Carmina 11, 51, 75, 83, 85

By Gaius Valerius Catullus



Furi et Aureli comites Catulli,
sive in extremos penetrabit Indos,
litus ut longe resonante Eoa
     tunditur unda,

sive in Hyrcanos Arabesve molles,
seu Sagas sagittiferosve Parthos,
sive quae septemgeminus colorat
     aequora Nilus,

sive trans altas gradietur Alpes,
Caesaris visens monimenta magni,
Gallicum Rhenum horribile aequor ulti-
     mosque Britannos,

omnia haec, quaecumque feret voluntas
caelitum, temptare simul parati,
pauca nuntiate meae puellae
     non bona dicta.

cum suis vivat valeatque moechis,
quos simul complexa tenet trecentos,
nullum amans vere, sed identidem omnium
     ilia rumpens;

nec meum respectet, ut ante, amorem,
qui illius culpa cecidit velut prati
ultimi flos, praetereunte postquam
     tactus aratro est.

Catullus in Sonnets

Translated from the Latin by Anna Jackson

taking off (note sonnet)

           after Catullus 11

taking off as soon as the year ends
is the sum total of the plan
staying somewhere with a hundred stars
over my head
where I can lie awake listening
to a thousand waves
bettering themselves on the shores
before giving it all up
and as for you, maybe you will
find a minute between hand jobs
to read the note I’ll leave you
which will say nothing
since I’ll be as free of you as the sea is free
of stars, the sky is free of sand

   taking off

to take off                    when   the year ends               that’s

the plan           in total             staying somewhere

that is far from            here                 where I can sleep

 a hundred stars           above my head           


set off once     again   for somewhere else     where

in my sleep      I’ll hear                       a thousand waves

arriving on the shore               and taking off              without

waiting for more

I don’t suppose           the shoreline               really cares

and you can                 stay behind to

make your play           for your                       next victim 


you stop to read          the note I’ve left

you will not find         you need         too long           it’s

blank   because          in the same way         the sea

is free                          of stars

and                  high above                 the sky

is free of sand             I’m free

  of love




Huc est mens deducta tua mea, Lesbia, culpa
     atque ita se officio perdidit ipsa suo,
ut iam nec bene velle queat tibi, si optima fias,
     nec desistere amare, omnia si facias.

I, a windowsill (magnet sonnet)

   after Catullus 75

you, a magnet and I, quivering filings
you, a window and I, quivering air
I cannot desist in loving you
more and more
even as I like you less
I couldn’t like you
now even if
there was nothing not to like
you could be perfect
and I would be
I, a windowsill and you, a bird
singing as my crumbs
grow stale


magnetism, light

you      are the magnet            to         my quivering               filings

you are the                  window           to my quivering          air

my mind         

so far brought              down  

I love you        more                the less           

I like you                     just                  the thought     

            I find               as hard

to grasp as                   magnetism                  light

  or that              uncertain sense          

of being           watched                       I should desist             but      

I cannot           desist in loving            you and yet                 I could

not like you     even if                         you were         beyond           

reproach          you could be              


and I still         would be                    

as wooden                   as                     a windowsill              

the tree             outside            the window    

asking me to search                amongst its leaves       for you

the bird            whose call                   soars                skyward

as the crumbs              I hold

     grow                stale 




Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
     haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
     sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
     irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.

too much pleasure (phone sonnet)

            after Catullus 83

takes too much pleasure, he does, in your
idle laughter, your insults, as you
put me down
again and again, like
a phone you can’t stop playing with
yours eyes flickering
over his shoulder
where I’m not looking at you
but I hear you
and can’t see how he can’t know
if you can’t stop talking about me
it is just a matter of time
I’m not even waiting on you
you’re already on fire


   too much pleasure

takes too much            pleasure in                   your laughter

he does           

your insults as             you put me down

again and then             again              

just like           a phone           you can’t stop            

playing with                and after

every laugh                 I catch             your eyes

each time

each flickering glance             over

his shoulder where                  you watch me turn      away

and tuck my hair         behind my ear             and offer        water

wine                to customers at            other tables              

I have caught              your every word         

and      cannot see

how he            can’t know      if you

are talking       constantly of me         you’re still all              mine

I only

have to wait                a steady occupation               I can keep

my cool           while               you’re on fire

  I’m in deep




Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
     nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I love and I hate (equation sonnet)

   after Catullus 85

if I am north to your south I am south to your south too
if permeability measures the ability
to support a magnetic field
within the self
I am permeable to the inverse ratio
of your perfection
attracted and repelled till my teeth
are audible across the room, beyond the skies
racing the Beatles song “Across the Universe”
to reach some distant form of life
who will be wondering, why would I compose
such a complicated feeling-equation?
I don’t know why
I just feel it


Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
     spectat et audit

dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
     * * * * * * * *

lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
     lumina nocte.

otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
     perdidit urbes.


  being a poet

he tips             too much          that god          who sits across

from you        

his                   gestures           of

extravagance   they bring        me down         they bring       down

tongue             and sense         resounding     


my longing      I am lost         within the mirror        

of     his eyes   he eyes           my fleeting glances     tripping                     

feet as chairs               tip over            coins               resound          

or laughter                  

they’re             all turning                   to enjoy

my                   wan                 surprise          

yet                   revelry

runs fiercely       through         my senses

as through       the burning house       of poetry

my mouth        lit up with        dazzling          fire                  more

free                  for all my loss                         of words         

than all            the tenses        from subjunctive         to         the sea

    can sing                      

too much         I say             

    one day           I’ll say something

Translator's Note

I began writing these sonnet versions of Catullus poems when I was looking for a completely literal version of his Sappho translation (carmina 51), for a chapter I was writing about other poets whose poetry has looked back to the work of earlier writers (NZ poets Diana Harris and Janet Charman have both written very lovely, very different versions of Sappho 31).  It is perhaps impossible – of course it is impossible – for a translation really to be completely literal, but I thought I could give a version that didn’t introduce any additional elements or leave out any images. 

I liked taking this literal approach which allowed the Catullus poem to take a god-like position at the centre of my vision, undistracted by sweet laughter, yet I felt the additional elements I was leaving out increasingly on the tip of my tongue, the word “tip” summoning up the idea of a waitress so insistently that it began to feel as if the version without a waitress I was writing was only a revised version of the real translation I was holding off from attending to.  So I wrote a version with the waitress centre-stage, and then I wondered what other elements of her life might come into other translations of the Catullus originals.  The original waitress version happened to be 14 lines long, so I thought I would keep this sonnet length for all the poems I wrote, giving the sequence a regularity and adding this small element of restraint, just enough difficulty to free up the imagination. 

Like the waitress sonnet, each of the sonnets adds in one detail, or gives the original a scene-change, and together they begin to tell a story the way the Catullus poems seem to, of a complicated romance.  I think of it as YA fiction, and although I did begin by thinking of the waitress as a girl, I wanted to keep the gender of the two main characters in the romance ambiguous, an “I” and a “you,” whose sexuality is as ambiguous as their gender. 

The spaced-out versions of the poems were written after the 14 line versions, just to see what would happen if I turned what I was calling “sonnets” into actual sonnets, in rhyming iambic pentameter.  I liked some of the further additions that were needed to fill out the metre, but anything in metre and rhyme feels very stiff and artificial today and these versions looked as wooden as the window-sill in “I, a windowsill” to me.  Surprisingly, I found that all I had to do was space them out on the page and the stilted feel the rhyme and metre gave them almost completely vanished, even though the words were exactly the same.

Anna Jackson


In the Classroom

Teaching Catullus in Translation

Katherine Wasdin, University of Maryland


Catullus speaks to our era. Since the 1960s, he has become a staple in Latin classes and a favorite of translators and poets.[1] His popularity is due to several factors, not least among them a growing acceptance of (and sometimes enthusiasm for) his numerous sexual and scatological poems. In this essay, I propose a lesson plan for introducing students to the vibrant intellectual and creative potential of translation using the translations of Catullus from the first issue of Ancient Exchanges.

Translation has long played a central role in Classics, particularly in traditional language pedagogy. In many courses, students are asked to translate as proof of their understanding of Latin and its various morphological and syntactical complexities. But less often are students forced to grapple with questions of what translation really does. These questions are especially important in considering ancient poetry such as that of Catullus, whose literary impact is shaped not only by its pragmatic or semantic sense but also by its phonetic and metrical qualities. Translations of his works should also be understood as interpretations in their own right, ones which make their points in different and often more subtle ways than articles and monographs. Exploring literary translation from Latin to English opens up an opportunity for students to consider the many ways a poem can signify and has the further pedagogical benefit of demonstrating the continuing reception of ancient authors in later periods.

