The Poetry of Gaius Valerius Catullus/7
Catullus 7 is one of Catullus's poems to his Lesbia. This seems to have been written at a particularly passionate stage of the affair, as the poem has no negative connotations, or doubts, as in others.
Text & Translation
Meter - Hendecasyllabic
|Line||Latin Text||English Translation|
|1||quaeris quot mihi basiationes||You ask how many kissings|
|2||tuae Lesbia sint satis superque||Of yours, Lesbia, would be enough and more for me.|
|3||quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae||As great as the number of Libyan sands|
|4||lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis||That lie in lasarpicium-bearing Cyrene|
|5||oraclum Iovis inter aestuosi||Between the oracle of sweltering Jupiter|
|6||et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum||And the sacred tomb of old Battus,|
|7||aut quam sidera multa cum tacet nox||Or as many as the stars that, when the night is silent,|
|8||furtivos hominum vident amores||See people's secret love affairs:|
|9||tam te basia multa basiare||For you to kiss so many kisses|
|10||vesano satis et super Catullo est||Is enough and more for love-crazy Catullus,|
|11||quae nec pernumerare curiosi||And which inquiring men could not count completely|
|12||possint nec mala fascinare lingua||Nor an evil tongue bewitch.|
Connotations of The Text
- Libya - Africa
This is not to be confused with the present day nation of Libya. The Romans called the continent of Africa Libya and our modern day nation of Libya was known as Africa.
- quam magnus numerus Libysae harenae - as great a number of the Libyan sands
A common metaphor for infinity, Catullus stresses his desire for Lesbia through this wish. The message here is, that no amount of kisses will be enough for Catullus. This is also a stereotypical way of expressing love which makes it original by naming the beach but it doesn't give it a romantic aspect but a learned aspect because of Lesbia
- lasarpiciferis - silphium bearing
Libya was the centre of producing the plant lasarpicium of which is the gum asa foetida. The gum was used as a cure for baldness and also as a contraceptive - it would be administered to a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
- Battus - the founder of Cyrene
In 700 BC Battus founded of the city of Cyrene in what is now Libya. His tomb, mentioned here as sacrum sepulchrum [sacred tomb] was 300 miles away from the Oracle of Jupiter, and some Romans used to venture out into the desert in the hope of finding it, and receiving a vision.
Battus' father was Polymnestus, a descendant of the Argonaut Euphemus. After leaving Lemos for Lacedaemonia, they were forced to leave Lacedaemonia and settle in Thera. His mother was a native-born Cretan called Phronime. Battus' real name has come under dispute; some have said his real name was Aristaeus.
Cyrene, furthermore, was connected to the poet Callimachus. Callimachus was considered chief of the elegiac poets; his elegies were highly esteemed by the Romans (see Neoterics), and imitated by Catullus.
- aut quam sidera multa - or as many as are the stars
The number of stars in the sky is how many kisses is enough for Catullus. This of course is infinite and the poetic reference serves to make his point within the metaphor.
- furtivos hominum vident amores - which see the secret love affairs of men
Could this be a clear reference to Catullus himself?
- curiosi - inquiring men
This is a reference to the gossip that was present at the time of Catullus' affair. He is thought to have been having an affair with a senator's wife, and as such the gossip in the Senate was potentially damaging.
- mala fascinare lingua - an evil tongue bewitch
In witchcraft, it was believed that if the evil one had a specific number that was related to the victim, [in this case the number of kisses] then it would make the spell more effective. Catullus is urging Lesbia to kiss him so many times that any potential evil-doer would not be able to count them. This would also serve to quench Catullus' lust for Lesbia.
- quaero, -ere, -sivi, -situm - seek; ask
- basiatio, -onis, f. - kissifications [real word]
- satis superque - enough and more than enough
- lasarpicifer, -era, -erum - silphium bearing; plant used in medicine for baldness - the gum of which is called asa foetida
- Cyrenae, -arum, f. (Cyrenis - locative. case) - Cyrene, North East Africa
- aestuosus, -a, -um - hot; sultry
- sidus, sideris, n. - a group of stars; the heavens
- furtivus, -a, -um - secret; concealed; stolen
- basiare - to kiss
- vesanus, -a, -um - mad; insane; wild; love-sick
- curiosus, -a, -um - curious; nosy; inquisitive; thoughtful
- fascino, fascinare, fascinum, -i, n. - enchant; bewitch; fascinate
- lingua, -ae, f. - tongue; speech; language