lecture

I, Claudia.

Identifications
— Catullus
— Clodia
— Lesbia

“Bad Kid Catullus” (2017):

review of bad kid catullus.jpeg

1. Catullus poems:

  • Lesbia is a married woman: 83.
  • Poems declaring love for Lesbia: 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 51, 85, 87, 107, 109.
  • Poems comparing her to other women: 43, 86.
  • Poems about their fights: 36, 83, 92, 104.
  • Poems criticizing her for cheating on him: 8, 68, 70, 72, 75, 76.
  • Poems of strong abuse against her: 11, 37, 58, 79.
  • Poems about her other lovers: 37 (Egnatius), 91 (Gellius), 79 (her own brother??)
  • Catullus’ poems also describe a love affair with a man named Juventius: 15, 21, 24, 48, 81, 99.

2a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 2. Translated by Peter Green.

Sparrow, precious darling of my sweetheart,
always her plaything, held fast in her bosom,
whom she loves to provoke with outstretched finger
tempting the little pecker to nip harder
when my incandescent longing fancies
just a smidgin of fun and games and comfort
for the pain she’s feeling (I believe it!),
something to lighten that too-heavy ardor —
how I wish I could sport with you as she does,
bring some relief to the spirit’s black depression!

2b. Roman wall painting from the House of the Golden Bracelet (close-up on a nightingale). Pompeii, 1st c. BCE or CE. Image: mtholyoke.edu.

myholyoke-birdie-e1518457527248.png

2c. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 3. Translated by Peter Green.

Mourn, Cupids all, every Venus, and whatever
company still exists of caring people:
Sparrow lies dead, my own true sweetheart’s sparrow,
Sparrow, the pet and darling of my sweetheart,
loved by her more than she valued her own eyesight.
Sweet as honey he was, and knew his mistress
no less closely than a child her mother;
nor from her warm lap’s safety would he ever
venture far, but hopping this and that way
came back, cheeping, always to his lady.
Now he’s travelling on that dark-shroud journey
whence, they tell us, none of the departed
ever returns. The hell with you, you evil
blackness of Hell, devouring all that’s lovely–
such a beautiful sparrow you’ve torn from me!
Oh wicked deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
It’s your fault that now my sweetheart’s eyelids
are sore and swollen red from all her weeping.

2d. Left: a tintinnabulum from Pompeii, 1st c. CE (Inv. 27839). Image: Marie-Lan Nguyen (CC-BY 2.5) via wikimedia. Right: phallic amulets from Roman Gaul. Image: wikimedia.

 

 

2e. Nicolai Abildgaard, (1809) “Catullus and Lesbia after the death of her sparrow.” Image: Wikimedia

Nicolai_Abildgaard_-_Catullus_og_Lesbia_-_1809.jpg

3a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 5. Translated by Peter Green.

Let’s live, Lesbia mine, and love — and as for
scandal, all the gossip, old men’s strictures
value the lot at no more than a farthing!
Suns can rise and set ad infinitum —
for us, though, once our brief life’s quenched, there’s only
one unending night that’s left to sleep through.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then a thousand more, a second hundred,
then yet another thousand then a hundred —
then when we’ve notched up all these many thousands,
shuffle the figures, lose count of the total,
so no maleficent enemy can hex (inuidere) us
knowing the final sum of all our kisses.

3b. Cicero (56 BCE) Pro Caelio 33-34 (trans. Berry):

But I should like to ask her first whether she would prefer me to deal with her in a stern, solemn, old-fashioned way or in a relaxed, easy-going, modern way. If she chooses the severe mode of address, then I must call up from the underworld one of those bearded ancients — not with the modern type of goatee beard that she takes such pleasure in, but the rough type such as we see on antique statues and masks — to castigate the woman and speak in my place (for otherwise she might become angry with me!). Let me therefore summon up a member of her own family — and who better than the famous Caecus [=Appius Claudius Caecus, censor 312 BCE]? He, at any rate, will be the least shocked at her, since he will not be able to see her!

[34] If he appears, this is, I am sure, how he will treat her, this is what he will say: “Woman! What do you think you are doing with Caelius, a man much younger than yourself, with someone from outside your own family? Why have you been either such a friend to him that you lent him gold or such an enemy that you were afraid of poison? Did you not notice that your father, or hear that your uncle, your grandfather, your great-grandfather, your great-great-grandfather and your great-great-great-grandfather were all consuls? And were you not aware that you were recently the wife of Quintus Metellus, that illustrious and valiant lover of his country, who only had to step out of his front door to surpass virtually every one of his fellow citizens in excellence, fame, and standing? Coming from such a distinguished family yourself, and marrying into one so illustrious, what reason did you have for lining yourself so closely to Caelius? Was he a blood-relation, a relation by marriage, a friend of your husband? He was none of these.

