Poem 7 (You Ask Me How Many Kisses) by Catullus

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

You ask how many kissings of you,Lesbia, are enough for me and more than enough.As great as the number of the Libyan sand that lies on silphium-bearing Cyrene . . .

Catallus is again mindful of “evil tongues” that might “bewitch” the couple if the number of kisses were known. This time, instead of confusing the number, the poet seems to envision stealing away with Lesbia to a foreign land where they will not be observed except by “ . . . the stars, when night is silent,/ that see the stolen loves of men . . .,” and the poet wants as many kisses as there are stars.

Poem 7 is an example of the poet’s flair for blending traditional Greek meters (again, the hendecasyllabic) with his own creative use of colloquial Latin. In Latin, line 1 ends with the word basiationes. Some consider this a “made-up” word and assign it the playful meaning “kissifications.” The orthography is legitimate, though Poem 7 is the only poem in which the poet uses basiationes, and the next Roman poet to use it was the epigrammist Martial in the following century. In the fourth line, Catullus does use a made-up word, lasarpiciferis, or “silphium-bearing,” to describe Cyrene, an ancient city in Libya.

In the context of this passionate love poem it is significant that Cyrene, after whom the Libyan city is named, was beloved of Apollo, who carried her off to Africa and there built her a city.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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