Alfred John Church.

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counting, which does not appear in the love-ditties of
our Herricks and Drummonds, though both betray
the influence of Catullus — the deprecation, to wit, of
magic, mischance, ill-luck, or an evil-eye, Avhich their
superstition considered unascertained numbers to se-
cure. Exemption from such, then, was a stimulus to the
lover's appetite for kisses, as is pleaded again by the
poet " To Lesbia Kind " in C. vii., where he exhausts
the round of similes for numbers numberless — the sea-
sands, the stars of night, and so forth — and doubts
whether the very largest definite number

" Wliich a curious fool might count.
Or with tongue malignant blast,"

could satisfy his thirst and fever. One could wish
that to the Lesbian series might be linked a short
poem in kindred vein (C. xlviii.) which may well sum
up the poet's dicta upon the subject, inscribed " To a
Beauty "—

" Oh, if I thine eyes might kiss.
And my kisses were not crimes,
I would snatch that honeyed bliss
Full three hundred thoiisand times !


Nor should these a sm-feit bring,

Not though that sweet crop should yield

Kisses far outnumbering

Corn-ears in the harvest-field."

But whilst as yet Catullus enjoys a dream of success-
ful love, and the fancied happiness of possession, with
no misgivings arising from awakened jealousy or fears
of fickleness, has he left any hint whereby we may
reach the secret of Lesbia's witchery? There is one
which does pre-eminently supply this — his comparison
of her with a contemporary beauty generally admired,
by name Quinctia. The latter, he admits, has several
feminine charms ; but llesbia's attraction is the con-
centration in herself of all the perfections of the most
peerless women. Hers is a gathering of "every
creature's best" into one ineffable grace, "so perfect
and so peerless " is she ! * But let Catullus speak
through his eloquent interpreter — :

" Most beautiful in many eyes
Is Quinctia, and in mine
Her shape is tall, and straight withal,
And her complexion fine.

These single charms of form and face

I grant that she can show ;
But all the concentrated grace

Of ' beautiful,' oh no !

For nowhere in her can you find
That subtle voiceless art —

■•' Ferdinand to ilu-anda — "The Tempest," act iii. so. 1.


That something which delights the niind,
And satisfies the heart.

But Lesbia's beautiful, I swear ;

And for herself she stole
The charms most rare of every fair,

To frame a perfect whole."

But anon comes a change over the poet's complacent
satisfaction. This perfect creature is only outwardly
and bodily perfect ; or, if her mental endowments
enhance the attractions of her form and beauty, he
soon finds that the heart is w-anting. It was her
pride in the homage of a brilliant and popular poet
that had bidden her win him to her feet : the effort
to retain him there was too great for her fickle tem-
perament, if indeed she did not trust her fascinations
to keep him attached to her train — at fast or loose, as
it suited her purpose. It would hardly seem that he
could have counted upon much more, if we are to
connect with Lesbia, as there is every reason to do,
the poem to Manius Acilius Glabrio, in which he pro-
fesses toleration of rivals, and goes so far as to say

" Therefore so that I, and I alone.
Possess her on the days she culls for me.
And signalises with a whiter stone,
I care not how inconstant she may bo."

— (C. Ixviii. ad fin.)

Perhaps for a while it sufficed him to act as his own
detective, and warn off such fops as GeUius, Alfenus.


Egnatius, and Iiavidus with sarcasms, innuendos, and
threats of biting iambics, if they forestalled his privi-
leged visits. He may have trusted also somewhat to
the gratitude he might quicken in Lesbia's bosom by
such compliments by contrast as the skit he wrote
on the mistress of Mamurra of Formise, a creature of
Julius Ca?sar, Avho had raised him in Gaul from a low
station, and put him in the way of acquiring wealth
for the simple purpose of squandering it. Its tenor is
a mock compliment to a provincial belle of features
nowise so perfect and Avell matched as they might be.
And the suggestion that this is she about whom the
province raves, leads up to what Catullus deems the
ne plus ultra of absurdity : —

" But then they say your shape, yoiir grace,
My Lesbia's, mine, surpasses !
Oh woe, to live with such a race
Of buzzards, owls, and asses ! " — (C. xliii.)