What, then, was the reason — unless it was some reckless infatuation? And if you were not influenced by the masks of the men in our family, did my own descendant, the famous Quinta Claudia [204 BCE], not inspire you to rival our family’s glory in the splendid achievements of its women? Or were you not inspired by the famous Vestal virgin, Claudia, who at her father’s triumph [143 BCE], held him in her arms and so prevented him from being pulled down from his chariot by the hostile tribune of the plebs? Why was it your brother’s vices that influenced you, rather than the virtues of your father and ancestors, virtues that have been repeated down the generations from my own time not only in the men but particularly in the women of our family? Did I destroy the peace treaty with Pyrrhus [280 BCE] so you could strike the most disgraceful sexual bargains on a daily basis? Did I bring water to the city [Aqua Appia, Rome’s first aqueduct] for you to foul with your incestuous practices? Did I build a road [Via Appiaroad from Rome to Brundisium] so that you could parade up and down it in the company of other women’s husbands?

3a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 7. Translated by Peter Green.

You’d like to know how many of your kisses
would be enough and over, Lesbia, for me?
Match them to every grain of Libyan sand in
silphium-rich Cyrene, from the shrine of
torred oracular Jupiter to the sacred
sepulchre of Battus; reckon their total
equal to all those stars that in the silent
night look down on the stolen loves of mortals.
That’s the number of times I need to kiss you,
That’s what would satisfy your mad Catullus —
far too many for the curious to figure,
or for an evil tongue to work you mischief!

3b. On silphium and Cyrene:

Riddle (1997) Eve’s Herbs, pp44-45: “On the basis of ancient descriptions and pictures, modern botanists identify silphium as a species of giant fennel (genus ferula), because of the shape of its leaves. The pungent sap from its stems and roots was used as cough syrup, and it gave food a richer, distinctive taste. Its true value was not as a medicine or a condiment, however. When women took silphium by mouth, they supposed that they would not get pregnant….The famous poet Catullus asks how many kisses he and Lesbia may share. Why, he answers, as many times as there are grains of sand on Cyrene’s silphium shores. That is, Catullus told his lover that they could make love for as long as they had the plant.”

 

cyrene-silphium.jpgCyrene was so famous for silphium that the plant became its emblem, see the right hand image of the above coin of Magas of Cyrene (c. 300-282/275 BCE). Image: wikimedia.

silphium-assassins-creed.jpg
Screenshot from Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft), tweeted by me (@opietasanimi, 18 Nov. 2017) “standing” in a silphium field in 49-47 BCE Cyrenaica.

4. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 51. Translated by Peter Green. [Go back to week 6]

In my eyes he seems like a god’s co-equal,
he, if I dare say so, eclipses godhead,
who now face to face, uninterrupted,
watches and hears you

sweetly laughing — that sunders unhappy me from
all my senses: the instant I catch sight of
you now, Lesbia, dumbness grips my <voice, it
dies on my vocal

cords>, my tongue goes torpid, and through my body
thin fire lances down, my ears are ringing
with their own thunder, while night curtains both my
eyes into darkness.

Leisure, Catullus, is dangerous to you: leisure
urges you into extravagant behavior
leisure in  time gone by has ruined kings and
prosperous cities.

5a. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 32. Translated by Peter Green.

Please please please, my darling Ipsithilla,
oh my delicate dish, my clever sweetheart,
please invite me home for the siesta —
and, supposing that you do invite me, make sure
no one happens to bolt and bar your shutters,
and that you don’t, on a whim, decide to
go off out: just stay home and prepare for
us nine whole uninterrupted fuckfests.
Fact is, if you’re on, ask me at once, I’ve
lunched, I’m full, flat on my back and bursting
up, up, up, through undershirt and bedclothes!

5b. 

6. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 58. Translated by Peter Green.

Caelius, Lesbia — our dear Lesbia, that one,
that Lesia whom alone Catullus worshipped
more than himself, far more than all his kinfolk —
now on backstreet corners and down alleys
jacks off Remus’ generous descendants.

7. Catullus (1st c. BCE), poem 85. Translated by Peter Green.

I hate and I love. You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?
I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.

7b.

 

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