Monday, April 19, 2010

Lake Garda - Catullus

So what book of poetry do you bring on holiday to read at Lake Garda? Only one choice really - Catullus. Who? Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84 BC – c. 54 BC) the Latin poet who was from the area. He was probably born in Verona just west of the lake and he or his family had a villa on the island/promontory of Sirmione at the southern end of the lake. The bust above is at the lakeside.

The large scale remains of a Roman villa at Sirmione (picture below) have been named The Villa of Catullus though there is no evidence that this was his particular villa.

In his poem 31 he wrote:

Sirmio, jewel of islands, jewel of peninsulas,
jewel of whatever is set in the bright waters
or the great sea, or either ocean,
with what joy, what pleasure I gaze at you,

One hundred and thirteen of Catullus' poems have been preserved and often translated. These include sixty short poems in varying metres, eight longer poems verging on epics and forty-eight epigrams. The most famous of his poems are those to the lover he named Lesbia. His love poems range from tender love poems, to sadness and disappointment and bitter sarcasm.

His poem 75:

To this point is my mind reduced by your fault, my Lesbia,
and has so ruined itself by its own devotion,

that now it can neither wish you well

though you should become the best of women,

nor cease to love you though you do the worst that can be done.

Catullus' poetry was deemed "modern" in his time in that it turned away from traditional topics and instead dealt with small scale personal themes. It can be erotic and indeed some translations in the past omitted lines fearing that readers would be scandalised.

Many translations available on the web including complete poems here and here. The volume I took to Lake Garda was the Oxford World's Classics edition.

Yeats and MacNeice are among those writers who have been influenced by or at least made references to the poetry of Catullus in modern times.

Below a street named after the poet in Verona.


Peter Goulding said...

Catullus brings me back to learning Latin in school and picking out the dirty bits, like the odious, sniggering schoolboys that we were.

Ann said...

Fascinating information on the poet and his influence. I suppose many of the ancients were immortal after all.