Catullus 5

Vivamus, mea Lesbia

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, and let’s love,
all those gripes from too-strait-laced old men,
let’s value them at a single penny!
Suns can die and then return:
for us, when once the brief daylight has died,
there’s one perpetual night to be slept through.
Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
on to another thousand, then a hundred,
then when we have had many thousand kisses,
we’ll mix up the count so even we don’t know the number,
and so no jealous villain could cast the evil eye,
when he realised that so many kisses existed.