Here, Catullus provides a glimpse of tender sincerity as he bids farewell to his brother. Having travelled far and wide to be at the funeral, Catullus honours his brother with the traditional funeral rites. The poignant ‘ave atque vale’ (hail and farewell) adds a particularly resonant conclusion to a poem of such intense emotion.
For me, line 4 stands out here: ‘et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem’ (and I might speak in vain to your silent ashes). The painful antithesis between the agency of the speaker and the mute remains of his addressee is to be found, especially given the enclosing word order of ‘mutam … cinerem’. Clearly, Catullus does not believe these rites to be futile (‘nequiquam’), but the adverb nonetheless intimates a frustration and grief on behalf of the poet.
A short, sincere poem which reveals the multifaceted nature of Catullus’ poetic diction
Borne through many nations and over many seas
I come to these wretched funeral rites, brother mine,
so that I might finally hand you over with the gift of death
and speak in vain to your silent ashes,
since fortune indeed has stolen you yourself away from me –
alas, my brother, cruelly snatched from me.
But now accept these gifts dripping with fraternal tears,
handed down by the ancient custom of our forefathers
as a sorrowful tribute in funeral rites,
and forevermore, brother, hail and farewell!
Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.
Translation by James Green
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