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N.S. Gill

Catullus' "Sparrow"

By May 11, 2006

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In Carmen 2, one of his poems about his ex-girlfriend, Lesbia (the code name for a woman who is usually assumed to be the licentious sister of the transvestite trouble-maker Clodius Pulcher), Catullus uses the term passer, which translates as 'sparrow'. It is usually assumed that 'passer' is some sort of term of affection, and it has been noted that it has been used as a term of affection elsewhere in Latin literature. However, the Rogue Classicist has found some funerary inscriptions for pets on the Sauvage Noble blog, that make it sound quite possible that Catullus was actually mourning the death of his or Lesbia's pet sparrow. Since the next sparrow poem by Catullus begins by calling on Venus and Cupid, it still sounds unlikely, but you may judge for yourself.

There is also a recipe for passer based on ancient Roman cooking, accompanied by a picture of "Passer in sarcophago," in which the sarcophagus is actually puff pastry.


May 14, 2006 at 2:55 pm
(1) Tania Winter says:

Reply to Catullus:
Birds and poets are rats with wings
Both leave mess for others to clean
Broads that dote on small animals smell
and are Goddamn mean
Miscreants who write poetry are liable to have
other nasty habits.

June 24, 2010 at 4:55 am
(2) Steve Kimberley says:

You say it’s “quite possible” that Catullus was actually mourning the death of a sparrow? Well, as the whole of Carmen 3 is apparently about exactly that, I’m inclined to agree!

Why should Catullus not be employing a ‘double entendre’, sometimes meaning an actual, physical sparrow and sometimes meaning a more intimate, venereal entity? Consider the meanings associated with word ‘pussy’, for example.

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