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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Catullus and Safo

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Catullus was a poet born in Verona in the year 84 BC, in a wealthy family friend of Julius Caesar. He went young to Rome, like many others, with the intention to enter politics, but what was devoted to poetry

He fell in love with a noble Roman cheerful and frivolous, Clodia, who played with the young poet whim. Catullus died young, at thirty years. Often death calls early poets, especially lovers. Indeed Verona should be good country for sweethearts, there lived and died for love Romeo and Juliet.

Among many poems in which no doubt he reflects his physical reaction and their personal feelings, Catullus wrote this famous which then I transcribe, which has the number 51 of his poems.

He seems to me to be equal to a god,
he, if such were lawful, to surpass the gods,
who sitting across from you again and again
gazes on you, and listens to you
sweetly laughting, which snatchs away
from sombre me my every sense:
for the instant I glance on you, Lesbia,
nothing is left to me [of voice],
but my tongue is numbed,
a keen-edged flame spreads through my limbs,
with sound self-caused my twin ears sing,
and my eyes are enwrapped with night.
Leisure, Catullus, to you is hurtful:
in leisure beyond measure do you exult and pass your life.
Leisure first ruined rulers and prosperous cities.

       (Leonard C. Smithers, Ed.)

Ille mi par esse deovidetur
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
            spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
            vocis in ore,
lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures, gemina teguntur
            lumina nocte.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est,
otio exultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
            perdidt urbes.

The poem, for the simple reader, seems simply express their physical and psychological reactions in the presence of the beloved. It turns out that the poem is directly inspired, almost a translation of Sappho's poem reproduced by Longinus in On the Sublime, 10.2

Peer of the gods, the happiest man I seem
Sitting before thee, rapt at thy sight, hearing
Thy soft laughter and thy voice most gentle,
Speaking so sweetly.

Then in my bosom my heart wildly flutters,
And, when on thee I gaze never so little,
Bereft am I of all power of utterance,
My tongue is useless.

There rushes at once through my flesh tingling fire,
My eyes are deprived of all power of vision,
My ears hear nothing but sounds of winds roaring,
And all is blackness.

Down courses in streams the sweat of emotion,
A dread trembling o'erwhelms me, paler am I
Than dried grass in autumn, and in my madness
Dead I seem almost.

                       (Translated by Edwin Marion Cox)

Φάινεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν ὤνερ ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλασίον ἆδυ φωνεί-
     σασ ὐπακούει

καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν. τὸ δὴ ᾽μάν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν,
ὢς γὰρ εὔιδον βροχέωσ σε, φώνας
     οὖδεν ἔτ᾽ εἴκει,

ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῳσσα ϝέαγε, λέπτον
δ᾽ αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ᾽ οὖδεν ορημμ᾽, ἐπιρρόμ-
     βεισι δ᾽ ἄκουαι.

ἀ δέ μ᾽ ίδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ᾽ ὀλίγω ᾽πιδεύης
     φαίνομαι ἄλλα•

ἀλλὰ πᾶν τόλματον, ἐπεὶ +καὶ πένητα
                   
Sappho is the most famous poetess of Antiquity. She was born in Lesbos and lived approximately between 650 and 610 BC. She is the most important archaic lyric poetess; She is among the lyric poets  fixed and consecrated forever by ancient literary canon. Her love for the girls, who sings in her poems, has given  name to the female homosexual love, which is called sapphic or lesbian. Logically this is the origin of the term "lesbian".

Well, the poem in question was well known in Rome. So the simple initial interpretation is complicated somewhat. Why Catullus  uses Sappho’s  poem  to express his love for Lesbia, the name under which hides a real woman, Clodia? Does it have something to do  the name of the beloved Lesbia with Lesbos, Sappho's homeland? Is it possible to transpose the female feelings  to male love, making true the popular saying "what matter the sex if love is pure"? Catullus’s verses are a mere translation of the poet, a mere inspiration or original creation of the poet? .

In this regard, it should be noted how the goal of a former literary author is to emulate and if possible surpass the master. But of course, once the poet or writer publishes his work and delivers to the knowledge and enjoyment of the reader, who  recreates and assumes it as its own, of who is the spiritual property ?  is it of the author  or  of the reader identified whit him? . Of course, the ancients did not have the modern concept of intellectual property.

But anyway, let’s these issues as prosaic and let’s reread the poem in both versions. Let's enjoy them and check them to coincide, but only partly.

   
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