Wednesday 4 August 2021

Catullus 17: Sur le Pont d'Avignon / L'on y danse, l'on y danse.


Verona, Catullus’ hometown, has an ancient bridge at which ceremonies are held – there is in Roman religion a connection between bridges and religion, and hence pontifex `bridge-builder’. The city fears that the bridge is too old for frivolous dancing and jumping and will collapse. Catullus has a solution: throw an old man off the bridge as a kind of atonement. There are indeed some allusions to throwing a sexagenarian off a bridge at some stage of Roman religion – a less attractive side of this religion for people of my age. The poet has a candidate in mind too: an old man who doesn’t take care for his young wife and allows her to have extramarital liaisons. Note that the old man is reproached for that, not his young wife.

 Catullus XVII.

Meter: priapean – ˘ – ˘ ˘ – ˘ – // – ˘ – ˘ ˘ – × (= glyconic plus pherecratean, I have the division marked with a double spacing)                                                     

O Colonia, quae cupis ponte ludere longo,
et salire paratum habes, sed vereris inepta
crura ponticuli axulis stantis in redivivis,
ne supinus eat cavaque in palude recumbat:
sic tibi bonus ex tua pons libidine fiat,
in quo vel Salisubsali sacra suscipiantur,
munus hoc mihi maximi da, Colonia, risus.
quendam municipem meum de tuo volo ponte
ire praecipitem in lutum per caputque pedesque,
verum totius ut lacus putidaeque paludis
lividissima maximeque est profunda vorago.
insulsissimus est homo, nec sapit pueri instar
bimuli tremula patris dormientis in ulna.
cui cum sit viridissimo nupta flore puella
et puella tenellulo delicatior haedo,
adservanda nigerrimis diligentius uvis,
ludere hanc sinit ut lubet, nec pili facit uni,
nec se subleuat ex sua parte, sed velut alnus
in fossa Liguri iacet suppernata securi,
tantundem omnia sentiens quam si nulla sit usquam;
talis iste meus stupor nil videt, nihil audit,
ipse qui sit, utrum sit an non sit, id quoque nescit.
nunc eum volo de tuo ponte mittere pronum,
si pote stolidum repente excitare veternum,
et supinum animum in gravi derelinquere caeno,
ferream ut soleam tenaci in voragine mula.

Colonia: Verona, though some argue for modern Cologna, a town nearby Verona  

ludere and salire refer to merriment and jumping around at a religious festival

salire paratum habes: you have jumping in readiness

inepta crura ponticuli axulis stantis in redivivis:  the inadequate pillars (`legs’) of the bridge (note the diminutive to denote its shaky construction) standing on reused (redivivis) timber (axulis from axis is a diminutive too and occurs only here)

supinus eat: `falls flat’

cavus: deep

palus paludis (f.): marsh, pool

recumbo recubui (-ere): to fall down

sic: in this way, on this condition

ex tua libidine: for your requirement

salisubsali: this word occurs only here and is probably a genitive (the rites of Salisubsalus)  and the name of a god, probably a cult-name  of Mars, as this word is undoubtedly connected with the Salii, the dancing priests of Mars.

suscipio suscepi susceptum (-ere): to take up, begin

munus maximi risus: a spectacle of hilarious laughter

municeps municipis (m. and f.): fellow citizen

praeceps preacipitis: headlong

lutum: mud

per caputque pedesque: `over head and ears’

verum totius ut lacus = verum ut (but where) etc..

lacus –us (m.): lake (lacus is streaming water while palus is stagnant)

putidus: stinking

lividus: dark blue, dirty

vorago voraginis: abyss

insulsus: insipid, silly

homo has a pejorative connotation in such a context

nec sapit pueri instar: he has not as much sense as a child            

bimulus: of two years old (this too is a diminutive)

tremula in ulna: in the rocking elbows (pars pro toto for arms)

patris: a Dutch commentary published in 1950 - written by a female teacher - notes that in Southern countries fathers are far more involved in caring for their young children.

cui cum sit viridissimo nupta flore puella : though he has married a girl in her prime blossom

tenellulus: a double diminutive of tener `soft’

haedus: young goat

adservo: to watch over

uva: grape (when grapes are black they are ripe and so  a prey for thieves)

ludere hanc sinit ut lubet: he allows her to play as it pleases her (ludere has here erotic connotations)

pilus: hair, a trifle (nec pili facit uni is an idiomatic expression `he doesn’t  give a damn’, cf. non flocci facere/pendere  with the same meaning; uni = unius)

se sublevo (are): to come into motion, rise up (someone lying in bed)

alnus (f.): alder (a kind of tree with reddish wood, both words have a common PIE root  *el-, ol- `red’)

fossa: ditch

Liguri: ablative from Liguris –is (= from Liguria, a coastal province in North-West Italy) can qualify both fossa and securi (securis –is (f.): axe), according to the commentary of Kroll, but others take it with securi only (Fordyce, Quinn)

suppernatus: lamed in the hip, hamstrung, cut down

tantundem omnia sentiens quam si nulla sit usquam : as much aware of everything as though she didn’t exist (Guy Lee)

talis isti meus stupor: stupor (dullness) is here abstractum pro concreto  `that’s what he is like, this slow-wit I have picked for you ’ (Quinn)

pronus: head foremost

si pote: in case he can

stolidus: slow, stupid

repente: suddenly

veternus: lethargy

supinum animum: indolent mind

derelinquo –licui -lictum (-ere): to leave behind

caenum: mud

ferream soleam: leather horseshoe with iron sole, attached with leather slippers to the hoof and so more likely to get stuck and lost in the mud. The Celts invented the horseshoe attached with nails.

mula: mule


Translation by Leonard C. Smithers (London, 1894)

 O Colonia, you who long to play on a long bridge and have it readied to dance on, but fear the shaky legs of the little bridge standing on second-hand sticks, lest it tumble flat in the deep swamp; let the bridge be as good as you desire, on which even the Salian dances may be undertaken: for which give to me, Colonia, the gift of greatest laughter. I want a certain townsman of mine to go head over heels from your bridge into the mud, in truth where the brimming, stinking swamp is darkest and an especially deep-sunk mire. He's the biggest ass of a man, lacking the sense of a two-year-old dozing in his father's cradling arm. Although a girl is wedded to him flushed with springtide's bloom (and a girl more dainty than a tender kid needs to be watched with keener diligence than the lush-black grape-bunch), he leaves her to play as she wants, cares not a single hair, nor troubles himself with marital office, but lies like an alder tree felled by a Ligurian hatchet in a ditch, as aware of everything as though no woman were anywhere. Such is my thick-headed friend! he sees not, he hears not. He also knows not who he is himself, or whether he is or is not. Now I want to chuck him head first from your bridge, if it is possible to suddenly rouse this sleepy dullard and to leave behind in the heavy mud his sluggish spirit, as does a mule its iron shoe in the sticky mire.