Poem 10 of the 116 surviving poems of Catullus, written in hendecasyllabics. It is a nominally occasional poem, about his trip to see his friend's mistress, about social bragging and machismo, conversational slumming and little white lies. The Latin text precedes my loose translation.


Latin Text:

Varus me meus ad suos amores (1)
visum duxerat e foro otiosum -
scortillum (ut mihi tum repente visum est)
non sane illepidum neque invenustum;
huc ut venimus, incidere nobis (5)
sermones varii, in quibus, quid esset
iam Bithynia, quo modo se haberet,
et quonam mihi profuisset aere.
respondi id quod erat - nihil neque ipsis
nec praetoribus esse nec cohorti, (10)
cur quisquam caput unctius referret -
praesertim quibus esset irrumator
praetor, nec faceret pili cohortem.
'at certe tamen,' inquiunt 'quod illic
natum dicitur esse, comparasti (15)
ad lecticam homines.' ego (ut puellae
unum me facerem beatiorem)
'non' inquam 'mihi tam fuit maligne,
ut, provincia quod mala incidisset,
non possem octo homines parare rectos.' (20)
(at mi nullus erat nec hic neque illic,
fractum qui veteris pedem grabati
in collo sibi collocare posset.)
hic illa, ut decuit cinaediorem,
'quaeso', inquit 'mihi, mi Catulle, paulum (25)
istos commoda: nam volo ad Serapim
deferri.' 'mane,' inquii puellae,
'istud quod modo dixeram me habere...
fugit me ratio: meus sodalis -
Cinna est Gaius - is sibi paravit; (30)
verum utrum illius an mei, quid ad me?
utor tam bene quam mihi pararim -
sed tu insulsa male et molesta vivis,
per quam non licet esse neglegentem!'

English Translation

My friend Varus took me out from the forum (1)
to see his girl - I had some free time -
that little bitch (or so I thought at the time)
not all too ugly, not without some charm;
so we arrived, and started to shoot the shit, (5)
idle banter, when the subject came up
about my time in Bithynia, and how it went,
and how much money had I made while there?
So I answered like it was: there wasn't a penny
for the yokels, nor the governor, nor the army, (10)
not enough to spring for a tin of Dapper Dan's,
especially since they had that cocksucker
governor, couldn't make his cohort worth a hair.
"But certainly", they said, "what about the local
currency, didn't you get some muscle-men (15)
for litter-bearers? And I (I didn't want
to look like a pauper in front of the girl)
said "Sure, I didn't fare too badly there,
as wretched as that hell-hole province was
I bought eight slaves, standing straight as poles (20)
(when really I had nobody, here nor there,
who could lift that piece of crap I called
a litter high upon his brawny shoulders.)
But she, that wench, who takes it up the ass
said, "would you, my friend Catullus, do me just (25)
this one little favor: I want to be carried
down to Serapis' temple?" And I answered,
"Tomorrow I have to...go somewhere, I almost
forgot - you remember my friend Gaius Cinna? -
He's just asked to borrow it himself; (30)
What does it matter, whether I use it or he?
If I get it ready, I'll use it for myself;
You're just an annoying and cheeky little bitch,
around whom I can't even joke a bit.

Notes

7: Bithynia: Catullus just returned from the province, serving as an assistant, possibly to Gaius Cinna mentioned in line 30
11: cur quisquam caput unctius referret: Literally, "why anyone could make his head more oily"; oddly enough, there's a whole bunch of reference in ancient literature on hair oil and pomade. Maybe I'll node it later.
13: nec faceret pili cohortem: punny; "couldn't make his cohort worth a hair", playing on the hair-oil of the line above, and the ambiguous pili, potentially from pilus, "hair", pilus, a division of a cohort, and pilum, the heavy, lead-tipped military spear used in the legions.
26: ad Serapim: She wants to go to the temple of the god Serapis, a fusion deity of Osiris and the Apis bull; in other words, she wants to go to an orgy. Most elegiac girlfriends/mistresses are temple prostitutes; cf. Tibullus' Delia, an attendant of Isis.
28: istud quod: It's hard to get the same stylistic sense in English. The Latin has a colloquial, halting, stuttering effect as Catullus searches for an excuse not to lend his non-existent litter.

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