Rivers to Sea – Brief Poems by John Owen

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John Owen (c.1564 – c.1622/1628) was a Welsh epigrammatist, best known for his Latin epigrams, collected in his Epigrammata. He was born at Plas Du, Llanarmon,  a member of the Welsh gentry, and he was educated at Winchester College  and later at New College, Oxford, from where he graduated as Bachelor of Civil Law in 1590. All that he ultimately derived from that degree was an abiding dislike of law and lawyers, which colors a large number of his epigrams. He was a fellow of his college from 1584 to 1591. He supported himself as a schoolmaster, first at Trelleck, near Monmouth, until he was appointed headmaster of Henry VIII’s school at Warwick around 1595. His salary was doubled to £20 per year in 1614. After ceasing to be master at Warwick, he seems to have been in financial difficulties, and, in the latter part of his life, he owed his support to the kindness of his countryman and relative, Bishop Williams of Lincoln. He made no secret of his eagerness to be patronised and was outspoken in his desire to receive pecuniary help, a weakness which he shared with the Latin master of the epigram, Martial. On his death in 1622, Owen was buried in the old St Paul’s Cathedral, London, memorialised with a Latin epitaph.

 

The Latin Epigrams

Owen became distinguished for his perfect mastery of the Latin language, and for the humour, felicity and point of his epigrams. These Latin epigrams, which have both sense and wit in a high degree, gained him much applause, and were translated into English, French, German, and Spanish. He had started writing epigrams while at Winchester – indeed, education there was largely devoted to the production of them – and his were good enough by the time he reached 16 years of age to be used in a ceremony held when Queen Elizabeth I paid a state visit to Sir Francis Drake on his ship at Deptford, on his return from sailing around the world. In 1606 he published the first of a series of volumes of Latin epigrams, which earned him an enduring reputation as “England’s Martial” both at home and abroad.

Owen’s Epigrammata are divided into twelve books, of which the first three were published in 1606, and the rest at four different times (1607, 1612, c. 1613, 1620). These epigrams were repeatedly reprinted in England: in 1618, 1622, 1633, 1634, 1653 (twice), 1659, 1668, and 1671. European editions also appeared rapidly and frequently. His epigrams proved popular for centuries after his death, appearing in numerous reprints, editions and translations.

The epigrams were not universally popular. Ben Jonson called him a pure Pedantique Schoolmaster sweeping his living from the Posteriors of little children, having no thinge good in him, his epigrames being bare narrations. As a former schoolmaster, I detect a note of snobbish condescenstion in that remark.

According to Dana F. Sutton in his Hypertext Critical Edition of the epigramsHis variety of subject-matter is in fact so great that it may seem problematic to a modern reader. Poems that are moralizing or pietistic do not only coexist with ones that are pert and playful. Some, although admittedly not a large number, are spectacularly obscene. This stretch of subject may strike a modern reader as somehow “schizophrenic,” although it may not be entirely clear whether such evident contradictions are to be credited to the man or to the age in which he lived… Less ambiguous, however, and much less explicable by reference to classical precedent, is Owen’s outspoken misogyny. Often pitched in biblical terms, with reference to Eve being seduced by the serpent, women are frequently portrayed as innately vicious and therefore as dangerous. Even in an age where cuckoldry and its consequences provided a standard source of humor, the number of Owen’s epigrams about dysfunctional marriages (involving adultery, supposititious children, shrewish wives, and so forth) is remarkable. Others frankly praise batchelorhood, and Owen often congratulates himself and others on escaping the pitfalls of married life. In all this, he sounds like an Elizabethan version of Philip Larkin.

 

Translations of the Epigrams

Owen’s popularity as an epigrammaticist is not solely measured by the number of editions of his epigrams in Latin. He has found a number of English translators: there are partial ones by John Vicars (1619), Henry Harflete (1653), Thomas Pecke (1659), and even a modern translation of sixty epigrams by the contemporary American poet David R. Slavitt (1997).  J. V. Cunningham has also translated one of the epigrams. (See below.) Owen’s epigrams have also been translated into French by Lebrun (Brussels, 1709), De Pommereul (Ixelles, 1818), and De Kérivalent (Lyons, 1819), into German by Löber (Hamburg, 1653, reprinted Jena, 1661), and Castilian by F. de la Torre (Madrid, 1674 – 82, reprinted 1721). There is only one English translation of the complete epigrams, or at least those of Books I – X, John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent.  (London, 1677). According to Dana F. Sutton Harvey’s versions are usually clear and serviceable and on occasion the translator displays flashes of wit that match Owen’s own. These are the versions I have used below.

