Catullus 5

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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 brief and death brings a night of perpetual sleep. This poem has been translated and imitated many times.

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.

Ben Jonson drew on the poem in poems 5, "Song. To Celia," and 6, "Song. To the Same" in his collection The Forrest.

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.

Latin text and translation[edit]

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 rather 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, for 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 performed many thousands,
11 conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus, we shall shake them into confusion[3], in order for us to lose the count,
12 aut ne quis malus invidere possit and in order not to let any evil person envy us,
13 cum tantum sciat esse basiorum. as no one will be aware of how many kisses have there been.


  • 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. Nabokov quotes the poem twice in Bend Sinister.

The line nox est perpetua una dormienda is translated, "night without end" in Joseph Conrad's short story The End of the Tether.

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]

Lines 4-6, in modern Italian, are lines 6-8 in Primo Levi's Il tramonto di Fossoli (1946).


  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. ^ Perhaps on the abacus. 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.