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A dedicatory inscription. — On the return of Catullus from Bithynia in 56 B.C. (see Intr. 33ff.) to his dearly loved home at Sirmio, he suspended as a votive offering in a shrine on his own property a model of the yacht that had brought him safely through his perils by sea, and this poem is in the form of a dedicatory inscription appended thereto. It is needless, not to say impossible, to suppose, as some have done, that the actual yacht was brought up the Po and the Mincio, or by an overland route, and beached in the Lago di Garda, but the votive model is spoken of as if the experiences of its prototype were its own. (For a strong presentation of a different interpretation of the poem cf. C. L. Smith, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 3, p. 75.) Two other poems, Catul. 46.1 and Catul. 31.1, speak respectively of the beginning and end of the homeward journey. A parody is found in Verg. Catal. 8, and a number of interesting parallels in the address of Ovid on the vessel that carried him into exile (Ov. Trist. 1.10). —Metre, pure iambic trimeter.

phasellus: a small and light sail-boat, but large enough for cruising; cf. Hor. Carm. 3.2.28vetabo fragilem mecum solvat phaselon” ; Verg. G. 4.289circum pictis vehitur sua rura phaselis.

quem videtis: sc. in effigy.

hospites: the principal visitors at this private shrine would be guests of the master of the estate.

[2] celerrimus: an instance of so-called attraction in case, more common in Greek than in Latin, but not so rare in the Augustan age (especially in Ovid) and later; cf. Hor. Ep. 1.7.22vir bonus et sapiens dignis ait esse paratus.” The adjective here is also attracted from the gender of navium into that of phasellus; cf. Hor. S. 1.9.4dulcissime rerum.

[3] nequenequisse: cf. below negatnegare

[3] trabis: a ship as is made plain by natantis cf Verg. A. 3.191vastum cava trabe currimus aequorHor. Carm. 1.1.13ut trabe Cypria Myrtoum secet mare” .

[4] palmulis: cf Fest 220 Müll.palmulae appellantur remi a similitudine manus humanae” ; Verg. A. 5.163laenas stringat sine palmula cautes;” also Catul. 64.7palmis” .

[5] volare: of the swift, skimming notion of the ship cf Catul. 46.6 Enn. Ann 379 Vahl volat super impetus undas; Verg. G. 2.41pelago volans da vela patentiOv. Her. 6.66illa volat ventus concava vela tenet.

[6] Catullus retraces the course of his homeward journey.

[6] hoc: object of negare, referring to the good record of the ship just cited.

[6] minacis Hadriatici: a sea proverbially stormy; cf. Hor. Carm. 1.33.15fretis acrior Hadriae” ; Hor. Carm. 3.3.5Auster, dux inquieti turbidus Hadriae” ; Hor. Carm. 3.9.22improbo iracundior Hadria.” The proper adjective is here used absolutely.

[7] insulas Cycladas: a place of danger to the mariner; cf. Hor. Carm. 1.14.19interfusa nitentes vites aequora Cycladas” .

[8] Rhodum nobilem: in more ancient times the island, with its commanding position and excellent harbor, had been a place of much commercial importance, and now its friendship with Rome, its delightful climate, and the residence there of distinguished teachers of philosophy and rhetoric had attracted large numbers of Romans; cf. Hor. Carm. 1.7.1 (and Mart. 4.55.6) claram Rhodon.

[8] horridam Propontida: another sea of bad reputation among sailors; cf. the early stories of the cruise of the Argo, and Val. Flac. Arg. 11.645me fremens tumido circumfluat ore Propontis;” also of the adjacent strait, Hor. Carm. 3.4.30insanientem navita Bosporum temptabo.” On the lengthening of the final syllable, see Intr. 86g.

[9] trucem Ponticum sinum: cf. Ovid's account of the inhospitable sea in Ov. Trist. 4.4.56-60.

[10] post: a construction of adverb with substantive common enough in Greek, but very rare in earlier Latin, though rather more frequent from the Augustan age down.

[11] comata silva: the figure is as old as Homer; cf. Hom. Od. 23.195ἀπέκοψα κόμην τανυφύλλον ἐλαίης” ; Hor. Carm. 4.3.11 spissae nemorum comae; Verg. A. 7.60laurus sacra comam servata” ; Prop. 4.16.28me tegat arborea devia terra coma” ; Tib. 1.7.34viridem dura caedere falce comam” . But silva of a single tree, as apparentiy here, is a rare use.

[12] loquente coma: cf. the simpler and better figure in Verg. Ecl. 8.22Maenalus pinos loquentes semper habet” .

[13] Amastri: the city of Amastris, so named from its founder, the wife of Dionysius, tyrant of the Pontic Heraclea, was situated on the Paphiagonian coast of the Euxine Sea, not far from Mt. Cytorus, and on the site of the Homeric city of Sesamus (Hom. Il. 2.853). The younger Pliny praises its beauty (Plin. Trai. 98).

[13] Cytore buxifer: cf. Verg. G. 2.437iuvat undantem buxo spectare Cytorum.” The adjective is ἅπαχ λεγόμενον.

[14] tibi: Catullus combines Amastris and Cytorus in a single idea, perhaps thinking of the city as built on the mountain; cf. v.18 n.

