blog post

Weaving love.

Catullus 64
— Ariadne
— Parcae

1. Pliny the Elder (1st c. CE) Natural History 8.194:

Varro [1st c. BCE] informs us, on his own authority, that the wool on the distaff and spindle of Tanaquil [wife of Tarquinius Priscus, 5th king of Rome] (who was also called Gaia Caecilia) was still preserved in the temple of Sancus; and also in the shrine of Fortune a pleated royal robe made by her, which had been worn by Servius Tullius [6th king of Rome]. Hence arose the practice that maidens at their marriage were accompanied by a decorated distaff and a spindle with thread.

2. Karen Hersch, The Roman Wedding: Ritual and Meaning in Antiquity (2010: 177-178): 

“When the bride arrived at her new home, Pliny said, she smeared the doorposts with the fat of a pig or a wolf, the latter ‘to keep out all evil potions’ [mali medicamenti, Plin. NH 28.142]. Later authors claimed that the bride both anointed the doorposts and decorated them with wool, and the word uxor [“wife”] was said to have derived from unguere, “to anoint,” for a bride anoints the doorposts of the groom’s house. Servius [4th c. CE] noted that as soon as brides reached the threshold, they affixed vittae [“headbands”], which are signs of chastity. The wolf’s fat is more complex: those who write about weddings, claimed Servius, say that a new bride coats the doorposts with wolf’s fat ‘because both the fat and the limbs of this beast are used as a remedy for many things.’ Others claim that the ritual was established at the time of Romulus’ lupine adoption. Servius added that wolves are notable for their fidelity, and finally that a new bride ‘does these things, so that she might know she is entering a sanctified house, and at the same time carrying wool she was promising (skill in) woolworking’ [Serv. Aen. 4.458].”

3. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 61.114-128. Translated by Peter Green.

Hey boys, raise high your torches — I
see the flame-coloured veil approach!
All together in chorus now:
“Io Hymne Hymeneal, io,
io Hymen Hymeneal!”

Time, high time, for the ribald and
cocksure bantering; time for the
boy toy, finding himself cut off
from his master’s affections, to
hand out nuts to the children!

Scatter nuts to the kids, you limp
boy toy! Long enough now you’ve been
playing with nuts: but today you must
yield your rule to the marriage god:
boy toy, scatter your nuts now!


3a. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.1-7. Translated by Peter Green.

Once on a time pine trees from Pelion’s summit
are said to have swum through Neptune’s crystal ripples
to the breakers of Phasis and Aeëtes’ territory,
when chosen young men, the strong core of Argive manhood,
eager to filch that gilded hide from the Colchians,
dared in their swift vessel to traverse the briny shoals,
sweeping blue, deep-sea vistas with their blades of fir-wood.


3b. (Close up of) Athenian red-figure volute krater (late 5th/early 4th c. BCE). Name vase of the Talos Painter. Discovered at Ruvo, Italy. Image: Furtwängler and Reichhold. The Argonauts on the Argo (left). Medea (right). Talos is a metal giant that Medea defeats for the Argonauts (see: Apollonius Rhodius‘ Argonautica 4.1638–93).

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 1.44.13 PM.png


4. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.12-21. Translated by Peter Green.

And the moment its prow sheared through their wind-whipped surface,
and waves glistened spume white from the twist of the oar blades,
wild shy faces emerged from the foaming eddies,
deepwater Nereïds, in wonder at this portent.
That was the day, never matched, when mere mortals witnessed
marine nymphs rising up from the dappled sea surge,
mother-naked to breasts and below. It was then that Peleus —
so goes the story — burned up with love for Thetis,
then that Thetis did not reject a human marriage,
then that the Father himself felt that Peleus and Thetis should wed.


5. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.31-35; 46-51. Translated by Peter Green.

When in due course this most eagerly awaited
wedding day dawns, guests from every distant quarter
of Thessaly throng the house, the palace is crowded
with a rejoicing multitude. All bear gifts, their faces
beam pleasure.

and there at its heart is set the goddess’s own bridal
couch, all smoothly inlaid with Indian ivory,
its purple drapery dipped in the mollusc’s blushing dye.
This coverlet, decorated with antique human figures,
portrays in marvelous art the brave deeds of heroes.


6a. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.52-65. Translated by Peter Green.

