Sunday, 22 June 2014

Catullus 102: Catullus can keep a secret!

Some people think that classical scholars have read everything that exists in Latin and Greek and can quote every poem from memory. Of course classical scholars are eager to keep up appearances, so I only speak for myself when I say that I have not and learning poems by heart is not exactly my strength.
It was by chance that I noticed this epigram, when my commentary on Catullus by Quinn fell on the ground with the page containing this poem open. The text is easy enough: Catullus ensures his friend Cornelius that he can keep a secret. Some editors identify this Cornelius with Cornelius Nepos, but others, under whom Quinn, are less sure. What kind of secret must be kept is unknown, but that is often the essence of secrets. The only problem for me was Arpocrates: who is Arpocrates? Well he the Egyptian god for keeping secrets and is depicted as a boy having his finger to his mouth. He was identified with Hermes Trismegistos, the god with secret knowledge.

Catullus 102

Si quicquam tacito commissum est fido ab amico,
     cuius sit penitus nota fides animi,
meque esse invenies illorum iure sacratum,
     Corneli, et factum me esse puta Arpocratem.

tacito commissum est: is committed to one who knows to be silent
cuius….animi: of the friend who knows to be silent (Though some translators take it with amico, but it is more logical that the person to whom a secret is entrusted must have fides.)
penitus: through and through
meque = me quoque
illorum (tacitorum) iure sacratum: consecrated by the oath of those

Statue of Harpocrates found in Britain.