Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Catullus 45: and Amor saw that it was good.


In this light-hearted poem Catullus imagines a dialogue between two lovers: Acme and Septimius. The name Acme is Greek and means so much as `in the blossom of her youth’.  Septimius speaks first and swears an oath in the form of a conditional self-curse `if I don’t do this, may I then etc.’  Acme is ready to accept this vow and starts kissing him while saying that under the guidance of Amor she will even more burn for him. Amor is thought present and both speeches are concluded by his approval o by way of sneezing, an auspicious omen: hoc ut dixit, Amor sinistrā ut ante / dextrā sternuit approbationem. Many lines of commentary have been spent on sinistra ut ante dextra. For instance where to put the comma: is Amor first sneezing (sternuit) form the left (sinistrā ut ante, dextrā) or from the right side ( sinistrā, ut ante dextrā)? But Romans did not use commas, so the whole question seems to me futile. It has further been thought that Amor is sneezing from the left for Septimius and from the right for Acme, as the left side is auspicious for a Roman and the right for a Greek. But Catullus wrote this poem for a Roman public, not as a riddle for overzealous philologists centuries later…  So why did Amor sneeze from both sides? Well, the most easy explanation is for giving extra approval!
Catullus XLV. ad Septimium
Meter: hendacasyllabics  x x  - u u -  u - u - -

Acmen Septimius suos amores
tenens in gremio 'mea' inquit 'Acme,
ni te perdite amo atque amare porro
omnes sum assidue paratus annos,
quantum qui pote plurimum perire,
solus in Libya Indiaque tosta
caesio veniam obvius leoni.'
hoc ut dixit, Amor sinistra ut ante
dextra sternuit approbationem.
     at Acme leviter caput reflectens
et dulcis pueri ebrios ocellos
illo purpureo ore suaviata,
'sic' inquit 'mea vita Septimille,
huic uni domino usque serviamus,
ut multo mihi maior acriorque
ignis mollibus ardet in medullis.'
hoc ut dixit, Amor sinistra ut ante
dextra sternuit approbationem.
     nunc ab auspicio bono profecti
mutuis animis amant amantur.
unam Septimius misellus Acmen
mavult quam Syrias Britanniasque:
uno in Septimio fidelis Acme
facit delicias libidinesque.
quis ullos homines beatiores
vidit, quis Venerem auspicatiorem?

Acmen... suos amores: his love Acme (Acmen is a Greek acc.; suos amores: plural for singular)
gremium: lap
ni = nisi
perdite:  desperately, to bits etc.   
paratus: prepared
porro: in future
assidue:  constantly
quantum qui pote plurimum perire: as much as one who is able (pote = potest) to die very much (from love) = who is desperately in love
Libya Indiaque tosta:  in Libya and parched India (= in the Libyan and Indian deserts)
caesius: green-eye
ebrius : drunken (from love)
sternuo: to sneeze (sneezing is an auspicious omen and he does that form both sides.
suavior:  to kiss   
mea vita: my love  
Septimille: diminutive of Septimius,  used as endearment
domino:  Amor, but some commentators take it as referring to Septimius,
usque: perpetually    
medulla:  marrow  
proficiscor profectus sum:  to depart, start (profecti: if the subjects are both masculine and feminine, the participle takes the masculine.  Some take profecti from proficio `to accomplish, complete’, but they start their relationship under a good omen in order to fulfil their vows and wishes, they haven’t completed it yet.)
misellus: diminutive of miser. Of course Septimius is not really a bit miser: again a term of endearment.
Syrias Britanniasque: The plural is rather pathetic. At the moment this poem was written, Caesar was leading a military campaign in Britain and Crassus in Syria.
facit delicias libidinesque: takes pleasure and delight

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