Catullus’ lyric poems have been translated in
English by many, but few, if any, have done
it so lovingly and ably, and have been so
successful in keeping the essence of the original
latin verse as the late J.A.B. Harrisson MBE, DSC.
To honour the man and his labour of love I have thought it appropriate to start
the New Year with some of his translations of Catullus’ poems to Lesbia, his love.
I wish you well dear reader and hope that they will warm your heart and soul
in these cold, chilly, days!
Lesbia, or, to call her by her real name, Clodia - Catullus chose the name Lesbia for her because of his admiration for Sappho the great poetess of Lesbos - was one of the three sisters of P.Clodius Pulcher, tribune of the plebs, the sworn enemy of Cicero who, in his letters to Atticus, refers to her in a not uncomplementary way in Greek as Boôpis, 'The Cow Eyed'; after the Goddess Hera in Homer’s Illiad.
The notorious mistress of Catullus was probably the one wed to and since 59 widow of Q.Caecilius Metellus Celer, consul 60 B.C.
After breaking up with Catullus, who was never blind to his love's failings, and snidely speaks of her, she had an affair with M.Caelius Rufus which lasted for about two years, after which she accused him in 56 of attempted poisoning.
Since the summer of 56 she had an affair with L. Gellius Poplicola, consul 36 B.C., and halfbrother of the famous Messalla Corvinus. This affair with Catullus’ “friend” lasted till winter 55/54 B.C.
She was called Quadrantaria, ‘Lady Farthing’ by Caelius Rufus after the smallest copper coin, because one of her lovers had deceived her by putting copper money instead of silver into a purse and sending it to her.
This amoral and abandoned woman has - some people might say undeservedly become immortal, made so in Catullus' immortal verses, which are among the most beautiful love-poems in existence. In language as direct as it is exquisite he lays bare his heart, revealing his utter infatuation and his joy in it; his doubts and fears; his revolts against the tyranny of love; the quarrels; the reconciliations and the final rupture.