Catullus's 64th poem (as the collection comes to us) is what we call an epyllion: a miniature epic, in which poets of his period showed off their ability to handle the epic style and epic topics, without running to the bloated and tedious length that those had become associated with over time. That still makes it his longest extant poem (and likely his longest ever): 408 lines. It's written in a lofty style he didn't usually deploy, a lofty meter, and on a lofty topic: the marriage of Peleus, one of the heroes that sailed in search of the golden fleece, and Thetis, a nymph prophesied to give birth to a son greater than his father. For which reason Zeus, who was terribly interested in her (because Zeus), married her to a mortal instead.

The prophesied son is Achilles, the greatest--and in some senses, last--of the heroes in that Age of Heroes. He's a pretty popular topic for poetry, art, and so forth. I mean, the whole damn Iliad is about him, in a sense: it begins with Achilles being angry and sullen, and ends with the funeral of Hector, pretty much the next-best hero, whom Achilles killed.

In Catullus's telling of the marriage of this man's parents, Achilles gets about a quarter of the poem. Half of it is given over to describing the bedspread on the marriage bed/couch, which shows Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus on an island after she helped him against the minotaur. Because what's more epic than dramatic ekphrasis, right? What's left of the poem is about Peleus, Thetis, and their wedding day.

So, with that introduction given! This is my translation of the poem. I've gone for a very literal translation, where possible--most of my digressions from the literal involve adjusting the syntax or moving an adjective around or swapping something between adjective/gerundive/active verb, so that it doesn't become wildly awkward in English--and I've resisted the urge to footnote.

Assume the usual warnings for anything written in the classical canon.


It is said that the pines once born on the Pelion peak swam through the liquid waves of Neptune to the waves of Phasis and the Ae√ętean borders, when chosen youths, the strength of Argive manpower, hoping to steal the golden fleece from Colchis, dared to rush across the salty sea waters in a swift ship, sweeping the cerulean expanse with firwood oars. The goddess protecting their citadels in high cities herself made the sea-chariot fly with a light gust of wind, joining the fabric of pine for its curved hull.

That first ship inaugurated Amphytrite, unversed in sailing; as it plowed the windy expanse with its prow and the eddying foam turned white from the rowing, Nereids lifted their faces from the shining whirlpools of the sea, marveling at the monster of the expanse. By that light, and by scarcely any other, mortals saw with their eyes marine Nymphs, naked in body, rising out of the white whirlpool up to their breasts. Then Peleus is said to have burned with love of Thetis, then Thetis did not scorn human marriage rites, then the father himself senses Peleus must be joined to Thetis.

O heroes born to the most wished-for age of generations, hail, offspring of gods! O good progeny of good mothers, hail, again, hail! You I will invoke often, I will invoke you with my song.

And you so especially honored by happy torches, Peleus, you the peak of Thessaly, to you Jupiter himself, the very progenitor of gods, conceded his own loves; did Thetis, the most beautiful of the Nereids, hold you? Did Tethys concede to lead her own grandchild to you, and did Oceanus too, who embraces the whole orb of the sea?

And these wished-for days approached the final moment, the whole of Thessaly assembled to throng the home, and it filled up with a rejoicing crowd: they carried gifts before themselves, they demonstrated their joys in their faces. Cieros was abandoned, Pthionic Tempe and the houses of Crannon and the Larisaean walls let them go, they met in Pharsalus, they crowded the Pharsalan roofs. No one is cultivating the countrysides, the necks of the bullocks go soft, the low grapevines are not cleaned with curved hoes, the bull does not turn the clods with a deep-pressed plowshare, the pruning knife for leaves does not thin the shade of the tree, a scaly rust appears on deserted plows.

But the seats of the man himself, wherever the opulent kingdom extended, glitters with gleaming gold and silver. Ivory gleams on thrones, cups shine on the table, and the whole house rejoices with the brilliant treasure of royalty. Indeed the marriage couch, gleaming with Indian tusk, is placed in the middle of the seats for the goddess, and covered with purple cloth dyed by the rosy conch.

