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Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


I'm trying to figure out the best way to proceed here in putting up Seneca's Catullus translations. First question: seperate post for each poem? I think not, making for too much clutter in my view. Second question: a single post for the body of the whole? Seneca's file holds 24 poems written to Lesbia, 4 miscellaneous Catullus poems, and for the heck of it I suspect he included a translated poem attributed to the emperor Augustus. So again I think not. Too bulky. Readers might feel burdened and lose interest. So we'll proceed in parts, with several poems to a thread.

Rather than proceeding sequentially I am going to go selective, posting a poem as and when it gets under my skin. There is a bit of serendipity at play here. After Seneca and I lost contact in '82 I also discovered Catullus. He indeed got under my skin. Hard to explain but there is something eerily modern about him. He can be crass, ironic, biting, petulant, with psychological depth in his perceptions, and his love for Lesbia, a wealthy aristocrat, was to say the least sometimes a torture for the poet. The last especially got under my skin. One other thing. Robert Graves thought Catullus the best of the Roman poets. He thought it no accident that he was of Celtic, not Roman or even Tuscan, blood. Graves felt Catullus was instinctively a White Goddess kind of poet.

I had thought to intro Catullus with a bit of biography. But Seneca has made a better intro than I could. From our Salon Chat forum I've copied what Seneca has written about the poet and his relationship to him. That strikes me as more meaningful.

~Hello, Folks! Seneca the Duck here. The first post on this thread says, "Here is the place for introducing yourself to the board however you want to." So I thought this might be the place for introducing myself to the board however I wanted to.

Actually, Terreson has recently managed to persuade me (by twisting my arm and breaking it in three places) to present to you some translations of the poetry of Catullus that I've done.

Anyone who knows me would find it highly ironic that I should be translating poetry. I, sadly, am not a poetic soul. I'm even less poetic than I am musical, and I'm about as musical as your average donkey. So why translate poems?

One reason is that I'm into languages. Mainly French, but I've done a fair bit of Latin as well. And Catullus was one of the main reasons that I got into Latin. Those who know languages know that no writer can truly be translated, and if it's someone you really love, you want to take him on in his own language. Montaigne would fall into this category for me(never has a man's language been so well suited to his thought), as would Villon, Tacitus, Stendhal--and of course Catullus.

Why do I love Catullus? To be honest, I'm not even sure. Love is one of those things you don't have to explain for it to be valid. It's simply something that's in your heart and you accept it as it is. It may even be true to say that if you can explain it, it's not really love.

Catullus got in my heart. How, I'm not sure. He can be funny as hell at times, and that's no bad thing. He can see the ironic side of life and people, and that's not bad either. But there's also an odd fact that for me one of Catullus' positives is actually a negative. He was lost in ways, just like the rest of us, and in his lines I often find a heart-felt cry, a desperate desire to make sense of things. He can strut about, he can put on a show of self-assurance, but he's vulnerable, too--and the poems I chose to translate show that very clearly.

The ones I chose are what I call "the Lesbia poems"--the ones about his lady love, whom he called "Lesbia". I don't intend to go into a lot of introductory material here about Catullus' life, Lesbia/Clodia, the times, etc. You folks probably know more about that than I do. I thought I'd just present the poems and let you see if you find anything in them.

I didn't do these poems with a view to getting them published. They've been done many times before, and I would hardly pretend that my translations are the definitive version. Perhaps people will find a great deal in them they don't like. That wouldn't surprise me.

But I did them because I love them, and if you know languages you find that one way of making a text yours is by laboring over it. Give it some of your heart and it gives a lot back to you. And when I say "making it yours", I don't mean that you can then pound your chest and proudly declare, "This boy belongs to me now." No, what I mean is that the text is no longer skin-deep: it gets down into your heart where it belongs.

So hopefully you folks will find something for yourselves here. It would delight me to no end if you did. As far as the actual posting goes, Terreson and I have agreed that he will look after that as he sees fit. I'm one of those people who's not just trying to figure out how technology works: I'm still trying to figure out what it is. They didn't have all this stuff in Catullus' day, did they? But you never know, some day I might start catching up.~

For anyone interested:
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Next post the poetry.

Tere


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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


III

Lament, ye gods and goddesses of love
And all ye dashing lads and ladies:
He has departed, my darling’s sparrow,
Dear sparrow, my darling’s darling,
More precious to her than her two eyes.
Her honey-sweet, he knew his mistress
As well as a girl could know her mother;
Nor would he ever quit her lap,
But hopping here, hopping there,
Always chirping for his mistress alone.
Now he goes that shadowy road
Whence all deny one may return.
A curse on you, dread shadow of Orcus,
Who swallows up all lovely things:
So dear to me that sparrow you have claimed.
A wicked deed! Poor sparrow!
Now ‘tis your doing my darling’s eyes
Are swollen red with weeping.



