Love and Betrayal, A Catullus Reader (Expanded Edition) by Elizabeth Baer late 70’s early 80’s with cowriters Bruce Arnold, Gilbert Lawall and Andrew Aronson. The poetry of Catullus (84-54 B. C.) provides the basis for this Latin textbook for intermediate and advanced students. Most of Catullus’ extant poems appear supported by vocabulary and questions in English, which check for recognition of such poetic matters as imagery, rhythm and sound and for appreciation of such literary matters as irony, sarcasm, and motivation.
From the standpoint of Latin, I am ill-equipped to comment on this book. I took two years of Latin in high school in the 1950’s. There is not enough left to understand anything but the occasional “puella” and maybe “puer” if it isn’t in an unrecognizably declined form. Nonetheless, I have boldly gone where anyone so scantily prepared should fear to tread, and as with all the other books on this site, I read Love and Betrayal cover to cover. I did cheat. I found a book of free translations online (really dreadful – I’m sure Catullus is spinning), but I plowed ahead and was rewarded. Catullus, you make me wish I had lived in the first century B.C. (That’s an apostrophe btw).
In his short life Catullus wrote of what he experienced: love and betrayal (as the title states) friendship, grief, sympathy, silly social climbers, beauty (and sometimes the lack thereof), and securing a bit of immortality through his poems. My favorite of the poems addressed to his love, Lesbia, is number 3 – fletus passeris Lesbiae. It’s about a dead bird. If you read it, let me know what you think.
I have two major take-aways from this book. First, Latin must be an important part of the American curriculum. Without scholars, such as the authors of this text, who are dedicated to showing students the allure of antiquity, we would float unmoored in the waters of the present. And without those scholars who preceded them, who date back to the Middle Ages and recovered and transcribed these poems, we could easily have lost this powerful link to our own roots.
Secondly, I am struck by how full-blown literature already was back then over two thousand years ago. And then think of, say, Homer -- even farther back. What are we doing as a species? Still writing about love and all that, I guess. Perhaps we have made progress. To be sure, science, medicine, and technology have leaped ahead, and maybe if Catullus lived in our times he would have been spared a young death. But the level of skill and sophistication in the figures of speech, the prosody, and the wit is as fresh today as it was ages ago. Indeed, the emotions that fuel the poems are the same from time immemorial.
I love that the authors include comparable poems of more recent poets; as a Francophile, I was thrilled to see represented Ronsard, one of the great carpe diem seducers of all time. That his sixteenth-century French is not modernized, reminds us of the winding road language has taken from Latin to vulgar Latin to old French to the Renaissance to the present day. Oh, and what about that plumb line from Catullus to Chaucer to T.S. Eliot? Fortunate is the student who learns Latin through this text.