 

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Brief Poems by John Owen

IN QUANDAM

Forma tibi famam peperit: sed filia matrem
Occidit, formam non bona fama bonam.

Of a certain Woman.

Thy Form brought forth thy Fame: But O the Child
Did kill the Mother: fair Form; Fame defil’d.

***

PROPHETAE, POETAE

Illi de rebus praedicere vera futuris;
Hi de praeteritis dicere falsa solent.

Prophets, Poets.

Prophets of Things to come the Truth predict:
But Poets of Things past write false and fict.

***

MARITUS ET MOECHUS 

Maritus

Hanc ego mi uxorem duxi; tulit alter amorem;
Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis apes.

Moechus

Hos ego filiolos feci, tulit alter honores.
Sic vos, non vobis, nidificatis aves.

An Husband, and an Adulterer.

The Husband.

I have A wife, others her Love: so rather
For Others not Themselves Bees Honey gather.

The Adulterer.

This Seed I rais’d, but in Anothers Field:
So Birds for Others, not Themselves do build.

***

DE VITA ET MORTE

Ad mortem sic vita fluit, velut ad mare flumen.
Vivere nam res est dulcis, amara mori.

 Of Life and Death.

Life tends to Death, as Rivers to the Seas:
For Life is sweet, Death bitter, doth displease.

***

Life flows to death as rivers to the sea,
And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

J. V. Cunningham

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AD CALVUM

Arboribus redeunt crines, et gramina campis,
At capiti frondes non rediere tuo.

To one Bald.

Leaves to the Trees, and Grass returns to Ground:
But not one hair on thy bald pate is found.

***

MORS

Restituunt furtum fures, vi rapta, latrones.
Omnia mors aufert, restituitque nihil.

Of Death.

Thieves shall restore their Theft, Robbers their Prey,
But Nothing Death; For Death takes All away.

***

IN FUTILEM FLORAM

Cum quocunque cois, rem factam, Flora, fateris,
Plusque fatendo mali quam faciendo facis.

Of Flitting Flora.

In thy Coition thou didst boast thine Act,
Thy boasting was more sinful than thy Fact.

***

ADULTERIUM ET FORNICATO

Ignavus moecho tandum distare videtur
Scortator, quantum comicus a tragico.

Adultery and Fornication.

What differs base Adulterers from vile
Fornicators? Tragick as from Comick stile.

***

HOROLOGIUM VITAE. AD D. IOANNEM WEST, AMICUM SUUM

Latus ad occasum, unquam rediturus ad ortum,
Vivo hodie, moriar cras, here natus eram.

Lifes Dyal.

From East to West without return am I,
Born yesterday, live this day, next day die.

***

DE AUTUMNO. AD AMICUM SUUM D. RICARDUM CONOK

Aufert arboribus frondes Autumnus, et idem
Fert secum fructus: nos faciamus idem.

Of Autumn.

Autumn shakes off the Leaves, and for man’s use
Produceth fruit: let us the like produce.

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CONIUGES

Discordes nos tota domus non continet ambos.
Concordes lectus nos tamen unus habet.

Man and Wife.

The total House us holds not, when we chide,
But one Bed serves us both when pacifi’d.

***

AD UXORIUM 

Saepe quiescit ager, non semper arandus. At uxor
Est ager, assidue vult tamen illa coli.

To One Uxorious.

The Field’s not always plough’d: Thy Wife’s a Field,
Yet she loves dayly to be duly till’d.

***

AD COELIBEM G. R.

Est bona res uxor, melior bona, optima nulla.
Contigat nobis optima, nulla tibi.

To G. R., A Batchelour.

A wife is good, a good Wife better; best
No Wife; I wish thee this; me that, at least.

***

SAPIENTA SOCRATICA

Omnia me, dum iunior essem scire putabam.
Quo scio plus, hoc me nunc scio scire minus.

Socratical Wisdome.

All things I thought I knew; But now confess
The more I know, I know, I know the less.

***

CYGNUS

Cum me fata vocat, ad amoeni fluminis oram
Me moriens moesto carmine solor olor.

The Swan.

When Fates me call, the Rivers Bank close by,
I sweetly sing my Requiem, and die.

***

FRIGUS, CALIDUM

Est mare frigidior mulier, tamen urit amantem.
Sic calx in gelidam iacta calescit aquam.

Hot Cold.

Women, though cold, their lovers yet inflame;
So Lime in water cast, doth heat the flame.

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AXUNGIA

Ne siccus volvente rota crepet, unguitur axis.
Causidicum mos est ungere, ne taceat.

Wheel-Grease.

Men grease their Axle-trees lest Wheels should creak:
But Lawyers must be greas’d to make them speak.

