Gaius Valerius Catullus was one of the great poets of the late Roman Republic, well known for being one of the few early western poets who wrote about personal life rather than epics of the great heroes. He was a bit of a scandal for the time, what with the explicit nature of his verses and the openly unabashed passion with which he wrote. It’s no surprise that he was an inspiration for the great poets who came after him, like Ovid, Horace, and Virgil, nor that he’s not often read in schools.
A good number of his poems are odes to his lover whom he calls by the pseudonym Lesbia. It is thought that he might have been referring to Clodia, the wife of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, who was a consul in the Roman Senate. Like I said, scandal.
Anyway, this poem, Catullus Five or Da Mi Basia Mille is one of his more famous pieces, were Catullus encourages lovers to scorn what others think of them and live only for each other. (If this was a direct message to Lesbia, then he was getting her in more trouble than she was already dealing with.) I first came across the English version written in the 17th Century by Richard Crashaw, when I was reading Dragonfly in Amber. In that, Jamie Fraser inscribes the titular lines in Claire’s wedding ring, which she discovers around two hundred years later when she’s showing the ring to Brianna and Roger. I like both versions of the poem – Latin and English – and decided to go with the original for this.
The picture (rather fittingly, though I say it myself) is The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, who is an art nouveau champion.
Full Poem (Latin): Da Mi Basia Mille by Catullus (84 – 54? BC)
Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,
rumoreque senum seueriorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis!
Soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit breuis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.
Dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus inuidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.
Full Poem (English): Out of Catullus by Richard Crashaw (1612 – 1649)