Metre: Sapphic stanzas.

See issued printed notes: "Supplementary Material".

1-5"The significance of the poem's opening lines (1-5) is that they elevate a normal human occasion to the status of an 'epiphany' in which the participants become divine: for Catullus the man in Lesbia's company not merely equals, but surpasses, the gods and she, by implication, is a goddess." (Arkins, 61)

2si fas est: "The measured seriousness of the statement requires restraint in hyperbole." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

3-5The sense-order is qui, sedens aduersus, identidem spectat et audit te ridentem dulce, lit. "who sitting opposite, repeatedly looks-at and hears you laughing sweet".

4identidem spectat: This is obsessive behaviour.

5dulce: cognate accusative. (MBA 236-238)

5-6misero quod ... sensus mihi: lit. "(a thing) which snatches-away all the-senses to-the-disadvantage-of-me unhappy".

mihi: dative of disadvantage. (JH 136-137)

6simul = simul ac, "as soon as".

7This pseudonym for Clodia is particularly apt in a poem composed in a metre associated with the name of Sappho, the most famous Lesbia ("woman of Lesbos") in history. Indeed, the poem is largely a translation of a poem by Sappho. See also the note on Poem 5.1.

est super = superest: an example of tmesis (Greek, "a cutting"), on which see ILH 58. Tmesis often occurs today in abusive or angry speech, e.g. many ALP stalwarts contine to gnash their teeth about "Mundingbloodyburra", which, in February 1996, thrust the conservative forces back into power in Queensland. MEU 624 gives more polished examples.

8This line is missing in the extant MSS of Catullus. uocis et artis is one of the many tentative suggestions to fill the gap. See the translation.

10suopte: an emphatic form of suo. (GL 102, Note 3)

11-12geminã is ablative, as the scansion shows. Hence it goes with nocte, not lumina, with which it belongs in sense, and is thus an example of hypallage, or transferred epithet. (DPLT 435)

13-15otium ... otio ... otium: a striking example of anaphora, a rhetorical device which gives emphasis and cohesion to what is being said. (PDLT 40-41)

14exsultas: "run riot". (OLD 658, s.v. "ex(s)ulto", 2)

15perdidit: a gnomic perfect, i.e. it states what has happened in the past but carries with it a clear implication that the same thing happens now and will continue to happen in the future. In essence, it is a brief way of conveying the thought "as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be". Cf. Robert Burns, "Faint heart ne'er won a lady fair." (To Dr Blacklock, 1800)

beatas: here "wealthy". (OLD 227, s.v. "beatus", 3)

"If carm. 51 was an erotic 'feeler', a measure of humour in the otium-stanza would not defeat this purpose. Catullus might well have accounted such humour a stylistically pleasing and emotionally useful device. The poem would function as a subtle declaration of love which steered clear of giving the impression that he was 'crawling' at Lesbia's feet." (H. A. Khan, "Observations on Two Poems of Catullus", Rheinisches Museum 114 (1971). 165)

On the mood of the poem, see also Quinn2, 56-60.

CATULLUS, Poems 2 and 2b

Metre: hendecasyllables, the commonest metre in Catullus.

See issued printed notes: "Supplementary Material".

1deliciae: The bird is a love-object. For Lesbia it is an adequate substitute for a real lover. But no such substitute can satisfy Catullus.

2-3quem in sinu: The elision suits the sense. So too in line 3, dare appetenti.
2-4These are the games that human lovers play. "Though only a substitute for sex, they are intensely sexual in character." (Arkins, 82)

5-7Lit. "when (taking cum as the conjunction) for-my radiant desired-one it-is-pleasing to-frolic some (frolic), that-is (taking et (7) as explanatory) a-small-solace of-her grief".

8credo: an anguished affirmation tinged with irony, "ah yes". "He would like her ardor to be grauis but is it really?" (Quinn1, ad loc.) "Can she really love him if she is able to bring her feelings so readily under restraint? He senses already that the affair means more to him than it does to her." Quinn2 83-84)

9possem: subjunctive of desire. (MBA 150)

9-10Here is an ironic contrast: Lesbia's pain seems easily soothed; Catullus knows his is not.

11-13For the story of Atalanta, see OCCL 69.

