In his fifth poem, Catullus famously demands a thousand kisses from Lesbia, to be followed by a hundred, then a thousand more, and another hundred, and so on until they lose count (or ‘go bankrupt’—conturbabimus). It is a pleasant game in both erotic and poetic terms. Despite his careful accounting, we all know that Catullus will never be satisfied (as he spells out in poem 7—‘You ask how many kisses will be enough for me? As many as there are grains of sand in the Libyan desert,’ etc.). Meanwhile, the reader is invited both to share and to chuckle over his insatiability, the tunnel vision of his erotic obsessiveness and his immunity to boredom, as a few unpromising words (a thousand, a hundred, then, another) are repeated to the brink of nausea, arranged into hendecasyllabics with just enough rhythmic variety to keep our attention fixed on Catullus’ metrical skill—how resourcefully he fits the numbers into the numbers—before we go on to admire the contrasting, luxuriant treatment of the same theme in poem 7’s evocative adynatoi.
|Published - 31 Oct 2018