Lesbia and her Sparrow, by Sir Edward John Poynter
By Lily Nesvold
Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.
Lesbia condemns me to her husband:
Oh, how that man loves it! Nothing makes that fool happier.
(Screw him, he’s a jerk.)
Imbecile, are you blind or something? She’s putting on a show for you.
And you, being the idiot that you are, believe her.
If she paid me no regard, that would be fine:
But because she spits and snarls,
Not only does she remember me, but it’s much worse than I thought,
She’s pissed. She’s burning with both fury and passion and thus she screams at me.
Even though she criticizes me, I know her true feelings.
Her anger is proof that she loves me.
Overall, I took quite a few liberties in translating this poem. I did keep consistent with the tone of Catullus’ poem by employing a low language register, and I used many derogatory words to emphasize Catullus’ frustration. However, I decided to insert a parenthetical statement after the first two lines to emphasize Catullus’ hatred for Lesbia’s husband. Today, calling someone a “jerk” is so universal in the English language—the reader can instantly assess his character. In line four, I say, “Are you blind or something?” This translation is just as patronizing as the Latin itself; however, it is put into simpler terms than “Do you see nothing?” After this line, I added a few statements incorporating English idioms that develop the situation further. For example, I added “she’s putting on a show for you” to portray how Catullus believes Lesbia is deceiving her husband. Finally, I created a new ending for the poem: “Her anger is proof that she loves me.” This sentiment is Catullus’ main point in the poem, but I don’t think it comes across without being explicit. Ultimately, this poem required almost twice the amount of lines in English to accommodate the Latin meaning. The poem itself belongs to a larger collection of poems, and fitting all that backstory—which is needed to understand it to the fullest without any other context—into this one poem was challenging.
Lily Nesvold is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences double-majoring in Economics and Classical Studies.