Patrick O'Brian Catullas Reference

References to Catullus are fairly common. Even so, in Patrick O'Brian's "The Fortune of War" we find one of the main characters comparing his own unrequited love with that of Catullus. These thoughts occur to Stephen Maturin when he is captured by the American Navy and his diary is in danger of being discovered:

Yet even so he was very, very unwilling that any other eye should see him naked, see him exposed as a helpless tormented lover, a nympholept furioulsy longing for what was beyond his reach; and even more unwilling that any man should read his attempts at verse, Catullus-and-water at the best. A very great deal of water, though the fire might perhaps be the same: nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Interesting that a person's intensity of feeling does not necessarilly qualify him to be a poet. It was not, then, the intensity of feeling within the works of Catullus that made him great, but rather his ability to convey that feeling with style and verve. The bit of Latin in the snippet above translates roughly to: "I know not, but I feel it and am tortured". The full line from Catullus actually begins, "I hate and I love. Why do I do it?" O'Brian's Maturin seems to be not so much ashamed of his feelings, but his almost juvenile way of expressing it. In the Aubrey/Maturin series he is also an intelligence agent. It is dangerous for him to have created information that might later be used against him.

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Interesting Fact:

Patrick O'Brian wrote twenty books in the Aubrey/Maturin series which covers naval conflict mainly during the Napoleonic Wars. O'Brian eventually ran out of years for his characters so that 1812 through 1815 go on in the series for a considerably longer time than strictly alloted by chronology.


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