Last edited by Terreson, Nov/6/2010, 2:09 pm
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


Here is the thing about this poem. It amounts to a pissed off argument with death. Something a certain class of poets, poets in love especially, are prone to. To me Orcus is a hateful old man standing in the back of the room, looking over our shoulders. I first read this poem and I knew Catullus and I belonged to the same tribe. Middle finger raised in defiance. Seneca, you bring it back. Wafna!

Tere
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)



XI

Furius, Aurelius, Catullus’ comrades:
Though he may wander furthest India
Where the shore is pounded by the Eastern Sea
Resounding from afar;
Or among the Hyrcanians or the languorous Arabs,
Among the Scythians or the arrow-firing Parthians;
Or where the plain is darkened
By the Nile of seven mouths;
Though he may pass the lofty Alps
To view the monuments of mighty Caesar,
The Gallic Rhine, the shuddering sea,
The Britons at the edge of the world—
You who would share these labours with me,
Or whatever the will of the gods decrees—
Then take this message to my darling
Though she may find no comfort in it:
May she be well! Let her live with her lechers,
Let her take every last one of those three hundred
Simultaneously in her embrace.
Not a one of them she truly loves,
Yet time and again exhausting
The loins of each and every one—
With no thought for my love that used to be,
That now at her touch has withered
Like the flower at the meadow’s edge
Cut down by the passing plow.


Nov/7/2010, 2:16 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


This right here (XI). This is where and how Catullus gets under my skin. Of a near contemporary of his, one Sextus Propertius, an editor has called the first Romantic type poet. But Catullus, being slightly older, I suspect was the first. Romantic is a label too loosely used I suspect, without any sort of exacting sense of what it means to be a Romantic type personality.

In my view the Romantic poet has as her/his starting point a sense of displacement, a sense that almost invariably gets vectored into an expression of longing after something. After love, after nature, after a lost childhood, after justice even. Always the longing. And almost, but not always, its signature is wandering. XI fits the type. And something else. The Romantic type tends to be an egoist, certainly self-persuaded. Here too Catullus meets the profile.

Seneca, you are bringing out the Catullus I recognize.

Tere
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


It being a Sunday night, with the coming work week coming on, here is another of Seneca's Catullus poems to Lesbia.

VIII

Wretched Catullus, stop playing the fool
And count as lost what you see is lost.
Once the sun shone brightly on you
When you would go where she would lead—
Your love, loved as never a girl will be loved.
There where you sported to your heart’s delight—
Which you desired, nor did she refuse—
There the sun shone brightly on you.
But now does she refuse—
And you, poor thing, no more desire,
No more pursue what vanishes, nor live a wretch,
But steel your heart, endure, stand firm.
Farewell, my lady! Catullus stands firm.
He will not seek you out
Nor ask for her who no more longs for him.
Yet you will grieve when none will ask for you.
Alas for you, you wretch! What life awaits you?
Who now will come to you? Who will find you lovely?
Who now will you love? To whom will you belong?
Who will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?
But you, Catullus, resolved, stand firm.


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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


You got to love the poem's ambiguity. I mean to whom is the poem addressed? Nominally it is addressed to Lesbia, right? Read closely and there is a subtle shift. It is as if the poet is speaking to his own forlorn, lost, situation. And whose lips will he again bite in passion?

I know of only one poet working in the English language today working in this range and barely at that. L. Cohen. Oh yes. Catullus is modern all right. It is in his sensibilities.

Tere
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


A Catullus poem that has always tickled me.


XXXVII

Inmates of that lecherous tavern
Nine doors down from the Temple of Castor,
Are you the only men with pricks?
You think all girls are yours to !@#$
And the rest of us are stinking goats?
One hundred, two hundred witless twits
Sitting in a row—and do you believe
I would not bugger you where you sit,
Take on the lot of you at one go?
Believe it—and I will scribble my filth
Across the front of your filthy tavern.
For my love, now fled from my embrace,
Loved as never a girl will be loved,
For whose sake I’ve fought many a fight,
Has found her place among you.
‘Tis she who has your hearts now, every one,
Fine gentlemen all, and worse:
Assorted tramps and back-alley lechers,
And you above all, you, Egnatius,
Shaggy son of rabbit-ridden Spain,
So dashing with your neat, black beard
And those teeth you brush with your Spanish piss.

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Tickle me it does. Catullus and many of his generation of poets came onto the Rome city scene as young Turks. By lampooning the establishment of patricians they sought notoriety. And all of them were accomplished technicians in the prosodic rules of their day. What the big boys call quantitative versification, or counting by syllables and prescribed sets of syllables going back to the Greeks. I mention this so it doesn't get lost that Catullus worked within a certain traditional verse [sign in to see URL] taking liberties with his mouth.

There is a story about Catullus lampooning Julius Ceasar badly. Effectively. Ceasar was upset. For reasons either political or personal Catullus apologized and Ceasar invited him over for dinner. But things can change in a generation. Ovid would get banished from Rome under Ceasar Augustus, Ceasar's heir and Rome's first Emperor, for the "immorality" of his verse. Sent to the shores of the Black Sea.

