Lesbias Sparrow

Catullus conferred immortality on Lesbias pet sparrow with two poems, one an address to the bird in life and the other a lament for its death. References to the poems occur in later Latin authors, as well as in modern literature.

The bird was probably not a common sparrow, which is both unattractive and hard to train, but a blue rock thrush (Montícola solitarius), which has been a popular pet in Italy.

a Passer, deliciae meae puellae, quicum ludere, quern in sinu tenere, cui primum digitum dare appetenti et acris solet incitare morsus cum desiderio meo nitenti 5

carum nescioquid lubet iocari, credo, ut turn gravis acquiescat ardor: 8

tecum ludere, sicut ipsa, possem et tristes animi levare curas! io

<s Catullus Carmina z (with omission of 1.7)

text C. Valerii Catulli Carmina, ed. R. A. B. Mynors

(Oxford Classical Texts, 1958) meter hendecasyllable [ § m 3 ]

pássér | délící|áé mé|áé pü|élláe quicum I lüdéré | qu(em) in sí|nü té|néré

a 1 Passer voc. of passer passeris m. sparrow or a similar small bird; deliciae

-árum f.pl. darling (pi. used with a sg. meaning [§g 53]); meae puellae gen. sg. 2ÍE quicum =■ 'quócum, i.e., cum quo; solet (1. 4) must be understood with lüdere, tenere, and dare—each clause is introduced by a different case of the rel. pron. (quicum, quem, cui); sinus -üs m. bosom; primum digitum the first [part of her] finger (digitus -1 m.), i.e., the tip of her finger; take appetenti with cui, to whom, [when] pecking at [it] (appeto -ere lit., seek, try to reach); take ácris (ácer ácris acre sharp) with morsüs (morsus -üs m. bite); incitó -are provoke. 5f. cum here when; desiderio meo nitenti dat. after lubet, lit., it is pleasing to my radiant (niteó -ere shine) sweetheart (désiderium -(i)í n.); cárum nescioquid ... iocari lit., to jest (iocor -árl) something (nescioquis -quis -quid) sweet, trans .play some sweet game.

7 This line is not given because no satisfactory emendation or interpretation has been put forward.

8 credo is parenthetical; ut introduces a purpose clause [§g83]; gravis ... ardor [her] burning (lit., heavy) passion (ardor ardóris m.)—Lesbias passion for Catullus in his absence is meant; acquiesco -ere subside.

gf. tecum = cum té (i.e., the sparrow); possem subj, to express a wish [§g67] I wish I could; levó -are lighten.

B Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque, et quantum est hominum venustiorum.

passer mortuus est meae puellae, passer, deliciae meae puellae, quem plus ilia oculis suis amabat. 5

nam mellitus erat suamque norat ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem, nec sese a gremio illius movebat, sed circumsiliens modo hue modo illuc ad solam dominam usque pipiabat; i o qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.

at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae b i lugete 2 pi. imp. luged -ere lament; Veneres Cupidinesque voc. Loves (Venus Veneris f.) and Cupids (Cupldo Cupidinis m.)—an odd expression (there was only one Venus) that Catullus probably thought matched the mock-serious tone of the poem (cf. Catullus 13.12, page 43).

2 Take quantum (rel. pron. of quantity) with hominum venustiorum (partitive gen. [§g24]), lit., how much of more refined (compar. of venustus) people there are, trans, all those of finer feelings.

3f. mortuus est 3 sg. perf. ind. morior morl; 1. 4 is repeated from the previous poem.

5 oculis suls abl. of comparison [§G42] than her own eyes.

6f. mellltus honey-sweet; suam ... ipsam its (i.e., the sparrows) mistress—in the language of slaves, a master and his wife were euphemistically called ipse [he] himself and ipsa [she ] herself; norat = noverat [§G95] knew—the perfect and pluperfect of nosed can be used in a present and imperfect sense, respectively; tam bene quam as well as.

9 circumsilio -Ire hop around; modo ... modo ... at one time ...at another time ..., trans, now ... now

10 usque adv. always; plpio -are chirp.

11 The rel. pron. qui (antecedent passer) connects the following sentence with the previous one, trans, it; it 3 sg. pres. ind. act. eo Ire; per iter tenebricosum along the gloomy way, i.e., the road to the Underworld—the fact that the sparrow was still on its way to the nether regions seems to indicate that it had only recently died.

12 illuc, unde trans, to the place from where; negant.,. quemquam they say that no one; redeo -Ire return.

13 vobis male sit lit., may it be (subj. to express a wish [§G 67]) badly for you, trans. a curse on you; tenebrae -arum f.pl. darkness, shades.

Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis:

tarn bellum mihi passerem abstulistis. 15

o factum male, o miselle passer!

tua nunc opera meae puellae flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

<s Catullus Carmina 3

14 Orcus -I m. another name for the Underworld; bellus beautiful (also in 1.15); devoro -are swallow up.

15 mihi dat. of disadvantage [§G3i], lit., to my disadvantage, trans, from me; abstulistis 2 pi. perf. ind. act. aufero -ferre take away.

16 factum male lit., wickedly done, i.e., wicked deed; misellus diminutive of miser, trans, poor little—diminutives were commonly used in colloquial Latin for emotional effect, as here and in 1.18.

17 tua ... opera instrumental abl. [§g47], lit., through your work, i.e., because of you; take meae puellae with ocelli (1.18).

18 flendo (gerund [§g78] of fleo flere) abl. of cause [§G48] from weeping; the force of the diminutives turgidulus (turgidus swollen) and ocellus (oculus) cannot be expressed in English; rubed -ere be red.

proverbia de proscaenio III'

Utinam quae dicis dictis facta suppetant.

Plautus Pseudolus 108 I wish [your] deeds would match your words, (lit., Wotdd that■■• [your] deeds'wouU hack up the words you are saying!) ' • ■

Modus omnibus rebus. Plautus Poenulus 238 Moderation in all things.

Fortis fortuna adiuvat. Terence Phormid 203 Fortune favors the brave.

Tetigisti acu. Plautus Rudens 1306

You've hit the nail on the head.

(lit., You've touched [the matter] with a needle.)

Nullum est iam dictum quod non dictum sit prius.

Terence Eunuchus ^i

' Nothing has now been said that wasn't said before.

For more proverbs from the plays of Plautus and Terence, seepages 17 and 26.

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