Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC) was a Roman poet of the 1st century BC.His surviving works are still read widely, and continue to influence poetry and other forms of art. Catullus invented the “angry love poem.” He was imitated by Tibullus, Propertius, Horace and Ovid, as well as Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick in English. Most of Catullus’ poems are short. In a few concise lines he expresses love, friendship or bitterness. Most of his poems are heterosexual, but a good number of them are devoted to boys and are “particularly lusty.”
50. Yesterday: to Licinius Calvus 1
Yesterday, Calvus, idle day
we played with my writing tablets,
harmonising in being delightful:
scribbling verses, each of us
playing with metres, this and that,
reciting together, through laughter and wine.
And I left there fired with your charm,
Calvus, and with your wit,
so that, restless, I couldn’t enjoy food,
or close my eyes quietly in sleep,
but tossed the whole bed about wildly
in passion, longing to see the light,
so I might speak to you, and be with you.
But afterwards I lay there wearied
with effort, half-dead in the bed,
I made this poem for you, pleasantly,
from which you might gather my pain.
Now beware of being rash, don’t reject
my prayers I beg, my darling,
lest Nemesis demand your punishment. She’s
a powerful goddess. Beware of annoying her.
99. Stolen Kisses: to Iuventius 2
I stole a sweet kiss while you played, sweet Iuventius,
one sweeter than sweetest ambrosia.
Not taken indeed with impunity: for more than an hour
I remember, I hung at the top of the gallows,
while I was justifying myself to you, yet with my tears
I couldn’t lessen your anger a tiny morsel.
No sooner was it done, than, your lips rinsed
with plenty of water, you banished it with your fingers,
so nothing contracted from my lips might remain,
as though it were the foul spit of a tainted whore.
More, you handed me unhappily to vicious love
who’s not failed to torment me in every way,
so that sweet kiss, altered for me from ambrosia,
was more bitter than bitter hellebore then.
Since you lay down such punishments for unhappy love,
now, after this, I’ll never steal kisses again.
1 Gaius Licinius Calvus, orator, poet, friend of Catullus and colleague of Cicero. Ovid mentions him alongside Catullus and Tibullus.
2 An unidentified friend of Catullus.