Scanned from Joseph J. Mooney (tr.), The Minor Poems of Vergil: Comprising the Culex, Dirae, Lydia, Moretum, Copa, Priapeia, and Catalepton (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1916).

The Catalepton

THIS is a collection of epigrams, many of which have unfortunately lost their point, so far as we are concerned, from our ignorance of the persons and circumstances which called them forth. Some of them, however, have light thrown upon them from the various ancient lives of Vergil, which see. We have the evidence of Ausonius (see notes on II) that some of them were obscure even in his day (fourth century).


VERGIL'S friend Tucca has a mistress who is a married woman. As Vergil cannot approach her himself on account of this, though he would like to do so, he is annoyed, and doesn't want to hear about the continued good relations between Tucca and her.

O TUCCA, Delia often comes to thee,
But her 'tis not permitted me to see.
She's hidden by her husband's fastened door.
To thee doth Delia often come, and more
She doesn't come to me; for if concealed
She's kept, what can't be touched is far afield.
I've heard she's come to thee. But now to me
What benefit can that announcement be?
So tell it him to whom she has returned.


QUINTILIAN (viii, 3) quotes this epigram and says that "it was made by Vergil on T. Annaeus Cimber. This Cimber was the one by whom his brother was murdered, as is signified in this saying of Cicero, Germanum Cimber occidit," "Cimber slew, a German," or "his brother," as Germanum could mean either German or brother. There is a similar play on the word Germanum in Velleius Paterculus, ii, 67. Ausonius, in his "Grammaticomastix" i.e., "Scourge of Grammarians"), lines 5-8, also refers to this epigram thus, "Say, what do the Catalepta of Maro mean? In these he has put the al of the Celts; tau follows not more clearly; is sil the expression of a foreign, or Latin word? and what was the death-dealing min mixed evilly for his brother?"

So that the meaning of the epigram had become obscure even in the fourth century.

THAT lover of Corinthian words or obsolete,
That--well, that spouter, Thucydides all complete,
A tyrant Greek, an Attic fever sure is he
That full of ill for him may each ingredient be,
Upon the Gallic tau and min and spin he fixed,
And all the things those name he for his brother mixed.


THIS epigram has been supposed to refer to Pompey the Great. Compare Lucan, "Pharsalia," viii, 701 seq.

BEHOLD a man relying on
His powerful dominion,
Whom glory has exalted lone
And higher than a kingdom's throne.
With war the mighty world he shakes,
And he the kings of Asia breaks
And peoples, too; for thee was he,
O Rome, a weighty toil for thee
Supporting now (the rest 'tis clear
Had fallen by the hero's spear)
When suddenly amid the mell
Of politics he headlong fell,
And into exile from his land
Was forced to go. So high and grand
Indeed the goddess Fortune's power!
At nod so great a treacherous hour
Hath ruined human plans sublime
In momentary space of time.


THE Musa to whom this epigram was addressed was, probably one of the youths of whom Donatus (in his life of Vergil) says Vergil was fond. There was a Musa who was physician to Augustus, and another, a rhetorician mentioned by Seneca, but the piece does not seem appropriate to either of these.

WHERE'ER the periodic to and fro
Of life that's chequered calls for me to go,
Whatever lands to touch, what men to see,
O may I die if ever there shall be
Another dearer than thyself to me.
For who's the other could more charming be
Than thou to whom, O Musa, while thou'rt young
The gods and sisters of the gods have flung,
And not to one unworthy, that entire
That's good before all other men, entire
The things in which Apollo's self and choir
Rejoices? Who, O Musa, can have been
More skilled than thou? O who, in nations e'en,
More pleasantly than thou alone doth speak?
Clio fair so sweetly doesn't speak.
In which account it is enough if thou
Thyself to be beloved dost still allow,
But in return that mutual may be
Our love, whence sprang the love thou'st shown to me?


Vergil says good-bye to the rhetoricians under whom he has been studying, as he is leaving their schools to get instruction in the Epicurean philosophy from Syro at Rome. Syro was a celebrated man in those days and a friend of Cicero's. He says good-bye to the Muses as well, but only half-heartedly.