[16] stetisse: i.e. when a tree; imbuisse: i.e. when a ship. The course of the ship is now traced again, but in the original direction, from Cytorus to Sirmio.

[18] inde: perhaps a case of poetic freedom with fact, for Catullus was more likely to start on his homeward journey from Nicaea (cf. Catul. 46.5), and not from the extreme eastern boundary of the province; but cf. Intr. 35.

[18] impotentia: lacking self-control, raging; cf. Catul. 35.12; Ter. Andr. 879adeo impotenti esse animo” ; Hor. Carm. 3.30.3Aquilo impotens.” On the lengthening of the final syllable, see Intr. 86g.

[19] erum: Catullus himself.

[19] laeva sive dextera: etc., whether the wind was on the starboard or port quarter or dead astern, it made no difference to the craft, which sailed straight ahead.

[20] vocaret aura: the fair wind ‘invites’ the vessel to pursue its course with hopes of a prosperous voyage; cf. Verg. A. 3.70lenis crepitans vocat Auster in altum” ; Verg. A. 3.357aurae vela vocant” ; Ov. Her. 13.9qui tua vela vocaret ventus erat;” and for the converse, Verg. A. 4.417vocat iam carbasus auras” .

[20] Iuppiter: here aura; cf. Ov. Met. 11.377nec se [cycnus] caeloque Iovique credit.

[21] pedem: the pedes (Gr. πόδες,) were the sheets, or ropes attached one to each of the lower corners of the square sail, whence they were carried aft and belayed at either rail. They were used to stretch the sail taut, so as to secure the full effect of the breeze. The pedes here stand for the two halves of the sail itself, and that was evenly filled only when the vessel was sailing before the wind; cf. Cic. Att. 16.6utrumque [sinum] pedibus aequis transmisimus” ; Ov. Fast. 3.565nancta ratem pede labitur aequo.

[22] neque etc.: not that the vessel scorned the gods and their power (cf. vv. 26, 27), but her sea-worthiness kept her out of positions of danger where appeals to them were necessary.

[22] litoralibus dis: vows were made by sailors to Neptune, to Castor and Pollux and to Venus Marina (Hor. Carm. 1.5.13 ff. Hor. Carm. 1.3.1f.; Hor. Carm. 4.11.15), as well as to lesser divinities; cf. Verg. G. 1.436votaque servati solvent in litore nautae Glauco et Panepeae et Inoo Melicertae.

[23] sibi: dative of agent with the perfect participle, as in Catul. 22.4; Catul. 35.18, etc.

[23] a mari novissimo: from the most distant sea; cf. Ov. Trist. 3.13.27terrarum pars paene novissima, Pontus” ; Tac. Agr. 10oram novissimi maris.

[24] limpidum lacum: i.e. the lacus Benacus (Lago di Garda), into the broader, southern end of which projects the peninsula of Sirmio (cf. Catul. 31.1ff.), now Sermione, where stood the villa of Catullus. In the epithet is a thought of the contrast between the dark and turbulent sea over which the journey had been, and the beautifully blue and clear waters of the quiet lake.

[25] sed haec prius fuere: i.e. all toil and danger has now become but a matter of quiet retrospect.

[26] senet: a word of earlier Latin for the later senescit.

[26] se dedicat: Sc. in effigy.

[26] tibi: Castor and Pollux were proverbially united, and were often spoken of, sometimes even as if they were a single person, under one name, —that of Castor being more frequently used, as in v.27; cf. Hor. Ep. 17.42Castor fraterque magni Castoris” ; Stat. Silv. 4.6.15ab Elysiis prospexit sedibus alter Castor;” and the famous witticism of Bibulus in Suet. Iul. 10evenisse sibi quod Polluci; ut enim geminis fratribus aedes in foro constituta tantum Castoris vocaretur, ita suam Caesarisque munificentiam unius Caesaris dici:” but Hor. Carm. 3.29.64 has geminus Pollux.—The Dioscuri were invoked as dispellers of storms by sailors, who took the electrical phenomenon called still ‘St. Elmo's [= Helena's?] fires’ for the stars affixed in ancient art to the foreheads of the brothers; cf. Catul. 68.65 and other poets passim.

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  • Commentary references from this page (32):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 16.6
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.853
    • Homer, Odyssey, 23.195
    • Catullus, Poems, 22
    • Catullus, Poems, 31
    • Catullus, Poems, 35
    • Catullus, Poems, 46
    • Catullus, Poems, 64
    • Catullus, Poems, 68
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 11.377
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.191
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.357
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.70
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.417
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 5.163
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.60
    • Vergil, Eclogues, 8
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.436
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.41
    • Vergil, Georgics, 2.437
    • Vergil, Georgics, 4.289
    • Horace, Satires, 1.9.4
    • Ovid, Epistulae, 13
    • Tacitus, Agricola, 10
    • Ovid, Epistulae, 6.55
    • Terence, Andria, 5.3
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 10
    • Ovid, Tristia, 1.10
    • Ovid, Tristia, 3.13
    • Ovid, Tristia, 4.4
    • Statius, Silvae, 4.6
    • Ovid, Fasti, 3
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