Creative Writing | Volume 11, Michaelmas 2021, pp. 212-215
Catallus in Paris
Poetry Translations by EDWARD BELL Alumnus, Humanities Division (BA in French and Latin, 2014) | University of Oxford, UK
Uncertainty surrounds the life of Catullus. What little we know of him comes from ancient references and his poetry. That he mentions Caesar, Cicero, and other historical figures positions him in the final turbulent years of the Roman Republic. His formal style is Callimachean – well-wrought, erudite, and terse – and he is remembered for his high praise of friends, his salacity, and a readiness to lash out with hendecasyllables. Below are four literal yet liberal translations of his poems 10, 11, 13, and 28 from my unpublished collection ‘Catullus in Paris’. The translation project began and evolved from live recitations performed in Paris in 2015. This ancient poet and I are kindred spirits sharing a metropolitan literary scene; a tempestuous love affair; a handful of enemies; and the untimely death of a brother.
Varus me meus ad suos amores uisum duxerat e foro otiosum -- scortillum (ut mihi tum repente uisum est) non sane illepidum neque inuenustum; huc ut uenimus, incidere nobis sermones uarii, in quibus, quid esset iam Bithynia, quo modo se haberet, et quonam mihi profuisset aere. respondi id quod erat — nihil neque ipsis nec praetoribus esse nec cohorti, cur quisquam caput unctius referret -- praesertim quibus esset irrumator praetor, nec faceret pili cohortem. ‘at certe tamen,’ inquiunt ‘quod illic natum dicitur esse, comparasti ad lecticam homines.’ ego (ut puellae unum me facerem beatiorem) ‘non’ inquam ‘mihi tam fuit maligne, ut, prouincia quod mala incidisset, non possem octo homines parare rectos.’ (at mi nullus erat nec hic neque illic, fractum qui veteris pedem grabati in collo sibi collocare posset.) hic illa, ut decuit cinaediorem, ‘quaeso’, inquit 'mihi, mi Catulle, paulum istos commoda: nam uolo ad Serapim deferri.’ ‘mane,’ inquii puellae, ‘istud quod modo dixeram me habere… fugit me ratio: meus sodalis -- Cinna est Gaius — is sibi parauit; uerum, utrum illius an mei, quid ad me? utor tam bene quam mihi pararim -- sed tu insulsa male et molesta uiuis, per quam non licet esse neglegentem.’
A friend caught me at the bar the other night and introduced me to his new woman. She was underdressed but, though a little desperate, had some good conversation. We ordered drinks, sat down and started chatting. ‘How’s your job going, Ed?’ Not bad, I said. ‘You made any money yet?’ I replied truthfully that the bossman, not the lackeys make the good money; especially if they’re so crooked as to sell their own ass sitting down, or at least that of the next intern. ‘But you must be making quite a bit now; didn’t you say you were going to buy a car?’ Now, to appear bigger than I am in front of this beautiful woman, I said: Fortune hasn’t been so unkind to me in the private world that I am not unable to buy a Mercedes. (Let alone a car, sometimes I can’t afford a metro ticket and have to squeeze strangers’ asses just to get a ride.) ‘Wow, that’s fantastic,’ this woman said. ‘Can you give me and a group of friends a ride to the Rasputin night bar tomorrow evening?’ ‘Wait a second,’ I spat my drink, ‘what I said then – I didn’t mean to say Porsche or Mercedes or whatever it was – but it’s my friend’s – Matt's no Geo’s, or someone’s. Basically, it’s like my own, and what do I care, I get around just fine. Anyway, woman, who are you to call out my charm? Do you not see that this is the privilege of being a poet?’
Furi et Aureli comites Catulli -- siue in extremos penetrabit Indos, litus ut longe resonante Eoa tunditur unda, siue in Hyrcanos Arabesue molles, seu Sagas sagittiferosue Parthos, siue quae septemgeminus colorat aequora Nilus, siue trans altas gradietur Alpes, Caesaris uisens monimenta magni, Gallicum Rhenum horribilesque ulti- mosque Britannos -- omnia haec, quaecumque feret uoluntas caelitum, temptare simul parati, pauca nuntiate meae puellae non bona dicta: cum suis uiuat ualeatque moechis, quos simul complexa tenet trecentos, nullum amans uere, sed identidem omnium ilia rumpens; nec meum respectet, ut ante, amorem, qui illius culpa cecidit uelut prati ultimi flos, praetereunte postquam tactus aratro est.
11. Shoot the Messengers
Jason and Daniel, comrades of your dear Ed, Every ready to support me, Whether I start fights with Indians Or pick quarrels with polite Iranians, Or jealous Turks, Fight the sagacious Pakistanis Or romantic Syrians, Whether I refuse to pay the Egyptian for the Seven-headed hookah pipe, Or I argue with the Swiss, Insult the Germans, the Dutch, Or my threatened fellow Englishmen, You, ready to support me in all of these confrontations, Which the machinations of the world throw at me, Do me this one last favour and tell my ex to fuck off. Let her have her thousand orgasms With one thousand different men, A whole room of soft boys, Loving none, none loving her, Constantly, time after time, Taking them between her legs In an attempt to scratch that itch. She will never find my love again. For it has died, just like a rose you buy from a street seller, Leave in your bag and find it after wilted, parched, leafless.
Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me paucis, si tibi di fauent, diebus -- sitecumattulerisbonamatquemagnam cenam, non sine candida puella etuino et sale et omnibus cachinnis. haec si, inquam, attuleris, uenustenoster, cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli plenussacculus est aranearum. sed contra accipies meros amores seu quid suauiuselegantiusue est: namunguentumdabo, quodmeaepuellae donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque; quodtu cum olfacies, deosrogabis, totumuttefaciant, Fabulle, nasum.
13. See You Next Tuesday
If your schedule is not so busy this Tuesday, Sven, then you will dine like a king at my house. So long as, of course, you yourself bring the meal - and make it a large one, with wine, some Parisian ladies too, a good deal of wit and all the jokes you can find.
If and only if you do this, venustenoster, you will dine like a king chez moi; for my purse has been eating baked potatoes for the last month. However, I can offer you something much more tasteful and correct: a guy called Cupid gave it me on Rue de Vénus - one sniff of this, Sven, and you will ask the gods to make you all nose.
See you next Tuesday!
Pisonis comites, cohorsinanis, aptissarcinulis et expeditis, Verani optime tuque mi Fabulle, quid rerum geritis? satisne cum isto uappafrigoraque et famemtulistis? ecquidnam in tabulispatetlucelli expensum, ut mihi, qui meumsecutus praetoremreferodatumlucello? o Memmi, bene me acdiusupinum tota ista trabelentus irrumasti. sed, quantum uideo, pari fuistis casu: nam nihilo minore uerpa farti estis. petenobilesamicos! at uobis mala multa di deaeque dent, opprobriaRomuliRemique.
28. A Disgrace to Education
My white-collared friends, footmen of the City of London, are you still working away for an ungrateful boss, who takes your time and gives you no money? Aren’t you tired of early starts and missing date night? Unpaid internships, heart attacks on the toilet, cocaine orgies that leave you empty on all accounts the next morning.
Put it down to experience, they will tell you.
Well, for my part, I’ve had my face fucked by a relentless prick in a suit. Gagging all over the place - I wasn’t cut out for it. As far as I can tell, that bastard must have got his own throat rammed a few times when he was that age, growing up in Paris 16th, where hazing is a professional standard.
Go to university, get a career, they said. Nonsense.
As for you, friends, I hope you get gout; you’re a disgrace to education.