12malas: from mâla, mâlae, f., "cheek, cheek-bone". Cf. mâlô,* "I prefer"; mâlum, "apple"; malus,* "bad"; mâlus,* f., "apple-tree"; mâlus, m., "mast". (Unmarked vowels are short.) The words marked * are covered in the following old mnemonic:
malo - I would rather be
malo - in an apple tree (local ablative)
malo - than a wicked man (ablative of comparison)
malo - in adversity.
Willard Espy comments, "It is a marvel that four identical Latin words can be plausibly translated into a complete and complicated English sentence." (Another Almanac of Words at Play (1981), 21) True, but I look forward to the day when someone devises a mnemonic to cover all six confusable words.

Helena K. Dettmer observes that the introductory sequence of Lesbia poems (2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 13) all end with a reference either to a part of the face or the loss of virginity. As face and genitalia are closely related in sexual activity, this gives the poems a common link. From this we may conclude that 2 and 2b are rightly regarded as one poem. ("Closure in the Lesbia Polymetra 1-13", The Classical World (1988-1989). 375-377)


Metre: hendecasyllables.

1-2"The appropriate circle of mourners is set out in an increasing triad." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

2quantum est hominium uenustiorum: lit. "as-much-as there-is of-men more-than-ordinarily-sensitive-to-loveliness".

uenustus in Catullus covers a wide range of qualities referring to both people and poetry. It includes physical attractiveness, urbanity, elegance, wit, charm, discernment and subtlety - and finally transcends all its parts.

5oculis: ablative of comparison.

6norat = nouerat. (KMP 113)

ipsam: For the colloquial use of ipse referring to the head of the house, compare the Irishism "Is himself at home?".

7ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem: sc. nouit from norat (6).

8nec sese a gremio illius: The elision between sese and a suits the sense. So too in 3.14 (quam omnia) and 3.15 (passerem abstulistis).

10pipiabat is strikingly onomatopoeiac. It echoes amabat at the end of 5.

11-12"Naturally, the ancients did not seriously suppose that animals went down to Hades." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

12Did Shakespeare have this line in mind when he had Hamlet refer to

"The undiscover'd country from whose
bourn (i.e. boundary)
No traveller returns"?
(Hamlet 3.1.79-80)

14bella: The adjective bellus survives in the Romance languages (French beau, bel, belle; Italian bello, bella), which are derived not from formal written Latin but from Latin as it was spoken in everyday usage.

15mihi: dative of disadvantage.

16-18miselli ... turgiduli ... ocelli: It is important to note the wide range of effects produced by the use of diminutives:
  1. Basically, the diminutive indicates relative smallness. Thus gladiolus, a diminutive of gladius, which we have adopted in English as the name of a plant and flower, properly means "a little sword". Similarly our own word "gosling" (a diminutive of "goose") has as its basic meaning "a little goose; mannikin, "a little man".

  2. However, as well as indicating relative smallness, the diminutive may also become charged with one of the emotions normally inspired in us when we encounter relative smallness - such as affection, or pity, or contempt. So filiola ( diminutive of filia) may take on the enlarged sense of "a dear little daughter", homunculus (a diminutive of homo) may come to mean "a poor little man; and ratiuncula (a diminutive of ratio) may bear the sense of "a contemptibly slight reason".

  3. Next the diminutive, while retaining its emotional content, may lose its original reference to relative smallness. Thus muliercula (a diminutive of mulier) may be used as a term of contempt - "a mere woman" - for any woman, large or small, just as "darling" (a diminutive of "dear") may be applied simply as an endearment by the tiniest of wives to the largest of husbands.

  4. Lastly, the diminutive may be used simply as a synonym of the original word.

    In miselle passer the diminutive has its basic force, "poor little thrush". In meae puellae ocelli it has lost its basic force: Catullus would hardly suggest that the woman he loved had tiny, beady eyes but instead conveys affection, "my sweetheart's dear eyes". In flendo turgiduli rubent the diminutive has again lost its reference to size but now is charged with pity, "are red and sadly swollen with weeping".

"Poem 3 is a delicately ironical, graceful love poem, wary of any surrender to sentimentality, its claim on our emotions all the surer because the claim is not overpitched." (Quinn1, 96)

"The original function of the poem, we may safely assume, wasn't to console Lesbia at the moment when she had lost control of her feelings, but to detach her from her grief later, to get her to smile a little at a clever poem, and thus to acknowledge to herself that her reaction had been excessive. Catullus' sympathetic, sensitive treatment of his mistress's grief is the core of the poem. Though they mock pathos, the concluding lines are among the most delicately pathetic in Catullus." (Quinn2, 85-86)

H. D. Jocelyn, "On Some Unnecessarily Indecent Interpretations of Catullus 2 and 3", American Journal of Philology 101 (1980). 421-441, rebuts convincingly the attempts of many scholars to read sexual references into the two poems about Lesbia's thrush.


