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GENERAL INTRODUCTION.

I.

'Venias hedera juvenalia cinctus Tempora cum Calvo, docte Catulle, tuo.'

EVERLASTING gratitude is due to the notary of Verona who rescued from the dust the sole manuscript, so long lost, of his compatriot Catullus; for, possessing this," we possess a diary vividly picturing the life of Rome, just before it was overcast with the grey monotone of Imperialism, in the colours which it wore to the feelings of a young Republican, man of the world, and poet. Catullus had many friends who lived and wrote like himself; but their works met the fate of the authors, and perished before their time. It is most fortunate for us, therefore, that one has escaped, by a hair's-breadth, the general mortality; and it is most fortunate that the survivor is Catullus. For he was especially fitted to represent to us the daily world he lived in, both because his sensibility was singularly pure-embalming its experience in crystal, without stain, shadow, or distortion-and because he belonged

1 Or rather transcripts of it. See Advertisement to Text.

to those natures which look neither before nor after, but people and perceive only the present.

Before we consider his works, we may for a moment consider the man. Born after the convulsions of private ambition had begun to shake the over-built Republic, he died at thirty, in time to escape its final downfall. For though a man of letters and of pleasure rather than a politician, and an Italian not a Latin by birth, he had the Roman spirit of independence, and was a good Republican. A verse is quoted to indicate that he apologised for his lampoons on Caesar; the truth is, while he might be proud of Caesar's conquests, he never saw their consequences without passionate disgust. So far from regarding him as anything more than a Roman citizen, he declared that he could sleep comfortably in ignorance whether Caesar had a white skin or a black. But his bile is hottest to see Caesar's minions, Mamurra, the Formian cheat,' Porcius and Socration, 'murrain and lean kine of the earth,' prosper and grow sleek on Gallic and British plunder, while men of birth cringed for a dinner. He went himself to Bithynia, to find better tenants for his purse than its old inhabitants the cobwebs,' in the train of the Praetor Memmius-who, if our poet is to be believed, was the last person in the world to have a poem like that of Lucretius dedicated to him, but returned poorer in every sense except in his vocabulary of curses. Catullus was a good hater, and never shrank from plain speech; but his attachment to his friends was as strikingly sincere-clever spendthrifts,

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prodigal poets, like himself. The great passion, however, and the poison of his history was his love of Lesbia, or, to take off the mask, Clodia. The sister of Cicero's enemy Clodius, the wife—but suspiciously Soon the widow-of Metellus Celer, among three sisters who were the wickedest and most beautiful women in Rome, she bore the palm. Catullus' blind passion lasted long; and, when his eyes were opened, only changed into infatuation. We do not know that he ever was entirely cured of his lunacy; but, if so, when he ceased to be lover he ceased to be poet.

The existing poems cannot be arranged in order of composition. Probably Catullus, like most other poets, began with imitation and translation. But it is necessary to suppose that his brother's death occurred quite early in Catullus' short life-a supposition in which there are difficulties-if we would place the extant translations among his first compositions. As, however, the 'Lock of Berenice's Hair,'1 the 'Dialogue with a Door,' and the rest of these pieces, are not the best works of Catullus, we must praise them as clever exercises, and pass on to his other poems.

The longest of these is the idyll on the Marriage of Peleus and Thetis.' The argument is very simple: the Argo breaking for the first time the silence of the seas-the sea-nymphs rising to the strange sight-the

1 Once called the best of Catullus' works; but that was by a Dutch pedant, who had probably spent a life-time in emending the text.

mutual passion of Peleus and Thetis-the solemn betrothal and the marriage scene.

First, all Thessaly throngs to see the palace and to admire the marvellous coverlet of the bed, on which was wrought in colours the whole of the story of Ariadne-her winning and desertion-her standing desolate on the shore of Dia, where she utters words of despair and reproach against Theseus-the fulfilment of her curse at Athens-the advent of Bacchus and his train, and her assumption into heaven. Then the tide of humanity passes, and the gods enter: Chiron with garlands of every flower that blows, Peneus with laurel branches, Prometheus still wearing faint scars of his ancient doom-followed by Jove and all the great gods, except Phoebus and his sister. The venerable Fates spin their threads and sing a prophetic song of the great Pelides, while the divine guests sit round and banquet. Alas, that human degeneracy had now banished the gods from earthly scenes! The versification of the poem is as little elaborate as the tale, but is everywhere felicitous. As with the Endymion, to begin this idyll is to read it through; and no quotation would convey the true character of the poem, which is that of perfect continuity.

The 'Attis' shows the orgiastic madness and wild flight of some worshippers of Cybele from their homes in Greece to the sacred forests of Phrygia. The rapidity and vehemence of the verse, corresponding to the subject, make no pause until the end. No English metre gives any such impression of intensity

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