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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The ultimate meaning of life is to embrace that which compels you to act in spite of fear.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rome and Catullus

I've been enjoying the HBO series Rome. I've been renting it from the video store. It portrays a Rome I've long imagined: a republic (and then empire) full of blood, lust, greed and glory. But this series favours the smaller, more intimate stories of the men and women as individuals - an approach I'm sure some have criticized. After all, some like historical tales to be big epics. But then, this is TV, so we should be getting into Caesar's sex life and showing some of his weaknesses as well, no?

Now, if you can get past the fact that most of the characters - merchants, soldiers, consuls, and even Caesar himself - sound like they just strolled out of an English university or a British pub, then you have a fine series. In my humble opinion. (And bear in mind the Roman citizenry was hardly ethnically homogeneous.) But then, I love the everyday detail as much as the larger-than-life events that create civilizations. Passion, energy, and motivation often start at home.

And when it comes to home and its rude, raunchy, and ribald details, I recommend the Roman poet Catullus, whose work was translated by an acquaintance of mine, Ewan Whyte, and published by Mosaic Press in 2004.

For all of Catullus' knee-slapping rough humour, he does have moments of passionate tenderness:

Let us live and love,
not listening to old men's talk.
Suns will rise and set
long after our little light
has gone away to darkness.
Kiss me again and again.
Let me kiss you a hundred times,
a thousand more, again a thousand
without rest, losing count, so no
one can speak of us and say
they know the number of our kisses.

We will never know all the kisses of Rome or anywhere else.

I don't need that much detail.


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