Lesbia, however, most probably felt her hold on her
poet to be sufficiently tenable for her taste or purpose,
and, wanton-like, shrank not from trespassing on a
love which, however sensual, might have been counted
as stanch for the period. And so she doubtless
trespassed upon it, and outraged him by some more
than common heartlessness ; for such must have been
the provocation for his touching verses to "Lesbia
False," which open a new phase in the history of this
attachment, and discover a depth of pathos and ten-
derness in the contemplation of eternal separation,
which in the brief sunshine of her favour he had had


no scope for developing. The feeling which is aroused is
not one of pique or retaliation, or any like selfish resort
of vengeance : he steels himself, theoretically, against
the weakness of further dalliance with one so faith-
less ; but liis concern is for the most part about her
fall from a pedestal whereon his love had set her : —

" A woman loved, as loved shall be
No woman e'er by thee again ! "

Some lingering glances are indeed thrown in the
direction of past delights, and of " love for love ; "
but the burden of his song is the change it will be to
her when she realises that

" Her love for every one
Has made her to be loved by none."

There is no consolation to be drawn from a bitter smile
at this. Catullus sees the course which self-respect
dictates to him, but cannot keep from the thought as
to Lesbia —

" How drear thy life will be !
Who'll woo thee now ? who praise thy charms ?
Who now be all in all to thee.
And live but in thy loving arms ?

Ay, who will give thee kiss for kiss ?

Whose lip wilt thou in rapture bite ?
But thou, Catullus, think of this,

And spurn her in thine own despite." — (C. viii.)

Fine resolves " to let the wanton go," which she, on


her part, appears to have faintly opposed by offhand
professions and general assurances, which Catullus,
for the matter of that, was quite sharp enough to see
through. " ]\ry mistress," he writes in C. Ixx. —

*' My mistref3s says, there's not a man
Of all the many that she knows,
She'd rather wed than me, not one,
Though Jove himself were to propose.

She says so ; — but what woman says
To him who fancies he has caught her,

'Tis only fit it should be writ
In air or in the running water."

The last line of the first stanza is a commonplace for
a Eoman fair one's assurance of stanchness which, if
analysed, will jDrove to be a very safe averment. Jove
the resistless was never likely to put her constancy to
the test, though Ovid and his brother poets fabled
otherwise. In their view, as Theodore Martin remarks,
"the purity was too sublime for belief which could
withstand the advances of the sire of gods and men."
It is something, then, to find our lovelorn poet retain-
ing enough strength of mind to meet the lady's oath
by a counter-commonplace ; though it must be owned
that his good resolutions and steeled heart do not
count for much, when the next poem in Martin's
arrangement exhibits him not only declining, as gener-
osity might prompt him, to abuse the frail one him-
self, but also disposed to turn a sceptical ear to certain
scandals which had been brought to his notice : —


" Could I so madly love, and yet

Profane her name I hold so dear ?
Pshaw ! you with any libels let

Your pot-house gossips cram your ear ! "

Perhaps to this state of suspense and partial estrange-
ment may be referable the verses about liesbia's vow
to burn the ' Annals ' of Volusius, a wretched poet
whom she had professed to favour, if Catullus would
only return to her arms, and cease brandishing his
iambic thunderbolts. The crisis at last has come
when the idol has been shattered ; but the votary
cannot yet shake off the blind servitude which his
better judgment repudiates. As yet he can comfort
himself with those fallacious tokens of mutual love
which appear in his ninety-second piece, and which
may be given, for a change, from Swift's transla-
tion : —

" Lesbia for ever on me rails ;
To talk of me she never fails.
Now, hang me, but for all her art
I find that I have gained her heart.
My proof is this, I plainly see
The case is just the same with me ;
I curse her every hour sincerely,
Yet hang me but I love her dearly ! "

Unfortunately, the love has vitality and elements of
steadfastness only on the one side. Eepeated sins
against it open wide the eyes of Catullus, till he is
forced to own to himself that the sole link that is left
between them is rather a passion of wild desire than
the purer and tenderer flame, which burned for her


whilst he helieved her true. Here is his coufession of
the new phase of his love, the love that's merely a
madness : —

" So loved has woman never been
As tliou hast been by me,
Nor lover yet was ever seen
So true as I to thee.

