Alfred John Church.

Ovid online

. (page 13 of 21)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 13 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ghost of even one brawny knave to carry his truckle-



THE MISSION TO BITIIYNIA. 41

bed 1 He backs out of it with the lame excuse that
the bearers are scarcely his to lend, being Caius Cinna's
purchase, though what was Cinna's was his friend's
also ; but, ends the poet, driven into a corner —

" But, madam, suffer me to state,
You're plaguily importunate.
To press one so extremely hard,
He cannot speak but by the card." — (C. xi.)

Not much evidence, it may be said, of the fruits, or want
of fruit, of a year in the provinces. At any rate, there
is proof that a second spring found the poet on the
wing, rejoicing to be homeward bound. He is going
to see all he can of famous cities by the way; and it
does not seem as if he had persuaded any of his com-
rades to bear him company, though it has been sur-
mised without much proof that his brother was of the
number. Perhaps they had fared even worse, and
could ill afford to pay their share of the expenses of
the home route. The "Farewell toBithynia " is so fresh
and tender, and its last lines breathe a misgiving so
soon to be realised, if the theory to which we alluded
about his brother be true, that they deserve quota-
tion : —

" A balmy warmth comes wafted o'er the seas ;

The savage howl of wintry tempests drear

In the sweet whispers of the western breeze

Has died away ; — the spring, the spring is here !

Now quit, Catullus, quit the Phrygian plain.
Where days of sweltering sunshine soon shall crown

Nicaja's fields with wealth of golden grain.
And fly to Asia's cities of renown.



42 CATULLUS.

Already through each nerve a flutter runs

Of eager hope, that longs to be away ;
Already, 'neath the light of other suns,

My feet, new-winged for travel, yearn to stray.

And you, ye band of comrades tried and true,

Who side by side went forth from home, farewell !

How far apart the paths shall carry you

Back to your native shore — ah, who can tell ] "

— (C. xlvi.)

What a suggestive thought for the breaking-up of a
year's daily familiar intercourse, with the jests, con-
fabulations, lounges, tiffs, confidences, to which it has
given rise ! Once interrupted, will this conclave ever
reassemble in its integrity ? Of those that meet, how
many will retain their like-mindedness ] how few will
not have " suffered a sea change " that has made them'
other than they were in heart, tone, and affections 1 To
two, we know, of this company, Furius and Aurelius,
our poet wrote a rather savage retort in later years for
a strong expression upon the freedom and licence
of his life and verses ; and whilst he attempted the
lame defence of an unchaste Muse on the score of
a decent life (as to Avhich he had much better, we
suspect, have said little or nothing), indignantly
objected to the criticism of his moral character by a
couple of roues sunk as low in profligate living as he
hints they are. To tell the truth, the poet's mode of
life at all times must have been such as to render it
the only feasible course for him to fall back upon a
lame and impotent tu quoque. But he may have been
in no mood for their old jokes and innuendos, however



THE MISSION TO BIT HY SI A. 43

familiar as edge-tools to his earlier nature, when this
same change of scene had brought him face to face
with personal ill-health and with a beloved brother's
death. "We cannot exactly time this last event, which
took place in the Troad ; or it might seem as though,
in the last passage quoted, our poet had been endowed
with a spirit of prophecy. Certain it is tliat the
premature loss of him —

" Whom now, far, far away, not laid to rest
Amid familiar tombs with kindred dust,
Fell Troy detains, Troy impious and unblest,
'Neath its unhallowed plain ignobly thrust "

— (C. ixviii. 97-100)

wrought a distinct change of tone in the effusions of
Catullus, thenceforth more directed towards the at-
traction of friendly sympathy than the youthful and
hot-headed concoction of scurrilous and offensive lam-
poons. With a vaguely-ascertained chronology, it is
not easy to prove this by examples ; but it is con-
sistent with a tender and affectionate nature that such
a change should have supervened, though it cannot
be maintained that there were no recurrences to the
earlier and more pungent vein. One or two glimpses
of Catullus as a master, and in his simpler and more
' domestic relations, will fitly end the present chapter,
and give a meet conclusion to the Eithynian voyage.
What pleasanter pride of ownership ever found its
vent in song than our poet's dedication of his pinnace
after it had done its work, and conveyed him home
into the Lago di Garda 1 —