This bedspread, embroidered with ancient figures, showed the virtues of the heroes with its wondrous art. For looking out from the Dian shore resounding with waves, watching Theseus recede in his swift ship, Ariadne bears unconquerable rages in her heart, not yet even believing that she sees what she sees, no wonder, since, just stirred up from a deceptive sleep, she discerns herself abandoned and wretched on the lonely sand. And the forgetful young man, fleeing, beats the depths with oars, leaving behind empty promises for a windy storm. The daughter of Minos, among the seaweed, beholds him from far off with mournful eyes, like a stone statue of a Bacchant, she beholds, alas, she beholds and she floats on the great waves of her concerns, not keeping the delicate headdress on her blond head, not covered at her once-veiled chest by her light cloak, not bound at her tender breasts by her smooth band; the waves play with all the things fallen from her whole body, lying all around her feet.

O Theseus, caring for the plight of neither headdress nor cloak, that woman hangs with her whole chest, with her whole soul, from you--entirely lost, she believes. Ah, wretched woman, whom Erycina maddens with relentless tears, sowing thorny concerns in her chest; that woman, fierce since the time when Theseus, leaving the curved shores of Piraeus, reached the Gortynian temple of the unjust king.

For they say that once upon a time, in a cruel bane, to resolve the penalties for Androgeon's killing, Cecropia used to be forced to give chosen young men and the glory of unmarried women as a meal to the Minotaur. And for them, when the narrow walls were troubled by evils, Theseus himself hoped to cast his own body in front of Athenian worries rather than have Athenian corpses be carried, not yet dead, to Crete. Thus, striving with a light ship and thin breezes, he came to great-spirited Minos and proud seats.

And at the very moment that the royal maiden spied this man in the passionate light, she whom a chaste little bed used to nourish in the gentle embrace of her mother, breathing out soft scents--scents like the myrtles that encircle the streams of Eurota, or the spring breeze that draws out varied colors--no sooner had she lowered her burning eyes from that man than she conceived flame deep within her whole body and she kindled wholly from her deepest marrows. Alas, you holy boy agitating madness from the wretched, violent heart, you who mix joys with the worries of humans; and you who rules Golgi and leafy Idalium, with such waves you tossed that burning girl in her mind, sighing over her blond guest! What great fears she bore in her fainting heart! How much more than with the brightness of gold did she turn pale, when Theseus, desiring to fight the savage monster, sought either death or the prizes of praise! Nevertheless, promising little gifts to the gods--neither unpleasing ones, nor in vain--she undertook her prayers with silent lips.

For just as on top of Taurus an oak tree shaking its branches, or a coniferous pine with its sweating bark, is ripped out at the trunk by an unconquerable whirlwind with twisting flame (that tree driven out from the roots falls flat far off, broken far and wide no matter what's in its way), thus did Theseus lay out the savage thing with its masterly body, as it cast its horns to the empty winds in vain. Safe, he turned his feet back from there with great praise, ruling his wandering footsteps with a thin thread, so that he might not be thwarted in his wandering exit from the curving labyrinth of unobservable architecture.

But what would I commemorate, having wandered from the first song by much; how the daughter who--leaving the face of her father, the embrace of her sister, and then of her mother, who used to rejoice (wretched woman!) in her lost daughter--before all of these people chose the sweet love of Theseus? Or how she came to the foamy shore of Dia, carried by a raft, or how her husband, deserting with a forgetful chest, left her with her eyes bound by sleep? They say that the woman, raging in her burning heart, often uttered clear-voiced sounds from her deepest chest, and then climbed up the steep hills, from where she could extend her burning gaze into the depths of the sea, then ran into the hostile waves of the shivering ocean, lifting her soft coverings from her bare calves, and mournful spoke these things with her extreme grievances, producing cold little sobs from her wet mouth:

"Have you thus left me on a deserted shore, scoundrel, carried away from, scoundrel, my native shores, Theseus? Thus leaving me behind with divine power neglected, ah, forgetful man! do you carry oath-breaking prayers home? Is nothing able to bend the plan of a cruel mind? Was there no mercy available for you, that a pitiless chest wished to have compassion on us? But since you did not give these promises by sweet voice to me, you were bidding a wretched woman to expect not these things, but happy wifing, but hoped-for marriage, which empty expectations the breezes of the air tear wholly to pieces.

