Catullus was befriended with Gaius Licinius Macer Calvus (86-47 BC), an orator and a fellow poet. Little is known about Calvus, except that he was very short. Unfortunately almost nothing of his writings has been left and what has been left consists of fragments quoted by other authors. As Catullus clearly admired him, he can’t have been a bad poet. The history of the transmission of texts can be unfair to some writers…
In this poem Catullus describes a jolly afternoon with Calvus: they write short poems, have fun and drink wine. Coming home in the evening, Catullus is not hungry and can’t fall asleep. Finally he makes this poem, but he warns Calvus not to despise it, lest Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, might take action upon him.
The poem reminds of a poem of a lover longing for his beloved, but I think we have to read this as joke and irony, still in the mood of the afternoon.
Metre: Hendecasyllable (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hendecasyllable)
HESTERNO, Licini, die otiosi
multum lusimus in meis tabellis,
ut conuenerat esse delicatos:
scribens uersiculos uterque nostrum
ludebat numero modo hoc modo illoc,
reddens mutua per iocum atque uinum.
atque illinc abii tuo lepore
incensus, Licini, facetiisque,
ut nec me miserum cibus iuuaret
nec somnus tegeret quiete ocellos,
sed toto indomitus furore lecto
uersarer, cupiens uidere lucem,
ut tecum loquerer, simulque ut essem.
at defessa labore membra postquam
semimortua lectulo iacebant,
hoc, iucunde, tibi poema feci,
ex quo perspiceres meum dolorem.
nunc audax caue sis, precesque nostras,
oramus, caue despuas, ocelle,
ne poenas Nemesis reposcat a te.
est uemens dea: laedere hanc caueto.
hesternus dies: yesterday (hesternus is etymologically related with yester-day en German Gestern,)
otiosus: having no official business, free
ludo lusi lusum: to play, have fun
in meis tabellis: a tabella is a waxed tablet for writing. Texts written in wax can easily be wiped out. ut conuenerat esse delicatos: as it was agreed to be spirited = as we agreed to be spirited
delicatus: voluptuous, charming, delightful etc. (not delicate!)
versiculus: a little verse
uterque nostrum: both of us (in Latin treated as a singular!)
modo hoc modo illoc: now with this, then with that
reddens mutua: returning to each other verses (poemata or dicta must by supplied. May be we have to think of one poem as an answer to another.)
illinc: from there
lepus leporis (m.): charm, wit
iuvat: it pleases
tego texi tectum: to cover
toto indomitus furore: wild by complete frenzy
lecto versarer: I tossed around in my bed (versarer is not passive, but medial.)
labor laboris (m.): here `suffering’
semimortuus: half death
perspiceres: you can see clearly
nunc audax caue sis: beware now that you are presumptuous. i.e. be not presumptuous (and don’t reject this poem!)
precesque nostras, oramus, caue despuas = et oramus, cave despuas preces nostras: and I pray: beware, that you despise our plees.
ocelle: `my eye’
reposco poenas a aliquo: to punish someone
vemens = vehemens: terrible
laedo laesi laesum: to hurt
caveto: more solemn than cave. Imperatives in –to are used in legal and religious texts.
Here is a translation by Richard Francis Burton (1821–1890): adventurer, explorer, translator of the Kama Sutra and 1001 Nights, spy, erotomaniac and Sufi:
Idly (Licinius!) we our yesterday,
Played with my tablets much as pleased us play,
In mode becoming souls of dainty strain.
Inditing verses either of us twain
Now in one measure then in other line
We rang the changes amid wit and wine.
Then fared I homewards by thy fun so fired
And by thy jests (Licinius!) so inspired,
Nor food my hapless appetite availed
Nor sleep in quiet rest my eyelids veiled,
But o'er the bedstead wild in furious plight
I tossed a-longing to behold the light,
So I might talk wi' thee, and be wi' thee.
But when these wearied limbs from labour free
Were on my couchlet strewn half-dead to lie,
For thee (sweet wag!) this poem for thee wrote I,
Whereby thou mete and weet my cark and care.
Now be not over-bold, nor this our prayer
Outspit thou (apple of mine eyes !): we pray
Lest doom thee Nemesis hard pain repay :—
She's a dire Goddess, 'ware thou cross her way.