Classics and Religious Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Arethusa 6:2 (1973), pp. 257-265. Used by permission.


“The obscenity of Catullus has long been a stumbling block,” writes C. H. Sisson. Carmen 16 probably offers more of an impediment to the translator than any other poem in the corpus. It seems also to have suffered more: coyly rendered, opaquely rendered, bowdlerized, and finally truncated through being misunderstood, this poem may show how some losses have occurred in the transmission of classical texts. An obvious difficulty is in the repeated first and final line. What can a translator do with it? Until recently, English as forthright as the Latin could never be printed. A variety of circumlocutions have been tried. Though far short of the original, F. A. Wright’s “I’ll show you I’m a man” captured the essence of the meaning. Jack Lindsay tried “Aurelius down, you’ll knuckle under!/ Furius up! Admit your blunder!” — brilliant for those readers who already knew the original. Horace Gregory’s version is clearer, but such clarity as it adds is overbalanced by the lack of Lindsey’s wit and grace: “Furius, Aurelius, I’ll work your/ own perversions on you and your persons.” He has, for the same line at the end: “Come at me, and I’ll be ready/ to defile you and seduce you.” Best so far is Roy Arthur Swanson’s “I’ll snag you and gag you,” felicitous, concise, Catullan, and capable, in its context, of representing the Latin.

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