But cruel, cruel Lesbia, thou

Hast by thy falsehood wrought
Siich havoc in my soul, and now

So madly 'tis distraught,

'Twould prize thee not, though thou shouldst grow

All pure and chaste as ice ;
Nor could it cease to love thee, though

Besmirched with every vice." — (C. Ixxv.)

He can now condone the past for the mere bribe of a
passing favour. He is one moment lifted to ecstasies
by the "agreeable surprise" of Lesbia's unexpected
kindness, and pours out his soul in transports breath-
ing passionate prayers for a reunion which his secret
heart seems to whisper has no elements of continuance.
When he sings in C. cix. —

" So may each year that hurries o'er us find.

While others change with life's still changing hue,
The ties that bind us now more firmly twined.
Our hearts as fond, our love as warm and true " —

the petition is rendered of none effect by the misgiving
implied in his fond hope that Lesbia's professions
may be sincere. Full soon must the truth have un-


deceived him, for it must have been after, but not
long after, this revival of his transient bliss, that, on
the eve of foreign travel with a view to placing the sea
between himself and his fickle mistress, he commis-
sioned Furius and Aurelius, friends and comrades for
whom he elsewhere shows his regard, to carry her a
message of plaintive adieu, which reads like a threnody
of buried love : —

" Enjoy thy paramours, false girl !
Sweep gaily on in passion's whirl !
By scores caressed, but loving none
Of all the fools by thee undone ;
Nor give that love a thought, which I
So nursed for thee hi days gone by,
Now by thy guile slain in an hour,
Even as some little wilding flower,
That on the meacloiv's harder blushed,
Is by the passinrj ploughshare crushed." — (C. xii.)

The crushed hope, which is likened to the frail flower
on the meadow's edge next the furrow (or, as we call
it, the " adland "), is one of the most graceful images
in the whole of Catullus, and speaks volumes for his
freshness of fancy, whilst asserting the depth of his
passion. After this, there seems to have remained for
the poet little save pathetic retrospects, which he can
scarce have hoped would wake remorse. Perhaps it
was not the way to quicken this, to plead in forma
2xmperis his OAvn deserts and good deeds of happier
days, nor yet the fell disease which is wasting him
away, in the form of a broken heart. In the 76th
poem, such, however, Avas one of his last references to


the subject, a burden of passionate regrets, which are
mingled with distinct admissions that he knows Les-
bia to be wholly past reclaiming. The whole tone of
it bespeaks emancipation and return to a free mind,
purchased, however, at the cost of an abiding heartache.
But was it not time ? "Would the poet have deserved
a niche in the temple of fame, could he have still
dallied Avith one of whom he could write to Ca^lius
Eufus, an old admirer, who had found her out much
earlier, in terms we can only approach by free trans-
lation, as follows 1 —

" Our Lesbia, Crelius — Lesbia once so bright —
Lesbia I loved past self, and home, and light,
And all my friends, — has sunk i' th' mire so low,
That in its lanes and alleys Rome doth know
No name so cheap, no fame so held at naught
By coarse-grained striplings of the basest sort."

— (C. Iviii.) D.



The fever of Catiillus for Lesbia asserts for itself a
first place in the biography of Catullus ; but the most
distinct chronological landmark is his mission in the
suite of Memmius to Bithynia. Yet, before the date
of that expedition, and at a very early point of his
career, — the period of which, in C. Ixviii. 15-19, he
says, according to Mr Ellis's " Longs and Shorts " —

" Once, what time white robes of manhood first did array

"Wldles in jollity life sported a spring holiday,
Youth ran riot enow ; right well she knows me, the God-
dess —
She, whose honey delights blend with a bitter annoy," —

he probably A\'rote those poems of a more or less scur-
rilous and unproducible character which betray some
sort of connection with his earlier and more ephemeral
loves. Of these, it would seem as if some were written
at Yerona and in his native district, as they lack, more
than other poems distinctly later in date, the urbanity
which Catullus could assume upon occasion. Some
of them are simply reproductions of local gossip and
A.C.S.S., vol. iii. c


