Billeder på siden
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]



and funds of laughter. Bring only these, as I bid you, our prince of good fellows, and you shall dine nobly for your Catullus' purse teems-with cobwebs. But you shall get in return the essence of delight, or a something still more fragrant and dainty. For I will give you a balm, vouchsafed to my mistress by the Loves and Joys: once you catch its odour, you will fall on your knees to the gods, and beg them to transform you into absolute nose!'

We are told by Juvenal that the worst of poverty is that it makes men ridiculous. Following the canon that most satire is as untrue as it is uninteresting, we may believe that the absurdity of poverty is its only palliative, and sense of humour the best fortitude. At any rate Catullus, with empty and disappointed pockets, could laugh at himself:

'As I idled in the square, my friend Varus carried me away to see his mistress; whom I rather abruptly discovered to be as full of wit as she was charming. When we arrived, we talked after a desultory fashion, until Bithynia came on the carpet-its present state and prospects, and how my purse had prospered there. I answered, with simple truth, that there was absolutely nothing to be got by native, governor, or subaltern. Why, I asked, should any of us come home with larded locks, especially when our governor was a scoundrel, and did not care a straw for his staff? "But still," said they, "at any rate you provided yourself, with what is believed to be a natural product of your province, bearers for your chair." Adopting the tone of a man of means in presence of the lady, "No,” said I,*I was not quite so miserably off, although I had fallen into a poor province, as not to set up half-a-dozen straight-backed fellows." That was a bounce: for I never had a creature, at home or abroad, able to shoulder an old bed leg. Upon this she asked me, playing her wicked part to perfection, "Dear Catullus,

may I beg the loan of your bearers for a little while? for I want to go in state to the feast of Serapis." "Truce!" cried I to the lady, "when I spoke just now of chattels of mine I was not thinking. My dear friend, Caius Cinna, is the nominal purchaser but whether things are his or mine is all one to me; for I use them as freely as if I bought for myself. You, however, are a mischievous dunce and a plague, 'for you do not forgive a slip of the tongue."


Catullus' firm and close attachment to his friends is one of the leading traits of his character. The feeling of friendship was elevated by him into devotion, demanding a complete and fervent faith on both parts, and imposing in action a circle of attentions as obligatory as religious exercises. Breach of duty was not a sentimental injury, but sacrilege; an unfaithful friend was not fickle, but an apostate. Such an apostate the Varus1 of the preceding poem proved to be. Catullus shows in the following lines how deeply he felt the blow :

'Unfaithful Alfenus, betrayer of companions so linked together, has your hard heart no compassion left for your oncecherished friend? Do you not tremble to cast me off, and break your vows, like a traitor? Treachery is irreligion, and finds no favour with the gods. Despising this truth, you abandon me to my fate in a sea of troubles. What now must poor humanity do? Where can its faith be placed? Did you not yourself bid me give my heart to you, ingrate, inveigling me into Love's perilous land by promises of perfect security?

1 Alfenus Varus, friend of the poets of this period, orator, and leading lawyer, had been a cobbler at Cremona. He rose to the consulate (39 B.C.); but Horace tells us that he remained a

potential cobbler all his life.liable any mone (todrop to th benche

[ocr errors]

Now, in spite of the past, you fall back, and suffer wind and rack to sweep into nothingness all that you have said and done! Mark! tho' you have forgotten, the gods remember, Honour remembers, and one day she shall overwhelm you with remorse for your crime.'

Catullus was happier in his friendship with Licinius Calvus. Calvus was a poet, and the two friends are always mentioned together. Had he lived longer-we have the testimony of Cicero as well as of Quintilian -he would have become one of the greatest of the world's orators. The extraordinary vehemence of his style is illustrated by the story according to which Vatinius, whose several prosecutions were conducted by Calvus, on one occasion sprang from his seat and appealed to the judges, exclaiming "Am I to be damned just because that man has an eloquent tongue?" The effect of this passionate oratory was heightened by the small stature and childish appearance of the man, as we learn from a few hendecasyllables of Catullus :

'A fellow in the crowd made me laugh the other day, when Calvus had completed his magnificent impeachment of Vatinius: for, lifting both hands in amazement, "Great Gods!" cried he, "little Cupid is an orator."

[ocr errors]

Calvus must have exercised a great influence on the poetical culture of his friend; we find the two in the habit of writing against one another in friendly rivalry and raillery. A wicked Christmas present from Calvus evoked these verses :—

'Calvus, you prince of wits, I would hate you, for your

wicked present, with all the spleen of Vatinius-if you were not more precious to me than my own eyes. What have I done or said to justify you in cruelly poisoning me with such a dose of poets? May the gods visit with a thousand plagues the vile client of yours who has sent you this horde of outcasts! But if (as I shrewdly guess) this original and exquisite offering was made you by the pedant Sulla, I do not murmur, but thank the stars that you have not thrown your pains away. I hold up in the sight of the great gods this portentous and predestinate volume, which you sent of all men to your friend Catullus, designing that he should die on the morrow, on the Saturnalia, the brightest day of the year! But no, jester! this act must bring you its consequences: for, at the first streak of day, I will fly to the publisher's shelves, make a packet of Caesii, Aquini, Suffenus-every literary drug-and send these tortures to pay you in kind.

You-in the meantime-hence and God speed ye, away to the regions from which you made your base egress, curse of our times, most vile poetasters!'

A much sadder theme, the early death of Calvus' young wife, Quintilia, called from his friend an expression of most tender sympathy and delicate consolation:

'Dear Calvus, if any pleasure or any satisfaction can steal into the silent tomb out of our sense of loss, when with tender memory we recast our old passions and weep for the friendships we bade adieu to long ago, then surely Quintilia's sorrow for her summer fading cannot compare with her joy in the knowledge of your love.'

The aversions of Catullus were as strong as his attachments, and suffered no diminution of vivacity and no loss of colour when reflected in the mirror of his verse. Invective is now to be numbered among


the lost arts; and perhaps can only enjoy true vitality in a synthetic language. Even among the ancients but few grand masters of this art arose, separated by wide intervals of time and place. The last truly gifted artist in opprobrium, if we may believe a profound critic,' was Catullus. Some of his most vigorous productions affect our altered taste with no pleasure or admiration. Aurelius, the father of Inanition,' Mamurra, whose gluttony would have swallowed the British Isles at a meal, Furius, too miserly to board a flea or a spider, are pilloried with indignities peculiar to the older world.2 But we can sympathize with an indignation that stigmatizes the practical joke, when wit is conspicuous by its absence. The fop, too, who, because nature had decorated him with a white set of teeth, grinned on every occasion down to a funeral, received an appropriate castigation. The absolute stupidity of the Veronese boor, incapable of appreciating the treasure he possessed in his beautiful young wife, would have justly provoked his townsmen to pitch him headlong from the bridge into the bluest of the mire. The terrible atrocities committed on a helpless language by the mutilation of aspirates is still unrepressed, and everybody knows the modern replica of 'Arrius.' But the most awful seals of Catullus' wrath are opened against the bad poets, with whom all times abound. The direst curses are invoked

1 Iambus cujus acerbitas in Catullo reperietur: Quint., In. x. 2 See Munro on XXIX. for an appreciation of the meaning and value of ancient defamation.

« ForrigeFortsæt »