This is my translation of Catullus’s sixty-third poem. You can find the original here. It’s a bizarre poem with a bizarre rhythm, which I tried to keep to some extent in English. Don’t read if you’ve just eaten!
|A lake at night. No connection to the plot, but thematically related.|
Over bottomless seas came Attis, on a tiny craft tossed by the waves
to the sacred woods of Phrygia, which he tore through with hurrying feet
till he reached the holy, hidden groves of the goddess’s overgrown haunt
where, now mad with frenzied madness, his inner soul thirsting to roam—
he ripped off his heavy manhood from himself with a merciless knife,
and mad Attis felt his manly strength flow out of his gaping wound.
And as living blood still poured out, staining red the leaves on the ground,
with blanching, snowy hands he took up the near-weightless drum;
the drum, and the horn, O Cybele, the sacred tools of your rites;
and shaking the hollow timbrel with his languid, effeminate hands
atremble he sang to his comrades in divine and feverish words:
“Go to the mountain, Gallae, go together to Cybele’s shrine!
Go together, O wandering flock of Dindymene goddess divine.
For you, who homelessly wander to far-off and foreign lands,
you must follow me, O my brothers, you must follow me up to the heights!
“You have braved the thrashing sea and the savageries of her depths;
you have wasted your young bodies from your hatred of simmering love,
and you now must fill your souls with the goddess’s dizzying dance:
let your scolding reason flee, and now follow, follow with me!
“to the Phrygian palace of Cybele, to her Phrygian sacred grove,
where the voice of the cymbals bellows, where the greatest drums resound;
where the Phrygian satyr blows his notes on his curving, bellowing rod;
where the shrieking, ivied Maenads toss their furious, unseeing heads;
“where the sacred priests rage restless with their fierce and howling cries;
where the roaming band of the goddess leads its wandering, roaming steps;
where we now must hurry swiftly in a wild and warlike dance.”
Now as thus spoke Attis—O fearsome woman—as he sang to the revelling crowd
From their frenzied tongues the mystic band gave a sudden and howling cry.
And their hollow timbrels bellowed, and their clashing cymbals cried out,
and the chorus flew to the goddess’s haunt on their swift and hurrying feet.
Their raging leader Attis led a way through the moonless woods;
to the drums he wandered, longing in agony, and panting out his soul;
as an unbroken heifer flees the weight of her unremitting iron yoke.
Thus the flock of the hurrying Bacchic dancers followed their fiery chief
till at last, as they reached the house of Cybele, wheezing and tired to the core
from tremendous labors they slipped unfed into sleep on the leafy ground.
Lazy slumber covered their eyes; languor spread over the flock;
and the fury of their souls stole away into the quiet night.
But when the golden-mouthèd Sun with gloriously blazing eyes
lit up the upper heavens; the hard ground; the wild sea;
as he chased out the shadows of night with his charging, eager steeds,
from the rudely woken Attis fled at once oppressing Sleep
in a hurry to the rocking lap of Pasithee goddess divine.
Thus Attis from his gentle rest arose, his madness at bay;
and at once from his breast he felt the pang of his rash and bloody deed.
With a mind as clear as water, he saw he was utterly alone;
and his soul immersed in torturing remorse, he fled to the shores of the sea,
where he, with violent sobbing, saw the endless watery plains
and cried for his homeland, deep in despair, in a weeping and miserable voice.
“Oh my homeland!” he cried, “Oh motherland, oh country who gave me my life,
must I who fled from your bosom to the alien Turkish wastes
(like a runaway servant flees the comfort of his kindly master’s house)
now make my home in the snows of the mountains, a sister of the savage fiends
and live crouched in their hidden lairs, myself a raving beast!
Oh gentle homeland, why did I leave you for lands across the sea?
The very pupils of my eyes roll their wistful gaze to your shores,
longing for you in this briefest calm while my soul lacks its animal rage.
Ah! must I bear this in an inhuman wilderness, a waste so far from my home?
Must I be so far from my homeland, from my parents, my revelling friends?
Must I be so far from the forum, the stadiums, the gym, and the baths?
Miserable, ah miserable, I cry in torture and pain.
What kind of human form is there that I have never assumed?
I am a woman, but I was a man, I was a fair youth, I was a boy,
I was the flower of the gymnasium, and an oil-covered delight.
And they used to flock to my doorstep, to my warm and comfortable hearth.
And I had a home, a proper house bestrewn with flowery wreaths,
and a cozy bedroom which I would leave at sunrise with an eager heart.
But shall I now be the goddess’s ruined slave, fierce Cybele’s trembling maid?
I, a Maenad, a small shred of me, a sterile shadow of a man?
shall I haunt the freezing caves of the snow-covered Trojan mount?
shall I spend my life alone beneath the towering Phrygian peaks,
with the hart who treads the woodlands, and the forest-wandering boar?
Ah! it pains me what I’ve done—my god! I burn with stinging remorse.”
Now as the sound of these words spilled quickly forth from Attis’s rosy lips
and flew to the ears of the fearsome Mother with their strange announcement of woe,
at once the goddess Cybele loosened her growling lions’ yoke.
And striking the fiercest, the fiend of the flock, she issued a menacing command:
“Go,” she said, “go, fierce one, drive mad this eunuch’s soul!
Make him flee to the forests, bidden by a boiling and fetterless rage.
Do this to my wild son, who longs from my service to flee.
Go! and whip your sides with your tail, my servant, suffer the pangs of your rage!
and make all the woods around you reecho your howling growls.
O fierce one, shake your blood-red mane around your brawny neck.”
So spoke the furious Cybele, and opened the yoke with her hand.
And the wild lion, obeying, fanning his spirit to a searing blaze
bursts forth, and growls and breaks through the forest with wild, unresting feet.
And when he reached the sea-washed plains of the pearly, sparking beach
and saw the tender Attis at the side of the marble sea
he attacked—and Attis, driven to madness, fled to the inhuman woods,
where he, for all the rest of his life, was a slave of the goddess-queen.
O goddess, O great mother Cybele, goddess, queen of the woods!
keep all your heavenly madness far away from my peaceful home.
Drive others to insanity, drive others—not me!—to go mad.
Drive others to insanity, drive others—not me!—to go mad.