“O brother, goodbye for aye.”

Catullus’ brother had gone east on the staff of a Roman general and never made it home. One day the poet woke up, and his brother was gone from this world.

Later Catullus, himself on the staff of Gaius Memmius in Bithynia (modern Turkey), had the opportunity to visit the Troad (where the Trojan war was fought) where his brother’s tomb was. His reaction (with my quick rendering in blank verse):

“Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.
Quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum.
Heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi,
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.”

Through many nations borne, through many seas,

I come, O brother, here for pity’s sake,

To pay you finally your last respects

And your mute ash address, for what it’s worth.

For fortune stole yourself away from me. —5

Alas, poor brother snatched unworthily!

At least for now take these, the dead kin’s due,

Sad duty hands them down through generations,

Receive these rites, wet with your brother’s tears,

And hail! O brother, and farewell for aye! —10


The most beautiful poem Catullus ever wrote? (Hint: yes)


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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