But is this not the quintessential revenge poem? Better than anything I've seen a spurned, dissed, angry woman poet do contemporaneously. And it is all strictly set within then prosodic rules. Lesbia and her aristocratic family were notoriously loose. Some in finances, some in politics, some sexually. Catullus knows his audience. He plays on what info is available to the public. Of course he plays on the nature of gossip.

I just figured out why this poem tickles me the way it does. The pleasure is enjoyed vicariously. Never been able to dis a lover in public or a friend who has betrayed me. Code of honor says: you don't go there, man. Inclination says: so what was in your friend's past incapacitating her/him from covering your back?

Catullus is sure stirring things up for me.

Tere
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)



LI

A man would seem to equal the gods,
Surpass the gods, if one may say so,
Who sits before you time and again
To watch and hear you sweetly laughing.
Yet I am lost! For when I see you, Lesbia,
You strip me of my senses,
I find no word to say.
My tongue goes numb, a tiny flame
Goes spreading through my limbs;
My ears begin to ring;
My eyes are covered in darkness.
Too idle, Catullus! It ruins you.
Idleness makes you revel and riot,
Idleness that undermines kings
And destroys the loveliest cities.

Nov/12/2010, 3:23 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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My copy of Catullus's poetry was translated by one Roy Arthur Swanson. Pub date 1959. In his intro Swanson says this: "Montaigne's observation that every man is a complete set of contradictions is eminently applicable to Catullus." He also says something I had forgotten: "Catullus was a romantic poet. That is to say, his state of mind produced an intensification and an idealization of human affairs, and he defined this state of mind in impeccable verse." (italics mine)

Not a bad working definition of the Romantic poet. To which I would still add what I said above that the Romantic type poet always starts from a point covering a sense of displacement. I remember another Romantic type, the Frenchman Stendhal, who invented the notion of crystallization. From memory his feeling was that the lover must idealize his/her loved one in order to get past the loved one's short comings and therefore keep the love alive. I think that is what he said. Not so different from Swanson's characterization of Catullus.

I've deliberately set poem LI back to back with the immediately preceding poem. The juxtaposition perfectly frames the title of Catullus's Complete Poetry. "Odi et amo." Hate and love. Maybe Seneca can tell us. I cannot find who gave the collection that title. I would like to think it was Catullus himself. But I don't know. I also just read something else I had forgotten. That the entire Catullan collection was saved from extinction by a single manuscript unearthed in Verona around the year 1311. Before then only one of his poems was known, found in a 9th C. manuscript. Given the nature of his poetry it is likely that the Church tried to do what it successfuly did with Sapho's poetry. Obliterate it. Not by chance I mention Sapho. It seems Catullus was instrumental in popularizing her with the poetry reading public of his day, which would have been some 5 or 6 hundred years after she lived.

This poem is so beautiful to me. It is one of those poems I wish I had made first. The perfectly lyric poem. I love its frankness, its vulnerability, and how in its way it disses the pretensions of the powerful and the vanities of the city.

Seneca, this one gets under my skin.

Tere

I almost forgot. I think it was his third album. From '71 or '72. I would have heard the songs before I discovered Catullus, many of which are still committed to memory. "Songs of Love and Hate," by one Leonard Cohen. Kind of interesting how poetry can feed on poetry over the millennia.



Last edited by Terreson, Nov/12/2010, 4:17 pm
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Re: Catullus 1 (tr. by Senecatheduck)


As to the title "Odi et amo" ("I hate and I love") I don't know that it was Catullus who came up with that. I've never come across the suggestion anywhere else myself.

I don't even know if the traditional arrangement of the poems was Catullus'. As I understand it, they're arranged according to type, that is, according to the metre that they employ. But whether Catullus arranged them this way or a later editor, I don't know. Maybe someone else has good info on this type of question.

---
It's not the dress, it's the woman!
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"a complete set of contradictions"--that's what is most striking to me on first read.

Just reading along guys. Taking it in.

Chris
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Thanks, Seneca. Likely both title and arrangement are products of an editor. We'll probably never know. Presumably the arrangement was that of the unearthed Verona MS. But even that can't be known, since, it too was lost again. Fortunately, however, not before copies were made. Two of which, some say three, were either copied from the original Verona work or from a copy of it and are still extant. One at Oxford, one in Paris, the possible third in the Vatican library. That is as close as it gets. What I would like to know is the provenance of the Verona MS. How far back does it date.

Hi Chris. You just sit back, take it all in, and have as much fun as I am having. A bumpy ride ala Betty Davis.

Tere

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Hi guys,

Excellent thread. I'm loving it all, the poems and the commentary. The poems are very rich: complex, intense, honest, contradictory, satirical and vulnerable by turns. The real deal. Eros that breaks all bones, not eros by Hallmark.

The Wild Horse

  Love
an ocean
with invisible
shores,
  with
no shores.
If you
are wise
you will
not swim
in it.


Rabi'ah bent Ka'b, Sufi woman poet,
translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nassrollah Pourjavady
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