Catullus Poem on a Predestined Husband

This is poem number 17 from a translation of the poems of Catullus by Richard Burton and Leonard Smithers. Our primary interest in this poem comes from the fact that it has in it a very early reference to beasts of burden that have been shod. Of course, it is an interesting poem in its own right.

Colonia, fain to display thy games on length of thy town-bridge!
There, too, ready to dance, though fearing the shaking of crazy
Logs of the Bridgelet propt on pier-piles newly renewéd,
Lest supine all sink deep-merged in the marish's hollow,
So may the bridge hold good when builded after thy pleasure
Where Salisubulus' rites with solemn function are sacred,
As thou (Colonia) grant me boon of mightiest laughter.
Certain a townsman mine I'd lief see thrown from thy gangway
Hurléd head over heels precipitous whelmed in the quagmire,
Where the lake and the boglands are most rotten and stinking,
Deepest and lividest lie, the swallow of hollow voracious.
Witless surely the wight whose sense is less than of boy-babe

Two-year-old and a-sleep on trembling forearm of father.
He though wedded to girl in greenest bloom of her youth-tide,
(Bride-wife daintier bred than ever was delicate kidlet,
Worthier diligent watch than grape-bunch blackest and ripest)
Suffers her sport as she please nor rates her even at hair's worth,
Nowise 'stirring himself, but lying log-like as alder
Felled and o'er floating the fosse of safe Ligurian woodsman,
Feeling withal, as though such spouse he never had own'd;
So this marvel o' mine sees naught, and nothing can hear he,
What he himself, an he be or not be, wholly unknowing.
Now would I willingly pitch such wight head first fro' thy bridge,
Better a-sudden t'arouse that numskull's stolid old senses,
Or in the sluggish mud his soul supine to deposit
Even as she-mule casts iron shoe where quagmire is stiffest.

Yes, the last line refers to muleshoes. No one is quite sure when the earliest use of shoes for mules and other beasts of burden first occurred. However, this poem is historical evidence that horseshoes were relatively common even before the beginning of the first millennium.

But of course this poem would not have survived the ages had it not been one that had merit. Catullus here displays his ability to use common images in an original way. He writes of an aging husband with a young wife. The old man does not appreciate what he has, and the young poet wishes he could overthrow the elder. Then the old man would finally be aroused to appreciation, or (more preferably to Catullus) would disappear and be gone in the same way a mule's shoe might get lost on a muddy track, never to be found again. Similar sentiments are expressed by a character in the plot of the novel, Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray.

Contrast this with Shakespeare's poem on Spring.

< Catullus Reference | Cucumbers in the Bible >

Interesting Fact:

Catullus professed to a philosophy called Epicureanism which basically said that what is gives pleasure is good. This philosophy justified his poetry which was lusty and filled with desire. Ultimately, it seems this philosophy did not make him happy.


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