In Catullus 2, the poet writes about his lover, Lesbia, and her pet sparrow. He focuses on how the bird sits in Lesbia’s lap and plays when she feels the need. Lesbia doesn’t just play with the bird, she taunts it with her finger, too. In line 3, Lesbia gives the bird her fingertip to peck at, but the bird bites it sharply, as mentioned in line 4.
Catullus uses the playful time with the bird as a way to explain how much he wants to play with Lesbia. In lines 7 and 8, he says that he hopes she looks for some relief from the pain of the bird bites by turning to him. Then, he can play with her as she plays with the bird. In line 10, Catullus says that playing with Lesbia “lightens the gloomy cares of my heart!”
In the final three lines of the poem, Catullus writes about how playing with Lesbia is as welcome to him as the golden apple was to the maiden who loosened her girdle after having it tight for too long. It sounds as if Catullus hasn’t been able to find relief from the stress of his life. He needs to have time with Lesbia to relieve the pressure and metaphorically, lighten his load.
A sparrow is not a good pet, because it doesn’t return the love that Lesbia gives. As Catullus was the expert at double-entendres, he could be making a sexual innuendo with the bird. To Catullus, the bird – that is in the lap, pecks, and bites – could be a reference to a sexual organ, either his or Lesbia’s. Catullus clearly wants to spend time with Lesbia and in a romantic and playful way. He calls her “the bright-shining lady of my love” which shows how much he loves her.
|Line||Latin text||English translation|
Passer, deliciae meae puellae,
Sparrow, my lady’s pet,
quicum ludere, quem in sinu tenere,
with whom she often plays whilst she holds you in her lap,
cui primum digitum dare appetenti
or gives you her finger-tip to peck and
et acris solet incitare morsus,
provokes you to bite sharply,
cum desiderio meo nitenti
whenever she, the bright-shining lady of my love,
carum nescio quid lubet iocari
has a mind for some sweet pretty play,
et solaciolum sui doloris,
in hope, as I think, that when the sharper smart of love abates,
credo ut tum grauis acquiescat ardor:
she may find some small relief from her pain–
tecum ludere sicut ipsa possem
ah, might I but play with you as she does,
et tristis animi leuare curas!
and lighten the gloomy cares of my heart!
TAM gratum est mihi quam ferunt puellae
This is as welcome to me as (they say)
pernici aureolum fuisse malum,
to the swift maiden was the golden apple,
quod zonam soluit diu ligatam.
which loosed her girdle too long tied.
VRoma Project: http://www.vroma.org/~hwalker/VRomaCatullus/002.html