Catullus 63 Translation
Catullus 63 is one of his longest poems having nearly 100 lines of text. The poem is lyrical, telling the story of Attis, Cybele, and the Gallae. It feels at times, like a hallucination as the main character of the poem moves from male to female and back to male again. The poem begins with the story Attis who in a fit of rage cuts off the “burden of his member.” After he castrates himself, the protagonist’s pronoun shifts from he to she. In one swift move, Attis becomes Cybele.
As the story continues, Cybele begins to play the timbrel, which is similar to a tambourine. She is also called the Mother, and using it as a proper noun shows that she is the mother of all. She sings as the Gallae begin to follow her. She urges them to follow her to the places where the Phyrgian blows his reed and the Maenads dance violently.
Then, Catullus refers to Cybele as Attis, who is “Woman, not yet truly so.” The Gallae follow Attis/Cybele to Cybele’s house. There, they sleep after being exhausted by not eating while doing all of that walking. They slept well. Attis woke from sleep realizing that Pasithea, the goddess of relaxation, gave him the rest he needed and let him see what he did to himself.
Attis, after realizing that he is not a man or a woman, he wonders what will happen. Attis talks about how he was once a proud member of the school gymnasium, the palaestra. As Attis reflects on who he was and is, Catullus shifts back and forth from feminine and masculine pronouns. Sadly, Attis regrets what he did, he then turns into Cybele who speaks in violent words about how madness will overtake Attis. She references the lion who will drive Attis mad and force him into the woods.
In Roman mythology, Cybele was associated with wild nature. Her companion was the lion. She differs from the Greek goddess of the wild, Artemis who had a stag as her companion and symbol. In Roman mythology, Attis, the god of vegetation, was the consort of Cybele. The Gallae were eunuchs. Attis was associated with Phyrgia and a cult in Dindymon. Attis was to marry, but as the wedding song was playing, Cybele showed herself to Attis and he castrated himself in a fit of madness. The gods later decided that Attis would be immortal. Catullus explores the relationship between these two important gods in the Roman pantheon. He appears to be fascinated by the people who worshipped Cybele and how she prefered that they be castrated. This could be related to Artemis, who was a virgin goddess and would kill men who saw her naked.
This poem differs starkly from the typical poems by Catullus. Instead of talking about sex with Lesbia or making fun of his friends, Catullus becomes musical and questions the role of men and women. This poem was written in the BC times, but it is highly appropriate today as the roles of genders are constantly shifting.
|Line||Latin text||English translation|
SVPER alta uectus Attis celeri rate maria,
Borne in his swift bark over deep seas,
Phrygium ut nemus citato cupide pede tetigit,
Attis, when eagerly with speedy foot he reached the Phrygian woodland,
adiitque opaca siluis redimita loca deae,
and entered the goddess’ abodes, shadowy, forest-crowned;
stimulatus ibi furenti rabie, uagus animis,
there, goaded by raging madness, bewildered in mind,
deuolsit ili acuto sibi pondera silice,
he cast down from him with sharp flint-stone the burden of his member.
itaque ut relicta sensit sibi membra sine uiro,
So when she felt her limbs to have lost their manbood,
etiam recente terrae sola sanguine maculans,
still with fresh blood dabbling the face of the ground,
niueis citata cepit manibus leue typanum,
swiftly with snowy bands she seized the light timbrel,
typanum tuum, Cybebe, tua, mater initia,
your timbrel, Cybele, thy mysteries, Mother,
quatiensque terga tauri teneris caua digitis
and shaking with soft fingers the hollow oxhide
canere haec suis adorta est tremebunda comitibus.
thus began she to sing to her companions tremulously:
‘agite ite ad alta, Gallae, Cybeles nemora simul,
“Come away, ye Gallae, go to the mountain forests of Cybele together,
simul ite, Dindymenae dominae uaga pecora,
together go, wandering herd of the lady of Dindymus,
aliena quae petentes uelut exules loca
who swiftly seeking alien homes as exiles,
sectam meam exsecutae duce me mihi comites
followed my rule as I led you in my train,
rapidum salum tulistis truculentaque pelagi
endured the fast-flowing brine and the savage seas,
et corpus euirastis Veneris nimio odio;
and unmanned your bodies from utter abhorrence of love,
hilarate erae citatis erroribus animum.
