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.
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’
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
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)
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’)
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
supinum animum: indolent mind
derelinquo –licui -lictum (-ere): to leave behind
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.
Translation by Leonard C. Smithers (London, 1894)