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Catullus tells at his own expense how neatly he was shown up wben attempting to put on airs about his supposed wealth acquired in Bithynia, whitber he went in 57 B.C. in the retinue of the governor Memmius (see Intr. 29ff.). As might be expected, the forms of expression are thorougbly colloquial.- Date of composition, about 56 B.C. Meter, Phalaecean.

Varus: cf. Intr. 66.

amores: cf. Catul. 6.16n.

[3] scortillum: ἅπαξ λεγόμενον.

[3] repente: at first sight. He professes to have changed his opinion later (see v.33).

[4] Cf. similar phrases in Catul. 6.2 and Catul. 36.17.

[6-8] The three particular questions are given in a conversational asyndeton. The first concerns the general character of the province, and is carried on with specification (cf. Catul. 2.8n.) by the second, which concerns its particular condition, and by the third, which narrows the discussion down to the real point of interest, the influence of the province upon the purse of Catullus.

[6] quid esset iam Bithynia: what sort of a place Bithynia is nowadays. Cf. Hor. Ep. 1.11.7scis Lebedus quid sit” ; Gell. 4.1.12hoc enim quis homo sit ostendere est, non, quid homo sit dicere.

[7] iam: not that the questioners had any precise knowledge of, or interest in, the past history of Bithynia, but only that the news at hand is from a freshly returned traveler.

[7] Bithynia: the country was bequeathed to the Romans by Nicomedes III. in 74 B.C., and organized as a province. Western Pontus was added to it in 65 B.C., on the overthrow of Mithradates by Pompey. The united province was governed by propraetors till 27 B.C., when it was placed in the list of senatorial provinces, where it remained till the time of Trajan. Under the republic it could in no wise compare in importance with the neighboring province of Asia, being but thinly settled in the interior, and having only a scanty fringe of Greek culture along the coast.

[7] quo modo se haberet: how it is getting on. Cf. Ter. Phor. 820ut meae res sese habent” ; Cic. Att. 13.35.2scire aveo quo modo res se habeat” ; Tac. Ann. 14.51ego me bene habeo” .

[8] ecquonam: etc., whether I had made any money out of it. Ecquis with an enclitic —nam is both Plautine and Ciceronian; cf. also Catul. 28.6. The question is a commentary on the frequent character of Roman provincial administration.

[9] nihil neque ipsis: etc., the three classes mentioned are the inhabitants themselves (“ipsis”), the governors (“praetoribus”), and the governor's staff (“cohorti”), and the order is that of logical emphasis: — not even the inhabitants have anything; how then can governors, to say nothing of staff, ever get anything?

[11] cur: etc., the indirect question depends upon “nihil” regarded as a cause.

[11] caput unctius referret: i.e. be rolling in wealth on his return; a colloquial figure derived from the expensiveness of fine ointments, which, therefore, only the rich could use; cf. Catul. 6.8n.; Pl. Ps. 219numqui quoipiamst tuorum tua opera hodie conservorum nitidiusculum caput ?Cic. Verr. palaestritas defendebat ut ab illis ipse unctior abiret;” and an extension of the same figure in Catul. 29.22uncta patrimonia.” With the comparative unctius sc. ‘than those of men in general’; cf. Catul. 3.2n. venustiorum; Catul. 9.10beatiorum” .

[12] quibus: with oblique reference to quisquam, as though a partitive eorum had preceded.

[12] irrumator: a scurvy fellow; the word, like many others of similar antecedents, has come to be used not always in a literal sense, but as a mere term of abuse; cf. Catul. 10.24; Catul. 28.9ff.; Intr. 32.

[13] faceret pili: cf. Catul. 5.3n.

[14] at: i.e. in spite of the general poverty of the province, —challenging the sweeping character of the preceding statement.

[15] natum: if Catullus means that the custom of riding in a litter originated in Bithynia, he tells us what we learn from no other source, —for the grammarian Probus, in making a similar statement, probably borrowed it from him; but the custom was common there; cf. Cic. Verr. 2.5, Cic. Verr. 2.27Ut mos fuit Bithyniae regibus, lectica octaphoro ferebatur.” Cappadocians and Syrians, men of proverbially great stature and strength, are often mentioned as litter-bearers, as are less frequently Thracians, Liburnians and Moesians (Juv.), and in later days Gauls (Clem. Alex.) and Germans (Tertull.); cf. Mart. 6.77.4quid te Cappadocum sex onus esse iuvat ?Juv. 6.351quae longorum vehitur cervice Syrorum.

[16] lecticam: a covered litter, borne on the shoulders of slaves (lecticarii), and used in Rome at first by women and children, but later by men also, as a vehicle in the city (where carriages were not allowed), and for short journeys into the country.

[17] unum beatiorem: the one man who was blest above his fellows; for Catullus had said (Catul. 10.9ff.) that no staff—and especially not that of which he was a member—made anything out of the province; cf. Catul. 37.17une.

[17] me facerem: pass myself off as; cf. Cic. Flac. 20.46cum verbis se locupletem faceret.

[18] mihi fuit maligne: cf. male esse with the dative of the person in Catul. 14.10; Catul. 38.1.

[20] homines rectos: straight-backed fellows (as lecticarii). Eight appears to have been the maximum number of carriers, while six was common; cf. the citations from Cicero and Martial on Catul. 10.15, and Martial often.

[21-23] at mi nullus: etc. — A confidential aside of the poet to the reader, i.e. but I hadn't, and never had had, a single one.

[21-23] hic: i.e. in Rome now.

[21-23] illic: i.e. in Bithynia then.