The translations by A.J. Woodman, Susan McLean, and Anna Jackson provide an exemplary collection for such an exercise. Read together, they demonstrate the range of tactics available to translators and can give students a taste of the variety of the Catullan corpus, which features poems of friendship, romance, and explicit sexuality. Careful study of the translations published here can lead students to more sophisticated appreciation of both the content and the form (if the two can be separated) of Catullus’ poetry, as well as guiding them to be more thoughtful about their own identities as translators and readers. A final advantage of teaching with the translations in this issue is that they are fresh from the translators’ pens. In my own courses, I have been struck by the fact that students are particularly eager to engage with and analyze poems which are not discussed in the secondary readings. New translations leave open a wider field for their own discoveries since students are forced to come to their own conclusions instead of just responding to the views of experts. This discovery process is more productive if students are first equipped with some of the basic concepts and terminology of translation studies, and I hope to suggest some ways of guiding them.

In what follows, I offer a lesson plan for a series of one and a half classes on translation, designed for an intermediate to advanced Latin class.[2] First, students spend part of a class session discussing a reading on translation studies. The second class is devoted to analysis of the translations of Catullus from Ancient Exchanges. Devoting class time to translation studies does, of course, mean displacing some grammatical or cultural material but I have found it an effective complement to more traditional approaches, which run the risk of allowing students to miss the literary forest for the grammatical trees.

Reading a short introductory chapter on translation provides students with some basic terminology and concepts for discussing literary translations. Elizabeth Vandiver’s 2007 chapter, “Catullus in Translation,” offers a succinct overview of translation theory as applied to Catullus.[3] When I assign this chapter, I ask students the following questions to guide their reading:

  • What two goals for a translator of poetry does Vandiver identify and which do you think is most important?
  • What are some differences in writing poetry in Latin and writing poetry in English?
  • Vandiver quotes Hardwick as claiming that “translating words also involves translating or transplanting into the receiving culture the cultural framework within which an ancient text is embedded.” What do you think she means? Give an example from Catullus. 

The reading is short enough that it can be assigned alongside the day’s regular Latin assignment and be discussed in part of the lesson time. The goal of the discussion is for students to realize the challenges in translating poetry, particularly those connected with formal features and cultural expectations.

On the second day, students apply the abstract concepts from the reading to the translations from Ancient Exchanges. The instructor should circulate or display the Catullus translations by Woodman, McLean, and Jackson, ideally using the handy side-by-side option on the Ancient Exchanges website. Intermediate students would likely benefit from seeing additional, perhaps more literal, English translations if the poems have not already been covered. To focus the class, I would select one or two poems from each translator, such as Woodman’s Catullus 35, McLean’s Catullus 32, and Jackson’s “too much pleasure (phone sonnet) after Catullus 83” and “too much pleasure.” 

My students are often most responsive when other students present material, so I recommend that the task of introducing each poem and leading discussion be given to their classmates rather than the instructor. To cover the three translators, the class can be split into three groups, one for each author, with each group being responsible for preparing a quick presentation of around 10 minutes. If the class is being taught remotely, the groups can convene separately, perhaps in breakout rooms on Zoom or using a shared Google Doc. Each group should have clear instructions to address the following issues:

  • What are the formal features of the translation? How does the translator deal with issues of meter, word order, and lexical choice?
  • How does the translator negotiate cultural differences between antiquity and the modern day? For example, are metaphors translated literally or transformed into something more familiar for a contemporary reader?
  • How is the text presented? What other types of information are provided and how do they frame the translation?
  • What is the imagined audience for the translation? Do you think the translator was writing for students, academics, or a general audience?

Students begin their presentations by reading aloud both the Latin original and the English translation. They then respond to the prompts above and moderate questions and comments from other students. I would expect the presentations to make some of the following observations, which might be brought out by the instructor if needed: Woodman is closer to the Latin in his construction and sense, and his companion material shows that he is writing to a fellow scholar and translator in an echo of Catullus’ relationships with his contemporary poets. McLean produces a more colloquial rhyming translation with supporting materials to explain Roman culture that would be useful for students. Jackson’s translations could be considered variations on Catullus or even original poems inspired by Catullus’ works. As seen in her translator’s note, she creates a contemporary scenario involving a waitress and brings Catullus into our world. While all three translators use complex formal features native to English verse to render Catullus’ meter, their techniques vary dramatically.

