ODE TO APHRODITE
APHRODITE, subtle of soul and deathless,
Daughter of God, weaver of wiles, I pray thee
Neither with care, dread Mistress, nor with anguish,
Slay thou my spirit!
But in pity hasten, come now if ever
From afar of old when my voice implored thee,
Thou hast deigned to listen, leaving the golden
House of thy father
With thy chariot yoked; and with doves that drew thee,
Fair and fleet around the dark earth from heaven,
Dipping vibrant wings down he azure distance,
Through the mid-ether;
Very swift they came; and thou, gracious Vision,
Leaned with face that smiled in immortal beauty,
Leaned to me and asked, "What misfortune threatened?
Why I had called thee?"
"What my frenzied heart craved in utter yearning,
Whom its wild desire would persuade to passion?
What disdainful charms, madly worshipped, slight thee?
Who wrongs thee, Sappho?"
"She that fain would fly, she shall quickly follow,
She that now rejects, yet with gifts shall woo thee,
She that heeds thee not, soon shall love to madness,
Love thee, the loth one!"
Come to me now thus, Goddess, and release me
From distress and pain; and all my distracted
Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling,
Still be my ally!
1. The Dedication: to Cornelius
To whom do I send this fresh little book
of wit, just polished off with dry pumice?
To you, Cornelius: since you were accustomed
to consider my trifles worth something
even then, when you alone of Italians
dared to explain all the ages, in three learned
works, by Jupiter, and with the greatest labour.
Then take this little book for your own: whatever
it is, and is worth: virgin Muse, patroness,
let it last, for more lives than one.
2. Tears for Lesbia’s Sparrow
Sparrow, my sweet girl’s delight,
whom she plays with, holds to her breast,
whom, greedy, she gives her little finger to,
often provoking you to a sharp bite,
whenever my shining desire wishes
to play with something she loves,
I suppose, while strong passion abates,
it might be a small relief from her pain:
might I toy with you as she does
and ease the cares of a sad mind!
3. The Death of Lesbia’s Sparrow
Mourn, O you Loves and Cupids
and such of you as love beauty:
my girl’s sparrow is dead,
sparrow, the girl’s delight,
whom she loved more than her eyes.
For he was sweet as honey, and knew her
as well as the girl her own mother,
he never moved from her lap,
but, hopping about here and there,
chirped to his mistress alone.
Now he goes down the shadowy road
from which they say no one returns.
Now let evil be yours, evil shadows of Orcus,
that devour everything of beauty:
you’ve stolen lovely sparrow from me.
O evil deed! O poor little sparrow!
Now, by your efforts, my girl’s eyes
are swollen and red with weeping.
7. How Many Kisses: to Lesbia
Lesbia, you ask how many kisses of yours
would be enough and more to satisfy me.
As many as the grains of Libyan sand
that lie between hot Jupiter’s oracle,
at Ammon, in resin-producing Cyrene,
and old Battiades sacred tomb:
or as many as the stars, when night is still,
gazing down on secret human desires:
as many of your kisses kissed
are enough, and more, for mad Catullus,
as can’t be counted by spies
nor an evil tongue bewitch us.
8. Advice: to himself
Sad Catullus, stop playing the fool,
and let what you know leads you to ruin, end.
Once, bright days shone for you,
when you came often drawn to the girl
loved as no other will be loved by you.
Then there were many pleasures with her,
that you wished, and the girl not unwilling,
truly the bright days shone for you.
And now she no longer wants you: and you
weak man, be unwilling to chase what flees,
or live in misery: be strong-minded, stand firm.
Goodbye girl, now Catullus is firm,
he doesn’t search for you, won’t ask unwillingly.
But you’ll grieve, when nobody asks.
Woe to you, wicked girl, what life’s left for you?
Who’ll submit to you now? Who’ll see your beauty?
Who now will you love? Whose will they say you’ll be?
Who will you kiss? Whose lips will you bite?
But you, Catullus, be resolved to be firm.
14. What a Book! : to Calvus the Poet
If I didn’t love you more than my eyes,
most delightful Calvus, I’d dislike you
for this gift, with a true Vatinian dislike:
Now what did I do and what did I say,
to be so badly cursed with poets?
Let the gods send ill-luck to that client
who sent you so many wretches.
But if, as I guess, Sulla the grammarian
gave you this new and inventive gift,
that’s no harm to me, it’s good and fine
that your efforts aren’t all wasted.
Great gods, an amazing, immortal book!
That you sent, of course, to your Catullus,
so he might immediately die,
on the optimum day, in the Saturnalia!
No you won’t get away with this crime.
Now when it’s light enough I’ll run
to the copyists bookstalls, I’ll acquire
Caesius, Aquinus, Suffenus,
all of the poisonous ones.
And I’ll repay you for this suffering.
Meanwhile farewell take yourself off, there,
whence your unlucky feet brought you,
cursed ones of the age, worst of poets
22. People Who Live in Glass Houses: to Varus
Varus, that Suffenus, thoroughly known to us,
is a man who’s charming, witty, urbane,
and the same man for ages has penned many verses.
I think he’s written a thousand, ten thousand, or more,
not those that are done on cheap manuscript
paper: but princely papyri, new books,
new roller ends, new red ties for the parchment,
lead-ruled and smoothed all-over with pumice.
When you read them, that lovely urbane Suffenus
turns into a goat-herd or a ditch-digger:
he’s so altered and strange.
What should we think of it? He who might just now
have been playing the fool, being witty with the thing,
the same man’s crude, crude as a bumpkin,
he mentions his poems as well, nor is there ever
likewise anything as happy as the poems he writes:
he delights in himself so, is so amazed by himself.
Of course we’re all deceived in the same way, and
there’s no one who can’t somehow or other be seen
as a Suffenus. Whoever it is, is subject to error:
we don’t see the pack on our own back.
23. Poverty: to Furius
Furius, you who’ve neither slaves nor cash
nor beetles nor spiders nor fire,
truly have a father and step-mother,
whose teeth can chew like flints:
that’s fine for you, and your father
and your father’s wooden wife.
No wonder: since you’re all well,
good digestion, nothing to fear,
no flames, no weighty disasters,
no wicked deeds, no threat of poison,
no chance of further dangers.
And you’ve a body drier than bone
or whatever is most desiccated
by heat and cold and hunger.
Why wouldn’t you be well and happy?
You’ve no sweat, no phlegm,
or mucus, or evil cold in the head.
To this cleanliness add more cleanliness,
your arse is purer than a little salt-cellar,
and doesn’t crap ten times in a year:
and your shit’s harder than beans or pebbles.
So if you rub it and crush it between your fingers,
you can’t stain a single finger:
it all suits you so happily Furius,
don’t despise it, or consider it nothing,
and cease to beg for that hundred sestertia
you always ask for: sufficiency is riches.
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