Metre: hendecasyllables.

1E. Wirshbo suggests that the name Lesbia had not only sublime but lewd connotations. See "Lesbia: A Mock Hypocorism?", Classical Philology 75 (1980). 70. (A hypocorism is a pet-name or endearment.)

2The alliteration of r and s echoes the snarling, hissing critics.

2-3These lines suggest that the love affair between Catullus and Clodia had met with the disapproval of the older generation, who thought such behaviour improper for the governor's lady. Has she raised the objection, "But what will people say?"

3omnes unius: The contrast between the words is heightened by the collocation.

The alliteration of s emphasises the disdain of the poet for the critics. He virtually spits on them.

4-5soles ... lux: another striking contrast heightened by the emphatic placing of the words.

5There is a chilling finality about the perfect occidit.

lux: The monosyllabic ending produces a clash of accent and ictus, so that the line finishes with a jolt appropriate to the sense. (ILH 46)

Note the progressive shortening of the last three words: occidit (3 syllables), breuis (2), lux (1). The lovers' lives will similarly come to a halt.

The absence of a conjunction such as sed or at at the beginning of the line is known as adversative asyndeton (Greek, "unconnected"). It is an effective way of making a contrast. Cf. in English, "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

7da: the monosyllabic imperative conveys a sense of urgency.

7-10dein(de) x 6: a remarkable instance of anaphora suggestive of mounting passion, which comes to a climax in the wild abandon of 11.

10-13Here we meet a fundamental difference between pagan and Christian thought. The Christian hymn adjures us to "count our blessings one by one", the idea being that by so doing we should recognise and acknowledge our debt to the God of living kindness. Pagan thought, on the contrary, insisted that one conceal one's good fortune, lest it attract the evil eye of a jealous god who was quick to resent and penalise any apparent excess of happiness and prosperity enjoyed by mere man. That the belief survives today is illustrated by the Italian peasant who touches iron whenever he sees a iettatore, a person believed to possess the evil eye, or by the Egyptian mother who wraps her newborn baby in humble rags to divert the malevolent influence of some jealous supernatural being. Some people wear an amulet of the eye itself to outstare the evil eye, a custom reflected in one "Mambo" t-shirt depicting an eye enclosed by a triangle.

Frescos of Etruscan dancers often show them with their index and little fingers extended to form the "sign of horns". The gesture is still used in Italy today to avert the evil eye or simply to express contempt. The volatile tennis player Ilie Nastase was fined $750 for using this gesture after being beaten in Sydney by Londoner Jonathan Smith in 1981. See also PDS 365, s.v. "eye".

12inuidere: The critics feel envy as well as outraged morality. In other words they are hypocrites.

13sciat: subjunctive in a causal cum-clause.

esse: not fuisse, as the kisses are a treasure that remains stored up.

"Inasmuch as 'Lesbia' embodied the qualities of Sappho, that supreme combination of passion and intellect, we cannot but think that this charming protreptic, with its double appeal to emotion and reason [i.e. carefully counting the kisses], and wrought with flawless art, had the effect which the poet desired." (Ernest A. Fredericksmeyer, "Observations on Catullus 5", American Journal of Philology 91 (1970). 445)


Metre: hendecasyllables.

1basiationes: "The learned-sounding polysyllable ('kissifications') lends the question an ironical inflection." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

1-2Does Lesbia's question, if she actually asked it, reflect impatience with her lover's demands?

3Libyssae: OLD 1028, s.v. "Libyssa", which cites this passage.

3-5"As a docta puella Lesbia would realise that the kisses Catullus requires are those appropriate to lovers who share a common appreciation of the Greek poet [Callimachus]." (Arkins 76)

4lasarpiciferis Catullus displays his learning not for its own sake but gracefully, playfully. Asafoetida is a gum-resin with an offensive odour (cf. "fetid"), much used in medicine, especially as an antispasmodic. As for Cyrene using it as an emblem on its coins, it is relevant to note that the main information on Greek coins is economic. Some cities of the Greek west are justly famous for depicting on their coin types picturesque local products or services, such as the crab of Acragas, the satyr revelling in the spa waters of Himera or the Dionysus and grapes of Sicilian Naxos. Compare in Australian pre-decimal currency the merino sheep on the shilling and the ears of wheat on the threepence. Today some of our more exotic car number-plates perform a similar function, especially in proclaiming Queensland's tourist attractions.