"Now indeed may no woman believe a man who swears promises, no woman hope that the speeches of a man are faithful; for them, while a desirous soul is eager to attain anything, they never fear to swear, they never hesitate to promise; but as soon as the passion of a desirous mind is sated, they never fear words, they never care about forswearing oaths.

"Truly I snatched you, spun about, from the center of a deadly storm, and decided to send away my brother rather than fail you (deceived!) at the final moment. For this reason, I will be given to the wild beasts and the raptors as prey to be torn to pieces, and when dead I will not be buried intact in the earth. What lioness bore you under a lonely cliff, what ocean spit you out, conceived by foaming waves, what Syrtis, what grasping Scylla, what broad Charbydis, made you who would give back such prizes in exchange for sweet life?

"If our marriage was not in your heart, because you feared the harsh commands of your ancient parent, nevertheless you could have led me into your home to serve you as a slave with pleasant labor, soothing your white footprints with liquid oil, or covering your bedroom with purple cloth.

"...but what should I, driven mad by wickedness, complain to deaf winds, which, granted no senses, can neither hear nor return voices sent out? Moreover, that man is already turned far off amidst the waves, and no mortal at all will appear among the vacant seaweed. Thus at the final moment a scoffing, savage mischance begrudges even its ears to our complaints.

"All-powerful Jupiter, would that the ships had not touched the Cnosian shores of Cecrops for a single moment, and the perfidious sailor bearing dire payments for the unconquerable bull had not untied the hawser to sail into Crete, and this wicked man concealing cruel plans had not rested shapes of this sweetness as a guest in our homes! For where will I take myself? For what sort of hope do I strive, being lost? Will I seek the Idaeon mountains? But a ferocious expanse of sea, separating with a wide gulf, divides me from them. Or do I hope for my father's help? Whom I left behind following the young man spattered with my brother's blood? Should I console myself with a husband's faithful love? Who fled while turning gentle oars into the sea's gulf? The lonely island is inhabited with not one roof, and no exit lies open with the waves of the sea surrounding it. There is no option for flight, no hope; all things are changed, all things deserted, all things display death.

"Nevertheless, my eyes will not weaken with death, the senses will not abandon my weary body, before I, betrayed, demand great justice from the gods, and I pray for a heavenly fidelity in my final hour. Therefore the Eumenides, the avenging ones who exact penalties for the deeds of men, whose foreheads, bound with snaky locks of hair, exhale the wraths they carry before their chests, coming here, here, listen to my complaints, which I--alas, wretched--am compelled to offer up from the depths of my marrows, defenseless, burning, blind with a demented anger. Since these true accusations are born from the depths of my chest, may you not allow our sorrow to be in vain, but just as Theseus let me vanish alone from his mind, so with his mind, goddesses, may he pollute himself and his people with death."

After she poured these voices from her sorrowing chest, begging anxiously for savage deeds, the heavenly ruler nodded with unconquered power; by this motion, the earth and the shivering expanse trembled and the glittering stars of the world crashed together. Moreover, Theseus himself, beset in his mind with a blind darkness, sent out of a forgetful chest the whole set of commands which he had been holding in a constant mind, and not lifting up the sweet signals for a sorrowing parent, he did not show himself to be safe on seeing the Erecthean port.

For they say that once upon a time, when Aegeus entrusted his child to the goddess, departing the walls by wind in a fleet, with an embrace he gave to the young man such commands: "Child, the one rather pleasant thing for me in a long life, whom I am compelled to send away into uncertain circumstances, who recently returned to me at the furthest border of old age, however much my fortune and your burning virtue snatch you away from me (and I am unwilling!), whose weary eyes are not yet filled up with the dear view of my child, I will not send you rejoicing with a deceitful chest, nor will I allow you to carry the symbols of good fortune, but I will first express many complaints from my mind, soiling my gray hair with dirt and worked-in dust, I will hang dyed sails from your wandering mast, so that the canvas darkened with Hiberian iron will speak our sorrows and the embers of our mind.

