Poetry from the European Languages

Catullus (c.84 BC–54 BC)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Gaius Valerius Catullus was the son of a wealthy citizen of Verona. His father owned a villa at Sirmio on Lake Garda. He lived in Rome and was a friend of Cicero, and (speculatively) lover of Clodia Metelli (Lesbia). Little more is known of him, other than that he travelled to Bithynia in the Black Sea region as one of Caius Memmius Gemellus’s suite. There he visited the grave of his drowned brother, in the Troad.

Catullus (c.84 BC–54 BC)


Sirmio, you jewel of all peninsulas

and all the islands of the crystal lakes

and the great oceans Neptune circles,

how delightedly, how gladly, I return,

hardly believing myself I’ve safely left

Thynia and those Black Sea shores behind.

What is better than to be free from care

when the mind throws off its load and, at last,

from foreign journeys, we reach our own home,

sink back to rest on the one bed we longed for?

This is reward enough for all our efforts.

You, welcome sight, O lovely Sirmio, be happy,

and you too, Lydian Lake Garda’s waters,

laugh, with whatever gleaming laughter you have.

Ave atque Vale

Through many countries and over many seas

I have come, Brother, to these melancholy rites,

to show this final honour to the dead,

and speak (to what purpose?) to your silent ashes,

since now fate takes you, even you, from me.

Oh, Brother, ripped away from me so cruelly,

now at least take these last offerings, blessed

by the tradition of our parents, gifts to the dead.

Accept, by custom, what a brother’s tears drown,

and, for eternity, Brother, ‘Hail and Farewell’.

Lesbia’s Sparrow

All you Loves and Cupids cry

and all you men of feeling

my girl’s sparrow is dead,

my girl’s beloved sparrow.

She loved him more than herself.

He was sweeter than honey, and he

knew her, as she knows her mother.

He never flew out of her lap,

but, hopping about here and there,

just chirped to his lady, alone.

Now he is flying the dark

no one ever returns from.

Evil to you, evil Shades

of Orcus, destroyers of beauty.

You have stolen the beautiful sparrow from me.

Oh sad day! Oh poor little sparrow!

Because of you my sweet girl’s eyes

are red with weeping, and swollen.