And he did have politics after all…

This one – Catullus 29 – is a bit odd. It’s not his usual cliquish banter and to some extent it seems as if he is writing it in code. There is another poem in which he talks of Mamurra as Julius Caesar’s greedy catamite so I think that’s what he is implying here in what seems to be a protest against the stripping of conquered provinces for personal benefit.

What I’ve written is accordingly quite free, and uses imagery that he doesn’t. One of the reasons for this is that the repetition of ‘Cinaedus Romulus’ is simply not going to shock us.

But I think this gets what he meant…


How can we bear this? Only someone like
Mamurra could; he’s shameless in his greed.
He’s stripped the Gauls, the Britons too, and he’d
Make Romulus his bum boy. Like a pike

That strips a lake of fish, he leaves behind
Desolate emptiness. He seems so fair,
like an Adonis. And you took him there,
great Caesar, knowing your cute boy would find

so much to steal. Like pigeons, he will peck
until the garden’s bare. He has devoured,
all his own cash, the loot of Spain. He scoured
the Black Sea coast sore. Now leaves Gaul a wreck,

Britain as well. What has he got on you?
That marriage? Did he bugger that up too?


About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
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6 Responses to And he did have politics after all…

  1. swisstone says:

    In the material for one of the OU courses I teach, Kate Hammond, who did her Ph.D. on Catullus, makes a good case that one of the reasons Catullus seems largely apolitical is that he died at the point at which his senatorial career would have started – tradition has it that he died aged 30, which was the minimum age for the quaestorship, which brought entry to the Senate. She also points out that he upset some people who were pretty powerful, and very unpleasant in the case of Clodius. That he could risk that could suggest that he had some powerful friends looking after him.

    Fordyce thinks that cinaedus Romulus and imperator unicus are Caesar. The imperator is certainly Caesar, as the reference to his campaign in Britain shows. However, other scholars, such as Lee in the Oxford World’s Classics translation, thinks that ‘Romulus’ is Pompey. I’m inclined to agree. Pompey is certainly the ‘son-in-law’ of the final line (Catullus mocking the fact that he was older than his father-in-law Caesar), which makes him one of the joint addressees of the poem. It makes sense to me that Pompey would therefore appear elsewhere in the poem, and I think Catullus means to distinguish the two addressees through the two separate circumlocutions.

    I’m reading all of these again, alongside the originals. This is increasing even further my admiration for the way your versions capture the essence of Catullus.

    • rozkaveney says:

      Given that in Carmen 57 he talks of Caesar and Marmurra as being each other’s passive partner, I took it that he was playing with the active and passive sexual roles as well here. Caesar fucks this pretty boy, who gets in turn to make the presiding spirit of Rome itself his catamite. I think that Cinaedus Romulus is not a nickname – I think it means exactly what it says and that is why he repeats it.

      It’s about insatiable appetite.

      • swisstone says:

        I can see the temptation to make the link between this and 57, and hence see it as another Mamurra/Caesar poem. And this seems to be what Fordyce, no slouch in Catullan scholarship, thinks, though he is too genteel to say so (57 is a bit much for him, so he omits it from his edition, as indeed he does 15, 16 and 21). But 55/54 BCE seems to me a bit early to be referring to Caesar, even ironically, as a new Romulus. Whereas it seems to me easier to describe in such terms Pompey, who had been a leading figure, and often the leading figure, in Rome for twenty years, was probably consul at the time the poem was written, and was in Rome, unlike Caesar, who hadn’t been seen in the city for five years (though he had been heard from a lot). Moreover, we know that Pompey was accused of attempting to emulate Romulus (Life of Pompey 25.1, in 67 BCE, when he was agitating for the command against the pirates).

        I’m happy to accept that Catullus means cinaedus literally, but I think the relationship alleged here is not Caesar/Mamurra, but Caesar/Pompey.

        P.S. ‘Mamurra’ not ‘Marmurra’, unless that was deliberate.

      • rozkaveney says:

        No, I think Romulus is simply Romulus…I’d got confused about who was married to whose daughter – my mistake, so I’ll change it to ‘That’ marriage.

        If Pompey is in the poem, I think it’s just for the son-in-law gag.

        Like I say, my reading is Caesar fucks Mamurra who fucks everyone else including Rome itself. And this is why I write versions and not translations.

      • swisstone says:

        Ah, I see what you mean. I’m not sure I buy it – I would expect that a Roman writer would talk about Roma if that’s what they meant. Although Romulus could be held up as a mythical ancestor figure (as Catullus does with the ‘grandsons of Remus’ in Poem 58), I would naturally expect the use of Romulus in this fashion to be a cover for some contemporary figure who could (ironically or not) be seen to encapsulate some of the values of Romulus. (I’m also a bit uncomfortable with the addressee in lines 5 and 9 not being included in the addressees of the last two lines, where the piissimi must be Caesar and Pompey.)

        But you could be right. And as you say, these are your versions, and you can read the poems how you like for them.

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