44 CATULLUS.

" Yon pinnace, friends, now hauled ashore,
Boasts that for speed none ever more
Excelled, or 'gainst her could avail
In race of oars, or eke with sail.
This, she avers, nor Adria's bay
Nor Cyclad isles will dare gainsay —
Fierce Thrace, or Rhodes of ample fame.
Or Pontus with ill-omened name ;
Where whilom it, a pinnace now.
Was a maned tree on mountain-brow :
Yea, from its mane on tall Cytorus
Soft music sighed in breeze sonorous.
Whose box-clad heights, Amastris too.
Avouch this origin as true ;
And witness what my pinnace vows.
It first saw light on yonder brows —
First dipt its oars in neighbouring sea.
And then through wild waves carried me,
Its master, in its stanch, smart craft,
Breeze foul or fair, or wind right aft.
No calls to gods of sea or shore
She lifted ; and, the voyage o'er.
From farthest tracts of brine, to rest.
Came to our smooth lake's placid breast.
'Tis over now. Her mission done.
Here she enjoys a rest well won,
And dedicates her timbers here
To Castor and to Castor's j)eer." — (D.)

The fascination of the piece, of which this is a tran-
script, has been so widely felt, that it has yielded
itself to dozens of clever and graceful parodies and
imitations at various times. One of the most recent
is in a little volume of * Lays from Latin Lyres,'
recently published at Oxford, where the pinnace re-



THE MISSION TO BITEIWIA. 45

appears as an Oxford racing-boat, dear to its own
college for victories innumerable over such rivals as

" Brasenose of boating fame,
Or Exeter with crimson oar.
Or Balliol men from Scotia's shore."

But the intrinsic charm of the original consists in the
fond ownership which breathes in it ; and the same is
the case with the poet's address to Sirmio, his marine
estate, on his return from his voyage in it, which we
give in the version of Professor Eobinson Ellis : —

" thou of islands jewel, and of half-islands,
Fair Sirmio, whatever o'er the lake's clear rim
Or waste of ocean Neptune holds, a twofold power :

What joy have I to see thee ! and to gaze, what glee !

Scarce yet believing Thynia past, the fair champaign
Bithynian, yet in safety thee to greet once more.
From cares no more to part us — where is any joy like
this?

When drops the soul her fardel, as the travel-tired,

World - loeary wand'rer touches home, returns, sinks

down
In joy to slumber on the bed desired so long —

This meed, this only, counts for e'en an age of toil.

take a welcome, lovely Sirmio, thy lord's.

And greet him happy; greet him all the Lytlian
lake:
Laugh out whatever laughter at the hearth rings
clear."

Mr Ellis's expression for the last line of the Latin sets



46 CATULLUS.

at rest a claim of various competitors, and realises the
gist of the verse, though the metre is very hard to ac-
custom one's self to. Without adopting Landor's emen-
dations, we may quote his illustration of the concluding
verses of this piece : "Catullus here calls on Sirmio to
rejoice in his return, and invites the waves of the lake
to laugh. Whoever has seen this beautiful expanse of
water, under its bright sun and gentle breezes, will
understand the poet's expression — he will have seen
the winds dance and laugh." The critic, however,
based an emendation of " Ludite " for " Lydise," " dan-
cing " for " Lydian," on his bit of criticism. In another
poem (C. xliv.) of a humorous character, we see the
same kindlier side of the poet's nature, in his affection
for his Sabine and Tiburtine farm. The locale of
this was one appreciated by Horace, and a retreat
which Catullus must have thought himself lucky in
having at command. He playfully hints that his
friends will best please him if they dub it Tiburtine,
though there was no doubt that its precise site, the-
banks of the Anio, made it an open question to which
district it should be tacked j and he pays it a tribute
of gratitude for enabling him to shake off a pestilential
catarrh, which appears to have had its beginning in
that seat of all evils, the stomach. A desire of epicu-
rean experiences and of a dinner with a certain Sestius,
who united the reputation of a brilliant host with that
of a dull orator, had led the evil genius of Catullus to
a banquet, where he was bored to death by the recital
of his entertainer's oration against one Caius Antius ;
and this proved a penance so grievous that the poet



THE MISSION TO BITHYNIA. 47

humorously declares it gave him an ague. He fell
a-coughing incontinently, and there was nothing for
it, he adds —

" Until I fled,
And cured within thy cosy breast
MyseK with nettle-juice and rest."

In the same playful vein, Catullus records his thanks
to the nurse who has brought him round again — his
farm personified — for letting him off so lightly for a
temporary fickleness ; and makes a facetious j)romise
that if ever again he lets the love of good living entice
him into such a purgatory, he'll invoke these shivers
and this hacking cough — not on himself, oh dear no ! —
but on the ill-advised host who only invites his friends
when he wants to air his lungs and speeches.