Ye empty tubs of rhetoricians, off with you,
You're merely words inflated not with Attic dew;
Ye Seliuses, Tarquitiuses, and Varro, too,
A tribe of scholars filled with lore that's dull, if true,
O empty cymbal of our youth, be off with you!
And thou, O Sextus, foremost in my thoughts, good-bye.
Sabinus, too; now, handsome youths, to you good-bye.
For we to happy havens spread our sails and fly,
And seeking noble Syro's learned words have we
From every care our life henceforward rendered free.
O Muses, off with you, be gone with all the rest!
Ye charming Muses, for the truth shall be confessed
Ye charming were, and modestly and rarely still
Ye must revisit papers that I then shall fill.


THIS epigram must be read in conjunction with Epigram XII, but nothing beyond what they state is known either of Noctuinus or Atilius and his daughters.

O SIRE-IN-LAW, who happily the part dost play
Nor for thyself nor for the other anyway,
O son-in-law, the addle-pated Noctuine,
Oppressed by that insensibility of thine
And thy offence, so excellent a girl will go
Away to th' country, and to me it seems to show
That you in every item doth that line recall,
O son-in-law and sire-in-law, you've ruined all."


VARUS was one of Vergil's intimate friends (see [Phocas'] "Life of Vergil" in front, line 94, and Donatus, "Vit. Verg." xiv). In this epigram yields to duress and illustrates the feeling of Galileo, who, having been forced to make a public recantation of his statement that the earth was round, added under his breath, "but it's round for all that."

My dearest Varus, this I may
Without deception clearly say,
I'm hanged if 'tis untruly put,
That lad has ruined me.

Howe'er, if thy commands forbid
Me speaking out of what he did,
Of course, I won't declare it, but--
That boy has ruined me.


VERGIL and his father having been evicted from their home and lands (see [Phocas'] "Life," line 120), his old teacher, Syro (see "Life" and Epigram V) placed his country house at their disposal as a place of refuge, and Vergil apostrophises it in these lines:

O LITTLE country house and scanty fields
Which wast our Syro's, thee to us he yields,
But yet that owner's wealth thou didst compose.
To thee do I commend myself and those
Whom I have always loved along with me,
Among the first my father; if it be
That aught more sad I hear about our home--
Thou now wilt be to him what Mantua
And what Cremona, too, aforetime were.


THIS piece is a panegyric on Messalla Corvinus, who was born about 70 B.C. and died about A.D. 1. He fought against Octavianus first with Cassius and Brutus, and afterwards with Antony. When, however, he saw that the latter's cause was doomed, on account of his infatuation for Cleopatra, he went over to Octavianus and fought on his side at the battle of Actium. He obtained a triumph (28 B.C.) for the reduction of Acquitaine. About the same time he held a prefecture in Asia Minor. He was a literary man and orator as well as a soldier, and wrote Bucolic verse and verses on his mistress (his "heroine," as Vergil calls her), which, from the way Pliny mentions them (Epist. 5, 3), were probably of a wanton character. He also wrote grammatical treatises, but the tract "De Progenie Augusti," now extant, and published in old editions of Eutropius, etc., is not considered his production, but that of a later age. He was intimate with Tibullus and friendly with Horace, and Vergil's (if it be Vergil's) "Ciris" is dedicated to him. Some of his witty sayings are preserved in Seneca's "Suasoria." The panegyric on Messalla to be found in the works of Tibullus may be compared with this one:

