The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus, by Catullus


The present translation was jointly undertaken by the late Sir Richard Burton and myself in 1890, some months before his sudden and lamented death. We had previously put into English, and privately printed, a body of verse from the Latin, and our aim was to follow it with literal and unexpurgated renderings of Catullus, Juvenal, and Ausonius, from the same tongue. Sir Richard laid great stress on the necessity of thoroughly annotating each translation from an erotic (and especially a paederastic) point of view, but subsequent circumstances caused me to abandon that intention.

The Latin text of Catullus printed in this volume is that of Mueller (A.D. 1885), which Sir Richard Burton chose as the basis for our translation, and to that text I have mainly adhered. On some few occasions, however, I have slightly deviated from it, and, although I have consulted Owen and Postgate, in such cases I have usually followed Robinson Ellis.

Bearing in mind my duty to the reader as well as to the author, I have aimed at producing a readable translation, and yet as literal a version (castrating no passages) as the dissimilarity in idiom of the two languages, Latin and English, permit; and I claim for this volume that it is the first literal and complete English translation as yet issued of Catullus. The translations into English verse which I have consulted are The Adventures of Catullus, and the History of his Amours with Lesbia (done from the French, 1707), Nott, Lamb, Fleay, (privately printed, 1864), Hart–Davies, Shaw, Cranstoun, Martin, Grant Allen, and Ellis. Of these, none has been helpful to me save Professor Robinson Ellis’s Poems and Fragments of Catullus translated in the metres of the original — a most excellent and scholarly version, to which I owe great indebtedness for many a felicitous expression. I have also used Dr. Nott freely in my annotations. The only English prose translation of which I have any knowledge is the one in Bohn’s edition of Catullus, and this, in addition to being bowdlerized, is in a host of passages more a paraphrase than a literal translation.

I have not thought it needful in any case to point out my deviations from Mueller’s text, and I have cleared the volume of all the load of mythological and historical notes which are usually appended to a translation of a classic, contenting myself with referring the non-classical reader to Bohn’s edition of the poet.

Of the boldness of Sir Richard Burton’s experiment of a metrical and linear translation there can be no question; and on the whole he has succeeded in proving his contention as to its possibility, though it must be confessed that it is at times at the cost of obscurity, or of inversions of sentences which certainly are compelled to lay claim to a poet’s license. It must, however, be borne in mind that in a letter to me just before his death, he expressed his intention of going entirely through the work afresh, on receiving my prose, adding that it needed “a power of polishing.”

To me has fallen the task of editing Sir Richard’s share in this volume from a type-written copy literally swarming with copyist’s errors. With respect to the occasional lacunae which appear, I can merely state that Lady Burton has repeatedly assured me that she has furnished me with a faithful copy of her husband’s translation, and that the words omitted (which are here indicated by full points, not asterisks) were not filled in by him, because he was first awaiting my translation with the view of our not using similar expressions. However, Lady Burton has without any reason consistently refused me even a glance at his MS.; and in our previous work from the Latin I did not find Sir Richard trouble himself in the least concerning our using like expressions.

The frontispiece to this volume is reproduced from the statue which stands over the Palazzo di Consiglio, the Council House at Verona, which is the only representation of Catullus extant.


July 11th, 1894.

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