Catullus 13

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster,
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis,
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

-Gaius Valerius Catullus

An Invitation to Dinner

You will dine well, O my Fabullus, at my home
in a few days, if the gods favour you,
if you bring with you a good and big
dinner- be not without a pretty girl
and wine and all kinds of laughter.

I say if you have brought these things, my charming one,
you will dine well; for the purse of your Catullus
is full of cobwebs.

But in return you will receive pure loves
or something that is sweeter or more excellent:
for I will give perfume, which Venuses and Cupids
did give to my girl,
which when you smell, you will ask the gods,
O Fabullus, to make you all nose.


One of my early Latin teachers was obsessed with Catullus, and so I have had the pleasure of translating a number of his poems. Poem #13 entertains me solely for the cartoonish image of the poet opening his purse with nothing inside save dust and spider’s webs. Poor Catullus.

The manuscript tradition of Catullus’ poetry is interesting. There appears to have been one core manuscript (the Verona Codex, now lost), from which other MS descended. One of these was lost -like so many other things- in the Vatican library, rediscovered in the twentieth century. Much of the manuscript tradition dates from the fourteenth century, which I find somewhat odd. The Carolingians preserved a lot of classical texts, and I wonder why they either missed Catullus or the MSS have been lost. The only ninth-century manuscript which survives contained only Catullus 62.