Dear Veranius, of all my close companions / by three hundred miles the foremost— have you / come back home to your household gods, to brothers / one in mind with you, to yout aged mother?/ Yes, you’re back! The news makes me so happy—/ I’ll see you safe and sound, hear all your stories / of Spanish tribes and cities, what you did there, / told in your special style. I’ll hug you to me, / rain kisses on your eyes and laughing face. Oh / take all the fortunate men alive now— who, pray, / could be happier, more fortunate than I am?
from THE POEMS OF CATULLUS: a bilingual edition translated with commentary by Peter Green (University of California Press, 2007).
FRAME OF REFERENCE To return to the Augustinian theme: there can be turns to self that are not loving homecomings to the intimate universal but platforms for accentuating claims made for the powers of self-determination, or indeed self-assertion. The turn to self is then a turn from an other perceived as equivocal, as a possible curb on my self-determination. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 50.
Catullus: 87-57 BCE. (Disputed.) Caesar was a guest at his father’s dinner table; Catullus would later write a perfect witty epigram to/about Caesar. Not nice, and dangerous.
Catullus helped invent the modern lyric. The edition cited here is a monument to the best kind of scholarship. Packed with references, it still showcases the poems. Peter Green’s agile English leaves the bitter-sweet taste of poetry in the mouth (“bitter-sweet” as Anne Carson reminds us grounds our sense of self in Sappho’s sensibility).
Catullus wrote personal and impersonal poetry and seems to have wanted them published together. As lyrics, one presumes. His sense of self as displayed in the poems is heterogenous, which is to say some of the epigrams are shockingly personal (like the one to Caesar).
School editions of Catullus tend to be expurgated.
The poem given here would not grab your attention as you thumb through this handsome book (lots of fucking and sucking) at the bookstore. Its art is subtle, its occasion public/private. Its lyric itinerary uses a zoom lens to create gradually diminishing separation. Outside to inside. The middle is a little interior dialogue, and it increases the energy. With the turn to the personal emotions, the poem builds in intensity until it stops at the conjectural extreme of unsurpassable happiness. Acme. Low to high. Conceptually this lyric is the complete deal.
The original Latin is dense with sound patterns observable by the inner ear of the Latinless reader: narrantem loca, facta, nationes/ut mos est tuus, applicansque collum/
Here, at the beginnings of the modern lyric tradition, we have not irony or self-lacerating confession, or unmoored nihilism (all of which feature here and there in the oeuvre) but a fully fleshed image of transhuman identity. We.