Skip to content

Catullus 4

March 24, 2012

The boat you look at, friends, will tell how in her time she was
the swiftest craft at sea. Never another wave-swimming
beam could outstrip her–no matter whether paddling-
with-palms ’twas was needed or, better, to soar full-sail!

Undaunted ever by a rough Adriatic’s menacing beaches,
by Cyclades, high Rhodes, or Thrace’s bristling Propontis,
or that stormy gulf of Pontis where once our boat-to-be
grew like a windy-haired forest and, high on a ridge of Cytorus,
would keen with sibilant leaves!

Amastris, Cytorus of boxtrees, she tells how you knew and loved her,
how one day a new-born sapling first stood up straight on your tip-top,
and dipped oar-palms in your waves. From there, through upstart straits
of dire seas, her master she bore safely home–
whether winds to port or starboard now would beckon her,
or now a favoring Jupiter strike her fair and square,
and her whole canvas belly-out corner to corner at once!

She’d made no servile vow to any shore-god; but won
herself her lonesome passage all the way from alien
oceans up at last to this our sun-clear lake.

But all of that’s the past. Replanted, growing old
in peace, she dedicates herself to you her stars:
you, twin of Castor, and, twin Castor, you.


Phasellus ille, quem videtis, hospites,
ait fuisse navium celerrimus,
neque ullius natantis impetum trabis
nequisse praeterire, sive palmulis
opus foret volare sive linteo.
et hoc negat minacis Hadriatici
negare litus insulasve Cycladas
Rhodumque nobilem horridamque Thraciam
Propontida trucemve Ponticum sinum
(ubi iste post phasellus antea fuit
comata silva–nam Cytorio in iugo
loquente saepe sibilum edidit coma).

Amastri Pontica et Cytore buxifer,
tibi haec fuisse et esse cognitissima
ait phasellus; ultima ex origine
tuo stetisse dicit in cacumine,
tuo imbuisse palmulas in aequore,
et inde tot per impotentia freta
erum tulisse, laeva sive dextera
vocaret aura, sive utrumque Iuppiter
simul secundus incidisset in pedem;
neque ulla vota litoralibus diis
sibi esse facta, cum veniret a mari
novissimo hunc ad usque limpidum lacum.

sed haec prius fuere: nunc recondita
senet quiete seque dedicat tibi,
gemelle Castor et gemelle Castoris.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Cerfer permalink
    March 24, 2012 6:48 pm

    Well done! However, I’ve often wondered if his iambs could be reproduced in English . . .

  2. Adam Cooper permalink*
    March 24, 2012 11:01 pm

    Yes, in my translation, I neither tried to keep the original line-endings intact, nor attempted anything like the purity of Catullus’ iambic trimeter, allowing myself a free accentual line of roughly 6-beats. I hope that in exchange for this laxity I’m able to capture some of sharpness, density and charm of the original–who knows though? perhaps if I’d submitted myself to a tougher regimen, something brighter would have been born. For there is something unsatisfying about these clumsy, variable lines in comparison to Catullus’ flawless meter.

  3. Cerfer permalink
    March 27, 2012 7:26 am

    I agree with you. I studied this poem with Dr. Maurer years ago (I went to school with your sister), and I’ve often thought that it makes one of the best cases I know for learning Latin. All translations, especially literal ones, take something away from it. The language is clear and the iambs are effortless–it’s almost like reading Yeats in Latin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: