Salve, nec minimo puella naso
nec bello pede nec nigris ocellis
nec longis digitis nec ore sicco
nec sane nimis elegante lingua,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
ten provincia narrat esse bellam?
tecum Lesbia nostra comparatur?
o saeclum insapiens et infacetum!
oh, girl without the smallest button nose
nor dainty feet nor little black eyes
nor slender fingers nor a dry mouth
nor a truly refined tongue,
wench of that Formian spindrift.
Does the province describe you, as beautiful?
Our Lesbia is being matched with you?
O ill-advised and ill-bred generation!
I had strong desires to translate a poem by Catullus but, with him having written over 100 poems, it was almost an impossible choice. This poem was tucked away in the first part of Catullus’ anthology – the polymetrics, where the poems are categorised by their hendecasyllabic metre. However, the sheer cruel, but comedic atmosphere that encompasses this poem, along with its defamatory language, would inevitably present me a challenge but I also think it’s what drew me to perusing it. The first half of the poem is heavily based on the features of a woman that were believed to be desirable in a Graeco-roman society; therefore, I wanted to modernise these slightly to reflect that of what is believed today. For example, ‘the smallest nose’ alone perhaps would sound slightly strange so, I added ‘button’ for the purpose of being in accordance with this. In contrast, I decided to keep some of the latter in a more direct translation, to not completely loose the ancient culture of the poem. Moreover, I consciously decided to disregard the metre in my translation because I really wanted to emphasize his brazen ranting in the poem and I felt this could be done quite effectively in free form. Overall, I really like how this poem forms as an interesting example to how far the boundaries of poetry were pushed a couple thousand years ago yet, Catullus’ intentions can be seen as just as malicious today; perhaps even more due to our society being more aware of gender inequality.