Gaius Valerius Catullus, Carmina 3

woman with sparrow
Painted terracotta figurine, Hellenistic

The elegiac puella dominates this poem which Catullus (c. 82-c. 54 BCE) opens as a dirge (Lugete), occasioned by the death of her pet passer. Although her name does not appear here or in its companion piece, Carmina 2, the poet Martial (c. 40-c. 104 CE) Epigrammata 7.14.3-4, no doubt following tradition, understands her to be Lesbia. The poem portrays the grief of the poet’s beloved at the loss of her passer, perhaps a love gift; in antiquity the bird was associated with the goddess Aphrodite (see Sappho 1, where the goddess descends from Olympus in a chariot drawn by sparrows). The erotic implications, bolder in Carmina 2, are set in line 1, where the first mourners summoned are Venuses and Cupids. Catullus may be referencing Plato’s Symposium 180d-182a, where Pausanias describes two Aphrodites: Pandemos (“of all the people”, the common Aphrodite associated with sexual appetites) and Uranios (“heavenly”, the older, more revered Aphrodite), each having her own Eros (Cupid). The relationship of his puella with her passer is described in sexually suggestive language, personifying the bird as heroic lover who never moves from her “lap” (gremium) and speaks only ad solam dominam. Having already betrayed his jealousy of her affection for her pet in Carmina 2, Catullus here offers his puella sympathy for the loss of her deliciae and presents himself as a worthy substitute. The meter is hendecasyllabic (Phalaecean).


Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque

et quantum est hominum venustiorum:

passer mortuus est meae puellae,


passer, deliciae meae puellae,

quem plus illa oculis suis amabat.


Nam mellitus erat suamque norat

ipsam tam bene quam puella matrem,

nec sese a gremio illius movebat,


sed circumsiliens modo huc modo illuc


10ad solam dominam usque pipiabat.

Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum

illuc, unde negant redire quemquam.

At vobis male sit, malae tenebrae


Orci, quae omnia bella devoratis;

15tam bellum mihi passerem abstulistis.

O factum male! O miselle passer!

Tua nunc opera meae puellae

flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli.

Click on the underlined words for translation aids and commentary, which will appear in a small window. Click on the icon linklinkto the right of the text for related images and information.