Daily Archives: January 30, 2007

Item of the Day: Poems of Catullus (1795)

Full Title:

The Poems of Caius Valerius Catullus, in English Verse: with the Latin text revised, and classical notes. Prefixed are engravings of Catullus, and his friend Cornelius Nepos: In two volumes. Printed in London for J. Johnson at St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1795.

From the Preface (by the anonymous translator):

In the selection of my Latin text, I have chiefly followed the older readings of Catullus; as best conveying, in my opinion, the author’s real meaning.

With regard to the notes, they are for the most part my own; at the same time, I do not scruple to confess that I have availed myself of every intelligence the researches of his several commentators could possibly afford.

Those indecencies occurring so frequently in our poet, which I have constantly preserved in the original, and ventured in some way to translate, may be thought to require apology; for I have given the whole of Catullus without reserve. The chaste reader might think them best omitted; but the inquisitive scholar might wish to be acquainted even with the ribaldry, and broad lampoon of Roman times.

When an ancient classic is translated, and explained, the work may be considered as forming a link in the chain of history: history should not be falsified, we ought therefore to translate him somewhat fairly; and when he gives us the manners of his own day, however disgusting to our sensations, and repugnant to our natures they may oftentimes prove, we must not in translation suppress, or even too much gloss them over, through a fastidious regard to delicacy. I have endeavoured throughout the work to convey our poet’s meaning in its fullest extent, without overstepping the modesty of language.

To Lesbia’s Sparrow. II.

Dear sparrow! the pride of my maid,
With whom she in sport often plays;
Whom oft, on her snowy breast laid,
She toys with a thousand fond ways;

To whom, as you woo that blest seat,
The tip of her finger she’ll move;
Well pleas’d thy sharp bites to create,
The bites of sweet passion and love:

For thus, when alone, does my fair
Gay scenes of new pleasure devise;
The sooth of her bosom the care,
Thus cool her fierce heats as they rise:

O, my sparrow, could I but with thee,
Like her, my solicitudes ease!
As grateful most sure it would be,
As much my poor heart would it please;

As pleas’d the swift Virgin of yore
The apple of gold, that untied
Her zone, which so long time she wore;
And made her, unwilling, a bride.

II. However differently writers may have conjectured, in determining the merit of this, and the following little poem; yet are they all agreed, in the highest commendation of their wit, and beauty. Politianus, Turnebus, and others, affect, that a libidinous vein of pleasantry is conveyed, through the several passages of each; but for my part, I confess, that I by no means see any positive grounds for such an assertion; and where a composition, without some manifest injury to the text, will bear a good and commendable sense; it is the safest way, I am sure it is the most candid, to give it, as in the present instance, such interpretation.


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Filed under 1790's, Greek/Roman Translations, Poetry, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt