What’s on Your Mind, Catullus?

Catullus, Carm. 51

That man seems to me to be a god.
That man, if it can be said, seems to transcend the gods—
The one who sits across from you, constantly
Watches you and hears

Your sweet laugh.
It snatches away all sense from unhappy me:
For once I have looked at you, Lesbia . . .

[I have] a tongue, but it is stiff;
A slight flame glides down beneath my skin;
My ears ring with their own din;
And the lights of my eyes are obscured by a twinned night.

Leisure, Catullus, is trouble for you:
You revel in leisure and have done too much.
Leisure in earlier times destroyed kings
And magnificent cities alike.

Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
spectat et audit

dulce ridentem, misero quod omnes
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi . . .

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures, gemina teguntur
lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
perdidit urbes.

Back and white photo of people in 50s formal wear dancing
Garry Winogrand. El Morocco. 1955.
Museum of Modern Art. New York.

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 featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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