"Asafoetida: Used in minute quantities in Indian cooking, its main purpose is to prevent flatulence. It is obtained from the resinous gum of a plant growing in Afghanistan and Iran.. The stalks are cut close to the root and the milky fluid that flows out is dried into the resin sold as asafoetida. Although it has quite an unpleasant smell by itself, a tiny piece the size of a pea attached to the inside of the lid of a cooking pot adds a certain flavour that is much prized, apart from its medicinal properties." (Charmaine Solomon, The Complete Asian Cookbook (1992), 485)

The Greek lyricist Calimachus (OCCL 110-111), who had a profound influence on Catullus, was born in Cyrene c.310 BC.

5oraclum Iouis: See OCD 74, s.v. "Ammon", and GRC, coin 16.

aestuosi: Not only "sweltering" but probably also, given Jove's amorous reputation, "licentious". "Sultry" covers both.

5-6The order of words and phrases produces the ABBA chiasmus, here accusative (oraclum), genitive (Iouis aestuosi), genitive (Batti ueteris), accusative (sacrum sepulcrum). Chiasmus is so called from the Greek letter c (chi). Cicero is fond of it, as we are in English. Chiasmus usually has considerable piquancy and frequently occurs in epigrams, e.g. "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog." Then there's the thought-provoking, double-barrelled, "I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy."

7cum tacet nox: an eloquent diminuendo.

7-8"The stars look on while night enters the conspiracy of silence." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

9te ... basiare: te is accusative of the direct object; basia, a cognate accusative, both governed by basiare. Compare in English the admonition " 'But' me no 'buts'."

10furtiuos: an appropriate description of the adulterous relationship of Catullus and Clodia.

Charles Segal demonstrates that the association of stars, love, silence, secrecy and night's complicity is another Alexandrian theme, which Catullus has transformed with his characteristic simplicity and freshness. ("More Alexandrianism in Catullus VII?", Mnemosyne 27 (1974). 139-143)

12possint: subjunctive of conditioned futurity referring to present time, the si- clause being suppressed.

mala lingua: nominative, as the scansion shows.

fascinare: See again the note on poem 5.10-13.

"Poem 7, though it comes back in its concluding lines to that real world of gossip and malice, moves till then in a fantasy world, where impossible questions can receive elaborately poetic answers." (Quinn2, 88)

"Alexandrian poetry was poetry for the intellect and not for the heart. This makes it all the more remarkable that a poet who wrote in such a tradition should have become known as a 'poet of passion', and that the works that gained widest reading were concerned with his feeling for one woman. Yet Catullus was far from being simply a poet of 'primitive passion': even in his 'Lesbia' poems, such as 5 and 7, his approach remains intellectual, and in the poems where he struggles to free himself from Lesbia and from his own lingering feelings for her the tension in the poetry comes from the battle between his reason and his passion." (T. Fear, "Catullus, a Poet in Transition", Liverpool Classical Monthly 15 (1990). 24)


Metre: hendecasyllables.

1mi Fabulle: This vocative, like uenuste noster (6) and Fabulle (14), suggests intimacy and admiration.

2diebus: ablative of time within which.

si ... fauent: We need not assume Catullus is particularly religious. The words are an elegant procrastination, to be compounded with paucis diebus. No time or date is specified. "Fabullus is just back from Spain. In his eagerness for news of C., has he dropped a hint that an invitation to dinner would be welcome? Perhaps he has heard rumours and wants to know what C. has been up to." (Quinn1, 133)

4candida could refer to complexion and/or hair. Cf. the admiration accorded Scandinavian-type women in Italy today. Alternatively, it could mean "radiant, glowing". Does Catullus envisage a foursome: Fabullus and his partner, Catullus and his mistress?

5cachinnos: an onomatopoeiac word.

6uenuste: a fashionable, sophisticated term of approbation common in Catullus and his circle.

6-8These lines reinforce the BYO theme of 1-5.

7tui Catulli: tui is affectionate; Catulli, playful.

9-10These lines contain promises designed to intrigue.

11-12Perfume was an essential component of a Roman dinner party. The scent of roses in particular was thought to prevent or at least delay intoxication. On the other hand, perhaps Catullus means that his mistress, an extremely beautiful woman, like a goddess, emits a special fragrance, or aura, and this will be the source of the promised perfume.

