Catullus 5

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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.

The meter of this poem is hendecasyllabic, a common form in Catullus' poetry.

17th Century translations[edit]

In 1601, the English composer, poet and physician Thomas Campion wrote this rhyming free translation of the first half (to which he added two verses of his own, and music, to create a lute song):

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[1][2]

The Sunne may set and rise
But we contrariwise
Sleepe after our short light
One everlasting night.

Literal translation[edit]

A fairly literal modern translation:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and love,
and the rumors of the stern old men
let us value all at just one penny!
Suns may set and rise again;
when our brief light has set once,
we must sleep an eternal night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand, then a hundred;
then, when we have counted up many thousands,
let us shake it [the abacus[3]], lest we know,
or lest anyone ?bad may be jealous
when they know, how many kisses there were.

Latin text[edit]

Line Latin Text
1 Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
2 rumoresque senum severiorum
3 omnes unius aestimemus assis!
4 soles occidere et redire possunt;
5 nobis, cum semel occidit brevis lux,
6 nox est perpetua una dormienda.
7 da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
8 dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
9 deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum;
10 dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
11 conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
12 aut ne quis malus invidere possit
13 cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.


  • 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.[4] 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:

rumoresque senum severiorum omnes

Poetic effects[edit]

  • 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:

brevis lux nox perpetua

Allusions in modern culture[edit]

A modern version of this poem is sung in the 1998 French film Jeanne et le garçon formidable {Jeanne and the extraordinary Guy} starring Virginie Ledoyen and Mathieu Demy.

This poem is referenced in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, according to annotator Alfred Appel, Jr.'s annotation.

The line nox est una dormienda is a recurring theme in Anthony Burgess's novel The Kingdom of the Wicked.

Nox Dormienda is the name of a novel by Kelli Stanley.

The line nox est perpetua una dormienda is quoted in the 'Present Day' chapter of Virginia Woolf's The Years.

Mike Engleby translates this poem as part of his entrance exam to Chatfield in Sebastian Faulks' novel Engleby.

This poem and its translation by Richard Crashaw is referenced in the 1991 Diana Gabaldon novel Outlander.

A portion of this poem from "soles occidere..." to "Da mi basia mille" is used in Aldous Huxley's novel Island.

This poem was set to music by Carl Orff as part of his Catulli Carmina (1943).

A character remembering the line "nox est perpetua una dormienda" forms a key plot development in John Crowley's Daemonomania.

"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".[5]


  1. ^ McPeek JAS (1939). Catullus in Strange and Distant Britain. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. ASIN B0006CPVJM. 
  2. ^ Lucas DW (1940). "Catullus in English literature". The Classical Review 54: 93. doi:10.1093/cr/54.1.93. JSTOR 703619. 
  3. ^ CATULLUS, 5, 7‑11 AND THE ABACUS, American Journal of Philology Vol. 62, No. 2 (1941), pp222‑224
  4. ^ Suzanne Dixon, Reading Roman Women (London: Duckworth, 2001), 133-156 (chapter 9, "The Allure of 'La Dolce Vita' in Ancient Rome").
  5. ^


  • 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.