Catullus 101

Catullus’s farewell to his brother

by Catullus

Catullus refers in two other poems to the loss he has felt at the death of his brother, a long way from home and family in Asia Minor: this one is devoted to it entirely. Epitaphs in this elegiac metre are a Greek commonplace during the preceding couple of centuries, but this outstanding little poem is no mere technical exercise. It may recall a visit in person to the brother’s tomb when Catullus was serving on the staff of a neighbouring Province’s governor in 57 BCE.

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Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiqam 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 and over many seas
I come, brother, to these sad funeral rites
to give you the final gifts for the dead
and make my vain address to your dumb ashes.
Since fortune has borne you away,
alas, poor brother, undeservedly taken from me,
then accept these mourning offerings,
offered in the time-honoured manner of our fathers
and soaked by the outpouring of a brother’s tears,
and for ever and ever, brother, hail and farewell.