The final part of this translation unit is a brief reflection. Either in class or on their own, students write a short response of about one page, explaining how studying these translations has led them to perceive new aspects of Catullus’ poetry.

As an additional exercise, students can compose their own artistic translations.[4] If they do so, I recommend that they simultaneously write an excruciatingly literal translation. I find that the literal translation allows me to ensure students understand what’s going on in the text and liberates them to try more experimental translations without fretting about demonstrating grammatical mastery. When I gave a creative translation assignment to my students in Fall 2019, I was impressed by how open they were to producing innovative verse, using as models some of the translations discussed in class. Whether or not students write their own translations, bringing the formal study of translation into the classroom has immense and transformative benefits. It teaches students how to engage with poetry as an artistic form in both Latin and English, introduces them to new ways of interpreting ancient texts, and allows them to appreciate the continuing relevance of classics in contemporary literature.

[1] See Gaisser 2001 for a collection of translations of Catullus into English.
[2] I tested similar activities in a class on Catullus and Horace in the Fall of 2019 at the University of Maryland and remain grateful for the eager participation of my students, who amazed me with their enthusiasm and curiosity. 
[3] For instructors who prefer a more general overview of translation studies, the introduction to Bassnet 2013 covers similar ground and is appropriate for undergraduates. A list of potential readings below contains further options.
[4] For those who would like to devote more class time to translation, I recommend Lindgren, Blumberg, and Langseth 2010. 


Bibliography and suggested readings on translation

Baker, Mona. (ed.) 2009. Critical Readings in Translation Studies. Routledge.
-- edited collection of contemporary essays, many on post-colonial translation theory, with introductions and discussion questions for students

Balmer, Josephine. 2013. Piecing Together the Fragments: Translating Classical Verse, Creating Contemporary Poetry. Oxford University Press.
-- useful account of the process of translation by an accomplished poet-translator

Bassnett, Susan. 2013. Translation. Routledge.
-- concise and readable introduction to the discipline of translation studies

Gaisser, Julia Haig. 2001. Catullus in English. Penguin.
-- like other volumes in this excellent but lamentably out-of-print series, contains translations from various periods and a critical introductory essay

Gillespie, Stuart. 2011. English Translation and Classical Reception: Towards a New Literary History. Wiley-Blackwell.
-- discussions of the history of translations from Greek and Latin in English literature

Hardwick, Lorna. 2000. Translating Words, Translating Cultures. Bristol Classical Press.
-- seminal application of translation theory to classics; most useful on drama

Lewis, Maxine. 2018. “Anna Jackson’s I, Clodia: Catullus, women’s voices, and feminist implications.” CRJ 10.2: 127-148.
-- an excellent article for those interested in further exploring the work of Anna Jackson

Lianeri, Alexandra. 2019. “Translation and Classical Reception.” Oxford Bibliographies Online.
-- extremely thorough annotated bibliography of translation studies with focus on classical reception

Lindgren, Marcia H., Life Blumberg, and Joshua Langseth. 2010. “From Literal to Literary: A Translation Project for Latin Poetry Classes.” TCL 1.2: 109-137.
-- thoughtful plan for a Latin course based on translation theory and practice

Maier, Carol. 2006. “The Translator as Theoros: Thoughts on Cogitation, Figuration and Current Creative Writing,” In Translating Others, vol.1, ed. T. Hermans, 163-180. St. Jerome Publishing.
-- theoretical account of the productive wonder inherent in translation

Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies
-- online journal featuring interviews on classical reception with creative artists, including many translators

Venuti, Lawrence. 2008. The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2nd edition. Routledge. 
-- groundbreaking study which popularized concepts of ‘domesticating’ and ‘foreignizing’ translations

Vandiver, Elizabeth. 2007. “Translating Catullus.” In A Companion to Catullus, ed. M. Skinner, 521-541. Blackwell.
-- clear presentation of the challenges of translating Catullus with several illustrative examples

Weissbort, Daniel, and Astradur Eysteinsson, eds. 2006. Translation: Theory and Practice. A Historical Reader. Oxford.
-- handy collection of essays on translation, including by ancient and early modern authors such as Dryden