Nowadays there are mobiles and skype to communicate with family and friends when one is abroad. When some 25 – 35 years ago I was on holiday in France, Spain, India or wherever, there was just the public phone, operating on coins, lots of coins, so mostly I didn’t make a call. No news is good news.
In Roman times means of communication were even more limited, just letters, as we all know from Cicero and Pliny. Writing was not always or may be mostly not an option, as there was no regular postal service and one was dependent of people going back to one’s hometown.
Of course travelling was dangerous and the home front was eagerly awaiting the return of a beloved one or friend. When talented, one could even make a welcome poem. Catullus was talented and he made a poem for his friend Veranius on his return from a campaign in Spain. The date is uncertain, but 60 BC has been proposed.
Catullus IX. ad Veranium
Verani, omnibus e meis amicis
antistans mihi milibus trecentis,
venistine domum ad tuos penates
fratresque unanimos anumque matrem?
venisti. o mihi nuntii beati!
visam te incolumem audiamque Hiberum
narrantem loca, facta nationes,
ut mos est tuus, applicansque collum
iucundum os oculosque suaviabor.
o quantum est hominum beatiorum,
quid me laetius est beatiusve?
antisto antisteti antistatum (+ dat.): to surpass
milibus trecentis (amicis): both numbers are used as an expression for a large number, so combined to 300.000 they express Catullus’ great endearment for his friend.
venistine: have you truly come?
penates: household gods, guarding one’s home
unanimus: of one mind
anus, anus: old women, but here adjective `old’
nuntii beati: exclamatory, but either a gen. sg. or nom. plur. An exclamatory genitive is common in Greek, but rare in Latin. The use of a plural for a singular is rare too and commentators differ. When genitive, it could either be from nuntius or nuntium.
beatus is here active `bringing joy’
viso visi visum: to see, visit (a frequentative, i.e. a verb denoting a repeated action, of video)
incolumis incolumis: unharmed, safe
applicansque collum: turning the neck (for embracing)
suavior: to kiss (An 100 years old Dutch school commentary explains that men kissing each other was usual in Roman times - as it still is around the Mediterranean – as it was something not done in Western Europe.)
o quantum…quid: how many… who (the use of the neuter is not uncommon in exclamations.)
Translation by Richard Burton (1894)
TO VERANIUS RETURNED FROM TRAVEL
Veranius! over every friend of me
Forestanding, owned I hundred thousands three,
Home to Penates and to single-soul'd
Brethren, returned art thou and mother old?
Yes, thou art come. Oh, winsome news come well!
Now shall I see thee, safely hear thee tell
Of sites Iberian, deeds and nations 'spied,
(As be thy wont) and neck-a-neck applied
I'll greet with kisses thy glad lips and eyne.
Oh! Of all mortal men beatified
Whose joy and gladness greater be than mine?