Lesbia’s poor little sparrow is no more! The lament for it in this second poem of a pair is played straight, up to a point, but also sets out to be humorous. Mock epitaphs for pets were another Greek literary model, which Catullus tweaks by exaggerating for comic effect, and mixing colloquial and high-flown language.
To listen, press play:
To scroll both versions of the poem at the same time - tap inside one box to select it and then scroll.
Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque,
et quantum est hominum venustiorum:
passer mortuus est meae puellae,
passer deliciae meae puellae,
quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.
nam mellitus erat, suamque norat
ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,
nec sese a gremio illius movebat,
sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc
ad solam dominam usque pipiabat;
qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
illud, unde negant redire quemquam.
at vobis male sit, malae tenebrae
Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis:
tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis.
o factum male! o miselle passer!
tua nunc opera meae puellae
flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.
Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids
and pleasing people one and all;
my lovely girl’s sparrow is dead,
sparrow, my lovely girl’s pet,
that she loved more dearly than her own eyes.
For he was as sweet as honey, and knew her for his own
as well as a little girl knows her mother,
and he wouldn’t move from her lap,
but hopping to and fro and here and there
he would pipe directly to his one and only mistress;
he who is now travelling the darkly shadowed way,
the one, they say, from which no-one returns.
And evil to you, evil shades
Of Orcus, who devour all that is beautiful:
Such a beautiful sparrow you have taken from me.
O such an evil thing to do! O poor little sparrow!
It’s down to you that my lovely girl’s
dear little eyes are swollen and red with weeping.