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
. includes the celebrated pieces,
. displays the range of Catullus's work, which extends to some
. renders chosen poems in their entirety, generally translated line for
. 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.