When we studied Latin in High School, it seemed boring. After all, didn’t they call it a “dead” language? Then they introduced us to the poetry of Catullus. Our senses perked up instantly. A dead language? His work came alive for us.
According to Wikipedia: Gaius Valerius Catullus (/kəˈtʌləs/; c. 84 – 54 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Roman Republic who wrote in the neoteric style of poetry. His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art.
Catullus’ poems were widely appreciated by other poets. He greatly influenced poets such as Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. After his rediscovery in the late Middle Ages, Catullus again found admirers. His explicit writing style has shocked many readers. Indeed, Catullus was never considered one of the canonical school authors, although his body of work is still frequently read from secondary school to graduate programs across the world.
As part of an assembly for the rest of the school, I translated two of Catullus’ poems and presented my poetic renderings for the students. I have reproduced them here.
Mellitos oculis tuos, Iuventi,
siquis me sinat usque basiare,
usque as milia basiem trecenta,
nec mi umquam videar satur futurus,
non di densior aridis aristis
sit nostrae seges osculationis.
The Gleaning in Your Eyes
If I could kiss you all the way
From your sweet eyes to your bosom
With three hundred thousand kisses
I’d be forever moistening
Some thick dry plough so as to reap
Each new harvest of our kisses.
Si quoi quid cupido optantique optigit umquam insperanti, hoc est gratum animo proprie.
quare hoc est gratum nobis quoque carius auro quod te restituis, Lesbia, mi cupido.
restituis cupido atque insperanti, ipse refers te nobis, o lucem candidiore nota!
quis me uno vivit felicior, aut magis ab dis optandum in vita dicere quis poterit?
If something, for which I’d had desire so deep
For more than half of time’s eternity,
Came unexpectedly, I’d surely keep
A welcome mat to rest my grateful knee.
Then this thing has more value than lost gold,
Cause you, my dear, have restored my desire
As a nice surprise, by letting me hold
Nothing but your own, brightest known, White Fire.
So restored is my zest for life and love,
Oh darling, that I dare anyone who
Can, to state, whether, on earth or above,
A man exists who is happier to
Name his heart’s true desire than me alone:
In my life, who else but you could have known?