Catullus - VII
Bohdan Peter Rekshynskyj
August 22nd, 2003
I'm not going to translate this to rhyme (which I think for the most part is silly and not necessarily true poetry). My humble commentary/observations below may give you the idea of this poem; how beautifully it is constructed in terms of its words and imagery. Read the Latin - out loud. If you know the Italian language - use its pronunciation (unless you are versed in the American, Italianate, or Ecclesiastical schools) rather than an English one! Latin is very beautiful - for its profundity, its structure, and its sonority.
There are lots of references to the current "scene" which we no longer have an idea of - I had to refer to the excellent commentaries by Kenneth Quinn's "Catullus - The Poems" (1973 - 2nd Edition) and even more research on Internet to fill in some lacunae.
Callimachus was a Greek poet who espoused shorter poems than the typical epic or tragedy. It appears that Catullus in paying homage to Callimachus chose Cyrene (where Callimachus was born) and Battus (the founder of the Greek colony of Cyrene in Libya and from whom Callimachus claimed to be descended from) as the word-pictures in his poem. Furthermore, even a god as mighty as Jupiter may sweat in those hot deserts!
The silphium plant was used in ancient medicine as a female contraceptive and was mostly found in Cyrene - it is now extinct, alas! The common fennel is a close relative and has ostensibly shown similar, albeit reduced, properties of that type.
I like the way the words are put together (there's a special way of reading this in Latin - the words are in meter and have a rhythmic quality) and how some of the word-pictures may arise in our minds. For example, isn't it wonderful how Catullus brings a vivid image of a star speckled quiet night looking down upon us with our loves as we furtively kiss in our frenzied passions, heedless of what others may think or say (ah, truly is youth wasted on the young, chuckle!)? Isn't it true, in this passion, that one kiss is never enough?
Another nice part is the use of the word "fascinare" - which the English cognate could be "fascinate", but in this case - "bewitch" is meant! This is a great little poem written, as is speculated, to a woman, Lesbia, with whom he was infatuated with (he wrote more poems in a similiar vein).
I have translated this poem in my own way. My approach is to keep it as close to the original as possible showing the structure, but yet not rendering it so stilted or obtuse. No doubt I may revise this in the days to come, perhaps, if I feel a better rendition needs be rendered. Feel free to email me with questions/comments/critiques!
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