***

AD AMICUM COELIBEM

Ureris? Uxorem ducas, non expedit uri.
Coniugis in gremio mortificanda caro.

To His Friend, A Batchelor.

Dost burn with lust? ’Tis sin: Espouse a Bride:
The flesh will be the better moritifi’d.

***

SCRIPTORES HUIUS SECULI

Carpimus extremas voces et verba priorum.
Priscorum, qui nunc scribimus, echo sumus.

Modern Writers.

We carp at former Works, and Words; yet we
Now writers but the formers Echoes be.

 

All poems in Latin are by John Owen.

The translations are by Thomas Harvey from John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent. ; dedicated by the author Mr. John Owen unto the Lady Mary Nevil, daughter of the Earl of Dorset.

 

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LINKS

A Hypertext Critical Edition of the Epigrams of John Owen, edited by Dana F. Sutton.

The complete text of John Owen’s Latine epigrams Englished by Tho. Harvey, Gent.

John Owen poems with vocabulary explained and Thomas Harvey translations included on the Bestiary Latina: Brevissima site.

The Wikipedia entry for John Owen.

The Bartleby.com page on John Owen’s Epigrams.

Seven Poems from the Latin of John Owen translated by Charles Martin.

The Wit of a Wykehemist Welshman: Stephen Coombs on the Latin epigrams of John Owen.

 

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Sparrows – Brief Poems by Catullus

 

12471_b_1681Catullus, whose full name was Gaius Valerius Catullus, was born sometime around 84 BC  to a leading equestrian family in  Verona and, according to Saint Jerome, died around 54 BC in Rome.  Little is known of his brief life as there is no ancient biography to consult. About 116 of his poems survive to help endorse his reputation as the finest lyric poet of his generation, one whose expressions of love and hatred (odi et amo) continue to  influence poets today. In 25 of his poems he speaks of his love for a woman he calls Lesbia. Her identity is uncertain. She was probably Clodia Metelli, the sexually rapacious wife of a celebrated bore, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, a Roman consul, and the sister of the notorious Publius Clodius Pulcher, a politician and gangster not averse to using intimidation and violence like a Latin Godfather. Ten years older than the poet, she had many lovers among whom Catullus was merely one. Despite her infidelities, the ardent poet could not walk away. His poems veer from devotion and celebration, including a famous tribute and lament for Lesbia’s pet sparrow, to bitter and insulting poems on her infidelities. One of the most celebrated and probably the most translated of his poems (85: Odi et amo) expresses, in two taut lines, the range of his emotions.

Other poems by Catullus are scurrilous outbursts of contempt or hatred, including attacks on Julius Caesar who, according to one account by Suetonius, forgave Catullus when he apologised. Caesar then invited him to dinner.  Some of these brief poems, see below, are rude, nasty, insulting and obscene. Anger and invective have rarely been expressed so succinctly. I have provided differing translations of some of these tweet-sized poems.

Translating Catullus 85

Of all the poems of Catullus, this is probably the one that has been translated the most. Although her name is not mentioned, this appears to another poem about Lesbia. We begin below with a classic English epigram from Richard Lovelace. Walter Savage Landor needs three lines to express the mixed sentiments. Ezra Pound’s monosyllabic and colloquial version gives it a Modernist twist. Perhaps the most astonishing and most bizarre translation is that of Louis Zufovsky, a homophonic translation where Zukovsky, assisted and abetted by his wife Celia, sought words to approximate the sound of Catullus’s words and he has followed the sequence of the syntax exactly. “This translation of Catullus follows the sound, rhythm and syntax of his Latin,” according to Zukovsky, “and tries…to breathe the “literal” meaning with him.” Where sound and syntax intersect with sense is a moot point.

There are other oddities. Frank Bidart provides three versions of the poem where only the opening Odi et amo is translated. The rest of each translation is a mini-riff. Joseph Campana, who is both a poet and a Renaissance scholar, also uses an adaptation of Odi et Amo in his Audrey Hepburn inspired The Book of Faces (2005) where Hepburn becomes an inspirational Lesbia as she enters Catullus 85. In James Michie‘s sonorous translation, the hexameters and pentameters of Catullus‘ elegaic verse are transformed in a four-line stanza of alternately rhyming iambics. Frank O. Copley provides a hip-hop version of Catullus and, like Bidart, Kenneth Quinn offers more than one version of the poem

Your favourite translation?

