Catullus 5

Vivamus, mea Lesbia

by Catullus

A variation – perhaps the most famous of all – on the theme of “Carpe Diem”. It is possible that even this is an exercise on a conventional theme rather than a personal poem: if so, the illusion is overwhelming. Some of the words used are interesting. “Basium/basia” for a kiss/kisses doesn’t occur earlier than Catullus, and its origin is unknown: after him, it is common, and it is with us still (for example as “baiser” in French and “bacio” in Italian). “Conturbare” (what he and Lesbia do to the count of their kisses) is an accounting term for fiddling the figures to hide the true position. “Invidere” is a magic term for casting a curse, as well as a general word for “envy”, so the last couple of lines are, among other things, about avoiding the evil eye.

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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,
dein 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’s live, my Lesbia, let’s love,
and put a penny valuation on all
the grumbling from censorious old men.
Suns can die and then return again:
for us, when the brief light has once died,
there is one perpetual night to sleep through.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
yet another thousand, then a hundred,
then, when we have kissed so many thousand times,
we’ll jumble up the count, so we don’t know the number,
and so no jealous villain could cast the evil eye,
when it dawned on him there were that many kisses.