Amiternum relief, first century BCE, showing a Roman funeral procession, in the Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo, L’Aquila, Italy.
By Sara Albert
Multās per gentēs et multa per aequora vectus
adveniō hās miserās, frāter, ad īnferiās,
ut tē postrēmō dōnārem mūnere mortis
et mūtam nēquīquam alloquerer cinerem.
quandoquidem fortūna mihī tētē abstulit ipsum.
heu miser indignē frāter adēmpte mihi,
nunc tamen intereā haec, prīscō quae mōre parentum
trādita sunt trīstī mūnere ad īnferiās,
accipe frāternō multum mānantia flētū,
atque in perpetuum, frāter, avē atque valē.
Traversed through many lands and many seas
I reach these wretched fun’ral rites, my brother,
So I may give one gift to you, at ease,
And might converse in vain with silent cinder.
Since fate, poor brother, stole your soul away
From me, and long before the time was fair
All this aside, accept these gifts today—
To ancient mores, you are the latest heir
This tribute drips with many tears I cry
And always, brother, hello and goodbye.
Catullus wrote this elegy while mourning the untimely death of his brother. Despite the fact that he wrote it so long ago, the raw emotion he expresses throughout the piece is timeless and universal. Any reader who has lost someone special to them knows how Catullus felt in the moments he describes. Catullus uses a heavily spondaic meter and very thoughtful word placement to emphasize his grief in a way that cannot be translated. That being said, I did my best to play with word placement in my translation, which I wrote in iambic pentameter. Even though the “prisco…more parentum” (ancient traditions of ancestors) have changed since Catullus wrote this piece, the emotions associated with mourning have remained.
Sara Albert is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is double-majoring in Neuroscience and Linguistics and minoring in Chemistry.