There, gazing out from Dia’s surf-loud shoreline,
eyes fixed on Theseus as he and his swift vessels
dwindle away to nothing, with uncontrollable passion
filling her heart, not yet able to credit the witness
of her own eyes, roused that moment from treacherous slumber,
Ariadne finds herself left on the lonely strand, poor creature,
while her heedless young lover vanishes, oar strokes flailing
the shallows, scattering broken promises galewards.
Him from afar, there on the wrack-strewn beach, eyes
agonized, Minos’ daughter, a stony bacchant, watches,
ah, watches, in breaking waves of grief unbounded,
lost the fine-woven net from her golden tresses,
lost the light garment veiling her torso, lost the
rounded breast-band that gathered her milk white bosom —


6b. Roman wall painting. Ariadne weeps as Theseus sails away. House of Meleager, Pompeii (Napes Inv. 9051). Image: wikimedia.


Fredrick 1995: 272: “There are 43 paintings of Ariadne abandoned or discovered in Pompeii — roughly somewhere between 5 and 10% of the total number of panels. This makes Ariadne the single most popular individual subject in Pompeii.”

6c. The Roman statue known as “Sleeping Ariadne” from the Vatican Museum. Because the statue has a bracelet in the form of a serpent, it was long believed to be of Cleopatra. Ennio Quirino Visconti identified it as Ariadne in late 1700s. Image: Vatican Museum.



7a. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.110-115. Translated by Peter Green.

so Theseus brought down the monster, mastered its body
as it butted its horns in vain against airy emptiness,
then walked back out unhurt, in a cloud of glory, guiding
his fallible footsteps with that one slender thread, lest
during his emergence from the Labyrinth’s windings
its deceptively mazed confusion should frustrate his purpose.

7b. Elaine Reichek (2009) Ariadne’s Lament. Image: MFA Boston.

Ariadne's Lament American 2009 Elaine Reichek (American).jpg

7c. Elaine Reichek (2011) “The Graces With Their Own Hands.” Hand embroidery with beads on linen. Remix of Giovanni Battista Crosato’s (18th c.) “Bacchus crowning Ariadne with a diadem of stars” and Apollonius of Rhodes (Argonautica 4.423-435). Image:


8a. Catullus (1st c. BCE) 64.303-327. Translated by Peter Green.

When the guests had settled themselves on the white-backed seating
the tables were piled high with an array of dishes;
and meanwhile, old bodies prey to infirmity’s tremors,
the trio of Fates [Parcae] began their prophetic chanting.
Each wore a long white robe that enfolded her tremulous
frame and fell to her ankles, purple-bordered; the three
had bandeaux of roses on their snow-white heads,
while their hands were properly busy with their unending labor,
the left gripping the distaff, all shrouded in soft wool,
while the right, first, teased out the threads with upturned
fingers and formed them, then twisting with down-turned thumb
spun the spindle, balanced on its rounded whorl,
while constantly with their teeth they nibbled and smoothed the work,
and to their thin lips nipped-off wool tufts adhered
which before were excrescences on the even thread line,
while before their feet the soft fleeces of bright white wool
were stored in little baskets of woven osier.
They now, still carding their fleeces, in clear articulate tones
poured forth in god-inspired song these prophecies —
a song no future age would accuse of falsehood.
“O you who augment high achievement with great virtues,
Emathia’s safeguard, most dear to the son of Ops,
accept what the Sisters reveal for you on this auspicious
day, a true oracle. But you which the fates follow,
run, drawing the weft out, run, you spindles!

8b. Aulus Gellius (2nd c. CE) Attic Nights 3.16.9-11:

But Varro [1st c. BCE] says that the early Romans did not regard such births as unnatural rarities, but they did believe that a woman was gave birth according to nature in the ninth or tenth month, and in no others, and that for this reason they gave to the three Fates names derived from bringing birth, and from the ninth and tenth months. “For Parca,” says he, “is derived from partus with the change of one letter, and likewise Nona and Decima from the period of timely delivery.” But Caesellius Vindex [2nd c. CE] in his Ancient Readings says: “The names of the Fates are three: Nona, Decuma, Morta.” 


I, Claudia.

— 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:


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


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.

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!


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

Caelius, Lesbia — our dear Lesbia, that one,
that Lesbia 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.