Here, it will be said, crops out, amidst strong home
instincts, the old and strong leaven of satire and lam-
pooning. But if we turn to the crowning grief of the
life of Catullus, it will be seen how severe and absorb-
ing is his tender grief. Here is the outpouring of his
heart at the grave in the Troad : —

" In pioiis duty, over lands and seas,
Come I, dear brother, to thine exsequies ;
Bent on such gifts as love in death doth pay.
Fraught with last words to cheer thee on thy way ;
In vain. For fate hath torn thee from my side,
Brother, unmeet so early to have died.
Yet, oh ! such offerings as ancestral use
Assigns the tomb, may haply find excuse :
Yea, take these gifts fraternal tears bedew,
And take, oh take, my loving, last adieu ! "

— (C. ci.) D.



48 CATULLUS.

But with affectionate natures like tliat of Catullus, the
memory is not silenced by the barrier which divides
the yearning spirit from its kind. The last adieu is a
figure of speech which a thousand reminiscences falsify.
The forlorn brother tries to solace himself with tender
allusions to his bereavement whenever he is sending a
missive to some congenial spirit, or inditing epistles
of sympathy to a patron in kindred sorrow. What
can be sweeter than his lines to Hortalus which
accompanied the translation of his Alexandrian model,
Calliraachus's poem on "Berenice's Hair," to which we
shall have to refer again ; or his allusion to the same
loss in the elegiacs to Manlius, when he undertook the
difficult task of consoling with an elegy one whom he
gifted ereAvhile with the most glowing of epithalamia 1
There is one allusion also to the same topic in the
verses to M. Acilius Glabrio, breathing the same acute
sense of desolation, and deploring the destiny that
ordains their ashes to lie beneath the soils of different
continents. It may suffice to cite Theodore Martin's
version of the allusion, in the lines to Hortalus, to
the brother so soundly sleeping by the Ehsetean shore
in Trojan earth : —

" Oh ! is thy voice for ever hushed and still ?

O brother, dearer far than life, shall I
Behold thee never ? But in sooth I will

For ever love thee, as in days gone by ;

And ever through my songs shall ring a cry
Sad with thy death — sad as in thickest shade

Of intertangled boughs the melody,
Which by the woful Daulian bird is made.
Sobbing for Itys dead her wail through all the glade."

— (C. IXT.)



THE MISSION TO BITIIYNIA. 49

In the like allusion of the poem to Maulius we are
told further that the brother's death has had the effect
of turning mirth to gloom, taking light and sun from
the dwelling, and robbing home of the charm of mu-
tual studies and fraternal unity. Even in modern
times, a recent poet of the second rank is perhaps best
remembered by his touching lyrics on " My Brother's
Grave," and may have got the first breath of inspira-
tion from the Roman poet, who, as he tells us in the
67th poem, retired for self-converse and the society of
his despair to the rural retreats of Verona. Perhaps
in such isolation it is well to be broken in upon ;
perhaps it is the sense that comes upon one, after a
course of enforced loneliness, that one's books, treasures,
haunts (as with Catullus) are in town, that makes the
mourner see^the folly of unavailing sorrow, and strive
to shake it off, though, in his case, with too little
health for achieving his task successfully.



A.C.S.S., vol. iii.



CHAPTEE IV.

CATULLUS AMONG MEN OF LITERATURE.

Though we have just seen Catiillus bidding fair to
sink into despondency, there is no reason to suppose
that this state of spirits at once, or ever entirely, shut
out gayer moods upon occasion, much less that it put
an end to social intercourse with those literary com-
peers of -whom in his brief life the poet had no lack.
"When at Eome he contrived to amuse himself by no
means tristely, if we may accept the witness of one or
two lively pieces that seem to belong to the period
after the Bithynian campaign, and to the closing years
of his career. One stray piece — "To Camerius" (C. liv.)
— gives a little hint of the company he kept, and the
manner in which his days were frittered away, even
when a cloud had overshado\ved his life. It is a
playful rallying of an associate of lighter vein upon
the nature of his engagements and rendezvous, and
affords a glimpse of Eoman topography not so
common in Catullus as could have been wished.
Wishing to track his friend to his haunts, the poet
says he sought him in the Campus Minor, which
would seem to have been a distinct division of the



