Ille mi par esse deo videtur,
ille, si fas est, superare divos,
qui sedens adversus identidem te
     spectat et audit
dulce ridentem, misero quod omnis
eripit sensus mihi: nam simul te,
Lesbia, aspexi, nihil est super mi
     * * * * * * * *
lingua sed torpet, tenuis sub artus
flamma demanat, sonitu suopte
tintinant aures gemina, teguntur
     lumina nocte.
otium, Catulle, tibi molestum est:
otio exsultas nimiumque gestis:
otium et reges prius et beatas
     perdidit urbes.

mi = mihi
par                                              equal
fas, n.                                          right
superare                                     surpass
divos: divus, m.                        god
adversus                                    opposite
eripit: eripere                            snatch away
simul                                          as soon as
aspexi: aspicere                        look at
est super = superset                  remain, survive
torpet: torpere                           be paralysed
tenuis                                           fine, subtle
artiis: artus, m.                          limb
dernanat: demanare                 flow down
suopte = strong form of suo
tintinant: tintinare                    ring
gemina: geminus                      twin, double
lumina, n. pl.                             eyes
otium, n.                                     leisure, idleness
exsultas: exsultare                     take delight
gestis: gestire                             desire eagerly
beatas: beatus                            prosperous
perdidit: perdere                      ruin, destroy


Metre: Sapphic Stanzas

Sappho, Poem 31 (English translation from the Greek)

‘That man seems to me to be equal to the gods, who sits opposite you and nearby hears you sweetly speaking and charmingly laughing, a thing which truly excites my heart in my breast; for whenever I see you for a moment, then for me to say anything is no longer possible, but my tongue is broken in silence and immediately a thin flame has stolen under my skin, and I see nothing with my eyes, and my ears make a buzzing sound, and cold sweat possesses me, and trembling seizes me completely, and I am greener than grass, and I seem to myself to be lacking little to be dead. But everything must be ventured, since ... even a needy person ...’

Discussion Questions


  • What role do references to the senses play in this poem?
  • Discuss the imagery deployed throughout this poem. How does it elevate the meaning?
  • Discuss the respective roles of the observer, Lesbia and ille in this poem.
  • Discuss how desire is evoked in the poem.
  • What is the role of otium here?
  • Compare this poem with Sappho, Poem 31.


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