cheer ye your Lady’s heart with swift wanderings.
mora tarda mente cedat: simul ite, sequimini
Let dull delay depart from your mind; go together, follow
Phrygiam ad domum Cybebes, Phrygia ad nemora deae,
to the Phrygian house of Cybele, to the Phrygian forests of the goddess,
ubi cymbalum sonat uox, ubi tympana reboant,
where the noise of cymbals sounds, where timbrels re-echo,
tibicen ubi canit Phryx curuo graue calamo,
where the Phrygian flute-player blows a deep note on his curved reed,
ubi capita Maenades ui iaciunt hederigerae,
where the Maenads ivy-crowned toss their heads violently,
ubi sacra sancta acutis ululatibus agitant,
where with shrill yells they shake the holy emblems,
ubi sueuit illa diuae uolitare uaga cohors,
where that wandering company of the goddess is wont to rove,
quo nos decet citatis celerare tripudiis.’
whither for us ’tis meet to hasten with rapid dances.”
simul haec comitibus Attis cecinit notha mulier,
So soon as Attis, woman yet no true one, chanted thus to her companions,
thiasus repente linguis trepidantibus ululat,
the revellers suddenly with quivering tongues yell aloud,
leue tympanum remugit, caua cymbala recrepant.
the light timbrel rings again, clash again the hollow cymbals,
uiridem citus adit Idam properante pede chorus.
swiftly to green Ida goes the rout with hurrying foot.
furibunda simul anhelans uaga uadit animam agens
Then too frenzied, panting, uncertain, wanders, gasping for breath,
comitata tympano Attis per opaca nemora dux,
attended by the timbrel, Attis, through the dark forests their leader,
ueluti iuuenca uitans onus indomita iugi;
as a heifer unbroken starting aside from the burden of the yoke.
rapidae ducem sequuntur Gallae properipedem.
Fast follow the Gallae their swift-footed leader.
itaque, ut domum Cybebes tetigere lassulae,
So when they gained the house of Cybele, faint and weary,
nimio e labore somnum capiunt sine Cerere.
after much toil they take their rest without bread;
piger his labante languore oculos sopor operit;
heavy sleep covers their eyes with drooping weariness,
abit in quiete molli rabidus furor animi.
the delirious madness of their mind departs in soft slumber.
sed ubi oris aurei Sol radiantibus oculis
But when the sun with the flashing eyes of his golden face
lustrauit aethera album, sola dura, mare ferum,
lightened the clear heaven, the firm lands, the wild sea,
pepulitque noctis umbras uegetis sonipedibus,
and chased away the shades of night with eager tramping steeds refreshed,
ibi Somnus excitam Attin fugiens citus abiit;
then Sleep fled from wakened Attis and quickly was gone;
trepidante eum recepit dea Pasithea sinu.
him the goddess Pasithea received in her fluttering bosom.
ita de quiete molli rapida sine rabie
So after soft slumber, freed from violent madness,
simul ipsa pectore Attis sua facta recoluit,
as soon as Attis himself in his heart reviewed his own deed,
liquidaque mente uidit sine quis ubique foret,
and saw with clear mind what lie had lost and where he was,
animo aestuante rusum reditum ad uada tetulit.
with surging mind again he sped back to the waves.
ibi maria uasta uisens lacrimantibus oculis,
There, looking out upon the waste seas with streaming eyes,
patriam allocuta maestast ita uoce miseriter.
thus did she piteously address her country with tearful voice:
‘patria o mei creatrix, patria o mea genetrix,
” O my country that gavest me life! O my country that barest me!
ego quam miser relinquens, dominos ut erifugae
leaving whom, all wretch! as runaway servants leave their masters,
famuli solent, ad Idae tetuli nemora pedem,
I have borne my foot to the forests of Ida,
ut aput niuem et ferarum gelida stabula forem,
to live among snows and frozen lairs of wild beasts,
et earum omnia adirem furibunda latibula,
and visit in my frenzy all their lurking-dens,
ubinam aut quibus locis te positam, patria, reor?