"But if the inhabitant of holy Itonus, who agrees to defend our people and seats at Erectheus, should allow that you spatter your right hand with the bull's blood, then make certain that these commands keep awake, stowed in your mindful heart, and that no time destroys them; as soon as your eyes touch upon our hills, at that moment have the yard-arms drop down the funereal cloth, and have the twisted ropes raise up white sails; as soon as I discern those, I will know happy joys in my mind, because a prosperous time hands you over, returned."

These commands left Theseus, who had been holding them in his constant mind before, just as clouds struck by a blast of winds leave the airy peak of a snowy mountain. And his father, who sought a look-out from the top of the citadel, wasting away his anxious eyes with endless tears, as soon as he saw the linen of the dyed sail, cast himself from the sheer top of the cliff, believing Theseus was lost to a pitiless fate. Thus returning Theseus himself received the funereal cloths of home by this paternal death, just like the sorrow of the daughter of Minos that he destroyed with his unremembering mind. She then watching the receding keel was turning many concerns over in her wounded spirit.

But from another part, flowering Iacchus was flying with a dance troupe of Satyrs and Nysa-born Silenus, seeking you, Ariadne, and burning with your love. For him bacchanal Maenads were raging all about with frenzied mind, euhoe! tossing their heads, euhoe! Some of these women were shaking thyrsus-spears with covered points, some casting the limbs from a torn-apart bullock, some belting themselves with twisting serpents, some celebrating hidden mystery-rites with hollow wicker-boxes, mysteries which the profane seek in vain to overhear; the horns were sounding harsh booms for many and the barbarian pipe shrilled with a terrifying song.

Splendidly decorated with these sorts of embroidered figures, it clasped the bed, embracing it with its own cloak.

After the Thessalian youth filled their desire for seeing this, they began to make way for the holy divinities. Now, just as ruffling Zephyr stirs up with a morning breeze on a placid sea the forward-falling waves (when Aurora rises toward the threshold of the moving Sol), which, first struck with a light gust, proceed and lightly sound with a laughing slap, then with a growing wind mount up more and more, and finally, floating, reflect back from a purple light; so then, relinquishing the royal roofs of the forecourt, they left, each taking himself back to his own home with a wandering foot far and wide.

After the exit of those, first Chiron came from the peak of Peleus, bearing silvan gifts: for whatever flowers the fields bear, what flowers the Thessalian land creates in the great mountains, what flowers the fruitful wind prepares by the waves of the warm Favonian river, he himself bore these woven together into disordered wreathes; filled through with their joyful scent, the house laughed.

Penios immediately approaches, of viridian Tempe, Tempe, which overhanging forests girdle, leaving Tempe to be filled with gift-dancers, not empty; for that god bore tall beech-trees down to the roots and long laurels straight in the trunk, not without the swaying palm tree and the soft sister of burning Phaethon and the airy cypress. He set these arranged in a broad circle around the estate, so that the vestibule would be green, covered by soft leaf.

After him follows Prometheus of the clever heart, bearing the faint scars of his old punishment, which he once paid, his limbs bound by chain to a rock, hanging from a sheer cliff.

Then the father of the gods, with his holy wife and children, approaches from the sky, leaving you alone, Phoebus, and your twin, inhabitant of the mountains of Idrus; for your sister equally with you spurned Peleus, and did not wish to celebrate the marriage torches of Thetis.

