Catullus, Poem 86 (Contributed by Terry Walsh)

It has been thought that ‘Lesbia’ is a construct, or even a figment of the poet’s imagination. This poem, I think, proves that the love affair was a real one, since the feelings forcefully expressed here are surely real.

The concept of beauty expressed here is quite modern – and refreshing. Beauty is not skin-deep, it appears, and personality counts, in fact, for a great deal.

Terry Walsh


Quintia formosa est multis, mihi candida, longa,

   recta est. haec ego sic singula confiteor,

totum illud “formosa” nego: nam nulla venustas,

   nulla in tam magno est corpore mica salis.

Lesbia formosa est, quae cum pulcherrima tota est,

   tum omnibus una omnis subripuit Veneres.

To many Quintia is beautiful; to me, she is fair, tall,

     poised, even. These I can severally admit,

but that word ‘beautiful’ I deny. For there is no charm,

   in all that willowy frame, no spark, no wit;

Lesbia is beautiful; Lesbia, being absolutely alluring,

     has alone filched all the gifts of Venus from all.


Translation by Terry Walsh.

The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

Read more of this text at the Perseus site.

Terry recommends A S Kline’s translation.

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