A number of scholars have claimed unguentum is a sexual lubricant. Charles Witke adduces twelve persuasive arguments against the proposition. ("Catullus 13", Classical Philology 75 (1980). 325-331)

13-14"This humorous closing extravagance offsets any unseemly over-commitment in ll. 9-12." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

S. G. P. Small observes that the humour of the poem comes mostly from a comic reversal of the roles of guest and host. Ordinarily the guest brought a small present, such as perfume, while the host supplied the rest.

A song by the Austrian composer Hugo Wolf is strikingly similar in theme:

Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich
geladen und hatte doch kein Haus mich
zu empfangen, nicht Holz noch Herd
zum Kochen und zum Braten, der Hafen
auch war längst entzwei gegangen.
An einem Fässchen Wein gebrach es
auch, und Gläser hatt' er gar nicht
im Gebrauch; der Tisch war schmal,
das Tafeltuch nicht besser, das Brot
steinhart und völlig stumpf das Messer.

My lover asked me to dinner. But he
had no house, no fuel, no hearth and
no oven; and the cooking pot was
broken in two. No wine, no glasses;
the table was mean, with a tablecloth
to match; the bread stone-hard and
the one knife quite blunt.
(From The Italian Songbook)

Catullus's poem is structured in exactly the same way as an English sonnet, having fourteen lines in all, with two distinct divisions, 1-8 and 9-14. Granted, Catullus does not use rhyme, but the earliest surviving sonnets, by a Sicilian, Giacomo da Lentino (thirteenth century AD) were written in hendecasyllables, as in Poem 13


Metre: hendecasyllables.

1-4naso, pede, ocellis, digitis, ore, lingua: ablatives of quality qualifying puella (1).

"An ironical apostrophe, mock-lyric in tone, [an] ecstatic list of a girl's good points turned upside down." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

nec x 6: anaphora, "a series of hammer-blows dismissing Ameana on count after count. The lines make an interesting check-list." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

2bello: See again the note on Poem 3.14.

ocellis: See again the note on Poem 3.16-18. Here ocellis has no diminutive force but is used simply as a metrically convenient substitute for oculis.

3nec longis digitis: She had stubby fingers.

nec ore sicco: She dribbled!

4nec ... lingua: "In this list of negative attributes the final item reaches a climax of understatement. Ameana's looks were bad enough; but when she opened her mouth..." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

4-5If we put a fullstop after lingua and begin a fresh sentence with decoctoris, the poem "falls into two quatrains and gains in liveliness as well as balance". (Quinn1, ad loc.)

5decoctoris Formiani: OCD 916, s.v. "Mamurra".

6ten: a shortened form of tene, accusative singular of te, plus the interrogative particle -ne. The word is emphatic by position. See the translation.

prouincia: Ameana is regarded as beautiful in the "backblocks". It would be a different story in Rome. To learn more of Ameana, read Poem 41, where she is depicted as an unattractive and excessively expensive prostitute. See also Marilyn B. Skinner, "Ameana, puella defututa", The Classical Journal 74 (1978-1979). 110-114.

8saeclum: accusative of exclamation.

insapiens is more usually written in its later form insipiens. (OLD 925)

7nostra: the so-called "royal" plural of (mock) modesty. We find it in formal documents, such as encyclicals. Compare "We are not amused", attributed to Queen Victoria by Caroline Holland, Notebooks of a Spinster Lady (1919): "There is a tale of the unfortunate equerry who ventured during dinner at Windsor to tell a story with a spice of scandal or impropriety in it. 'We are not amused,' said the Queen when he had finished." On the other hand, Princess Alice, during an interview in 1978, said she had asked her grandmother about the expression, "but she never said it," and declared that Queen Victoria was "a very cheerful person".

So what was Lesbia herself really like? To find out, read H. D. Rankin's analysis of Poems 43, 86 and 51 in "Catullus and the 'Beauty' of Lesbia", Latomus 35 (1976). 3-11. See also J. W. Zarker, "Lesbia's Charms", The Classical Journal 68 (1972). 107-115, which considers much more than physical beauty.


Metre: elegiac couplets.

See issued printed notes: "Supplementary Material".

3formosa: Each of the poem's three couplets contains this key word.

5-6cum ... tum: "Not only ... but also". (MBA 435)

6omnibus: dative of disadvantage.

8una: concessive in force. See the translation.


Metre: elegiac couplets.

