Blinded by Love

Lesbia and her Sparrow, by Sir Edward John Poynter

Catullus 83

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.