A FEW ideas, learned Muses, give
To me, a few ideas give to me,
And ones to snowy Phoebus not unknown.
As victor he's at hand, the splendour great
Of mighty triumph won by him behold!
A victor he as far as lands and far
As seas lie open, bearing tokens rude
Of fights barbaric, great Oenides thus,
And thus the haughty Eryx did appear.
Nor therefore give ye utt'rance to your songs
The less since he's a poet, very great
And worthy to engage in sacred choirs.
And so on this account I'm thrown the more
On unaccustomed cares, O best of men,
Regarding what I either to thee or
About thee may be able to indite.
For what (for I'll confess it) ought to be
The greatest cause of hindering me has been
The greatest cause of urging me along.
That is, thy poems though they be but few
Within the range of my description come.
They're lays endowed with eloquence as well
As Attic wit, they're poems which received
By future ages value will retain,
They're poems which are worthy to surpass
The aged man of Pylos in their years.
In them beneath the verdant canopy
Of spreading oak agreeably at ease
The shepherds Moeris, Meliboeus, were,
To one another throwing off in verse
Alternate poems sweet of such a kind
As th' learned youth of Sicily doth love.
Thy heroine in rivalry were all
The gods, in rivalry the goddesses
As well, adorning with their special gift.
O girl, above all others fortunate
In having thee as writer of her charms!
For Fame has not related that there was
Another girl more excellent than she;
Not her, who had she not been taken by
The gift of the Hesperides, the swift
Hippomenes had vanquished in the course;
Not Helen out of egg of swan produced,
The lovely daughter of Tyndarus she;
Not Cassiopeia,' the braggart fair,
Resplendent shining in the sky above;
Not her' defended long and oft by th' race
Of horses, prize was she which hands that then
Were filled with reins each wanted for itself,
On whose behalf her impious father oft
The would-be son-in-law deprived of life,
Oft ran the verdant earth with ruddy blood;
Not her of royal house, Semele, not
Th' Inachian daughter of Acrisius,
The damsels twain who hope for Jove to come
In lightning Rashes fierce and in the shower;
Not her by reason of whose rape expelled
The Tarquins, son and father, left behind
Their native hearth-gods, he dominion bore
At that eventful time when Rome did first
Replace the haughty kings by consuls mild.
Nor numerous rewards did she present
To undeserving stepsons', given were
Her greatest recompenses to her sons,
Messallas and Publicolas. For why
Should I the applications of thy toil
Immense commemorate? or why record
The dreadful periods of service hard
When in the field? For thou wast wont to set
The camp before the Forum, nay, the camp
Before the City (place so far away
From thee, its son, and thou so far away
From this thy native land), to suffer now
Excessive cold and now excessive heat,
To have ability to lie on e'en
The hardest rock, and often gliding o'er
The savage sea with stars adverse for ships,
By daring it to conquer oft the sea
And oft the winter storm, and oftentimes
To throw thy body on a press of foes
Regardless of the common god of war;
To punish now the speedy Africans,
And thousands are there of the race, and now
To go to th' golden streams of Tagus swift;
At other times, for warring down, to seek
For nation after nation, and to prove
The victor further than the Ocean's bounds.
'Tis not, 'tis not, I say, for us to reach
Such great deserts, nay, this I'll even dare
To say, 'tis hardly possible for man.
These very deeds throughout the world themselves
As monuments of thy achievements raise,
And for themselves uncommon splendour do
These very deeds procure. If, humble, I
Can hear those poems which the deities,
Apollo and the Muses, Bacchus and
Aglaia, have along with thee composed,
Can breathe their praise and can the Sirens hear,
If I can have in native song the wit
Of Greece, already do I get beyond
My very wishes. This is quite enough:
With stupid people have I nought to do.


THIS piece is a parody of one by Catullus (iv), of which I here give a translation for convenience of comparison.

O STRANGERS, that felucca which you see
Doth say it was the fastest of the ships,
And didn't fail to go beyond the speed
Of any craft afloat, e'en were the task
To fly with oars or with the spreading sail,
And this the threatening Adriatic's coast
Or those Cyclades islands don't, it says,
Deny, and noble Rhodes, Thracia rough,
The Sea of Marmora or Euxine wild;
Where that felucca as it afterwards
Became, aforetime was a bushy wood,
For on the Boxwood Range with whispering leaves
It oft would cause a sound. To Amastris
O' th' Euxine, Cytorus that's clad with box,
Th' felucca says these things both were and are
Particularly known, and says that at
Its earliest origin it stood upon
Thy heights and in thy waters dipped its oars,
And through so many raging seas from there
It bore its lord, and whether on the left
Or on the right the breeze was wont to pipe,
Or both together Jove propitious pressed.
Nor had it for itself to coastwise gods
An offering made, when from its final trip
It came at length to this pellucid pond.
But these are what have been in former times:
Amid secluded ease it now doth age
And dedicates itself to thee, the twin
That's Castor, and to Castor's brother twin.