CATULLUS AMONG 3IEN OF LITERATURE. 51

Campus Martius, in the Lend of the Tiber to the
north of the Circus Flaminius, and to have repre-
sented a familiar portion of the great Roman park
and race -course. In the Circus, also, and in the
book-shops, in the hallowed Temple of Capitoline
Jupiter at no great distance from the same public
resort, as well as in the Promenade and Portico of
Pompey the Great, lying to the south of the Campus
Martius, and attached to the Theatre of Pompey built
by him in his second consulship B.C. 55 (and so now
in the height of fashion and novelty), Catullus has
sought his friend, but can nowhere get an inkling of
him. But for the mention of the book-stalls, we might
have passed by the whereabouts of Camerius, as the
nature of the poet's inquiries implies that the truant
was pleasantly engaged in a congenial flirtation, which
he had the good sense to keep to himself. The sequel,
however, of the verses of Catullus goes to prove that
he was himself alive to the same amusements as his
friend, and would have been well pleased to have been
of his company. The grievance was that the search
proved fruitless. His Alexandrian myth -lore fur-
nishes him half-a-dozen standards of fleetness to
which he professes to have attained — Talus, Ladas,
Perseus, Pegasus, and the steeds of Rhesus — and yet
he has not overtaken Camerius, but had to chew the
cud of his disappointment, besides being tu'ed and
footsore.

But it would be a mistake to argue systematic
frivolity from casual glimpses of days wasted, upon a
lively poet's own showing. On the other side of the



52 CATULLUS.

scale may be counted the names of learned and witty-
contemporaries — known like himself to fame — with
whom Catullus was in familiar intercourse. Fore-
most perhaps we should set Cornelius Nepos and
Cicero : the former, because to him Catullus dedicates
his collected volume ; the latter, for the very compli-
mentary terms in which he rates the chief of orators,
albeit the sorriest of poets. Lest there should be any
doubt in the face of internal evidence as to the iden-
tity of Cornelius with him of the surname familiar to
schoolboys, it may be noted that this is set at rest by
a later poet, Ausonius ; but the verses of dedication
evince a lively interest in the historian and biographer,
whose 'Epitome of Universal History' has not sur-
vived the wreck of ages, whilst the lives which we
read, with the exception of that of Atticus, are simply
an epitome of the work of Nepos. The gracefully-
turned compliment of the poet, however, will show
the store he sets by his friend's literary labours and
erudition — and it is best represented by Theodore
Martin : —

" My little volume is complete,
Fresh jmmice-'polislied, and as neat

As book need wish to be ;
And now, what patron shall I choose
For these gay sallies of my Muse ?

Cornelius, whom but thee ?

For though they are but trifles, thou
Some value didst to them allow,
And that from thee is fame,



CATULLUS AMONG MEN OF LITERATURE. 53

Who daredst in thy tliree volumes' space,
Alone of all Italians, trace
Our history and name.

Great Jove ! what lore, what labour there !
Then take this little book, whate'er

Of good or bad it store ;
And grant, oh guardian Muse, that it
May keep the flavour of its wit

A century or more ! "

The reference to the polish of the pumice-stone in
the first verse may be simply metaphorical, and de-
signed to express the general neatness of the work as
poetry; but this sense must not be pressed too far,
when we remember the enhancement of an author's
affection for his own productions, which consists in
their neat turning out and getting up. The ancient
parchments underwent no small amount of pumice-
polishing on the inside for the purpose of taking the
ink, and on the outside, with the addition of coloiu',
for a finish. Our poet might indulge in a reasonable
complacency when he sent a presentation copy to Cor-
nelius Nepos, which externally and internally laid
equal claim to neatness. It was not so always, as we
find him telling his friend Varus, in reference to the
poetaster Suffenus, who had a knack of rattling off
any number of verses, and then, without laying them
by for correction and revision, launching them upon
the public in the smartest and gayest of covers. Of
this scribbler's mania he writes —

" Ten thousand lines and more, I wot,
He keeps fair-copied — scribbled not



54 CATULLUS.

On palimpsest — but rijie for view ;
Red strings, spruce covers, paper new
And superfine, with parchment lined,
And by the pumice-stone refined."

— (C. xxii.) D.

Whatever may have been CatuUus's weakness, he at
least would have turned out verses that did not de-
pend for acceptance on their cover. To his intimacy
with Marcus TuUius Cicero, despite the hindrances
which it might have been supposed to risk on the
supposition that Lesbia was Clodia, Catullus has left
distinct witness in tlie brief but pointed epigram : —

" Most eloquent of all the Roman race

That is, hath been, or shall be afterward,
To thee Catullus tenders highest grace,
Sorriest of poets in his own regard ;
Yea, sorriest of poets, aye, and worst,
As Tully is of all our pleaders first."

— (C. xlix.) D.

