Monday, October 13, 2014


Catullus 5.4-6, Misquoted

John Griffiths, The Good Spy (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1990), p. 189 (click to enlarge):

                 PART IV

"Soles occidere et redire possunt.
Nobis cul semel occidit brevis lux
Nox est perpetua una dormienda."

("Suns may set and rise again.
For us, once our brief light is spent,
there is one perpetual night to be slept through.")
The translation is accurate, but the Latin text is not. There is no such Latin word as cul, which in French means backside, bum, derived from Latin culus, meaning anus. The word culus does make its first appearance in Latin literature elsewhere in Catullus (23.19; 33.4; 97.2, 4, 12; 98.4). See J.N. Adams, "Culus, Clunes, and Their Synonyms in Latin," Glotta 59 (1981) 231-264. The culus is a place where suns don't rise and set, indeed don't shine at all, as the expression goes. Read cum for cul.

Hat tip: A friend.


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