Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vivamus, mea Lesbia . . .



So, I’ve had this idea for a while now to do a series of pieces (partly for my own pleasure and partly to use for self-promotional purposes) inspired by the poetry of Catullus (ca. 84-54 B.C.). His lyrical verses explore a number of very interesting themes and subjects and provide a rich source of inspiration for visual interpretation. It being summer—and an uncommonly hot one at that—what could be more fitting than to turn to one of the most famous of his mildly erotic love poems to get things kicked off? With that in mind, I chose Number Five in his catalog of over one hundred surviving poems (Number Seven is also closely related). A variety of potential approaches came to mind for the piece—abstract or semi-abstract, typographically driven, a photographically-based design, etc.—but for this one I chose to stick with a more-or-less straightforward illustration executed in pen, watercolor and colored pencil, leaving some of those other angles for possible exploration in future installments of the series. The above detail from the pencil sketch serves as a bit of a teaser; I’ll post an image of the final in a few days, after the lucky few have had a chance to get their hard copy (in the form of a 5"x7" postcard) in the mail.

Just a little background: Most of what we know about Gaius Valerius Catullus comes directly from his poetry, which descends to us from antiquity by the thinnest of threads: a single manuscript of his surviving verses came to light in his hometown of Verona sometime during the 14th century. Other biographical details have been filled in by scholars with help from references and circumstantial evidence gleaned form other sources. He was a provincial, though well-off, small-town boy from northern Italy, his family’s villa being situated in the village of Sirmio (near Verona), on a lovely peninsula at the southern end of the stunningly beautiful Lake Garda. His father was apparently a friend of Julius Caesar. Sometime during young adulthood he moved to Rome where he became completely entranced by (and intimately involved with) a highly sophisticated, married woman whom most scholars identify as one Clodia Metelli, to whom he gave the pseudonym “Lesbia” in his poems.

That much suffices as a background for the poem under consideration here, so with that we shall leave Catullus there in the arms of his Lesbia until the next installment bids us follow his course further. The original Latin text below is followed by my own attempt at a rather loose translation.

Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus,

Rumoresque senum severiorum

Omnes unius aestimemus assis!

Soles occidere et redire possunt:

Nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,

Nox est perpetua una dormienda.

Da mi basia mille, deinde centum,

Dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,

Deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.

Dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,

Conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,

Aut ne quis malus invidere possit,

Cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
Reckoning all the rumors of the stodgy old men
As but a penny’s worth!
Suns will rise and suns will set in endless succession:
As for us, when once our brief light is extinguished,
There remains but one eternal night to be slept.
So give me a thousand kisses, and then a hundred more,
And then another thousand, and yet another hundred,
And still a thousand more—and yes, another hundred at least.
Then at last, after many thousands are tallied up,
We’ll confound the abacus—let their number be forgotten!
Lest any envious, evil eye should jinx us upon perceiving
Such an extravagant profusion of kisses.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful work Abe! Love this pencil rendering. You are a master craftsman.

    ReplyDelete