My favourite translation of Catullus is Sir Walter Raleigh’s brief version of the far-from-tweet-sized Catullus 5. (See below.) In 1601, the  Elizabethan poet Thomas Campion wrote a rhyming free translation of the first half of the Catullus original to which he added two verses of his own, and music, to create a song to be accompanied on the lute. It is this version that Raleigh is said to have had in mind when, imprisoned in the Tower of London and writing The Historie of the World, he wrote his wonderful quatrain where the sound and the syntax, the rhythm and the rhyme, the monosyllabic and multisyllabic words all combine to create a mini-masterpiece.

I tried to select one of the versions of Catullus 85 below as my favourite but, like many before me, was drawn instead to provide my own version with which I conclude the selection of translations. Having read the many versions of Odi et amo, you might let me know, through the comment box below, which version you prefer.

 

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Brief Poems by Catullus

Catullus 5

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

 

The sun may set and rise,
But we, contrariwise,
Sleep, after our short light,
One everlasting night.

Sir Walter Raleigh

 

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Catullus 93

Nil nimium studeo, Caesar, tibi velle placere,
nec scire utrum sis albus an ater homo.

ON JULIUS CAESAR.

Study I not o’ermuch to please thee (Caesar!) and court thee,
Nor do I care e’en to know an thou be white or be black.

Sir Richard Francis Burton

***

I’ve no great inclination to want to please you, Caesar,
to know which of the two you are, black or white.

A. S. Kline

***

Utter indifference to your welfare, Caesar,
is matched only by ignorance of who you are.

Peter Whigham

***

Variation on a Theme by Catullus

I have no desire to please you, O fearless leader,
You have shown your two faces; and I care for neither.

D. A. Powell

 

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Catullus 94

Mentula moechatur. Moechatur mentula? Certe.
Hoc est quod dicunt: ipsa olera olla legit.

Mentula the Cock fornicates. Does a Cock fuck? For sure,
That’s what they say: the pot picks its own herbs.

A. S. Kline

***

Stuffing. O’Toole naturally stuffs with his tool:
the stew-pot stews in its own mess

Peter Whigham

***

Nob of knobs fucks. Fucking nob of knobs? That’s for sure
the saying goes: if the root fits pot it.

Simon Smith

 

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Catullus 105

Mentula conatur Pipleium scandere montem:
Musae furcillis praecipitem eiciunt.

Mentula the Cock tries to climb the Parnassian Mount,
the Muses with pitchforks throw him out, head first.

A. S. Kline

***

O’Toole
attempting an entry on the mons Parnassus
is pitchforked by the Muses out of their (very) private
regions.

Peter Whigham

***

Nob of knobs attempts to mount the peak of Pipla:
the Muses fork him off the tops. Down, down.

Simon Smith

 

 

 

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Catullus 106

Cum puero bello praeconem qui videt esse,
quid credat, nisi se vendere discupere?

If you see a pimp out with a pretty boy,
can you help but believe that he wants to sell himself?

from Sententiae Antiquae

***

Seeing a pretty boy with an auctioneer,
What does one think? “He’s up for sale – and dear.”

James Michie

***

When an auctioneer’s seen with a good-looking boy
(by himself)
It is fair to presume that there has been purchase & sale
– in a closed market

Peter Whigham

***

When you see a lovely lad accompany an
auctioneer, one infers he’d auction himself.

Simon Smith

 

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Catullus 112

Multus homo es, Naso, necque tecum multus homo est quin
te scindat: Naso, multus es et pathicus.

Great th’art (Naso!) as man, nor like thee many in greatness
Lower themselves (Naso!): great be thou, pathic to boot.

Sir Richard Francis Burton

***

You’re a lot of man, Naso, but lots of men
wouldn’t stoop to you: Naso, a lot of man and a pathic.

A. S. Kline

***

Nasso! an elevated personage
with a stoop, however, bespeaking
a somewhat different form of “elevation”.
Indeed, an elevated person.

Peter Whigham

 

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Catullus 85 in English

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

Here is the Loeb Classical Library prose rendering:-

I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask? I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.

***

I hate and love; would’st thou the reason know?
I know not, but I burn, and feel it so.

Richard Lovelace

***

I hate, and yet I love thee too,
How can that be? I know not how;
Only that so it is I know
And feel with torment that ’tis so.

Abraham Cowley

***

I hate and love – ask why – I can’t explain;
I feel ’tis so, and feel it racking pain.

Charles Lamb

***

I LOVE and I HATE. Ah! Never ask why so!
I HATE and I LOVE – And that is all I know.
I see ’tis folly, but I feel ’tis woe.

Walter Savage Landor

***

Hate I, and love I. Haps thou’lt ask me wherefore I do so.
Wot I not, yet so I do feeling a torture of pain.

Sir Richard Francis Burton

***

I hate and love – wherefore I cannot tell,
But by my tortures know the fact too well.