1uiro: OCD 268-269, s.v. "Caecilius Metellus Celer, Quintus".

2laetitia: "The husband finds Lesbia's abuse of C. reassuring, as well as a great joke." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

3nostri: objective genitive, governed by oblita. (MBA 308) It is probably not a royal plural. See the translation.

mule: I. D. Paphangelis points out that, the mule being by nature slow, the line contains an ironic reference to the cognomen of Lesbia's husband, Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer. The mule probably also symbolises a maladroit husband or lover. ("Catullus 83.3: mule, nihil sentis", Epistemonike Epeteris tes Philosophikes Scholes tou Aristoteliou Panepistemiou Thessalonikes 17 (1978). 263-272)

3-4si ... taceret, sana esset: an unreal conditional sentence in which both clauses refer to present time. (MBA 457-458)

4quod gannit et obloquitur: introductory quod-clauses of reference. (Woodcock 241, para. 2)

obloquitur: She interrupts him and "won't let him get a word in edgeways". (Quinn1, ad loc.)

6loquitur: "Those who take obloquitur to mean 'abuse' find the repetitive loquitur weak. But C. means that Lesbia, instead of brooding or letting the men talk, keeps talking herself." (Quinn1, ad loc.)


Metre: elegiac couplets.

1-2"The two propositions form a paradox which 3-4 will justify." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

2dispeream: subjunctive of wish.

3quia sunt totidem mea: lit. "because my (things) are just-as-many." This could possibly be a metaphor for scoring in a game.

illam: emphatic by position.

deprecor: "pray to be rid of". (OLD 520, s.v. "deprecor", 1, which cites this passage)

4uerum dispeream nisi amo: "as though even one's own feelings were a matter for conviction, rather than certainty". (Quinn1, ad loc.)

"The effort of will we witness in poem 8 (cf. line 19: at tu, Catulle, destinatus obdura) was not always adequate to counteract the tendency of self-delusion that we see in poems 83 and 92." (James P. Holoka, "Self-Delusion in Catullus 83 and 92", The Classical World 69 (1975). 120)

"They are the words of a man who is eagerly looking for confirmation of what he feels sure of." (Quinn2, 61)

CATULLUS, Poem 109

Metre: elegiac couplets.

3possit: Catullus worries that his beloved is unable to make a genuine promise.

4atque: explanatory; what follows explains what has gone before. (JH Appendix A.2)

5ut liceat ... perducere: Take this ut-clause as consecutive, the outcome of what Catullus prays is a serious promise. See the translation.

tota uita: ablative of time within which, with both extremities of the time period included. Be sure to see GL 393, Remark 2, and Woodcock 54, Note 1 (second paragraph), both of which cite examples from Cicero and Caesar.

6aeternum is used predicatively: it comes about as a result of the action of perducere. (JH, the note on l. 19, laxas)

"The words [of this line] express an ideal which C. doubts his mistress's ability to live up to, rather than C.'s concept of anything that exists, or has existed, between them." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

"The reader knows in advance how thoroughly justified the irony and scepticism were." (Quinn2, 112)


Metre: elegiac couplets.

1nulli: dative of advantage (or disadvantage?!) with nubere, which is probably cognate with nubes, "a cloud", and properly meant "to veil oneself".

nulli is emphatic by position. The translation retains the emphasis by using extra words.

"If Lesbia was Clodia, the possibility of her marrying C. after the death of Metellus early in 59 BC may well have ben raised by C. and evaded by Clodia." (Quinn1, ad loc.)

3cupidô: the adjective, not to be confused with the noun cupîdô, "desire".

dicit ... dicit: a sad echo of dicit in 1.

4scribere oportet: We have to supply an accusative serving as the direct object of oportet and subject of the infinitive scribere; lit. "it-behoves (one) to-write".

For the thought, compare

  1. John Keats's unjustifiably pessimistic epitaph on himself:
    Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
    (Cited in Richard Monckton Milnes, Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats (1848) 2, 91)
  2. Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues
    We write in water.
    (Shakespeare, Henry VIII 4.2.45)

"A poem poignantly simple and direct in its statement of personal feeling." (Quinn1, 398)

"We detect, from the opening lines of Poem 70, an introspective, analytic, bitter note. The thing matters more, hurts more; an ideal has been shattered; poem after poem seems motivated by the same compulsive obsession to get straight what went wrong." (Quinn2, 104)

Poem 70 is based on Callimachus, Epigram 26, which you should read in translation.