-1999 by Brendan Rau
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