The parody was made by Vergil on a man named Ventidius Bassus, who rose from being a captive to holding the nominally highest position in the state. I cannot do better than translate here the account which Gellius (xv, 4) gives of this man. "They say about Ventidius Bassus that be was born at Picenum in a humble station, and that his mother was made a captive along with him in the Social War by Pompeius Strabo, the father of Pompey the Great, when he subdued the people of Asculum; that on Pompeius Strabo having a triumph soon after, he also was carried as a child on the bosom of his mother among the other captives before the general's chariot; that afterwards, when he had grown up, he cast about for a living for himself and found one with difficulty and in a mean way by providing mules and vehicles; these, which had to be furnished at the public cost for magistrates who had been allotted provinces, he contracted for. In that occupation he began to be known to C. Caesar and set out with him into Gaul; then, because he had made the most of his opportunities in that province, and had accomplished the things committed to him in the Civil War for the most part actively and zealously, he not only attained to the friendship of Caesar, but from that to the highest rank: soon after he was also created Tribune of the Plebs and thereafter Praetor, and at that time was, along with Mark Antony, declared an enemy by the Senate; but afterwards, the parties having coalesced, he not only recovered his former dignity, but also obtained the Pontificate, and next the Consulship; and the Roman populace, who recollected that Ventidius Bassus had got his living by looking after mules, endured this affair with such a bad grace that these few lines were commonly written on the walls throughout the streets of the City:

Ye augurs and soothsayers, all be collected,
A portent uncommon is lately effected,
A consul he's made who rubbed mules for a trade.
There have been many parodies of Catullus's poem since Vergil parodied it.

O STRANGERS, that Sabinus whom you see
Doth say he was the fastest muleteer,
And didn't fail to go beyond the speed
Of any gig that flew, e'en were the task
To fly to Brixia or Mantua.
And this the emulating Tryphon's house
Or noble island of Caerulus don't,
He says, deny, nor th' situation rough
Where that Sabinus, as he afterwards
Became, aforetime says its bushy neck
He sheared for Quinctius with the double shears,
Lest 'neath the boxwood collar pressing, hair
So hard might cause a wound. Cremona cold,
To thee, and thee, O Gaul, that's filled with mud,
Sabinus says these things both were and are
Particularly known, and says that at
His earliest origin he stood amid
Thy depths, and in thy marshes dropped his packs,
And through so many rutty miles from there
He bore his yoke, and whether on the left
Or on the right the mule began to sink,
Or both together. . . .
Nor had he for himself to wayside gods
An offering made, except this final one,
His father's reins and newest curry-comb.
.But these are what have been in former times:
Upon an ivory seat he now doth sit
And dedicates himself to thee, the twin
That's Castor, and to Castor's brother twin.


IN one MS. and most editions the first line of this piece reads: "What god, Octavius, carried thee away? "Nothing is known, however, of any Octavius who died young, probably from excessive drinking, and wrote Roman history. It is better, therefore, to take it, with the majority of the MSS., as addressed to an unknown historian.

WHAT god desired and carried thee away
From us? Or whether was it what they say,
The stiffish cups thou tookst with too much wine?
"I've drunk with you if fault it be of mine;
The destiny that's his pursueth each;
Why then of crime the guiltless cups impeach?"
"Indeed, thy writings we shall much admire,
And thee, thus early carried to the pyre
And Roman history, bewail. But, oh
Thou'lt no one be! " Ye gods perverse below,
Declare what was the grudge that did prevent
Him living till his father's life was spent?


COMPARE this piece with VI. This epigram is probably antecedent to that in point of time. Vollmer and others think that Noctuinus is the person whose name is given as Lucius or Lucienus in the next piece.

O HAUGHTY Noctuine, O addle pate,
The girl is given, she thou seekest as mate
To thee is given; O haughty Noctuine,
The girl thou seekest s given and now is thine;
But thou seest not, O haughty Noctuine,
That daughters twain Atilius hath to be,
The twain, both this and that, bestowed on thee?
Now, come, ye people, come ye, see!
As is becoming haughty Noctuine
Doth lead--the jug to which he doth incline,
Thalassio, Thalassio, Thalassio.


