cover image The Poems of Catullus

The Poems of Catullus

Gaius Valerius Catullus. University of California Press, $32.95 (339pp) ISBN 978-0-520-24264-7

Feel free to refer anyone who thinks rappers' or stand-up comics' abundant use of obscenities is a recent cultural phenomenon to the work of Catullus, especially Green's translation. Writing in the first-century B.C.E., the infamous Latin poet could turn quite the vulgar phrase when insulting his enemies or boasting about his sexual prowess. (Witnesseth: ""Ameana, that fucked-out little scrubber..."") Green's translations treat the bawdy (""Rotten slut, give back the writing tablets!"") and the romantic (""Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred...."") with equal care. With a lengthy introduction that explains his approach to the poems, copious notes on each translation and a glossary in case you've forgotten who Phaethon was, Green has aimed this volume at Latin novices, poetry lovers and fellow classicists. Aside from these extras and the side-by-side printing, which allows for easy comparisons between the translation and the original, what sets apart these versions of Catullus' poems is Green's attempt to bring complicated Latin meters into English. It is a noble goal, to be sure, but it leads to some awkward moments; meter or not, translating an insult as ""sucks to the pair of you"" or choosing the more literal ""I am crucified"" to express an emotional crisis in one of Catullus' shortest and best known poems read like works-in-progress, especially when compared with the majority of the translations' polished presentations. Despite its few rocky moments, this volume will expand any reader's understanding of Catullus and his poems, both bawdy and nice.