Sappho & Catullus on Brothers

Sappho Fr.5

Revered Nereids, grant that my brother
Comes to me alive and well;
What in his heart he wants to happen,
Grant that it be realized;
As many wrongs as he did before,
Make him atone for them all;
And make of him a joy to his [friends],
But [a torment] to enemies.
Let there be not one [problem] for us.

Catullus 101

Through many nations and across many seas
I’ve come, my brother, for these sad burial rites—
To pay you the final tribute owed the dead,
And to speak, in vain, with your speechless ashes,
Since fortune has snatched you—you!—away from me.
Oh! My poor brother, cruelly taken from me!
Still, there’s the matter of the burial rites,
Preserved in antique customs of our line
And passed on in the melancholic tribute:
Receive them, though quite wet with fraternal tears.
And now, for all time, my brother,
I salute you and say goodbye.


Πότνιαι Νηρήιδες ἀβλάβη[ν μοι
τὸν κασί]γνητον δ[ο]τε τυίδ’ ἴκεσθα[ι
κὤσσα Ϝ]οι θύμωι κε θέληι γένεσθαι
πάντα τε]λέσθην,

ὄσσα δὲ πρ]όσθ’ ἄμβροτε πάντα λῦσα[ι
καὶ φίλοισ]ι Ϝοῖσι χάραν γένεσθαι
. . . . . . . ἔ]χροισι, γένοιτο δ’ ἄμμι
. . . . . . . μ]ηδ’ εἴς·


Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem.
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Seated Terracotta Figure Mali; Inland Niger Delta 13th Century. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The figure suggests a person in the act of mourning, and may therefore have funereal significance.

Catullus and Sappho are a good pair.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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