Theodore Martin
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I hate and love. Why? You may ask but
It beats me. I feel it done to me and ache.

Ezra Pound

***

I hate and love. You may ask why I do so.
I do not know. But I feel it and suffer.

C. H. Sisson

***

O th’hate I move love. Quarry it fact I am, for that’s so re queries.
Nescience, say th’ fiery scent I owe whets crookeder.

Louis Zukofsky

***

I HATE and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask. I
know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.

Francis W. Cornish

***

I hate and I love. You ask, “How can this be?”
God knows! What wretchedness! What loathsome misery!

Reney Myers and Robert J. Ormsby

 

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I hate her and I love her. Don’t ask me why.
It’s the way I feel, that’s all, and it hurts.

Carl Sesar

***

I hate and I love. How do I do this, perhaps you ask.
I do not know, but I feel it happen and I’m tormented.

Ulysses K. Vestal

***

I hate and love her. If you ask me why
I don’t know. But I feel it and am torn.

J. V. Cunningham

***

I HATE and love
and if you ask me why,
I have no answer but I discern
can feel my senses rooted in eternal torture.

Horace Gregory

***

I hate and I love. Wherefore would I do this, perhaps you ask?
I do not know. But I feel that it happens and I am tortured.

Justin Neill

***

I hate and I love.
Perhaps you wonder why.
I don’t know, but I feel it, and I am crucified.

Jeffrey Thomson and Jeannine Diddle Uzzi

 

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Three Versions

I

Catullus: Odi et Amo
I hate and love. Ignorant fish, who even
wants the fly while writhing.

II

Catullus: Excrucior
I hate and—love. The sleepless body hammering a nail nails
itself, hanging crucified.

III

Catullus: Id faciam
What I hate I love. Ask the crucified hand that holds
the nail that now is driven into itself, why.

Frank Bidart

***

I hate and love. If you ask me to explain
The contradiction,
I can’t, but I can feel it, and the pain
Is crucifixion.

James Michie

***

I hate, I love (Audrey….

I know nothing,
I feel it happening:
the torment (mine).

Joseph Campana

***

I’m repelled and I love. Maybe you do have to know why.
I don’t know, but I feel it happening and I’m crucified.

Art Beck

•••

I hate I love:
Why should I,
you might ask.
I don’t know.
Still I feel
myself doing it
and am crucified

Eamonn Lorigan

 

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I hate and love. And why, perhaps you’ll ask.
I don’t know: but I feel, and I’m tormented.

A. S. Kline

•••

i hate and I love
well, why do I, you probably ask
i don’t know, but I know it’s happening
and it hurts

Frank O. Copley

***

I hate and I love. And if you ask me how,
I do not know: I only feel it, and I’m torn in two.

Peter Whigham

***

I hate & love. And if you should ask how I can do both,
I couldn’t say; but I feel it, and it shivers me.

Charles Martin

***

Hating and loving, I make no sense even to my own self –
I can’t explain how I feel!  Crucified, that’s how I feel!

Anna Jackson

***

I hate and love.  You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?
I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.

Peter Green.

 

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I hate and I love. Why am I doing this, you may ask?
I do not know. But I can feel it happening, and I am on the rack.

John T. Kirby

***

Two versions

I

I hate and I love. You ask perhaps the reason?
I don’t know. But I feel it happen and go through hell.

II

I hate and I love. You ask perhaps the reason?
I don’t know. But I feel it happen, and am tortured.

Kenneth Quinn

***

I loathe and I love. You maybe want to ask why.
I can’t tell. It’s under my skin and I’m wracked.

Simon Smith

***

I hate. I love: harmonics in a ruin,
all I’m in tune with being out of tune.

Mark Granier

***

I know about the love her/hate her bit.
I can’t explain it, and I feel like shit.

Conor Kelly

 

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LINKS

Rudy R. Negenborn’s Catullus site which contains all the poems and over 1,200 versions in more than 33 languages.

Catullus online.

Selected Poetry of Catullus with a variety of translations in English.

Poems of Catullus translated into English Verse by Theodore Martin. (1861)

The Poems of Catullus, a bilingual edition, translated by Peter Whigham.

Catullus: The Poems. Translations of all the poems of Catullus by A. S, Kline.

The Latin Library. All of the poems of Catullus in Latin.

The Classical Literature page on Catullus 85.

A fascinating essay by Art Beck on translating Catullus in Rattle Magazine

Quintin Hogg reviews translations of Catullus in The Spectator. (1967)

Catullus Translations by Anna Jackson.

The Books of Catullus translated by Simon Smith; a PhD thesis University of Glasgow. (2013)

 

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