The Poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus/4

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Text & Translation[edit | edit source]

Meter - Iambic Senarii

Line Latin text English translation
1 phaselus ille quem videtis hospites That little boat which you see, guests,
2 ait fuisse navium celerrimus Said that it was the swiftest of ships,
3 neque ullius natantis impetum trabis And that the speed of any sailing timber
4 nequisse praeterire sive palmulis It was not unable to surpass, whether with little palms
5 opus foret volare sive linteo it would be necessary to speed or with a sail.
6 et hoc negat minacis Hadriatici And it denies that the menacing Adriatic's
7 negare litus insulasve Cycladas shore denies this, or the Cyclades islands
8 Rhodumque nobilem horridamque Thraciam and famous Rhodes and the rough Thracian
9 Propontida trucemve Ponticum sinum Propontis or the pitiless Pontic sea
10 ubi iste post phaselus antea fuit where that which you see afterward a yacht, was before
11 comata silva nam Cytorio in iugo a leafy forest; for on a Cytorian mountain ridge,
12 loquente saepe sibilum edidit coma it produced a whistling sound, often speaking with its leaves.
13 Amastri Pontica et Cytore buxifer Pontic Amastris and boxwood-bearing Cytorus,
14 tibi haec fuisse et esse cognitissima To you that these things have been and are very well-known
15 ait phaselus ultima ex origine the yacht says: from its farthest beginning,
16 tuo stetisse dicit in cacumine its says that it stood on your peak,
17 tuo imbuisse palmulas in aequore that it dipped its palms in your water,
18 et inde tot per impotentia freta and that from there, through so many uncontrollable straits,
19 erum tulisse laeva sive dextera it bore its master, whether from the left or the right
20 vocaret aura sive utrumque Iuppiter the wind would call, or whether the second Jupiter
21 simul secundus incidisset in pedem had fallen onto both feet at the same time;
22 neque ulla vota litoralibus deis and that not any vow to the gods of the shore
23 sibi esse facta cum veniret a mari had been made by itself, when it came from the most recent sea
24 novissimo hunc ad usque limpidum lacum all the way to this limpid lake.
25 sed haec prius fuere nunc recondita But these things have been before: now in hidden
26 senet quiete seque dedicat tibi repose it is old, and it dedicates itself to you,
27 gemelle Castor et gemelle Castoris twin Castor and twin of Castor.

Connotations of the Text[edit | edit source]

This poem, which concerns the retirement of a well-traveled ship, borrows heavily from Ancient Greek vocabulary, and also uses Greek grammar in several sections, and makes numerous geographic references and elaborate litotic double negatives in a list-like manner. Catullus 4 has been viewed as everything from a parody of epic poetry to another piece of writing in which the Ship of State metaphor is used. The meter is iambic trimeter.

Line 1[edit | edit source]

  • phaselus A phaselus was a small boat, derived from a Greek word meaning "bean" because of its similarity in shape to a bean-pod.

Line 3[edit | edit source]

  • trabis

("timber", "wooden beam") is here a poetic metonymy for "boat".

Line 4[edit | edit source]

  • Palmulis (diminutive of palma, "palm" of a hand) is here a metaphor for "oar".

Line 9[edit | edit source]

  • porpontida

("in front of Pontus") was the ancient name for the Sea of Marmara.

  • Ponticum sinum ("Pontic sea") was the name for the Black Sea.

Line 11[edit | edit source]

  • Cytorio

Mt. Cytorus was a mountain on the southern coast of the Black Sea, between the port cities of Amastris and Cytorus. Cytorus was famous as a source of boxwood.

Line 14[edit | edit source]

  • tibi

Amastris and Cytorus are addressed in the singular (tibi instead of vobis) because the city of Cytorus was absorbed by Amastris as it expanded, forming a single city.

Line 20[edit | edit source]

  • Iuppiter

Jupiter, king of the gods, is here used as metonymy for "sky" or "wind".

Line 21[edit | edit source]

  • pedem

(literally "foot") is here used to mean "sheet", a rope fastening the lower corners of a sail to the ship.

Line 27[edit | edit source]

The gemelle Castoris ("twin of Castor") refers to Pollux, the other twin in the Castor and Pollux pair, who were also known as the Gemini ("twins"). The two twins were often referred to by only a single name, most commonly Castor, as though they were one, hence the tibi in line 26.

External Links[edit | edit source]