THE concubine of a man who formerly had some position and wealth, but who has squandered his own and his brother's share of their inheritance, upbraids him for throwing her over, and tells the world how he got his living by prostituting himself and everyone belonging to him. Now, says she, he won't want to take her to the Cotyttia or to the ships in the river which he visits for improper purposes, or lead her to the slaves in the kitchens of the rich, or public feasts at the cross roads, or poor folk's banquets. He goes himself now and returns satiated to the fat wife he has now got, and gorges on sausages bought with her dowry, and though she hates him he slavers over her. She (his old concubine) defies him to injure her, and both tells his name and foretells his end.

DOST think to throw me over now because
I cannot sail the seas as heretofore,
Nor bear the cold severe or suffer heat,
Nor still accompany a victor's arms?
My wrath and old time rage, the tongue with which
I am at hand for thee, the shameful life
Of prostituted sister in thy tent,
Are strong enough, are strong enough for me.
O why dost thou excite me? Why, O man,
Devoid of shame and worthy Caesar's ban?
Thy thefts, however, shall be told and, as
Regards thy brother, parsimony late,
His patrimony being squandered now;
And e'en the common things that by the boy
Are done with men, the buttocks wet throughout
The night, and over and above the shout,
Thalassio, Thalassio, that's on
A sudden raised by whom I cannot tell.
Why hast thou paled, O woman? Do the jests
Afflict thee? Dost thou recognize thy deeds?
Throughout the beautiful Cotyttia
Thou'lt not invite me to the festal p. . . . s,
Nor having seized the altars shall I see
Thee afterwards, upon a little raft,
Bestir thy loins and for thyself invoke
The yellow river near by sailors used,
A place of smells where vessels stand aground,
Retained in shallows by the filthy mud,
And there contending with the water sparse;
Nor wilt thou lead the way to kitchen, or
To Compitalia sumptuous, or feasts
Penurious, with which as also with
Their sticky waters filled thou dost return
To buxom wife, and boiling sausages
Provided by her dowry, breakest up,
And hated, with thy kisses lickest her.
Now injure me, now tear me if at all
Thou hast the power! and I'll subscribe thy name.
O Lucius the catamite, has wealth
Now gone and do thy cheeks with hunger creak?
I yet shall see thee having nought beyond
Inactive brothers and an angered Jove,
And ruptured belly and the swollen feet
Thy drunken uncle had from fasting long.

All but one of the MSS. have the following few lines sandwiched in between lines 16 and 17 of the above piece, to which they are quite foreign. Baehrens subjoins them to XI.

O skilful one, it is the injury
O'th' age for thee beneath this mound to be.
No less a guest for that thou'lt be in hearts
Old-fashioned: with what other man of parts
Might Rome the learned Athens emulate?
'Tis given to none to vanquish iron Fate!


THIS epigram was probably written towards the close of his life, as it mentions the "Aeneid." It is addressed to Venus.

O THOU who cherishest th' Idalian seat,
O Paphos, if 'tis granted to complete
My work begun, that now and finally
The Trojan prince Aeneas borne with thee
In worthy song through Roman towns may wend,
I'll not with frankincense alone commend
Thy temples, or with painted tablet pay;
With cleanly hands I'll carry garlands gay,
A ram that's horned, a humble victim he,
A bull, the greatest, shall besprinkle free
These hallowed hearths in honour of thy grace.
A wingèd Love to thee shall stand in place,
A marble one or one with thousand hues,
With painted quiver as the fashions use.
O lady of Cythera, mayst thou be
At hand, for lo! thy Caesar calleth thee,
As doth the altar of Surrentum's strand
To hasten hither from Olympus grand.

At the end of this piece there are four lines (of Latin) which have evidently been added by some grammarian, which may be translated thus: "These also are the first efforts of that divine poet who was sweeter than the Syracusan bard, greater than Hesiod, and not less than Homeric in his diction, and are his unformed Epic Muse in various song." Last modified 31 May 1998. This page maintained by David Wilson-Okamura. Email your comments to