After these, limbs bent upon snowy seats, tables were piled high with a multiplicity of feasts, when meanwhile shaking their bodies with a sickly motion the Fates began to emit truth-telling songs. Embracing each trembling body of theirs was a white robe bound at the ankles with a purple hem, and red bands resided on their snowy heads, and their hands properly plucked at their eternal labor. The left held the distaff wrapped in soft wool; then the right, lightly drawing it out, formed the thread with upturned fingers; then twisting it on a downturned thumb, she turned it on a spindle weighted with a round whorl; and from there the tooth, plucking it off, evened up the product, and tufts of wool which were standing out before on the light thread stuck to dry lips; and at their feet twig-woven baskets guarded the soft fleeces of white wool. Then, striking these fleeces, with clear-sounding voices and divine song they poured out such fates, by a song which reveals after nothing the age of perfidy.

"O one who augments exceptional glory with great virtues, guardian of Emathia, dearest chid of Ops, accept what the sisters reveal to you with happy light, a truth-filled oracle: but you spindles, run! leading the cross-threads which fates follow, run, spindles!

"Hesperus will approach you bearing the most desired things for husbands, a wife will approach with the lucky star, she who fills her mind with a persuasive love for you, and prepares to join her weary little rests with you, spreading her light arms beneath your strong neck. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"No house ever wove together such loves, no love joined together lovers with such a pact, as the house approaching Thetis, as the concord with Peleus. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"There will be born to you Achilles, immune to fears, known to the enemy not by his back but by his strong chest, who--a victor in the long contest of running--will very often outstrip the footsteps of the wind-swift deer. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"No hero will compare himself to that man in war, when the Phrygian fields of Teucer will drip with blood, and besieging the Trojan walls with drawn-out war he will lay to waste the third heir of oath-breaking Pelops. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"That man's outstanding virtues and bright deeds--mothers will often speak of them, during the funerals of their children, when they will pull unkempt hair from a gray head, and they will bruise withered chests with decrepit hands. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"For just as a harvester cutting the thick-grown wheat before him reaps the yellow fields under the burning sun, he will lay out the bodies of Trojan men with hostile iron. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"Witness to his great virtues will be the Scamander's wave, which is poured out all over into the swift Hellespont, whose narrow path the high gore-mixed wave will make warm with hewn heaps of bodies. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"Next will be another witness, the booty brought back from the dead, when the smooth burial mound piled up with lofty rubble will receive the white limbs of a struck down maiden. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"For at the same time that chance will give the opportunity to weary Acheans to break the Neptunian chains of the Dardanian city, the high tombs will be soaked with Polyxena's blood; who, just as the sacrificial victim succumbs to double-edged iron, will as a corpse cast her torso over a lowered knee. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"Therefore lead on the desired loves for a joined soul. May the husband accept his goddess with a happy covenant, may the bride be given now to a desirous groom. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!

"May the nurse, looking back at the rising light, not be able to encircle that woman's neck with yesterday's thread, and the anxious mother mournful at sleeping apart from her quarreling daughter will not stop hoping for dear grandchildren. Run, spindles, leading the cross-threads, run!"

Predicting such things, the Fates once sang happy songs to the divine chest of Peleus. For the heavenly goddesses used to look upon the pure houses of the heroes in person, and display themselves to the mortal crowd, when righteousness was not yet scorned.

And often the father of gods, visiting his gleaming temple, when the yearly rites had come for godly festivals, looked over a hundred bulls lying upon the earth. Often wandering Liber led euhoe-crying Maenads with loose hair to the mountain peak of Parnasus, while happy Delphians, rushing from the whole city in eager rivalry, accepted the god with smoking altars. Often in the death-bearing battleline of war Mars, or the mistress of swift Triton, or the Amarunsian virgin, was present, urging on the armed masses of men.

But after the earth was filled with impious crime and everyone expelled justice from their desirous minds, brothers drenched their hands with brotherly blood, a child ceased mourning dead parents, a father hoped for the funeral of his youthful child, so that he could freely take the flower of the unmarried bride as stepmother, an impious mother spreading herself under her unknowing son was impious indeed to defile the divine household gods.

All holy and unholy things mixed with an evil madness turned away the justice-bearing mind of the gods from us. Therefore they do not deign to look upon these sorts of crowds, nor reveal themselves with a touch of clear light.
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