scandal, the piquancy of which belonged to the hour.
One (C. Ixxxii.) is a poetic appeal to a friend, if he
values his friendship, to abstain from rivalling him
in his love — a style of appeal to which the poet has
recourse again and again at an after-date j and the two
most considerable are a dialogue between Catullus and
a door, which has no good to tell of its mistress ; and
a more presentable though still ambiguous skit on a
stupid husband, who was clearly a fellow-townsman of
the poet's, and had made himself a butt by wedding a
young wife. The point of this poem consists in the
colony addressed (which we take to be Verona) having
had a rickety old bridge, of which the citizens were
ashamed. The poet takes occasion to make poetical
capital at the same time out of the popular longing
for a better structure, and the ridicule attaching to
an ill-assorted union. He bargains for a new bridge
being inaugurated, by the precipitation of the " old
log " from the creaky arches of a structure like him-
self. It appears that this bridge had been the scene
of all the country town's fates and galas ; and its in-
adequacy for such work is amusingly compared with
the ill-matching of December and May, which is illus-
trated hard by it. A stave of the version by Pro-
fessor Badham of Sydney will furnish so much of a
taste of this poem as the reader will care to read : —

" I should like from your bridge just to cant off the log,
For the chance that his rapid descent to the bog
Might his lethargy jog ;
And the sloth of his mind,
Being left there behind.


In the quagmire should stay,
As the mule leaves his shoe in the glutinous clay."

(C. xvii.)

But it is to a period betAveen this and the journey to
Bithynia that "we refer at least some of his livelier
trifles, written to friends, or against foes and rivals ;
such as the banter of Flavins, whose bachelor lodgings
he suspects could tell a tale to explain the rich-dis-
tilled perfumes filling the room ; the invitation to
Tibullus to come and dine, and bring with him not
only his chere amie, but also the dinner and wine —
in fact, all but the unguents. The excuse for this
quaint mode of entertaining is one which gives what
colour there is to the theory that the poet's tour
abroad was to recruit his fortune. He writes —

" But bring all these you must, I vow,
If you're to find yourself in clover,
For your Catullus' purse just now
With spiders' webs is running over."

This apportionment of a picnic entertainment was
just the reverse, it seems, of one to which Horace
(Odes, B. iv. 12) invited a certain Yirgil, who was to
bring the unguent, whilst his host found the wine ;
but Catullus tells us in this case it was such super-
lative unguent —

" Unguent, that the Queen
Of beauty gave my ladj^-love, I ween ;
So, when in its sweet perfume you repose,
You'll wish that your whole body were a nose."

— (C. xiii.)


To realise this, we should bear in mind the ancient
esteem for chaplets, rose-leaves, and perfumes of all
kinds at the banquet, and the expense to which Eoman
hosts would go to gratify this taste. To judge by-
Martial (whom Theodore Martin quotes on this pas-
sage), it sometimes went to the length of the banquet
striking the guests as much more a concern of the
nose than of the mouth or palate. Perhaps it is no
bad thing that we have gone back to a more natural
arrangement. Another glimpse at a dinner or supper
at which the poet assisted may have belonged to this
period, and at any rate is amusing and characteristic. It
is in a squib upon one Marrucinus Asinius, apparently
a brother of Horace's and Virgil's friend, the poet-
statesman Asinius Pollio, imputing to him a petty
larceny of which we have heard in modern boarding-
houses, and which many know, to their sorrow, is at
least matched by the modern disregard of meuvi and
tuum in the matter of umbrellas and wraps. It was
in jest, of course — but sorry, ill-understood jest, ac-
cording to Catullus — that this worthy had a knack of
purloining his brother guests' napkins whilst at meat ;
and what made matters worse was, that the convives
of old brought these napkins with them, and if they
missed them during the meal, were reduced to an in-
convenience which we who don't eat with our fingers
cannot realise. Catullus begins by telling this low
joker that his fun is not such as gentlemen under-
stand — fun which he is sure his refined and witty
brother, Pollio, would pay a talent rather than have
tacked to the name of any of his kin. But he adds


that the reason why he insists on the napkin's restitu-
tion, on pain of a thorough lampooning, is this : —

" 'Tis not for its value I prize it — don't sneer !
But as a memento of friends who are dear.
'Tis one of a set that FabuUus from Spain
And Verannius sent me, a gift from the twain ;
So the napkins, of course, are as dear to Catullus
As the givers, Verannius himself and Fabullus."

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 12 of 21)