— where then or in what region do I think thy place to be, O my country?
cupit ipsa pupula ad te sibi derigere aciem,
Mine eyeballs unbidden long to turn their gaze to thee
rabie fera carens dum breue tempus animus est.
while for a short space my mind is free from wild frenzy.
egone a mea remota haec ferar in nemora domo?
I, shall I from my own home be borne far away into these forests?
patria, bonis, amicis, genitoribus abero?
from my country, my possessions, my friends, my parents, shall I be?
abero foro, palaestra, stadio et gyminasiis?
absent from the market, the wrestling-place, the racecourse, the playground?
miser a miser, querendum est etiam atque etiam, anime.
unhappy, all unhappy heart, again, again must thou complain.
quod enim genus figurast, ego non quod obierim?
For what form of human figure is there which I had not?
ego mulier, ego adulescens, ego ephebus, ego puer,
I, to be a woman–who was a stripling, I a youth, I a boy,
ego gymnasi fui flos, ego eram decus olei:
I was the flower of the playground, I was once the glory of the palaestra:
mihi ianuae frequentes, mihi limina tepida,
mine were the crowded doorways, mine the warm thresholds,
mihi floridis corollis redimita domus erat,
mine the flowery garlands to deck my house
linquendum ubi esset orto mihi Sole cubiculum.
when I was to leave my chamber at sunrise.
ego nunc deum ministra et Cybeles famula ferar?
I, shall I now be called–what? a handmaid of the gods, a ministress of Cybele?
ego Maenas, ego mei pars, ego uir sterilis ero?
I a Maenad, I part of myself, a barren man shall I be?
ego uiridis algida Idae niue amicta loca colam?
I, shall I dwell in icy snow-clad regions of verdant Ida,
ego uitam agam sub altis Phrygiae columinibus,
I pass my life under the high summits of Phrygia,
ubi cerua siluicultrix, ubi aper nemoriuagus?
with the hind that haunts the woodland, with the boar that ranges the forest?
iam iam dolet quod egi, iam iamque paenitet.’
now, now I rue my deed, now, now I would it were undone.”
roseis ut huic labellis sonitus citus abiit
From his rosy lips as these words issued forth,
geminas deorum ad aures noua nuntia referens,
bringing a new message to both ears of the gods,
ibi iuncta iuga resoluens Cybele leonibus
then Cybele, loosening the fastened yoke from her lions,
laeuumque pecoris hostem stimulans ita loquitur.
and goading that foe of the herd who drew on the left, thus speaks:
‘agedum,’ inquit ‘age ferox fac ut hunc furor
“Come now,” she says, “come, go fiercely, let madness hunt him hence
fac uti furoris ictu reditum in nemora ferat,
bid him hence by stroke of madness hie him to the forests again,
mea libere nimis qui fugere imperia cupit.
him who would be too free, and run away from my sovereignty.
age caede terga cauda, tua uerbera patere,
Come, lash back with tail, endure thy own scourging,
fac cuncta mugienti fremitu loca retonent,
make all around resound with bellowing roar,
rutilam ferox torosa ceruice quate iubam.’
shake fiercely on brawny neck thy ruddy mane.”
ait haec minax Cybebe religatque iuga manu.
Thus says wrathful Cybele, and with her hand unbinds the yoke.
ferus ipse sese adhortans rapidum incitat animo,
The monster stirs his courage and rouses him to fury of heart;
uadit, fremit, refringit uirgulta pede uago.
he speeds away, he roars, with ranging foot he breaks the brushwood.
at ubi umida albicantis loca litoris adiit,
But when he came to the watery stretches of the white-gleaming shore,
teneramque uidit Attin prope marmora pelagi,
and saw tender Attis by the smooth spaces of the sea,
facit impetum. illa demens fugit in nemora fera;
he rushes at him–madly flies Attis to the wild woodland.
ibi semper omne uitae spatium famula fuit.
There always for all his lifetime was he a handmaid.
dea, magna dea, Cybebe, dea domina Dindymi,
Goddess, great goddess, Cybele, goddess, lady of Dindymus
procul a mea tuos sit furor omnis, era, domo:
far from my house be all thy fury, O my queen
alios age incitatos, alios age rabidos.
others drive thou in frenzy, others drive thou to madness.
Previous Carmen | Available Translations | Next Carmen
VRoma Project: http://www.vroma.org/~hwalker/VRomaCatullus/063.ht