But among the intimates of our poet was another
pleader, who, if second to Cicero in the forum, was
more than his match in the field which Catullus
adorned — Licinius Calvus Macer. That he held high
rank as an orator is beyond a doubt : he has some
claims to be the annalist of that name much quoted
and referred to by Livj^ : he has the credit with Ovid
and contemporary poets of a neck-and-neck place in
poetry with Catullus, though nothing remains to test
the soundness of the critical comparison. Both wrote
epigrams ; of both Ovid sings in his dirge over Tibul-
lus that if there is any after-world, learned Catullus,



CATULLUS AMONG MEN OF LITERATURE. 55

with his youthful temples wreathed in ivy, \\dll meet
him there, in the company of Calvus. ALL that we
read of the latter is in his favour, -with the exception,
perhaps, of the scurrilous lampoons on Caesar and his
satellites, in which, as elsewhere, he emulated his
hrother poet. Like him, his career was hrief, for he
died of over-training and discipline in his thirty-fifth
year, his famous speech against Yatinius having been
delivered in his twenty-seventh, and having heen his
first forensic efi'ort. It was apropos of that speech
that Catullus made the following jeu d^esprit, with an
allusion to his friend's union of vehement action with
a person and stature small almost to dwarfishness : —

" When in that wondrous speech of liis,
My Calvus had denounced
Vatinius, and his infamies
Most mercilessly trounced —

A voice the buzz of plaudits clove —

]\Iy sides I nearly split
With laughter, as it cried, ' By Jove !

An eloquent tom-tit ! ' " — (C. liii.)

As is not uncommon with men of like stature, vehe-
mence of gesticulation made up for insignificance of
height and physique; and that A'atinius had reason to
feel this, is gleaned from Seneca's tradition, that when
he found how telling was its impression on his tribunal,
he exclaimed, "Am I, then, judges, to be condemned
simply because yon pleader is eloquent ? " We have,
however, more concern with him as a poet. The first
piece of CatuUus in Avhich we are introduced to him



56 CATULLUS.

might meetly Le headed " Eetaliation ; " for in it our
poet bitterly upbraids Calvus for inflicting upon him
a morning's work that, but for their ancient love,
might provoke more lasting hatred than his speech
drew from Vatinius. He had sent him, it seems, a
" horrible and deadly volume " of sorry poetry, a
" rascally rabble of malignants " — the latest novelty
from the school of Sulla the grammarian; for no other
object than to kill him at the convenient season of
the Saturnalia with a grim playfulness, which the poet
vows shall not go unrequited : —

" Come but to-morrow's dawn, I'll surely hie
To stall and book-shop, and the trash I buy,
With sums on Coesius and SufFenus spent.
Mischievous wag, shall work thy punishment."

— D.

At other times the intercourse between the friends was
not so disappointing. Seemingly at Calvus's house
the two friends met one evening to enjoy the feast of
reason and the flow of soul, and the effects of such
unmixt enjoyment overset the poet's fine -wrought
brain-tissues : —

" How pleasantly, Licinius, went
The hours which yesterday we spent.
Engaged as men like us befits
In keen encounter of our wits !
My tablets still the records bear
Of all the good things jotted there :
The wit, the repartee that flew
From you to me, from me to you :
The gay bright verse that seemed to shine
More sparkling than the sparkling wine."



CATULLUS AMONG MEN OF LITERATURE. 57

The end of it was, however, that Catullus could not
" sleep for thinking on't " when he reached home, and
was all agog to be up at dawn, and to challenge a re-
newal of the pleasant word-fence ; but misused nature
resented the liberties our poet thought to take with it.
His limbs were so tired with a sleepless night, that he
was fain, at dawn of day, to stick to his couch ; and
from thence to fire off a lively poem of remembrance
to his comrade of the night before, the burden of
which is to warn him against offering any impediment
to a speedy and equally pleasant reunion, lest haply
Nemesis should exact the like penalties from him Avho
has hitherto come off scot-free. One other notice of
Calvus is demanded by a sense of our poet's higher
and tenderer vein of poesy. It seems that at the
age of twenty-eight Calvus lost his beloved mistress
Quinctilia — a theme for tearful elegies, of the beauty
of which neither Propertius nor Ovid were insensible,
whilst it secured a tender echo in Catullus, whose
heart was prepared for reciprocity by a community
of suffering: —



" If, Calvus, feeling lingers in the tomb,

And shades are touched by sense of mortal tears.
Mourning ia fresh regrets love's vanished bloom,
Weeping the dear deUghts of vanished years ;

Then might her early fate with lighter grief
Thy lost Quinctilia's gentle spirit fill.

To cherish, where she bides, the assured belief


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchOvid → online text (page 13 of 21)