by Witty Ludwig
So underrated. I think, anyway. I think I read once that Harvard offered modules or courses on him; I wonder why he’s so neglected over here.
I think why my passion originated with in classics, and specifically Latin literature for some reason, was the fact that it was almost unfathomable to conceive that these writers, these people, these monumental historical figures, occupied the same world as us. It rocked my mind, and still does on those rare occasions where I catch a moment to sit and reflect, that the thoughts and experiences of these people have survived and reached us. It was most likely a pivotal factor in my fascination with language, being the “vehicle of thought” and all; this incredible, powerful connection to someone that is so far removed by culture and time that you can only put it down to what I believe philosophers have always referred to as the human condition.
Also, the sheer audacity of some of these people! I always remember, at whatever tender age I was, being both frustrated and in awe of Ovid– a man I’ve never wanted to like for his cock-sure nature and effortless brilliance; only second to Vergil, in my opinion– when, exiled by Augustus, he continued writing poems that were sent to the Emperor and said oh so eloquently in one of them that people would be reading his works in thousands of years, so brilliant was he. How infuriating and so, so impressive that he was right. It boggles the mind.
In any case, I’m not sure how it forced itself into my mind tonight at this late hour, but I thought I’d share one of Catullus’ poems that is a particular favourite of mine. By way of context, of the 116 poems extant, a very great many are rude, hilarious, and crass. Always brilliant, eloquent, and poetic, but most Classicists will tell you that he’s renowned for being a bit of a joker. Scattered amongst these poems, however, occasionally, completely in contrast to the surrounding ones, he hits you serious subject matter, and it’s only made all the more poignant for its juxtaposition with the others. In this case, a poem he wrote after learning of his brother’s death and journeying to visit his ashes:
CI. ad inferias
MVLTAS per gentes et multa per aequora uectus
aduenio 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, aue atque uale.
I find the last few lines very striking and the ultimate one haunting and comforting at the same time.
“And into eternity, brother, hail and farewell.”