Catullus 5 is a passionate ode to Lesbia and one of the most famous poems by Catullus. The poem encourages lovers to scorn the snide comments of others, and to live only for each other, since life is too brief and death brings on a night of perpetual sleep. Over the centuries, this poem has been translated and imitated many times; its sentiments seem timeless.
17th Century translations
My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love;
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them. Heaven's great lamps do dive
Into their west, and straight again revive,
But soon as once is set our little light,
Then must we sleep one ever-during night.
Soon thereafter, Sir Walter Raleigh included the following verse, apparently based on Campion's translation, in his The Historie of the World, which he wrote while imprisoned in the Tower of London
The Sunne may set and rise
But we contrariwise
Sleepe after our short light
One everlasting night.
Latin text and translation
|Line||Latin Text||English Translation|
|1||Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,||Let us live, my Lesbia, and love,|
|2||rumoresque senum severiorum||and the rumors of the stern old men|
|3||omnes unius aestimemus assis!||let us value all at just one penny!|
|4||soles occidere et redire possunt;||Suns may set and rise again;|
|5||nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,||by us, when once the brief light has set,|
|6||nox est perpetua una dormienda.||an eternal night must be slept.|
|7||da mi basia mille, deinde centum,||Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,|
|8||dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,||then another thousand, then a second hundred,|
|9||deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum;||then yet another thousand, then a hundred;|
|10||dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,||then, when we have counted up many thousands,|
|11||conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,||let us shake it [the abacus], lest we know,|
|12||aut ne quis malus invidere possit||or lest some evil man be able to envy|
|13||cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.||when he knows how many kisses there were.|
- Lines 2-3
This is a reference to the gossip going around the Roman Senate, as it was believed that Catullus was having an affair with a senator's wife, known as Clodia Pulchra Tercia. This is also thought to be the woman Lesbia in his poetry. Catullus is urging Clodia to disregard what people are saying about them, so she can spend more time with him. There is also a chiasmus in these lines:
- Line 5-6
The position of lux - light, and nox - night right next to each other serve to emphasise his two comparisons. Symbolically, the "perpetual night" represents death and the "brief light" represents life. Furthermore, there is also a second chiasmus in these lines:
Allusions in modern culture
Nox Dormienda is the name of a novel by Kelli Stanley.
"Nox Perpetua Dormienda" is the title of a poem by New Zealand poet R.A.K. Mason (1905-1971).
This poem is paraphrased in The Elder Scrolls Online, with a title reminiscent of Catullus 2, "An Ode to the Red Bird".
- McPeek JAS (1939). Catullus in Strange and Distant Britain. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. ASIN B0006CPVJM.
- Lucas DW (1940). "Catullus in English literature". The Classical Review. 54: 93. doi:10.1093/cr/54.1.93. JSTOR 703619.
- CATULLUS, 5, 7‑11 AND THE ABACUS, American Journal of Philology Vol. 62, No. 2 (1941), pp222‑224
- Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women (London: Duckworth, 2001), 133-156 (chapter 9, "The Allure of 'La Dolce Vita' in Ancient Rome").
|Latin Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|English Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Fredricksmeyer, EA (1970). "Observations on Catullus 5". American Journal of Philology. 91 (4): 431–445. doi:10.2307/293083. JSTOR 293083.
- Segal, C (1968). "Catullus 5 and 7: A Study in Complementaries". American Journal of Philology. 89 (3): 284–301. doi:10.2307/293446. JSTOR 293446.
- Commager, S (1964). "The Structure of Catullus 5". Classical Journal. 59: 361–364.
- Grimm, RE (1963). "Catullus 5 Again". Classical Journal. 59: 16–21.
- Pratt, NT (1956). "The Numerical Catullus 5". Classical Philology. 51 (2): 99–100. doi:10.1086/364015.
- Grummel, WC (1954). "Vivamus, mea Lesbia". Classical Bulletin. 31: 19–21.