Sunday, April 11, 2010


A considerable chunk of what what remains today of Catullus's work refers to 'Lesbia,' his pseudonym for his lover Clodia, apparently a poet in her own right. These works, some of which are just fragmentary, run the gamut of emotions from ecstatic joy to despair and even cynicism. Probably the best known of these might be his musings on someone his love loved more than she loved him:

Sparrow, my lady's pet,
with whom she often plays whilst she holds you in her lap,
or gives you her finger-tip to peck and
provokes you to bite sharply,
whenever she, the bright-shining lady of my love,
has a mind for some sweet pretty play,
in hope, as I think, that when the sharper smart of love abates,
she may find some small relief from her pain—
ah, might I but play with you as she does,
and lighten the gloomy cares of my heart!
This is as welcome to me as (they say)
to the swift maiden was the golden apple,
which loosed her girdle too long tied.

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids
and however many there are of charming people:
my girl's sparrow is dead—
the sparrow, delight of my girl,
whom that girl loved more than her own eyes.
For he was honey-sweet and had known
the lady better than a girl [knows] her mother herself,
nor did he move himself from that girl's lap,
but hopping around now here now there
he chirped constantly to his mistress alone,
he who now goes through the shadowy journey
thither, whence they deny that anyone returns.
But may it go badly for you evil shadows
of hell, who devour all beautiful things.
You have taken from me so beautiful a sparrow.
Oh evil deed! Oh wretched little sparrow!
Now through your deeds the eyes of my girl,
swollen with weeping, are red.

"Lesbia and Her Sparrow," Sir Edward John Poynter

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