Catullus belonged to the 'neoteroi' or new Roman poets drawing inspiration and technique from Alexandrian Greek models. The 114 poems extant derive from a single manuscript, and are very mixed, ranging from the witty, brilliant and moving, to the indifferent and unnecessarily obscene. Their arrangement seems an editorial convenience. The first 60 are lyrics in various meters. Poems 61-4 are long pieces modelled on those of the learned Greek scholar-poets of Alexandria. Poems 65-116 are in the elegiac metre but epigrams, i.e. short poems on a wide variety of topic. Adding to the confusion of this unhelpful grouping is the very uneven quality of the work. For long sections Catullus can write with searing brilliance, but many poems are trivial and overcharged with obscenity or bluntness of humour that is more Roman than ours.
A collection that contained only the first rate would be a slim volume, and I have therefore adopted a policy that:
. includes the celebrated pieces,
. displays the range of Catullus's work, which extends to some indifferent poems,
. renders chosen poems in their entirety, generally translated line for line,
. reworks the original into decent English verse, occasionally adding shaping features not found in the original,
. groups poems into coherent themes.
The policy selects only one third of poems, but two thirds of the text.
Some renderings are a little free, but Catullus is not a poet that can be always translated word-for-word, and his language is not generally that of contemporary speech. Today there are many translations in the current style of free verse that follow a more literal approach, but the translations here are rendered in a terse iambic to bring out their essential poetry. A free e-book
in pdf format.