[21-23] grabati: (Gr. κράββατος) a Macedonian word for a bedstead. It is sometimes mentioned as a possession of poverty, and such seems to be the idea here; cf. Cic. Div. 2.63.129utrum sit probabilius deosne immortalis concursare circum omnium mortalium qui ubique sunt non modo lectos verum etiam grabatos,” etc.; Sen. Ep. 20.10leve argumentum est bonae voluntatis grabatus aut pannus, nisi apparuit aliquem illa non necessitate pati sed malle.” And here not only is the couch a miserable thing to start with, but old and broken as well. No rich lectica had Catullus, —only a wretched bedstead as the nearest approach to it, —and no slave at all, far less eight.

[24] ut decuit cinaediorem: like the saucy jade she was; cf. Catul. 10.12n. The girl saw through the trick of Catullus (perhaps he intended she should), and took this witty way of compelling him to acknowledge himself a pretender.

[26] commoda: with the short final a, cf. Pl. Cist. 573commoda loquelam tuam” (at the beginning of a trochaic septenarius); so also more commonly in colloquial usage such pyrrhic imperatives as ama, puta, roga, etc.

[26] Sarapim: an Egyptian deity, apparently at first identical with Osiris, and often later connected in worship with Isis. From Alexandria, where the great Sarapeum stood, the cult spread through Greece and Italy, reaching Rome perhaps as early as the time of Sulla, though it met there with great opposition, and did not attain its height till the end of the first century after Christ. In 58 B.C., only about two years before this poem was written, the worship of the Egyptian divinities had been banished without the city walls. Upon the Campus Martius, however, Isis and Sarapis found a resting-place, and their temples were much frequented by the lower classes. Courtesans especially flocked to Isis, and invalids to Sarapis, whose priests were reputed to have wondrous powers of healing. But Sarapis may stand here for both divinities, and there is no need to suppose the girl was ill because of her professed destination or of her request for the use of a lectica. The spelling Sarapis instead of Serapis is well supported by inscriptions and by Greek usage.

[27] mane: hold on there; not so fast. On the hiatus in arsis (with shortening of the final vowel, as always in Catullus) see Intr. 86d.

[28] istud: an accusative of specification, with which me habere is in apposition. Cicero in his letters generally uses a quod-clause without antecedent in such constructions. Note that not only with habere, but in each case below (paravit, illius an mei, utor, pararim) the word definitely indicating the lecticarii is omitted, since the subject has become painfully embarrassing to the speaker.

[29] fugit me ratio, I did not think; a colloquialism; cf. Pl. Amph. 385scibam equidem nullum esse nobis nisi me servum Sosiam; fugit te ratio” ; Auctor ad Herenn. 2.25.40in mentem mihi si venisset, hoc aut hoc fecissem; sed me tum haec ratio fugit” : but fugere is more common in phrases of similar meaning, either absolutely or with other subjects than ratio; cf. Catul. 12.4fugit te” .

[30] Cinna Gaius: i.e. C. Helvius Cinna, on whom see Intr. 63. The reversal of the formal order of nomen and cognomen is common enough in Latin, but the following here of the praenomen, added hastily after the familiar cognomen, indicates the embarrassment of the speaker.

[31] quid ad me: sc. attinet; cf. Cic. Att. 12.17velim appelles procuratores, si tibi videtur; quanquam quid ad me?Mart. 12.30.1sobrius est Aper; quid ad me ?

[32] quam mihi pararim: i.e. quam si mihi eos paraverim; cf. the ordinary comparative clauses introduced by tamquam without si.

[33-34] Catullus has been stammering out his lame explanation with increasing embarrassment, and now detects, possibly by the ill-concealed merriment of his auditors, that the whole thing was a joke at his expense; hence the sudden change to humorous petulance with which he closes.

[33-34] male: the word has a detractive force which neutralizes, like a negative, words of good signification (cf. Catul. 16.13male marem” , ‘no man at all’; Ov. Trist. 1.6.13malefidus” , ‘faithless’), and emphasizes words of bad signification, as here; cf. Catul. 14.5; Ter. Hec. 337male metuo” , ‘I'm horribly afraid’; Hor. S. 1.4.66rauci male” , ‘outrageously hoarse’ (with similar anastrophe to that here) .

[33-34] vivis: with almost the bare sense of es; cf. Pl. Men. 908ne ego homo viuo miser” (cf. Catul. 8.10nec miser vive” ); Tib. 11.6.53satis anxia vivas” ; and similarly Tac. Ann. 4.58.4nescii egere” .

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  • Commentary references from this page (30):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.17
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 13.35-36.2
    • Catullus, Poems, 10
    • Catullus, Poems, 12
    • Catullus, Poems, 14
    • Catullus, Poems, 16
    • Catullus, Poems, 28
    • Catullus, Poems, 29
    • Catullus, Poems, 36
    • Catullus, Poems, 37
    • Catullus, Poems, 38
    • Catullus, Poems, 6
    • Catullus, Poems, 8
    • Catullus, Poems, 9
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.2.54
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5.27
    • Cicero, For Flaccus, 20.46
    • Plautus, Cistellaria, 2.3
    • Plautus, Pseudolus, 1.2
    • Horace, Satires, 1.4.66
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.51
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.58
    • Terence, The Mother-in-Law, 3.2
    • Terence, Phormio, 5.4
    • Plautus, Amphitruo, 1.1
    • Plautus, Menaechmi, 5.5
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 2.63
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.1.12
    • Seneca, Epistulae, 20.10
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.6
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