Photo: Lesbia and her Sparrow by Sir Edward John Poynter
Blinded by Love
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 (College ’23) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies and minoring in Economics.